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What is Raw Dog Food?

What is Raw Dog Food? Let’s start by answering some of the simple questions of definition – what is raw dog food and then review why we think it is the right dietary choice for your dog or puppy.

What Does a Raw Dog Food Diet Consist of?

For all of those new to the raw dog food revolution, those recently returned from an extended trip to the European Space station, or an enforced media blackout, you may be wondering what this is all about. What’s everyone making such a meal of and why is it causing so much controversy? What is raw dog food all about?

To keep this digestible and palatable, we are going to cater to all tastes here, including those simply curious to explore a few more facts around this much hyped method of eating for dogs. So please sit back, relax and read on.  But let me be honest from the outset: having witnessed the health transformations in now literally countless dogs, I am a believer and an advocate of raw dog food. I hope by the end of this article you will be too.

What is Raw Dog Food: Article Sections

So what is raw dog food? We are going to cover the following 5 areas to answer this question:

  • Principles of a Raw Dog Food Diet
  • The Ratios of Meat & Vegetables
  • Essential Amino Acids in a Raw Diet for Dogs
  • Should You be Feeding Your Dog Offal?
  • Is Varying Raw Meals Better?

So lets take this from the very top and dive straight in with…

The Principles of a Raw Dog Food Diet

The Raw Food Diet is based on what is believed to be the evolutionary feeding template of wolves, the nearest forebears and evolutionary ancestor to our domestic dogs. It is from the wolf that every single dog breed, mix medley and surprise has sprung from after all.

The Evolution of a Dog

But what does all that mean? Increasingly, we are seeing evidence, both from research and clinical feedback (results in clinics, vet’s surgeries, and health practices) that, by eating the foods they have evolved to eat, dogs enjoy better health. Makes total sense, right?  It’s exactly the same in the human world, where the “Paleo Diet” has swept us all by storm in the last 5 years.

The Paleo Diet encourages humans to eat an “evolutionary template of foods”, one which our bodies were designed to eat to get the best from those bodies, be it health, longevity, leanness or energy. Think meat, fish, vegetables, healthy fats and limited fruits. Of course, your personal health requirements need to be taken into account alongside this.  It’s exactly the same story with dogs. If you feed dogs foods they have not evolved to eat, they find them difficult to digest.

Dog Health Issues and Raw Feeding

The wrong diet can affect a dog’s blood sugar, create inflammation, and lead to health issues. Advocates of raw feeding (myself included) attribute the rapid rise of dog cancer and early onset auto immune disease to the mainstream food and chemicals dogs have been increasingly exposed to over the last 15 years; ones which they were never designed to eat.

Just like with ourselves, we want our dogs to experience health,  longevity and vibrant energy. By switching them over to the foods they have evolved to eat, most of the mainstream health issues dogs experience seem to be miraculously disappearing.

We wouldn’t be surprised to hear the garage mechanic tell us we had voided the warranty on our new car because we filled it with wine not petrol. So why should we surprised to hear that feeding dogs newly invented processed food high in sugar, carbohydrate and rancid fats is remotely healthy or helpful. Feeding raw respects the warranty on your dog. This is what they’re built for, so this is what you should feed them.

Dogs and Wolves: The Evolution of Diet

What limited studies are out there show that wolves were scavengers, predatory yes but scavengers who preyed on a wide variety of meats and wherever available, including fish and seafood. They ate whole carcasses, organ meats and whatever was in the animal’s stomach – be it partially fermented grass, fruits, some vegetables – and plenty of fur and cartilage for fibre. Depending on the year and availability, they may have even scavenged some berries directly.

In addition to this template, many believe – myself and the Bella & Duke crew amongst them – that adding a few select vegetables and fruits can increase the antioxidant consumption of the dog whilst decreasing cancer/illness risks. The key here is a “few” and “select”. Why? Because if we stray too far from the path of a dog’s evolutionary capacity, you challenge their immune system and digestion rather than help it. Plus, increasing a dog’s fruit (sugar) consumption beyond a certain level can contribute to diabetes and inflammation. More on this later.

How Dogs are Different

Yes, by definition, dogs have evolved from wolves in that they have changed, adapted and generally moved on. They also sleep inside and have easier lives of it on the whole, so their digestion is slightly different. For instance, we know that domestic dogs have ever so slightly more amylase, the digestive enzyme responsible for carbohydrate digestion than wolves. Dogs can therefore tolerate some carbohydrates and sugar; hence the inclusion of some fruits and vegetables in a raw diet.

But this is the key part: biological evolution often lags behind advances in the environment. It adapts or dies. And what we are seeing is that the mainstream processed kibble – high in sugar, heavy in carbohydrate and laden with DNA damaging oxidised fat – is not promoting positive adaption, but instead earlier illness and death.

The Ratios of Meat and Vegetables

The most well known of the “Raw Diets” is BARF (Bones and Raw Feeding). This is one of the “Ancestral Templates” out there, which promotes an 80:10:10 ratio of Meat, Bones and Offal. Of the offal, many practitioners tout 5% liver and 5% other offal as an ideal mix.

