A simple but effective feeding plan for adult dogs
Switching a dog to a natural diet couldn’t be simpler and if you are concerned that raw feeding will be complicated, time-consuming, risky or expensive please put such thoughts right out of your mind:
- All you need to know to be a successful raw feeder is what ingredients are suitable for your dog and in roughly what proportions.
- With a little bit of planning it won’t take you any more time than opening a can.
- Dogs are biologically designed to eat raw food and it is 100% safe for them to do so (remember: their stomach acids are so strong that they could burn your fingers).
- Your dog doesn’t need prime steak! He or she will thrive on all sorts of inexpensive ingredients, as explained below.
Unless your dog has certain health issues (see below), there’s no reason not to make a straight switch. Having said this, there are a few dogs (maybe one in a hundred) who don’t take to natural feeding immediately (you’ll find advice about this elsewhere on the site).
Incidentally, if you can withstand the looks of reproach it is no bad idea to fast your dog for a day before the switch. This will help your dog to rid its body of toxins built up while on a diet of processed food.
A simple three-step plan
Our straightforward feeding plan for adult dogs is a summary of decades of experience and it rests on three basic ingredients:
- raw meat
- raw bone
- raw vegetable
The plan itself can be distilled into three simple steps:
- Take any meat (chicken, beef, lamb, pork, whatever) minced or diced.
- Grate vegetables into it (anything but potato) so that it is roughly 2/3 meat and 1/3 vegetable (you can put the vegetable through the food processor if you have one).
- Get some meaty bones from the butcher and give your dog one every day or two.
For portion sizes follow the instructions below. Vary the types of meat and vegetables you use.
The rest of this article contains supplementary information, tips and various refinements but the simple diet described above is difficult to improve upon.
Do all dogs thrive on a natural diet?
With only a very, very few exceptions all dogs thrive on raw food.
Indeed, the only dogs that shouldn’t eat a 100% natural diet are those with a compromised immune system or that have recently had bowel surgery. What’s more, a well-planned raw diet can really help dogs with health issues. If you would like to know more about how raw food can benefit a poorly dog see the separate section on this website.
Remember, too, that Honey’s Chief Veterinary Surgeon is available to supply dietary advice, free of charge and without any obligation on your part.
What dogs need from their food and how they get it
Food has two core functions. It provides energy and it helps the body to remain healthy. With regard to energy the amount required will depend on a variety of circumstances, including how old the dog is (growing dogs need more, elderly dogs less), the amount of exercise being taken, whether the dog is pregnant or feeding puppies and the temperature (weirdly, dogs in really hot climates can need more energy as panting uses up more calories than you would imagine).
Interestingly, dogs do not need a lot of carbohydrates or simple sugars for energy (although a small amount of complex carbohydrate can provide useful fibre), as they can’t digest it. Their core dietary requirements are fat (it provides energy and protection and it enables the body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins), essential fatty acids (Omega 6 and Omega 3), protein (with essential amino acids) and a wide range of minerals and vitamins.
What a dog needs for energy is obtainable in its natural diet. All processed dog food companies are trying to do is replace what dogs ought to be eating with low-quality, inadequate, adulterated and inappropriate ingredients.
Suitable raw ingredients to feed your dog
Below is a list of all the different things you can feed your dog. An asterix (*) means that this is vital to your dog’s health. The other ingredients are more by way of providing additional nutrition.
- Lean muscle meat*
Chicken, beef, lamb, venison, rabbit, turkey, pork &c. Can be minced or diced.
- Internal organs*
Heart, lung, liver, tripe &c. Liver should never be more than 10% of the total diet. Don’t feed beef liver where the animal has been fed rape.
Any fish but especially fatty fish such as herring, salmon, pilchards and sardines. If you can’t find fresh fish then once or twice a week you may like to add a tin of pilchards or herrings to the food.
Cheese, probiotic yoghurt, goat’s milk and/or small amounts of cottage cheese.
Any type of whole egg, as an egg two or three times a week is an excellent source of protein, vitamins and omegas.
Ideally raw, meaty bones and including chicken/turkey carcasses.
- Leafy vegetables*
Spinach, winter greens, broccoli, cauliflower &c.
