Note: Betsy and I have no dogs, this article was written with grace by DIY Natural community member Lauren, who does own dogs, and does feed them this diet. If you are offended by raw meat or dogs eating such a diet, read with discretion.

Origin of the domestic dog


Did you know that your dog and a wolf are almost genetically identical? Did you know that this means that the raw, whole-prey diet of a wolf can also be safe for your dog?

Up until about six weeks ago, neither did I. But then a friend who had recently gotten a puppy posted a link on Facebook about BARF: Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. From there, I was hooked. I spent about 2 weeks researching it, took the “plunge,” and haven’t looked back since!

Dog diets historically

Raw Food Dog Diet

You see, because dogs and wolves are carnivores, they do not derive much nutrition from plant-based food sources, which unfortunately are the primary ingredients in most kibble. The high temperatures that kibble is cooked at destroys even more nutrients, so, in a way, you could say that kibble is junk food for dogs. In addition to this, allergies or sensitivities to grains are very common in dogs. These may not be life-threatening, but you may recognize some common symptoms in your own dog. (More on that later!)

A much more nutritious and natural way to feed your dog is to feed him or her just about the same diet that a wolf would eat: raw meat.

Yes, that’s it. Bones and everything.

Why raw?

The fact is, because wolves and dogs are “designed” to eat raw meat, it is a very safe diet when administered properly. Dogs are much less susceptible to the bacteria that can be found in raw meat. And raw bones are actually quite safe for dogs (as long as they are not load-bearing, i.e. legs of animals larger than turkeys). Raw bones break cleanly when chomped on. Cooked bones, however, should never be fed to dogs because they are brittle and can easily splinter. Additionally, dogs should eat some organs for the nutrients that meat alone cannot provide.


Overall, a dog’s raw diet should consist of 80% meat, 10% bone, 5% liver, and 5% other organs. Literally the only thing that an otherwise healthy dog needs as a supplement is omega-3 fatty acids or fish oil (which is not necessary if you are feeding grass-fed meat).

As I said, we just started our dog Lily, a bulldog/terrier mix, on raw food about a month ago, and she is doing great. When we first got her about 18 months ago, she very frequently licked her front paws and had watery, teary eyes pretty much every day. Both of those symptoms stopped within days of starting raw! I did some more research, and found that both of those things are common allergy symptoms in dogs, so I think it’s safe to say that Lily was indeed allergic to her kibble.

Raw meat also encourages dogs to chew food properly and eat more slowly. (You should feed the largest pieces possible, even if this means one huge chunk of meat!) This chewing develops dogs’ jaw and throat muscles, and also helps keep teeth clean! (Since starting raw we’ve also stopped Lily’s [grain-based] “dental” treats, and her teeth are just as clean!) As soon as Lily is done eating I disinfect her bowl and the area she ate in with a disinfectant recipe from Matt and Betsy’s Natural Cleaners Book, and we haven’t had so much as a sniffle in our home since we started raw.

Community support helps

Believe me, I know the concept sounds scary, and there is more to it than this brief overview, so I highly encourage you to educate yourself thoroughly on the matter before making any firm decisions. Rawlearning.com and the Yahoo! rawfeeding group (requires membership) are two wonderful resources for beginners!

In addition to raw feeding, many members of the raw/natural/holistic pet movement advocate natural tick/flea repellant. This is because products like Frontline or Advantage are more pesticides than repellants, and because they are designed to kill parasites they contain neurotoxins that some dogs have had very serious reactions to. (Note: The following treatments are NOT safe for cats and should be administered to your dog with extreme caution [or not at all] if you have a cat!) During flea/tick season, the simplest solution that I have read about is to apply one drop of rose-geranium essential oil to your dog’s collar once a week (for ticks), and apply a 1 drop:1 tsp ratio of neem oil (found at gardening stores) and olive oil to various part of your dog’s bare skin once a month (for fleas). If your dog has fleas, you can use a flea comb to remove as many of them as possible and submerge them in warm, soapy water, then wash your dog with a bit of neem oil added to their shampoo. In addition, 2-3 times per year you can apply beneficial nematodes to your yard. They will parasitize flea larvae and keep your surroundings flea-free!

