Thanks, Biggie for that lovely introduction. Biggie's parents are raw-fed, his mom was raw fed while she was pregnant and nursing, and Biggie's been raw fed since he was 3 months old. In short, he's probably been eating kibble only about 7 weeks in his entire life.
WHY GO RAW?
There are a lot of sites that talk endlessly about the raw or "BARF" (Bones And Raw Food) diet but in this and the next few raw diet posts, I'll be talking mainly about what I do and how I feel about it.
1. You know what your dog's eating.
Given all the dog food recalls and scares of the past couple of years, it is pretty reassuring to see what goes into your dog's belly. It's all human grade and higher quality than any "meat byproduct" or corn or soy derivatives that end up in dog food.
2. It's healthier: weight control issues
A well-balanced, low-carb, low-fat diet does wonders. Jack, one of Biggie's terrier-mix friends, lost 5 pounds. It's also easy to manage your dog's caloric intake without making him feel STARVING by just changing the veggies-to-meat ratio. It's basically like increasing the size of the "salad" course so your dog doesn't miss the meat quite so much. It's also good for putting weight on: just add a little bit of richer meat, like liver or ground beef or lamb.
Finally, for a large/giant sized pup, raw is ideal for growing them slow. Large and giant breed pups can suffer from panosteitis and run a risk of joint problems later in life if they grow too fast. Too many people want to make their dogs gigantic, too quickly, and kibble contributes to that. When we went to Korea for a lengthy trip last year, we switched Biggie to kibble for a couple of weeks at the kennel, and he came back looking a little chubby. Switching him back to raw slimmed him down right away.
3. It's healthier: food allergies
Corn and soy and grains can wreak havoc with a dog's digestive system. If you have a dog with food allergies, feeding them raw is a quick way to pinpoint exactly what bothers their tummies, rather than playing a guessing game with the 20+ ingredients in kibble.
4. It's healthier: teeth
Chewing all those bones keeps teeth strong, healthy and CLEAN. It saves brushing time and keeps those pearly whites pearly and white. And when Biggie was a puppy and losing his baby teeth, all that raw diet helped him with his teething and helped the baby teeth fall out faster.
Oh yeah, and "dog breath" isn't an insult any more. No need for greenies, flossies, mint biscuits, or any other myriad products designed to get rid of dog halitosis because really, there isn't any.
5. It's healthier: temperament and behaviorDogs need to learn how to chew. And dogs on raw who chew their food eat a little more slowly. If you have a dog who inhales his food (and chokes or gets gas or stomach upset from eating too quickly), a raw diet with bones helps slow the process down. Some believe this reduces the chances of bloat as well.
Also, dogs that learn to chew on bones and food have less tendency to chew on inappropriate objects. I can't say that Biggie never chewed on anything inappropriate (one leg of our wooden 4-poster bed has some deep teeth marks in it), but the only chewing casualties in a year and a half have been one bed leg, a lightly nibbled sneaker, and one rubber flip flop. And the last 2 were done more for attention and tearing something up than a real chewing need. Considering that Biggie spends most work days in our bedroom with a few toys and his crate, and a wooden bed and a wooden dresser and no one to tell him no when he starts chewing, he could have done a lot worse.
Finally, all that chewing on good bones tires a puppy out, making him calmer. Maybe that doesn't matter so much with an adult dog, but for a teething pup it was a godsend.
7. It's better for the environment.
6. It's healthier: poop
When you walk a 110-lb dog around NYC and have to pick up poop, this factor quickly rises to #1. Dogs process raw food more efficiently and there are no fillers or artificial flavorings like kibble, so as a result the poops are pretty darned amazing. Biggie's poop on raw happens less often, in less volume, and is FAR less stinky. Some people go so far as saying it doesn't stink at all; I think the veggies make it smell a little but it's not nearly as bad as kibble poo. Also, they are really easy to pick up - as an added benefit, they're solid enough to express the anal glands, so you don't need a human to do this. Solid enough that if you ran out of bags and had to, say, use a stick to roll the poop into the sewer or under a bush, the poop stays intact and rolls nicely and doesn't leave a mark on the sidewalk or the stick, and you are not about to faint from the stink. I'm just sayin'.
How small is small? Biggie's poops are about the size of our old dog Boo's. Boo was a 25-lb American Eskimo. Also - because raw food doesn't have anything artificial in it, it biodegrades VERY quickly. If the dog is eating food with a lot of bone in it, the poop will be almost white and crumble to dust within 24 hours. Generally within 24-36 hours the poop will be ... disappeared.
