Sunday, February 8, 2009

Why go raw? Pros and cons of switching to a raw diet for your dog

Biggie's disclaimer: Warning!! BORING times ahead. Instead of feeding me yummy raw meat, Momma has decided she's going to talk about it instead. Bla, bla, bla. And not even talking about THE MEAT; instead she's just talking about WHY she does it. I'll tell you why: BECAUSE IT IS DELICIOUS and MOMMA IS ONE CRAZY DOG LADY. That's why.


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.


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 behavior
Dogs 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.

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 expensive
A 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.


Anonymous said...

What a great post!! We love our raw diet and supper-time is an exciting time around here too! Good on yer DawgMom Biggie for feeding you the good stuff! Our DawgMom has a great Power Point Presentation about nasty ol' kibbles if yer DawgMom wants a copy, she's pee-mail it to you.
Feather, Darla, Pappy & Chico

Amber-Mae said...

Thanks for sharing this information on raw food with us all. My hoomans are still not very sure on switching our food to raw though. And anyway, we're doing well with what we're eating right now. She says there are risks that she doesn't want to take. She thinks cooked meat is still better. I guess, she just feels more comfortable with it. It's true though that NO kibbles or canned foods or so-called raw dehydrated food in the market be it soooper premium or not is good for any animals. Whatever it is, all processed food is bad. That's why we're slowly switching to purely home-cooked food.

Boogie Woogie,
Solid Gold Dancer

Mango said...

If Momma were a single dog mom, we would be raw by now, but Master said NO WAY! Oh well...


Lindsay said...

Thanks for the post! :)

Since I am eating about 50 percent raw myself, I've been thinking a lot about feeding my dog a raw diet also. I think he would be a lot healthier. He has a lot of allergy issues like itchy skin, dandruff, rashes and issues with his eyes from an allergen. These may or not be related to food, but it still wouldn't hurt to switch him over.

My main concern is whether or not I will be giving him all the nutrients he needs over time.

Stanislaw said...

Hey man! Whether fed raw, cooked or upside down you know that we're seriously huge fans of diets that allow humans to control contents and quality. No more mystery nuggets!

Biggie-Z said...

Hi Amber,

You should be extra careful now that you're eating for 6? or 8? or 10?? I do love cooked human food too, I get cooked chicken and rice sometimes for a treat or if my tummy is upset. But I love chomping on the bones and we're not really supposed to eat cooked bones, just raw bones.

Love, Biggie

Biggie-Z said...

Mango, does your Momma mean if you didn't have Pee Wee, or she didn't have Master? tee hee.

My Momma started me on the raw diet without P-Daddy's help. She did it all, and it was very frustrating for her. Now a year later, P-Daddy sometimes helps with the Processing of the Vegetables and the Dividing of the Meatables, and he does know how to feed me my raw diet (though sometimes it is missing things, which helped Momma RELAX about making sure each meal has everything the way she would make it). Momma still does most of the work with my food but she sure does appreciate the help with the PotV and DotM.

If Master has to clean your poops, he will come around very quickly once he sees how small and manageable your poops become. That's almost Momma's #1 reason for keeping me on raw.

jan said...

Very informative post. Thanks for taking the time to spell it all out. Biggie is certainly a testament to good nutrition. I'm wondering if you ever give him kibble or would he just turn his nose up and wait for the good stuff.

The poop treatise and the blood lust were most informative too. :)

Dannan and The Girl said...

Excellent post, Momma! I am encouraging The Girl to start feeding me raw, so more posts like this one will be pawsome!

Hey, Biggie, at least you got clean and a new picture! Girlie was too busy to even take a new photo, so it's an old one that we entered. Wroo!

Allison (Dog Mom) said...

Thanks sooo much for this post! Our mommee is learning all she can about raw. She's nervous about starting out, because we are very tight on money right now. Our mouths are drooling reading about the meat, though!

Gus and Waldo

ps. Waldo is in your group for Mango-Minster. See you in the ring!

Dannan and The Girl said...

Hey, Biggie, I've never tried rabbit poop, although I'd sure like to! My furends the Dughallmor Beagles chase rabbits all the time, and they highly recommend bunny poop.

I think that poop has to be considered raw, even though the mental gymnastics to justify this are too much for me! But especially if the pooper eats raw to begin with, then the poop has to be raw too, right?? Wroo, I'm confusing myself!

Biggie-Z said...

Jan - any help in figuring out how to get that last dinner to sit in the bowl (instead of putting the bowl on his head) would be most helpful! :)

Mango said...

Biggie, what was that you said about Master picking up my poop? Ha, ha, you are making a joke, right? Even if Momma did ALL the work for the raw foodables we still couldn't do it because Master would FREAK out over the mess and expense (I don't have a nice crate to dine in like yourself). Plus, on nights Momma works we would totally starve to death.