(Find pure essential oils here.)

In closing

A final point I’d like to make is that many in this community also do not believe in vaccinating their dogs for many of the same reasons as some people are against vaccinating children: they consider vaccines dangerous and unnecessary. This is something that I won’t say much on because I haven’t done as much research in this area, and because vaccines are sometimes necessary (due to city codes, for example). But be aware that this is another issue you may consider if you are thinking of raising your dog naturally. For more information on raising pets naturally, you can join the Yahoo! rawchat group, an offshoot of rawfeeding for all non-dietary discussions.


I would also like to leave you with a friendly reminder that most contemporary pet care products (pet food, flea/tick preventions, vaccines) are fairly modern creations (commercially produced dog food became mainstream less than 100 years ago!), and our dogs’ ancestors got by just fine. All of the topics I have suggested here are very serious, so I encourage you to immerse yourself in all the fine resources out there and learn as much as possible before committing to any of these changes. I would also like to point out that almost the same raw feeding principles also apply to cats, so this is also something that you may consider for your feline friends!

I hope you (and your dog!) benefit from what you may have learned here today. Please be sure to leave comments with your questions and experience.

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Comments

  1. Nicole says

    Thank you for the article. I do not agree with the raw diet, having tried it previously, however, I also do not agree that every diet is perfect for every dog. If the raw diet is working for you and your pet…congratulations! I hope that you have found the perfect diet for your companion. :)

    I do want to share an opinion (or thought) about the natural flea control. Please know that if you are lucky enough to see the fleas on your pet, you are only seeing about 10% of the population that has creeped into your home. Once you see fleas, you MUST treat your home if you hope to get rid of them. Borax is a great way to naturally treat fleas and flea eggs on carpets and upholstery.

    Also know that some pets suffer from FAD, or flea allergy dermatitis. One flea bite can set off a chain reaction of horrible rashes, discomfort and hair loss. For these pets, natural remedies may or may not be strong enough.

    As for vaccines, each pet owner must make their own decision. Do know, though, that canine diseases like leptospirosis and rabies can be transmitted to humans. You should weight the desire to raise your pets naturally with risk of spreading these very serious diseases to humans. A better option may be to follow AAHA guidelines, particularly in areas of high risk of exposure.

  2. says

    The raw diet works wonderfully well for some, not so well for others.For the author with one dog, it’s a viable option but I have 7 dogs and find it far less expensive to feed a high quality dog food supplemented with organ meat as well as vegetables. My dogs love carrots and are given them as a treat. I think it’s true most vets over-vaccinate so I use caution combined with wisdom. In our area leptospirosis and rabies are wide-spread and, as the previous writer said, can be transmitted to humans. My dogs are vaccinated accordingly to this area’s problems.
    Perhaps the concept of a raw diet sounds frightening to urban dwellers but, here in the Appalachian Mountains, it’s as much a part of life as is death. When the dogs find a three-week old ground hog carcass and drag it in as their prize of the month, raw meat is infinitely more appealing. -smile-
    As to “our dogs ancestors got along just fine”…that’s true *except* the life expectancy wasn’t nearly as long as the beloved companion pet of current times.
    Using vaccinations, flea/tick preparations, commercial dog foods are a fine way to care for a pet. Just as is a raw food diet and herbal remedies.
    In closing, I find it amusing that urban dwellers take their dogs to a “pet park” to socialize with animals and humans, etc. My dogs are raised to be companion animals, essentially, we’re together 24/7/361 and they earn their keep on the farm by helping keep the varmint population down. What I’m trying to say, and probably not very well, my dogs are allowed to be dogs naturally. They chase squirrels, hunt and sometimes kill ground hogs, dig out moles, voles and the occasional barn rat.
    The salient point is we all show good stewardship over our animals and take care of them as best we can and as we see fit for our circumstances. I applaud the author because the article wasn’t strident; moderation was the tone and no stones were cast at others who follow different dictates. Well done!