- Root vegetables*
Carrots, parsnips, swede, turnips &c. but not potatoes, which are high in starch.
- Fresh fruit
But not grapes or avocados and be sparing with dried fruits as they have a high sugar content.
- Vegetable extracts
Brewer’s yeast, kelp and/or a modest quantity of molasses.
- Extra oil*
Once or twice a week you may care to add some cod liver, safflower, hemp, flax seed or sunflower oil.
You will notice that we are vague on the amount of, say, cod liver oil to add. Use your own judgement. For a small dog a teaspoonful will be enough, whereas for a really large dog you may like to add a tablespoonful.
Some useful tips
- The easiest way to meet your dog’s nutritional needs is to serve them meat, offal and vegetables in their bowl and give them raw, meaty bones on the side.
- There is no magic proportion when it comes to the percentage of meat, offal and vegetable. I recommend 2/3 meat and offal and 1/3 vegetable. Others will suggest that 90% meat and offal is better, with just 10% vegetable. Treat dogs as individuals and take their likes and dislikes into account.
- Any raw meat will do – beef, lamb, pork, chicken, rabbit, venison, tripe, squirrel – anything, in fact, so long as it comes from a reputable source.
- Grate in the vegetable or put it through your food mixer. Any vegetables will do, but not raw potatoes.
- Vegetables should always be fresh. Vegetables really begin to lose their nutritional value a week or so after they have been picked.
- Mix the ingredients up well, as some dogs have a small child’s aversion to vegetables.
- Don’t forget to buy your dog raw, meaty bones. These contain vital nutrients, ensure healthy teeth and keep their stools firm.
- If you are going to make your food up yourself, you will probably find it saves you a lot of time to prepare a decent supply in advance and freeze it. One good way to do this is to shape it into rough patties or hamburgers.
What to say to your butcher
It is definitely worth finding a good butcher as it will save you a great deal of time and money. Also, if you live anywhere near a slaughterhouse then it is well worth seeing if they can supply you. Either way, it is much, much easier if you have plenty of freezer space. When searching for a butcher, explain what you are doing and ask for:
- mince (this should be ‘visually lean’)
- inexpensive cuts
- offal (heart, kidneys and liver)
- green tripe (see below)
- raw, meaty bones
- chicken and other carcasses.
With regard to the scraps and the mince, it is fine for it to have some fat in it, but it shouldn’t be too fatty (more than 30% fat would be a problem).
So far as inexpensive cuts are concerned, every butcher has his own ideas what these might be. Take ‘skirt’, which is the diaphragm under the ribs. Some butchers sell this for next to nothing; others know that there is good, lean meat to be had there and charge quite a bit for it. An efficient butcher will find you inexpensive ways to feed your dog.
Note that raw chicken carcasses and ‘backs’ are perfect for dogs and some people feed their dogs almost nothing else. Chicken wings are also great, a perfect parcel of meat and bone.
Some people feel it is important that the meat they buy for their dogs is suitable for human consumption. Others don’t. The truth is that the dogs are unlikely to mind if it is a bit smelly and you shouldn’t be too obsessed with the ‘best before’ date.
How much to serve
To begin with, you will need to monitor the quantity of food quite closely but once you get the hang of it, providing your dog is about the correct weight and looks fit, you can do it by feel. Lots of successful raw feeders simply watch their dogs carefully and adjust the quantity as they go.
There is no hard-and-fast rule but for a dog over 10kg roughly 2% of their body weight in food (including edible bones) every day should be about right. In other words, a 20kg dog should be eating roughly 400g. If you have a working dog, an underweight dog or a dog that exercises a great deal then up this amount to between 2 and 5% of body weight per day. If you have an elderly or overweight dog then reduce the amount to between 1 and 2% of bodyweight per day. You can serve it in as many meals as you want and at whatever time, but it should never be left down for the dog to eat when he or she feels like it. You might be interested to know that because wolves exercise so much they need about three times as much food as a typical dog.
For dogs under 11kg in weight try:
- 1–2kg: 10% of bodyweight
- 3–4kg: 7% of bodyweight
- 5–8kg: 5% of bodyweight
- 9–10kg: 3% of bodyweight
- 11kg+: 2% of bodyweight
If you would like more detailed advice please get in touch with Honey’s. These percentages are for guidance only.