You look super in your show photo. That Madison is so vain I don't know if she can even tear herself away from the mirror long enough to pose.

Anonymous said...


Your dog may prefer his meat slightly aged instead of fresh and bury it in the flower beds or mulch.

My dog would eat cooked immediately. Raw was a special treat, to be stored carefully and savored later. Of course, he was always a thrifty dog and ate what he wanted, when he wanted to. We never needed to put him on a diet since he maintained his ideal weight even with free choice of food.

Currently Dogless

Esther said...

My first dog always had her meat served raw and frozen. She would bite and chew and keep busy for almost an hour, so that worked really well. She slept indoors however, so when she had puppies who later slept outdoors, we started cooking the meat because of poisoning danger. Today, our two dogs get a casserole each with cooked rice, vegetables, salt, oil, meat and bones. It works, but when I this weekend I gave Sheba a lump of frozen raw goat meat, and she loved it. It kept her busy for a looong time, which is what food is supposed to be all about.

A question for you: when you talk about raw, do you give raw veggies as well?

Victor and PeterPan said...

We've never had real raw meat, but we're our Mom's "biggest helpers" whenever she is making steak, so we always taste it to make sure it's "just right" before someone else gets to enjoy it. Totally unfair.

I think we'd like a raw food diet, though. After all, we REALLY like it when we get anything that comes out of the kitchen. Except lettuce. And spinach. Those are just gross.

But do you think we could convince our Mom to give us the raw diet on top of the kibble? We love the kibble too, and getting BOTH would be ideal!

Anonymous said...

I know this is a bit off so pardon my askin but btw this bolg is excellent

How old was Biggie before he was full grown can you tell me how much he wighs now and how tall he is

I have a 10 month old male he is about 88lbs and 26 1/2 inches now he is still "very much a puppy mentally" anyways just gettin anxious for him to mature already

Peanut said...

Hey Man thanks for the award. We will post about it asap. We used to get raw but mom hasn't found any good deals down here like when we were in Kentucky so we get it about 25% of the time now instead of full time. Teeth are still nice and clean though

Biggie-Z said...

Currently Dogless - because of his breed and because of where we live, Biggie is never allowed out with any food items anyway. We have no yard anywhere. But my next post has some suggestions about dealing with the "aging" issue.

Esther - I give ground raw veggies or, in a pinch, defrosted and mushed frozen veggies (peas, carrots, green beans).

Vic and PP - once you try raw, you will never want to go back to kibble again. Well, until you get sort of hungry. Then I guess you can suffer through a few bowls of kibble. But you will never take your raw food for granted. It's the most delicious stuff in the world.

Biggie-Z said...

Anonymous kuvasz owner:

Thanks for visiting!

Um... Biggie isn't full grown yet, in mind or body. He'll be 2 in May and he is still filling out. He's about 30" tall at the shoulders, and we guess he's around 105? Hard to tell, he hasn't been weighed since he was at the vet last summer when he was 98.5 lbs and shorter than he is now. He's continuing to fill out in the chest.

He is DEFINITELY calming down, he is very sweet and loving, and he doesn't run/jump or get hyper inside. But he still gets really silly sometimes and he loves to play games.

At 10 months Biggie was starting to mellow but he still had a lot of puppy goofiness in him. These guys need a lot of mental exercise or else they will get naughty. They also really have to work - you have to find ways for that drive to get exercised!

Good luck!

Biggie-Z said...

Anonymous kuvasz owner:

Thanks for visiting!

Um... Biggie isn't full grown yet, in mind or body. He'll be 2 in May and he is still filling out. He's about 30" tall at the shoulders, and we guess he's around 105? Hard to tell, he hasn't been weighed since he was at the vet last summer when he was 98.5 lbs and shorter than he is now. He's continuing to fill out in the chest.

He is DEFINITELY calming down, he is very sweet and loving, and he doesn't run/jump or get hyper inside. But he still gets really silly sometimes and he loves to play games.

At 10 months Biggie was starting to mellow but he still had a lot of puppy goofiness in him. These guys need a lot of mental exercise or else they will get naughty. They also really have to work - you have to find ways for that drive to get exercised!

Good luck!

Kess And Her Mama said...

A very informative post. Thanks for that.

PS. I love the new header of Biggie in the snow.

Chris and Mackenzie said... post! I've thought about going're making me think about it again.

with love, Madison said...

Okay so was there some inference about the vanity of a certain Giant-princess? What mirror? What haughty little gait? What knowing half-smile?


She wants to play, Biggie, and she is getting a little FRESH with the boys ...