    • Lauren says

      Author here: Thank you very much! I’m glad that you have found a good balance between natural and conventional methods!

  3. Leila says

    Thanks for the article. We have been feeding our 2 dogs and one cat the raw food diet since 2007 (since they were adopted as pups/kitten). The vets are amazed how strong, muscular and healthy they are – but when they find out that they are on the raw meat diet, they try to talk us out of it – go figure. Our animal food supplier carries frozen raw ground foods from Blue Ridge Beef (you can check it out online at http://www.blueridgebeef.com.). You can learn a lot more about the raw food diet from them for starters as well as “BARF” mentioned above.

  4. Cheryl Crouse says

    I am interested in the raw food diet as we have a rat terrier that is allergic to something in our home, but we cannot figure out what it is.. She has a constant sinus drainage and sneeze when she is home eating her kibble with tuna in water, but when boarded she does not sneeze at all. While there she ate the same food. She has accidently sneezed in my face and I have gotten a terrible sinus infection. Living in a small town many miles from any large city makes getting the meat a problem, however. They would be eating much better than my husband and I do. And finding the organ meat would be a problem. We would be paying a premium price.
    Thanks for the flea information. I think that there are a lot more fleas this year due to the abnormally warm winter and lack of freeze in much of the country. I had just treated my 2 small terriers for fleas–a first in many years. But I will be going natural from now on. I was just going to write and ask if there was a natural treatment for that!!
    As for the shots, if you board your dogs, most kennels will not board them without the basic vaccines or even more. If you live in a city, it is very difficult to just leave your dogs outside even if you have a fenced in yard for any amount of time if you are going to be gone. So you are stuck with the alternative of boarding them. Or hopefully you have a very good friend or relative.

  5. Caroline Taylor says

    Our dogs are raw fed, same diet as this article. Our puppy also had runny eyes when we first got her but that’s all cleared up now. The vet and the breeders are very impressed with the health and vitality of our dogs but they are both hooked into processed pets foods. I wanted to mention though, one of my dogs had a skin problem while on his raw diet and he tested up having an allergy to chicken so even raw meat can cause problems in certain dogs. While I appreciate the differing views on feeding raw, I’ve had pets on conventional and raw diets and I noticed that my pets health was better on raw especially when they got older.

  6. Eileen Clifton says

    Hi and thanks for this info. We have been slowly going natural over the last few years. My children are very sensitive and we are carefully watching what we eat and use in our household. We do not currently have a dog but had a wonderful golden who passed away 8 years ago. She was plagued with allergies. I never put two and two together, but it makes sense. I am contemplating getting another dog as our children are now 9 and 12, old enough to start taking some responsibility. Is this diet for dogs expensive? Is it financially feasible for a family of four to try this with their pet? Where do you get the bones and such from? Just curious. Thanks.

    • Lauren says

      Author here! The diet can be expensive, but there are also MANY ways to lower the costs. If you buy in bulk from a supplier, you can get great rates. Many grocery stores sell 10-lb bags of chicken leg quarters for well under $1/lb. You can also sometimes make deals with local farmers, meat processors, or butchers to get organs or trimmings free or cheap. You just have to be resourceful! Also, many in the community will tell you that raw is cheaper in the long run–dogs who get good quality nutrition will have fewer health problems that will rack up expensive vet bills!

      As for “bones and such,” just feed regular meat, bones and all. I usually cut up whole chickens for our dog and feed that 4x/week, then give her boneless pork or beef the other 3 days to keep the ratio about right (chicken is ~30% bone). Organs are the are that I’ve been running into trouble with. I can find liver just fine, but “other” organs have been more difficult to come by. Even if you can’t get other organs (like kidneys, spleen, brain, pancreas) raw without them is still miles better than kibble!

  7. Lena says

    I have read a lot on the raw diets, and ultimately rejected it, because as the population grows, raising enough meat to feed the people will become difficult. Its also expensive compared to kibble, even if you go with the highest priced kibble out there. The raising of animals takes massive amounts of land and feed. Our fish are being depleted at an alarming rate. In our house, we consume no more than one serving of meat per day as a rule, the dog gets a kibble that is mostly vegetables, and a main ingredient of chicken, because they are easier on the environment than a lot of animals, and also we give him a bit of meat from our meals or the toddlers left overs.

