By The Science of Pet Nutrition

If someone wants to start feeding raw – how do they go about it? There are a lot of different views on this!

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If someone wants to start feeding raw – how do they go about it? There are a lot of different views on this!

We all know that there are hundreds of different “opinions” on the internet on what constitutes as the “right” way to raw feed your dog. It can be daunting just differentiating between the “good” information …and the “repeated” information.  Just because you see something written 100 different times in 50 different places, doesn’t make it true. So it’s important to keep that in mind, to research, and to understand this before investing in any “one right” way of feeding.  I personally choose the science based version because it makes me feel better knowing there are studies, research, and information to back it up; however it will be up to you, as your dog’s owner, to choose what you feel is best for them.

So let us dig a little deeper. I think it is important that you first ask yourself “Am I wanting to feed commercial raw or do a DIY diet (raw, cooked, etc.)”  There are pros and cons to each so let’s discuss both commercial and DIY raw diets: 

Let’s start with a commercial raw diet. This might be more appropriate for someone who can afford it. Commercial diets tend to be more expensive than a DIY. But the advantage to a commercial raw is that they are pre-formulated and more appropriate than a badly prepared DIY diet in which the owner doesn’t have the prior experience in canine nutrition, which reallyis needed. Commercial diets are also great for those who do not have the time or desire to prep homemade raw dog food. It can be very time consuming to get all the ingredients and combine them into meals for your dog. Buying a bag of raw and measuring and serving, similar to what we do with kibble, is a lot easier and more convenient.  Lastly, not everyone is educated enough (nor has the time to commit to said education) to learn or know how to properly formulate a DIY diet. It’s not just about throwing some raw ingredients together and “balancing over time,” or hoping it balances- it’s a little more complicated than that. Samples include Mineral interactions within the body, too much of one and not enough of another, etc. So not knowing how to formulate nor having the time to do so properly is another reason a lot of people enjoy commercial raw.

But for a lot of us, DIY raw tends to be the answer. In today’s society, many households just cannot afford the prices of commercial raw foods and thus we must create our own.  DIY raw tends to be cheaper. This is because we can find sales/deals, friends or family give us leftover freezer meat or we can advertise and sometimes get free “freezer clean outs.” Hunters also often times will give their excess scraps away as well, but more importantly, we’re cutting out the middle man which drops costs dramatically.  When the prices are not inflated for profit, you don’t have to pay as much. Another HUGE beneficial part of a properly formulated DIY raw is that you can formulate for your dog specifically. With the education you’ve learned from improving your canine nutrition knowledge, you can formulate exactly what your best friend needs.  There are many dogs that have specific health restrictions, allergies, intolerances, diseases, etc. that seem to be intensified by commercial products. (Ok, maybe not necessarily intensified but more so, they seem to disappear more with a properly formulated DIY diet). With a DIY raw, you can adjust the diet specifically for your own dog and thus create a diet that is more optimal for him (or her) than the “generic” meal plan you get with commercial diets; Which have to be formulated for multiple dogs in mind, instead of just one. Having a more individualized meal plan for your dog can benefit them greatly- I know it does for Nemo!  So, for a lot of you, a DIY raw has improved your dog’s life (symptoms, issues, etc) and that’s why you chose to do a DIY in the first place! Lastly, it may be more time consuming but knowing that you have a diet formulated specifically for your dog’s nutritional needs, is worth it for a lot of us; especially the nerdy ones.  

Besides, there are ways to create a less time consuming DIY. I’d like to go into more detail on that now:

  1. Do bulk batches instead of daily meal preps. For most, trying to create a balanced diet every day for a dog can be both time consuming and energy draining not to mention maddening. Instead, formulate a “daily” diet and then multiply it. Ideally, you would either hire a professional OR use a program such as Pet Diet Designer (releasing as PetDiet365) or Chronometer, or even something as simple as an excel sheet or a good old pen and paper. [Note: You’ll need the help of a professional if you don’t have the knowledge to do it yourself. Knowing about the NRC and how to formulate using the nutrient requirements of dogs (and cats) is vital in a properly formulated diet!] So pay a professional to make you a recipe (or a few) and meanwhile, you can educate yourself so that you can create one in the future and not have to worry about it! [The Possible Canine has courses that are extremely valuable in this aspect. BASICS OF CANINE NUTRITION and CANINE DIET FORMULATION would be exceptional courses to sign up for in order to establish the education to start successfully formulating your own diets.] I am currently enrolled on both, among others. But in the beginning of my own journey, even I had a professional formulate my dog’s diet so that I could focus on learning and educating myself before I dove into the diet formulations. …Now that you have a diet formulated, simply multiply that daily diet by a time frame in which you feel you will have time to meal prep again! I normally recommend 1, 2 or 3 week intervals. I personally use 3-5+ different recipes and I will alternate between them.

