An Easy Guide to Switching Your Dog to a Raw Diet
A wise man once said that a journey begins with a single step. This is true whether you’re starting a physical journey or a journey into feeding your dog a raw diet.
It can be easy to get overwhelmed, particularly when you’re starting out. Because many of us didn’t grow up feeding this way, we have a hard time imagining what it looks like and what to do. But don’t worry! At heart, switching your dog to a raw diet is very simple. Let’s look at how to get started together.
Making the switch
To start, you can take one of two approaches. The first approach, and the one I usually favor, is switching your dog to a raw diet with a quick, decisive step. Wait 12-24 hours from the last feeding of kibble (this gives the system a chance to digest and pass out the processed food), then start feeding raw. If your dog doesn’t eat that meal, it’s OK to let them fast and try again at the next meal. As long as they’re over a year old, it’s fine if they miss a few meals. Eventually healthy dogs will start eating the food you’re offering. And, the chances are good your dog may just dive right into the raw food, like they’ve been waiting for it all along!
The other option is switching your dog to a raw diet slowly. If you go this route, feed them 75% of their daily kibble in the morning, then 25% of their total daily raw allotment in the evening. Do this for a few days, monitoring their stool to make sure it’s firm and regular. If everything is fine, move them to 50% of their daily kibble in the morning, then 50% of their total daily raw allotment in the evening. Again, monitor their stool to make sure everything is staying regular and firm. If so, you can move them to 25% kibble in the morning, 75% raw in the evening. Once their stool is firm and regular, you can move them to 100% raw and no kibble. The whole process could take a few weeks.
I haven’t had much problem with diarrhea or other digestive issues when transitioning using the first method, but some dogs do have trouble. The slow method is safest if you’re concerned about your dog’s ability to handle the transition without digestive upset. Either option will get you there, so do whichever you feel most comfortable with. Just remember, if you use the first method, your dog may have some diarrhea or other issues. It’s important not to panic if that happens. You can slow the transition down, but make sure you keep transitioning. You’ve got this!
What proteins should you start with?
Many people prefer to start their dog off on a raw diet of chicken, because it’s relatively inexpensive, easy to find, easy on the stomach, and full of soft digestible bones. It’s very bony, which helps firm up stool that may be softer due to the diet change and resulting detox. However, you don’t have to start with chicken—if you have access to a different protein source (beef, for example), start with that. Try to get organic or pasture-raised animals. Make sure they’re antibiotic- and hormone-free. And if you can’t find organic/pasture-raised, at least get a brand that isn’t enhanced (injected with saline and/or flavor enhancers).
Transitioning to new proteins and organs
Whether you’re feeding commercial raw, prey model, or whole prey, try to feed the same protein source for at least a week, and preferably two, before you switch to a different protein source. Watch the stool to make sure it’s firm. You will notice your dog’s poop is much smaller, breaks down more quickly, and your dog doesn’t poop as much as they did when they were kibble-fed. Once the stool is consistently, but not overly, firm, start slowly introducing in organs (unless you’re feeding a commercial raw, which should already have organs in it). Start with liver and then start adding in other organ meats and glands. Alternately, you could give a quality organ and glandular supplement for dogs.
You can also start introducing other protein sources, but make sure to monitor your dog’s reaction to these changes. The key here is moderation, and there is no need to rush the introduction of new proteins or organs. Your dog will achieve a balanced diet over time, so whatever nutrients it doesn’t get in its meal today it will get tomorrow, or the day after that. This is the way animals in the wild also eat—with balance over time. If they required all their meals to be balanced in and of themselves every single time, they wouldn’t be able to function at an optimal level consistently. Our carnivore pets are the same way.
How much should you feed your dog?
When figuring out how much to feed your dog, aim to feed about 2-3% of its ideal body weight per day. For puppies, aim to feed about 2-3% of their ideal adult body weight. If you have no idea what your puppy’s ideal adult body weight will be, you can aim for 10% of their current ideal body weight, but monitor their weight changes and adjust the amount given as they grow. If your dog is underweight or overweight, you can adjust the amount you’re feeding to help them achieve their optimal weight.
Keep in mind that many kibble-fed dogs are overweight, and as a society we are used to seeing animals that are too heavy. When you look at your dog, you should be able to easily feel their ribs but not see them (unless their fur is very short). When you look down at your pet from above, you should see a narrowing where their hips are. If you cannot easily feel their ribs or see this narrowing, they are too heavy. If their ribs or hip bones jut out sharply, they are too thin. If their weight does need adjusting, do it slowly (balance over time!), and remember it’s better to have an animal that’s slightly thin than slightly heavy.
The 80/10/10 ratio
When you feed raw, you’re attempting to mimic what carnivores in the wild, particularly wolves, eat. The prey animals typically consumed by wolves and other predators in the wild are generally about 80-85% meat (including muscle meat, fat, connective tissue, skin, heart, lungs, and so on), 10-15% edible bone, and 5-10% organs. Therefore, general guidelines for a raw diet (both commercial raw and prey model) are about 80% meat, 10% bone, 5% liver, and 5% non-liver organs.
If you feed a prey model diet, remember this is achieved over time, so if, for example, you feed a lot of meat with less bone for several days in a row, aim to feed a bit more bone at the next meal. Aim to achieve these percentages (the 80/10/10 ratio raw feeders often refer to) over the course of a week.
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