    • Lauren says

      Author here! I certainly agree with you that meat is not a very sustainable food source, but since it is what our dogs are “meant” to eat, I can’t argue with it. As I mentioned in a comment above, you can get very good deals on raw food that significantly drive down the cost if you are resourceful, and the other health benefits are well worth it. Raw diets also frequently clear up skin problems and frequent/chronic ear infections in dogs. Dogs just don’t derive much nutrition from plants and wouldn’t eat them in the wild (Gross alert: Wolves actually shake out the stomach contents of their prey rather than eating that minimal amount of plant matter!)

      • Lena says

        I know it would be healthier, it is what they are meant to have, and that is why I add some meat to his diet, a bit of turkey or chicken from our meals. I also give him raw bones, and deer antlers, and peanut butter as a treat. For me, there has to be an environmental compromise made between healthy for my dog (really he is more like my 4th child) and good for the planet. If all dogs ate nothing but meat, can you imagine how much that would increase the demand for meat? Especially with all the over breeding. Since my dog (even though he is a pug) stays healthy with it, I think it is worth it.

  8. Jeanette J. says

    What a great a little intro article! Thanks for putting it out there!!

    I currently raw feed three rescued carnivores – two dogs and one cat – and would never go back to kibble. Kudos for taking the plunge yourself.

    When it comes to sustainability, raw food becomes cheaper the longer you do it. Why? You may start out with grocery store meat but you will quickly find other sources.

    I currently have business relationships with two local farmers. (One is organic, one is free range) When hogs, chickens, turkeys, or beef cows are butchered, the farmers keep whatever parts of the carcass unfit for human consumption that would normally have to be incinerated, dumped in the woods, or buried (i.e. WASTED) and saves it for me.

    This is an incredibly cheap source of quality meat for my carnivores that brings added financial gain to local farmers and ranchers and reduces waste.

    I’m not above throwing road kill in the back of a truck either – I live within a dense deer population and there’s always a carcass on the road. My friends and family know I feed this way – I regularly receive freezer burned or ‘past it’s prime’ cuts of meat.

    My carnivores eat for free about six months out of the year.

    About 80% of their diet is food that would otherwise be wasted or rotting away – what a desecration! If an animal is slaughtered or killed, it should never be wasted!

    I work at a veterinary clinic and in the past and got a “high quality kibble” at *wholesale* price and this is still cheaper for me.

    Even if it weren’t cheaper, I would never go back to kibble. I would rather pay more for them to live longer, healthier lives — my pets are captive to the decisions I make for them every day so I need to make the best I can.

    • says

      GREAT info Jeanette, thanks so much for sharing. The best way to get what we want for cheap is to think outside the box!

    • Lauren says

      “Even if it weren’t cheaper, I would never go back to kibble. I would rather pay more for them to live longer, healthier lives — my pets are captive to the decisions I make for them every day so I need to make the best I can.”

      Right on! And good for you for finding such great deals! :)

  9. Cheryl Crouse says

    Where do you get the rose geranium essential oil? I am having a hard time finding it for the flea control.

  10. says

    this sounds great and want to start it for my samoyed—– how do you mix all the raw items–does any one have a recipe for how to incorperate it? I’m an old 71 farm gal and don’t worry about grossing me out— Ive seen it all-been there done that.

  11. Norma Toraya says

    I also feed my dog a raw diet and it has worked out great. Her coat is fluffy, she smells good, no bad breath, no more gas and the allergies are under control. I rarely take her to the vet (just usually the annual) because of her diet. I take those savings into consideration when budgeting costs for the dog. I also get her meat from a wonderful farm (hare-today.com) who has good prices the more you buy. It is a good idea to rotate the type of raw you feed (chicken, goat, beef, deer, rabbit, etc) because feeding one type always can cause additional allergy problems. Remember, those doggy ancestors ate with variety also. The kibble is no good and in the long run the savings of dry food will go into vet bills.