Whilst I believe this is a great template and a sound guideline, it is in my humble opinion only that: a guideline. The reason for this is that wolves, as scavengers, will have enjoyed hugely varied diets, be it feasting on a wild boar or chasing down a pack of hares. All of these foods are equally valid but enormously different. We also have a seasonal overlay to put on top of this.

Adding Vegetables and Berries

Additionally to the Meat, Bones & Offal recommendation, several influencers are promoting a ratio of 15-20% vegetables and berries. So practically speaking, a new revised ratio is 64:8:8:20 (meat, bones, offal, vegetables and berries). Apart from the antioxidant benefits, the soluble and insoluble fibres in the fruit and veggie components help grow good gut bacteria and maintain gut motility.

Once again, the key is avoiding over stepping this sugar quota, even if it is fruit, to avoid excess demand on insulin and inflammation. Reap the benefits, avoid the downsides.

Essential Amino Acids in a Raw Dog Food Diet

Many owners are seduced by the marketing of total protein content. However, it’s really the amino acid profile and presence which is much more important. There are 22 amino acids of which a dog can make 12 itself (cats can make 11). An essential amino acid is one of these which CANNOT be made in the body and needs to be sourced through the diet or supplementation. It is essential in the diet.

These ten essential amino acids for dogs include:

  • Arginine
  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophane
  • Valine

Cats also need Taurine (this is what makes cat food different to dog food largely).

Myths about Protein for Dogs

There are many protein myths lurking about in the ether and the top three are:

  1. Higher protein equals better quality. Not so; better quality equals better quality.
  2. Protein is just protein. Not so, better quality is better quality.
  3. Protein will make my dog angry, sad, grumpy or create liver and kidney disease. Not so; quality, species-appropriate protein will never do this.

So what is good quality species-appropriate protein? Quality graded animal based protein – with all of the essential amino acids present and most of the others too – will help support your dogs health, energy and longevity. It will also help cell repair, promote recovery from exercise, and provide lots of vitamins and minerals to boot.

It’s true that some dogs on higher protein diets have suffered from symptoms mentioned above in the past. These are invariably dogs fed on either rendered proteins, which have been highly processed, heated and oxidised, or dehydrated proteins, which force the liver and kidneys to work unnaturally hard.

Raw feeding is all about giving the food to the dog in the most natural state possible with minimal processing. Mincing, mixing and freezing is all you will ever need. The food will do the rest!

The Role of Offal in Raw Dog Food

Offal is the internal organs and stomach contents of the animal. To keep this simple, if you are sourcing your protein from reputable providers then you should be feeding these to your dog. Offal represents some of the most nutrient-rich food on the planet. Dogs and Wolves naturally gravitate to this for a reason. If you happen upon a pack of wolves on a fresh kill they invariably go for the stomach, its contents and the organ meats first. They are jam packed not only with essential amino acids but also loaded with vitamins and minerals.
Why is a reputable source important? Because these organ meats can also be where the animal protein source harbours its toxins. Say a cow has been fed on the cow equivalent of processed kibble rather than allowed to graze outside. It stands to reason that its liver won’t be as healthy to consume as one that has been raised on a natural diet. You are what you eat.

Is Varying Meals Better in a Raw Dog Food Diet?

I have written a whole post on this in the past and the short answer is YES. Most definitely. There are two main reasons.

  1. Firstly, by varying the proteins your dog is exposed to, you are maximising the likelihood of your dog receiving the full spectrum of amino acids in the correct balance.  There’s a whole host of science we could go into about organ meats and muscle protein differences, but the short, accessible,  digestible answer is that protein variety is the spice of life and the fountain of health.
  2. Secondly, by varying the protein your dog feeds on, you are also minimising the likelihood of he or she developing food intolerances. All dogs will have at some time a degree of intestinal permeability (leaky gut), which is the gateway to developing unwanted immune reactions. This is made worse by repeated exposure to the same food. The best way to prevent this is happening is by maintaining the integrity of your dogs gut lining. The next component is to vary protein.

The Rotation Raw Diet

A template that has been used successfully for this, the Rotation Diet, varies the protein on a four day cycle. So for example, beef for four days, then chicken for four days, then fish for four days. This allows a breathing space for the immune system to desensitise to specific proteins. However, if you suspect your dog already has an allergy or intolerance, then you will need to keep them off it for much longer than 4 days. Try keeping them off the food for 28 days, then reintroduce slowly.

Want to read more about intolerances and allergies? Check out the Bella & Duke post “Intolerances: What are they and how to avoid them” and feel free to message me: rowan@bellaandduke.com. Any humans reading this who wonder about their own food intolerances or health issues? Try me on rowan@themodernsensei.com where I will be more than happy to help you radically change the dial on your own health.

Wishing you well,

Rowan & Kismet

What is Raw Dog Food?

Other articles following on and exploring these themes more:

Understand Natural Diets for Dogs

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