A Milestone & 5 Tips for New Raw Feeders
We're celebrating an anniversary! We are now in year 5 of feeding our dogs, Jake and Coral, a raw diet! Does Hallmark have a celebratory Raw-versary card?
I think back to when I used to feed kibble and wonder what Jake's life would have been like if I hadn't switched him to a raw diet*. I call those days my 'Kibble Roller Coaster' as I tried to find a type of kibble Jake could eat that wouldn't cause flare ups of his colitis. I can't imagine what misery he would have endured if I hadn't started feeding him the type of food his body was meant to have. I wrote about Jake and his return to health here.
And now, I have two thriving 7 year old golden retrievers who, according to the charts, are senior dogs - and yet, evidently, they did not read that section in the textbook! I often say that my dogs de-aged once I stopped feeding them kibble and started feeding them a raw diet. Jake's face has whitened as he's gotten older, he and Coral have mellowed a bit, and both have developed some very endearing routines that come with age, but I see no other signs of slowing down.
There are no guarantees when it comes to the health and longevity of our dogs, but feeding a fresh, unprocessed diet is one of the best things we can do to support our dog's health. Jake went from being a dog who became very sick from eating a single goldfish cracker, to enjoying a tremendous variety of food. One of my goals when working with dogs is to create an "iron gut", since gut health is intricately linked with the immune system.
I didn't fully know what to expect when I first started feeding my dogs raw food, and in honour of my Raw-versary, I'm sharing 5 tips to help novice raw feeders:
5 Tips for New Raw Feeders
1) You need freezer space. Whether you decide to use commercial raw dog food, or prepare a recipe from scratch (preferably under the guidance of a canine nutrition professional), you will need freezer space to store your dog's raw food. An average sized adult dog might eat approximately 1lb of food a day which takes up a good chunk of real estate in the freezer, especially if you also need room for ice cream. I bought a large freezer for the basement to store dog food and it has been extremely handy.
2) Tools of the Trade. There are a few kitchen items you need when you begin to feed a raw diet. A food scale, serving spoon, and measuring spoons are essential tools for accurately measuring your dog's food and supplements. You'll also need a few dedicated leak-proof containers with lids to store unused, thawed raw food.
3) Go at your own pace. It can be easy for novice raw feeders to feel a bit overwhelmed with information and food choices. I recommend that you get a nutritionally complete core diet in place and then gradually work towards enhancements (things like medicinal mushrooms, herbs, and an expanded selection of antioxidant-rich fruit and veggies). Remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint, and small improvements over time are totally fine.
4) Become educated and be wary of click-bait headlines! Lots of people have lots of opinions about how to feed your dog, however, advice from other pet parents and pet store staff is not necessarily accurate or applicable to your dog. Sometimes my head spins with all the misinformation I find on forums and Facebook groups. I can only imagine how frustrated pet parents must feel when trying to sort out fiction from fact. Find a few trusted and reliable resources to guide you and be wary of attention grabbing click-bait headlines on websites and social media.
One reason why pet parents may choose kibble is because it takes the guesswork out of feeding their dog. Raw feeders need to do a bit more legwork and become educated about their dog's nutritional requirements, and how to meet those requirements, but the health benefits are worth it.
5) Prepare your elevator pitch. Raw feeding tends not to be a popular choice for traditional veterinarians, for a number of reasons, and most veterinarians receive extremely little unbiased nutrition education. As well, a 'raw diet' can mean a lot of different things. A raw diet can be a disastrous, nutritionally deficient hot mess, or it can be a nutritionally complete diet that meets NRC recommended amounts for the age and stage of the puppy or adult. Think ahead for how you will handle your veterinarian's concerns about nutritional adequacy, and let her or him know your plan for dealing with potential bacteria.
Finally... Raw feeding is not a 'set it and forget it' process, in the way that kibble feeding is a daily routine of scoop and serve, but it does get much easier as you go along. After all these years of raw feeding, I still look at my dogs' meals - filled with amazing, colourful, fresh, bioavailable ingredients and think "Wow, look at what Jake and Coral get to eat!"
*Important to Know! When I say 'raw diet' I mean a nutritionally complete raw diet. Raw diets must meet the nutritional requirements of your dog's age and stage.