Getting the Basics Straight

Why You Should Feed Raw

I have not seen anyone offer a perfectly balanced human food in a can or a bag. Therefore, I don’t see why I should believe anyone trying to sell me such a food for cats or dogs. We, humans, don’t even have a perfectly clear idea of what is good for us to eat. How can we know what our pets should eat? We can’t, but our best bet is to mimic the natural diet of their wild relatives.

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Prey Model to the Rescue

Honestly, I have no idea where the Prey Model raw diet originated from. It could be from the Raw Feeding and Raw Cat Yahoo groups. At least that is where I first encountered it in 2009. The main idea of this diet is to simulate the proportions of meat, bones, and offal in the prey animals consumed by wild carnivores. Most of its proponents feed about:

80% meat

This includes muscle, fat, skin, connective tissue, as well as heart and lungs.

10% bone

Good sources of edible bone for medium-sized and bigger dogs are pork/lamb/goat ribs and chicken/duck/goose/turkey/rabbit carcasses. Smaller dogs and cats have the options of chicken/duck necks, wings, legs, various rabbit parts, and also whole carcasses of smaller birds (e. g. quail, pigeon, partridge).

5% liver

Any animal liver will do. It’s very important because of its vitamin A and vitamin D content.

5% other secreting organs

Kidney is the most popular option here, but brains, spleen, sweetbreads (thymus or pancreas), and testicles are also viable.

These percentages are supposed to represent the average prey animal. I don’t think they are set in stone. You don’t track percentages for what you eat, do you? Nevertheless, some people have used these percentages as a rough guideline for decades (and I myself have used them for 8 years at the time of this writing). So, there is some merit in trying to keep these proportions. If you find this too complicated, check out my Android app that helps track the balance of a prey model diet.

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BARF and Why You Shouldn’t Care About It

BARF is an acronym for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. It was invented by an Australian veterinarian named Ian Billinghurst. Like prey model, it is made up of meat, bones, and offal. What’s different is that it also adds vegetables, fruit, and dairy to the menu. All in all, I find it a decent attempt to feed dogs a more natural diet. It does not seem that appropriate for cats though. Also, there are too many variants of this diet. Everybody has got their own perception of what the percentages should be. If you are convinced that fruit and vegetables are important for your dog, you can use a modified prey model instead of BARF. Just decrease the meat percentage in order to make room for whatever you want to add to the diet. The main benefit of this will be that the percentages will be a bit more standardized, besides getting rid of this hideous acronym.

Tips for a Proper Raw Diet No Matter How It’s Called

Let me discuss some important aspects of raw feeding in no particular order.

Variety

Just like in your own diet, variety plays a key role in providing healthy nutrition to raw fed pets. You should try to diversify the sources of meat, bone, and organs as much as possible. This means feeding different animals as well as different parts of the same animal. The staples of my pets’ diet are beef, pork, and chicken. I often feed quail to the cats due to them being such a nice cat-friendly source of  bones. Occasionally, I also feed turkey, duck, goose, lamb, and goat.

No meatless or cooked bones

It’s dangerous to feed bare naked bones (e. g. ribs without any meat on them). Bones should always be cushioned with a good amount of meat. Cooked bones are also a big no-no as they splinter with sharper edges than the softer raw bones.

Feeding Big

It’s also risky to feed bony parts that are relatively small compared to the size of your pet (e. g. feeding chicken necks to a labrador sized dog). Some pets could choke trying to swallow them without chewing. The best way to make your cat or dog chew is to feed a whole piece much bigger than their mouth. Besides being safer, feeding big improves dental hygiene as chewing scrapes the plaque off the teeth. It also provides mental stimulation to your pet (and sometimes to your neighbors if they are not into cow heads).

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Sources of Food

As a health nut, I only buy pastured and grass-fed meat for my crew. You should use the same sources of meat that you would use for yourself. However, be careful about enhanced meats as the huge amount of sodium in them could upset your pet’s stomach.

Meal Size

A rough guideline is to feed 2%-4% of your pet’s ideal weight daily (not necessarily the current weight but the weight you want them to be). If your pet is still growing, you should feed proportionally to their expected adult weight or as much as they would eat. I usually adjust the amount for the cats throughout the year  so that I feed as much as they would eat in one sitting without leaving any food behind. My 33 kg (72 lbs) lab does not self-regulate as much as the cats and can eat up to 3 kg (6  lbs) in a single meal, which is expensive, so I usually limit his daily portion to 3% when skinny and 2% when fat.

Meal Frequency

I usually feed my dog two times per day during the winter, and once daily during the rest of the year. With the cats, I have experimented from 1 to 3 times per day. Currently, I feed them 2 meals each day but I’ll consider switching them to 1 meal when they start eating less during the warmer seasons. Yes, I know about research claiming feral cats eat 8-12 meals per day but that would be like a second full-time job to me. I’m also a huge fan of intermittent fasting and have been practicing it for the last 6 years, so I speculate it might have benefits for my animals too.

Stool Management

White and crumbly stool means you’re feeding too much bone… unless you’re having a pet hyena. If the stool is soft and not easily scoopable, you might want to increase the bone content. In my experience, some dogs need more than the default 10% of bone to produce the perfect specimen. Cats are usually fine with 10% or even less. Feeding too much organs at once will cause diarrhea in most cats and dogs.

Transitioning from Commercial Food to Raw

You should start transitioning by occasionally feeding boneless meat. If your pets have gotten so used to kibble that they’ve lost their appetite for real food, you’ll initially need to coax them by sprinkling some pet treats (or anything else they like) over the meat. Then, if everything seems OK, add bone-in meat of the appropriate size and form. If they can’t or won’t eat any kind of bone, you might consider grinding. Most prey model purists will tell you grinding is the devil. But it’s perfectly fine. It’s not optimal, but it’s a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, you should only grind stuff that your pets are not going to eat in its original form. The rest of the diet should be fed in chunks of the biggest size that your pets can manage eating. After you resolve the bony part of the diet, it is time to start feeding liver and other organs. These might need even more bribing with treats to make them palatable… or mixing with other stuff… or, risking to outrage the grinding police, you could even grind them together with the bone-in stuff.

Parasites and Diseases

Feeding raw is not more dangerous for you than handling meat for your own consumption. Elementary hygiene like washing your hands is going to keep you safe. Concerning the safety of your pets, you should freeze their food for a few days before feeding. This will kill the eggs of most parasites (e. g. tapeworms/roundworms) that might be in the meat. Freezing will not kill bacteria but it will merely slow their development. Feeding meat contaminated with too many bacteria is likely to cause diarrhea. Usually, it’s not serious and will resolve by itself in a couple of days. This is due to the fact that our pets are carnivores by nature and are pretty well adapted to meat pathogens. In my career of a raw feeder, I’ve had a few incidents of this but nothing that needed medication or any other veterinary intervention.

Salmon Poisoning Disease

Salmon and trout absolutely require freezing in order to kill a potential parasite that could kill your dog. According to this source, the duration of freezing should be at least two weeks. Cats are not afflicted by the disease.

Freezing Pork

Due to the risk of trichinosis and pseudorabies in my country, I always freeze pork for at least a month before feeding. You should check the status of these diseases at your location and take the appropriate measures if needed. Pseudorabies is a nearly 100% fatal disease for both dogs and cats.

Now What?

That was just some random info off the top of my head. Please, comment below if you are interested in my opinion about some other raw feeding topic, or if you would like me to elaborate on some of the stuff above.

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