How to tell if your dog is the correct weight
The easiest way to tell if your adult dog is the right weight is to make sure that your dog’s ribs are easily noticeable. Of course, for a hairy dog this isn’t so easy! In this case run your hands over the rib cage. If it is easily felt, your dog is the right weight. If there is any fat… he or she needs to go on a bit of a diet!
A word about the ‘recommended daily intake’ figures
Dog food labelling makes great play of the ‘recommended daily intake’ figures for individual ingredients. Even some raw feeding experts refer to these so-called recommendations. By and large you can ignore them completely. They have almost no basis in fact. In America, for instance, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) have laid down figures based on ‘the assumption that the animal should be able to survive on those quantities, with no observable ill effects for at least 3–6 months’.
Hardly meaningful. And, anyway, the actual recommendations change frequently as a result of pressure from dog food manufacturers.
The pros and cons of green tripe
If there were only one ingredient you could feed your dog, it would have to be green tripe. Nothing else offers such a variety of digestible proteins and your dog would thrive if fed nothing else. What is it? The dictionary defines it as: ‘the raw, unbleached stomach of cattle or other ruminants, after no other treatment than a simple rinse in cold water’. It is called green because it has a green, fluorescent shine to it, although in colour it tends to be anything from light brown to black.
From a dog’s perspective it is almost a wonder food, but from a human’s perspective it has a couple of potential drawbacks. To begin with, it contains a great deal of bacteria, some of which may be harmful to humans (but not dogs). For this reason, it can’t be kept in the same fridge or freezer as food for human consumption. It must be handled and served carefully so that no contamination occurs. If you have any cuts or grazes on your skin you shouldn’t touch it as it can lead to infection.
Then there is the smell. This is not only strong but also lingers. It’s not a bad smell when you get used to it, but it’s a devil to wash off and so it really is best to handle tripe using rubber gloves.
In short, it is a nuisance to deal with but well worth the effort if you can be bothered, especially as it is relatively inexpensive. One final point, bleached tripe is worse than useless as the bleaching process strips out most of the goodness and leaves a potentially harmful chemical residue. Tripe that has been washed in plain water is not as good as green tripe but a less bothersome alternative and 100% safe for human handling.
Reassurance about parasites
The major dog food manufacturers clearly feel threatened by the natural feeding movement and there is definitely a campaign to discredit raw feeding. As part of this campaign it is sometimes suggested that there are dangerous parasites in raw meat. This is incorrect. The main reason why you don’t have to be afraid of parasites in a ‘prey’ animal being transferred to a ‘predator’ is that if this happened all predators would have become extinct long ago! Wolves simply wouldn’t have survived. Also, one has to remember that, in the wild, carnivores frequently target sick and old animals as they are easier to catch and kill. So, not only is it safe for wolves to eat raw meat, but it is safe for them to eat raw meat from poorly prey. Another reason not to be concerned is the acidity in a wolf’s (or dog’s) stomach. This is so strong that no known organism can survive exposure.
The parasites that survive on a herbivore are, by and large, very different from the parasites that attack carnivores. There is one exception to this: tapeworm. These can be caught from fleas found on rabbits; so, if a dog eats a whole rabbit (as opposed to rabbit meat), there is a risk. This won’t affect you, though, unless you are giving your dog whole rabbit carcasses.
Incidentally, there is a prejudice against pork, because in the distant past pigs used to carry a parasite called trichinosis. This parasite was eradicated in farmed pork in the UK (and Europe) in the 1960s. If you are still nervous about parasites freeze the meat down for at least 20 days.
Please don’t support intensive farming
For the most part farm animals lead short, painful lives in appalling conditions. They are kept indoors, in tiny cages, mutilated and transported hundreds and even thousands of miles before being killed. Furthermore, the way they are slaughtered is invariably drawn out and cruel.
The photographs and imagery used by farmers, producers, food manufacturers, butchers, marketing boards and supermarkets create, by and large, entirely the wrong impression. Only a tiny percentage of farm animals lead relatively happy and natural existences.
