When we switched from dry kibble to a raw food diet for our 2 dogs about a year ago, we weren’t sure it was the right choice at first.
Would they eat it? Is it really safe? Will they have problems digesting it well? Those, and many more questions, made me nervous about making such a drastic change.
But a year later, I’ve found the best raw food diet for dogs that works great for our German Shepherds, and they’re thriving on it!
Why We Chose A Raw Diet
The decision to switch from dry kibble to a raw food diet wasn’t one that we took lightly. Both of our dogs, Sasha and Tahlen, had always done OK on their dry food until a couple of years ago.
Each one started having some itchy skin issues, their coats were thinning and rougher, and they were both prone to yeast infections in their ears. Their vet suspected allergies, with their food being the probable culprit.
So we started on the search for a better food and to try to find out what ingredients they could be allergic to. We started off with minimal ingredient kibble, which Sasha somewhat ate, but Tahlen hated.
Over the course of about a year, we tried 3 different specialty dog foods. In order for Tahlen to eat enough to keep his weight up, we had to add canned food as well.
The result was that neither dog made an improvement with their allergy symptoms, and we were spending a huge amount of money on this specialty food.
In addition, Sasha was gaining way too much weight. This was alarming since she had already torn her CCL on her back right leg and had to have surgery a couple years earlier.
Her surgeon warned that she could likely tear her other CCL in the future, especially if she got overweight. So it was important to keep her lean.
That led me to research more options, and I found the BARF Diet. Sounds kinda weird, right?
BARF stands for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. Basically, the diet consists of raw meat, organs, and bones, supplemented by vegetables, grains, and fruits.
Next, I want to share with you the benefits of the BARF diet that convinced me to give it a try!
Benefits Of A Raw Diet
There are numerous benefits for your dog with a BARF diet, and I can testify that we’ve seen many of them in Sasha and Tahlen during the last year. Among them are:
- Better food digestion
- Reduction in the number of allergy symptoms
- Shinier and healthier coats
- Higher level of stamina and energy
- Much better weight control
- Smaller stools
- Better mobility
- Healthier immune system
When looking at a choice between highly processed kibble/canned food and the natural meat, bones, and organs that dogs have eaten for thousands of years, we had no trouble making the decision to go raw.
What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was the amount of resistance I received from so many people, and even some from our vet! It seemed that a lot of it centered around the idea of handling so much raw meat.
But I live with a meat and potatoes man. So not many days go by that I’m not cutting up a chicken, mashing ground beef into a meatloaf, or cooking up pork chops. So I was confident that safe practices while preparing the food weren’t going to be a problem.
A far as our vet, their concern was mainly that the dogs get the proper nutrition. But I showed them how I researched the diet and what ingredients we were going to use, and then scheduled an appointment for a recheck after 3 months.
What we found was that both dogs not only did well on the BARF diet, they absolutely thrived on it! All of their blood work was good, they had great energy, their coats were healthier, and their allergy symptoms definitely decreased.
The one downside was that Sasha started losing weight pretty fast, which was concerning, but I thought it was due to her increased activity coming out of winter along with the new diet.
While the vet wanted to keep her lean due to her knee issues, she was worried about her keeping a healthy muscle tone.
So I rechecked the amount of food we were feeding them and realized that I had miscalculated! Sasha was getting a few less ounces each day than she should have been.
So we upped her food intake, and by her next checkup, her vet was pleased with her overall health and muscle tone.
I recommend partnering with your vet when switching to a raw food diet. Even though they were a bit doubtful at first, their advice and guidance was extremely helpful in making sure our dogs had everything they needed.
The Diet We Created For Our German Shepherds
The dogs’ diet evolved over the first few months as we learned what ingredients were easier to process and more readily available. Here is what they currently eat:
- Chicken–we use drumsticks whenever possible since the meat/fat/bone ratio is good, and they’re the easiest to grind up.
- Beef–we grind up our own roasts instead of using hamburger
- Venison–whenever we have some available
- Turkey–the bones are harder than chicken bones, so we purchase already ground turkey
- Duck Necks–we grind
- Hearts and Gizzards–mostly chicken plus some beef heart
- Organ Meats–a good variety can be hard to find, we buy a ground mixture that makes up about 10% of the meat in the diet
- Green Tripe
These ingredients make up about 20% of their total diet:
- Whole Eggs–including the shell
- Brown Rice
The chicken and beef are the biggest portion of their diet, at approximately 40% chicken and 15% beef. The amounts of the other meat and poultry are dependent upon availability and what’s on sale.
