Three Simple Steps to Help You Choose a Raw Pet Food
It’s expensive, messy, overly complicated, dangerous and many vets oppose it. So say its detractors. Why in the world would you want to feed your dog a raw diet?
In a word, health.
Despite the naysayers, you’ve decided you want your dog to enjoy the healthy benefits of live, raw food. And you’re in good company despite those who oppose this feeding approach. Much of that opposition comes from ignorance or misinformation.
Let’s concede there can be some potential downsides to raw feeding. While most dogs will thrive with this approach, some may not. Safety is certainly an issue we don’t want to ignore. Since you’ve read this far, you’ve already made the decision to get started with feeding raw, or are leaning in that direction. Let’s simplify the process and address those detractors at the same time.
Just like any food choice, feeding raw can appear overwhelming at the start
Not long ago, raw feeding was considered a fad and there were limited options available. Now, large corporations are offering their raw pet food products across the US and overseas.
These expanded options offer more choices than ever, but can also add to your confusion about how best to begin. So let’s break things down to three steps which will greatly simply your process. Give some thought to answering these three questions:
- Do I want to feed raw to supplement or as a sole diet?
- What form of raw food would best suit my needs?
- Do I want to feed a single protein or rotate between a variety of proteins?
Let’s begin by examining how to begin your transition to feeding a raw diet to your pet.
Do you want to feed raw to supplement or as a sole diet?
I’m guessing your preference is to begin feeding a sole diet as quickly as possible. If you’ve got a small dog, you may be able to easily do just that without much trouble.
With a medium or large breed dog, feeding only a raw diet can initially introduce a bit of sticker shock. There are ways to minimize this, and feeding raw as a supplement is a good place to begin.
Whichever approach now seems more appealing, you may still have some lingering questions or concerns
Many of these questions can be answered by using raw food as a supplement
If you like the idea of feeding raw and are anxious to get started, adding raw as part of your dog’s daily meal(s) is an ideal way to begin. You’ll start to see some benefits fairly quickly, and it will allow you to develop your new feeding routine. It will also let you see how your dog reacts to this new form of food. I’m guessing there will be much wagging of tails and enthusiastic dancing!
Feeding raw is a bit more time consuming than just reaching into a bag and dumping crunchies into a bowl. There is some planning and thought required to ensure you’ve thawed what you need before it’s fed. There’s an additional clean up step following feeding. None of these steps are particularly time consuming. They may add an additional 30-60 seconds to your feeding time once you develop your routine.
Remember, you are dealing with raw meat
Raw pet foods should be handled with the same care as any raw meat you prepare for yourself. Clean up any preparation area, serving utensils, feeding bowls and wash your hands with hot soapy water.
Stainless steel bowls are highly recommended. Stainless is easily cleaned and germs cannot find a home in cracks or scratches as they can in plastic or ceramic bowls. Some pet parents keep a separate rag or sponge reserved for raw food bowl cleaning. This is an excellent idea to avoid cross-contamination.
Unlike kibble, you won’t want to leave uneaten raw food sitting in a bowl for later. In the unlikely event your dog does not finish a meal that includes raw food, place it in the fridge for another time. This is especially important if you have small children in the house.
Adding raw as a supplement eases you into these new tasks and gives you a better sense of cost. It also slowly introduces your dog to the new form of food.
There are two schools of thought about using raw as a supplement
Some raw feeding advocates feel it is fine to use raw as a topper or mixed into kibble. An alternative perspective holds that since these different food forms are digested at different rates, they should be fed separately. So who is correct?
That’s for you to decide. As with every decision you’ll make with your raw feeding regimen, choose whichever approach makes the most sense to you. The more comfortable you are with your choice, the easier it will be to maintain, adjust and improve.
One major raw and kibble manufacturer now offers a line of kibble which includes freeze-dried raw pieces. They also offer a line of raw-coated kibble. It’s interesting to watch how these new raw options are being marketed as a way to simplify raw feeding. Although this does simplify things, I’m not a big fan of either approach if feeding raw is your true goal.
For the record, I have no problem mixing raw and kibble, which may cause screams from some. I’ve done this for years with my dogs and have never seen a digestive issue result. That’s not to say some dogs would do better being fed kibble in the morning and raw in the evening or vice versa. What makes more sense to you? That should be your starting point.
And then there is the cost factor
Raw food will cost you more than any other commercially produced form of pet food. There’s no way around that, but there are ways to manage that cost. Supplementing with raw rather than feeding a complete raw diet is a good way to begin. Chances are once you begin to see the benefits of your raw supplementation you’ll want to increase the percentage.
Your choice of brand is the other way to control your costs. As with any pet food, you’ll find a range of pricing for different brands of raw pet food. Pricing varies as a result of manufacturer, protein source, quality and other factors. Just as with kibble, price often, but not always, increases with quality.
At present, any of the raw food options available will offer superior nutrition when compared to even the “best” kibble on the market. So does that mean you should just choose the cheapest raw diet and call it good?
There’s more to your choice than cost
The least expensive raw food may work fine as a supplement initially, but may also limit you over time. The cheapest raw food is an excellent choice when budget is your primary concern, you expect to continue to only supplement with raw, and you’re happy with the product you find.
In this case, a balanced raw chicken formula from a reputable manufacturer may be where you start and stay.
If your longer term goal is ease of use or protein rotation, take this into consideration along with price when exploring your options. Additional preferences like organic or free-range ingredients, grain or grain-free, and ingredient sensitivities should also be considered when evaluating your choices.
Some raw foods use bone meal, others use ground bone. If this is important to you, check the ingredient listing. You’ll find raw diets have a much shorter ingredient list than kibble. It’s real food, so there’s less of a need for a long list of added supplements.
Some formulas incorporate more whole food ingredients specifically to eliminate the need for added vitamin and mineral supplements. Again, if that’s attractive to you it will be evident on the label.
Your first experiment with raw food is about to begin
Congratulations! You’ve taken the first step by pondering the choice of supplementation vs. sole diet. There’s no “right way” to do this since any additional raw food your dog enjoys will provide benefits above and beyond kibble alone.
Once you’ve given some thought to all this, you’re ready to move on to your next choice, choosing an appropriate form of raw pet food.