Unless the meat you buy meets certain criteria, the chances are that it has been intensively reared. To buy it is to support cruelty to animals. Of course, it is cheaper than meat from compassionately farmed animals: having a conscience does cost a little bit extra. But if you love animals, it is money well spent. What’s more, intensively reared meat is much more likely to be packed with harmful chemicals since intensively farmed animals are given many more drugs to keep them alive.
To ensure that the meat you are buying has not been intensively reared insist that:
- Chicken, pork and turkey are free range.
- Rabbit and venison are free range or wild.
- Lamb and beef have been grass fed or are free range.
If you are buying organic meat, providing it is properly certified, you can be confident that it has been reared with animal welfare in mind. It is much better for the environment and less wasteful to buy British. It is insane to buy lamb from, say, New Zealand when we have our own here at home. Also, beware of labelling. Ridiculous EU rules allow businesses to buy chickens in, say, Thailand but by cunning means describe them as being British.
If you would like to learn more about intensive farming, you might like to contact: Compassion in World Farming (www.ciwf.org.uk), which was started by an ordinary British farmer; the World Society for the Protection of Animals (www.worldanimalprotection.org.uk), a leading pressure group; and/or the Soil Association (www.soilassociation.org), the UK’s leading campaigner for higher standards of animal welfare.
Why fasting is good for your dog’s health
From start to finish it can take a dog anything up to 20 hours to digest a full meal, a full meal being the amount it can fit in its stomach at a single sitting. This is a very long time when compared to humans, who eat much smaller meals and digest them much faster. Why is the time it takes a dog to digest important? Because a dog’s digestive system needs to rest for periods to operate at optimum efficiency. More than this, if the system doesn’t get a chance to rest it can be harmful to the dog’s health (it needs the time for its liver to transform fat to glucose). My advice is to feed your dog once a day, never to leave food down for it (eat it or lose it being the rule) and to fast your dog at least once a week.
Dogs don’t eat completely balanced meals in the wild, but get the nutrition they need over time. You don’t, therefore, have to worry too much about balancing each meal you feed. Rather, you should be thinking about the balance over a week or even a month:
- The meat, organs and bones should account for no less than 2/3 of your dog’s diet.
- Provide plenty of variety: it ensures your dog is getting all the nutrition it needs from different sources.
- Your dog shouldn’t really need extra supplements, but if you decide to give them be sparing and watch for the effects.
Unless you have a dog with a serious health issue, there is no reason to worry about the exact nutritional value of each element of your dog’s natural diet.
Storing, serving (and travelling with) raw food
You will find that most natural feeders depend upon freezers to make their lives easier as it is a nuisance having to buy fresh ingredients every few days. The easiest approach is to make up a batch of food, divide it into daily portions, freeze them all and then thaw as needed. The freezing process does nothing to reduce the nutritional value of the food and it is absolutely fine to freeze bones and carcasses.
Food should be thawed before serving. It is better not to use a microwave to thaw food. Microwaves work by concentrating heat on selected spots within the food. These spots will be considerably hotter (and thus more damaging to health) than if you simply cooked the food. If you need to thaw food quickly, put it in a plastic bag and run cold water over it.
There is no health risk associated with freezing food, thawing or partly thawing it, and then freezing it again. This is because modern domestic freezers are so efficient that they bring the food down to minus 18 degrees – quite cold enough to kill off any dangerous bacteria. What does happen is that food repeatedly frozen and thawed becomes increasingly mushy and bloody.
Going on holiday is always a bit of a challenge to natural feeders. If you don’t have access to a freezer, the best option is to take the food frozen and to keep it as cold as possible. It doesn’t actually matter if the meat is a little smelly when served (your dog won’t mind!) but after a few days the vegetable element will start to lose its nutritional value. Still, with careful management food should last for up to nine days in a fridge.
A word about hygiene
Dogs may have stomach acids so strong that they would burn your fingers, but humans don’t. Raw food does have bacteria on it that could cause health issues for humans. Keep it separate from the food you are going to eat, thoroughly wash any surface it comes into contact with (including utensils, storage containers and so forth) as well as your hands. Use an anti-bacterial soap or mild disinfectant and/or wear rubber gloves. If you don’t want to use harmful chemicals, vinegar is a natural alternative.
For more information and advice please contact Honey’s – we’ll be happy to help even if you never, ever plan to become a customer.
Telephone: 01672 620 260