7. It's better for the environment.
Since the food has no additives, preservatives or chemicals, Biggie's pee and poop are less harmful to the environment. His pee doesn't kill the grass like kibble pee does, and as I said before, his poop disintegrates pretty quickly as well. Basically, you have a walking compost pile if you have a dog on a raw diet. There are many things a dog on raw should not eat, but there are also a lot of byproducts from cooking (e.g. meat and vegetable trimmings) that don't have to spend years in a plastic bag in a landfill before returning to the land.
8. Good food is always available.You're only a supermarket run away from good food for your pup, and you don't need to worry about finding the right brand of food if you happen to run out. And, if you cook at all, chances are you have enough food in your fridge to tide you over for a meal or two. We realized this on a drive home form Vermont in a blizzard last winter. A 4-hour trip ended up taking close to 10 hours, and when we stopped for food we found a supermarket in town where we got a snack for the puppy as well. Sure, we could have gotten some dog biscuits, but instead we bought a pack of baby carrots and a pack of raw chicken wings. No bowl necessary - Biggie just chowed down in the parking lot and snacked on carrots on the long drive home.
(A side benefit is that having all that meat and vegetables in the house also means that I'm more likely to use some of it to cook dinner rather than calling for delivery - so this "pro" goes for the people in the house as well.)
9. Dogs love it.
Mealtime is one of the happiest times in our house. Not so when Biggie was on kibble, but we have one attentive dog when there's raw meat around.
Ok, but why NOT raw? Here's a number of common reasons why people are afraid to try a raw diet:
1. It's expensiveA pre-made, mail order raw diet is expensive, I agree. It can cost upward of $5 a pound. Considering that for raw food, an adult dog should eat about 1.5%-2% of his body weight, it would cost $10+ a day to feed Biggie. Which is why I make it at home. We're lucky to have a great butcher on our corner, so a variety of meat and bones cut and trimmed to order is readily available. While we will splurge on beef liver or lamb on occasion, we usually look for bulk deals and sale items. Even in NYC, we can feed Biggie on organic vegetables and chicken and turkey and fish scraps for about $1 a pound. While this is still more expensive per meal compared to kibble (raw food is heavier due to the water content), it's not necessarily cost-prohibitive. And if you find a good bulk meat supplier or can go to Costco, it can be cheaper than high quality kibble.
2. It's a lot of work.
Well... yes and no. There is definitely more prep work involved than opening a bag of kibble and scooping it into a bowl. There is the repackaging of bulk meat into manageable portions that can be taken out and defrosted when necessary (that's what I'm doing in the picture above), and there is also the Processing of the Vegetables, each of which can be a daunting task when you're first starting out, but once you get into a routine, each of these only needs to be done once every 3-4 weeks. Then, when you're feeding, it takes maybe 20 seconds more to put together a raw meal - a scoop of vegetables plus whatever supplemental stuff gets mixed in, and then plop the meat in the bowl and you're ready to go. It does take more time to feed your dog raw, but you will save time in fewer trips to the vet and less frequent teeth brushing.
3. I'm worried about salmonella.
If you dress like this, you should be ok:
But seriously, the dangers of salmonella are more of a concern to the humans in the household than the dog. It is important when handling raw meat to make sure you don't cross-contaminate utensils and food prep surfaces. But if you are cooking for humans you already know to do that, and it's really no different when prepping the dog's human-grade food.
4. It seems too complicated; I'm worried I'll mess it up.
This was a worry for us when we started, too. Luckily there are many good resources on the web (Stan and Big Pupi's blog has many links; I'll put some up too), and I had two kuvasz breeders I could email with questions. It seemed like every day I had another question, but there is a pretty supportive community out there and it's easy to do some web research and figure out the answer.
I also learned to relax over time. If each meal isn't perfectly balanced, it's not the end of the world, so long as over time the dog's getting what he needs. Sometimes Biggie got too much meat (one time I did my math wrong and he ended up eating a whole chicken over the course of a day), other times he might miss a meal or only get vegetables or only get meat because I ran out of something and was too
tired lazy to get the other. But Biggie continued to grow and thrive, so it seems to be working just fine even if each meal isn't always the perfectly balanced, perfectly portioned Ideal Raw Meal it is meant to be.
5. I'm worried that if my dog eats all that raw meat, he'll develop a blood lust.
Hm. Well, you got me there. Biggie obviously has the blood lust, as you can see by his latest (unsuspecting) dinner:
Question: If you feed raw, what is the biggest benefit you get out of it? And if you don't, what is the biggest deterrent?
TOTAL NON-SEQUITUR: I'm participating in Mango-minster this week too. Stop by Mango's bloggie to see some recent pictures of me in all my raw-fed glory! I hear that SOMEDOGS (Madison, I'm talking to you!) are getting all professionally groomed and such for Mango-minster, but I had to make do with a lame-o shower with P-Daddy because my humans are too cheap to shell out $150++ for a pro grooming. So I expect there will be some serious competition there.