My “magic” number seems to be about 16 days per recipe batch. My formulations seem to create “even” numbers in the supplements needed, etc. and 16 days gives me over 2 weeks to prepare for another batch prep. Another cool thing is, if you have the freezer space, (and are an advanced batch prepper) you can actually do multiple recipe batches in one day. All you have to do is make sure you keep each recipe separate (so I advise only doing one at a time) and freeze the extras. This can create several months’ worth of food in smaller batch sizes. [You wouldn’t want to do several months of one recipe for many reasons, one big one being that it’s just too much of a mineral/vitamin distribution for that long.] In 1, 2 and 3 week batch preps, the nutrients are all distributed between those days. It’s best to keep smaller time frame batches for optimal absorption. Another reason being that if your dog doesn’t do well on a particular recipe OR if your dog is picky, you only have to get through 1, 2 or 3 weeks and then can adjust to a new one to reignite interests or to remove completely and start a new one! Once you have a “Batch” prepped (being sure you keep the “must feed daily’s” separate, simply divide the batch total by the number of days and divide that amount into small daily portion sized baggies. (I usually use sandwich baggies for Nemo) and I place about 4 of them into a gallon storage baggie. Then I simply pull one bag, feed for 4 days and pull another one. I empty the contents of the one “daily” baggy into the food dish, and add my daily requirements (vitamins (E, D, B, etc.), (fish, etc.) oils, eggs/fish if in the recipe, etc. Then I place it down and let them eat!

2. Write things down and learn where your time consumption is spent and try to “problem solve” on ways to reduce time. If you know where the delays are, you can possibly save more time as you learn and evolve with your meal preps!

3. For those of you who have to do cooked diets (like myself) instead of raw, try Bulk Cooking! This works great because you can cook “all” of one protein, for instance, and then just freeze the rest! What I actually do is use those “not for resale” individual 1lb ground beef baggies. I’ll cook, say my beef liver, the WHOLE beef liver, and save what I don’t use. To give you an idea, nemo eats half an oz. a day of beef liver. A whole beef liver weighs probably 15-20 lbs.! So I cut it into little bite size chunks, boil or pan fry it, and then I normally just freeze the pre-cooked liver in said baggies. Lastly, I will measure out the needed portion sizes for certain recipes (which I plan to feed next) and store them, pre measured and pre-cooked in the freezer. When I take time to do this, I simply have to pull a pre-done baggie from the freezer, thaw and throw into my batch because it’s already pre measured out for my recipe. I make sure to write the amount, the ingredients, and how many days the amount provides for before popping them into the freezer. So the upfront time it takes me to individually cook and bag it is saved for later on when I maybe am running low on time and food and I need to prep again! This helps save me from unthawing too much or not enough and wasting even more time! It’s extra work right away but in the long run, I find it most time saving!

4. Talk with other raw feeders who can give ideas and tips on how to improve time spent prepping. We nerds really enjoy talking about meal preps, so join us in RFN and learn some possible new ways on how to cut meal prepping time! We all have those “well, I know what NOT to do” moments and those help also! LOL

Now, Due to my intricate detailing and lack of time and space, I have to finish up this question quickly with one last suggestion. In addition to determining whether to feed commercial or DIY, I lastly recommend building a strong foundation in your understanding of canine nutrition and the dog’s nutritional needs. Formulation is a whole other step that can be time consuming at first. The difference with using a nutritional approach in raw feeding is that you fully understand what your dog needs and what your dog is getting in the diet. After learning about nutrition and formulation, you can move on to transitioning to raw. Transitioning will be different depending on the dog. Some dogs benefit from longer transition periods while others can make the switch quicker. In general, a cold turkey transition (even though popular) will result in digestive upset. What the dog was eating before will also determine how the transition will go. For a more comprehensive guide, I recommend checking out this one from Raw Fed and Nerdy.

Part 4 —— Part 6