We haven’t used pork yet, but will be incorporating it into the diet when we pick up our butchered pig later this month. After doing a lot of research, I feel comfortable that today’s pork is a healthy choice for our raw dog food.
Green tripe is the content and stomach lining of grazing animals, like cows or goats. It has good bacteria, enzymes, and much needed nutrients. You’ll hate the smell, but your dog will love it!
The non-meat ingredients play a vital role in making sure that they get a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and some carbohydrates.
Initially, we also included fresh salmon, but it’s extremely expensive in our area. So we opted for a high quality wild Alaskan salmon oil supplement instead.
The only other supplement we use is glucosamine for Sasha. She has arthritis developing in her knees, and we’ve definitely seen a difference in her mobility with a glucosamine tablet twice a day!
But one thing we’ve learned over the last year about our BARF diet is to not stress about making sure that the dogs get exact amounts of each ingredient every day.
The proportions change based upon things like sales and discounts, unavailability of items, and simply forgetting to buy something. We live in the country, and if you forget, you do without!
All that really matters is that over a period of a week or a month, the dogs get everything they need.
How We Prepare And Store Raw Dog Food
We prepare about 4 weeks of raw dog food at a time, which is about 110 lbs. worth. All the meat and poultry stay frozen until the day we’re ready to grind up a batch.
About 5 hours before we’re ready to start, I set all the frozen ingredients out on the table to start thawing. They’re still half frozen when we start to grind.
This makes it easier to run through the grinder and, most importantly, ensures that all the raw meat stays very cold throughout the whole process.
While waiting for all the meat to thaw, I prepare the brown rice and refrigerator it. The rice is the only cooked food in this diet, and it’s included as a healthy whole grain at the advice of our vet.
Next, I run the whole eggs, carrots, broccoli, apples, and celery through a food processor. Tip: We learned that having a heavy-duty unit makes this process a lot easier!
Once the meat is about half thawed, we start to grind it up. A large plastic tub with handles holds everything and is great for mixing it up. We grind about 90 lbs. of meat at once, but didn’t start out that way.
We’ve learned several ways to make the process easier and more efficient:
~ Get a quality meat grinder–We initially started off with a small grinder that worked OK whenever we made things like deer sausage. But now we wanted to grind up a big volume that included bones, it didn’t take long to realize that we needed a larger one.
We invested in a quality grinder and are very glad we did! It’s well worth it for anyone who’s feeding large breeds or multiple dogs a raw diet.
~ Plan your batches–It will be much easier to mix your ground meat and the other ingredients if you divide your meat into batches and mix everything after each one.
For example, we might grind up 2 packages of chicken legs along with a beef roast and a package each of tripe, organ meat, and turkey. Then we’ll add a portion of the veggies and egg mixture, mix it all well, and repeat.
~ Get a good mixing tool–We started using a long-handled auger that was designed for digging out weeds, and put it in our drill. I can’t tell you how much that helped!
My husband smoothed off the pointed bottom so the auger wouldn’t dig out the bottom of the plastic tub. Here’s a quick video that shows how it works:
Once the food is all ground and mixed, we divide daily portions into plastic containers. Then into the freezer they go, and we’ve got 4 weeks of dog food!
How Expensive Is A Raw Food Diet?
If you’re comparing the BARF diet to regular dry kibble, it’s definitely quite a bit more expensive. If you’re buying specialty food, like we were, the cost is comparable.
But when we looked at the benefits of a raw diet for the overall health of our dogs, it was a no brainer. Over the last year, we’ve learned how to reduce the cost.
I keep track of the sales at my local grocery stores and stock up when I can.
A variety of organ meat has been the most difficult to find, but online retailers offer a wide selection. My favorite is Raw Feeding Miami because of the quality and price.
I’ve recently joined a co-op where the cost of some items is literally 50% off the price at my local stores. They have a drop off once a month at a location that’s about 20 minutes away, and that delivery charge is just $15. This has significantly lowered our cost.
Over the next few months I also plan to look up other raw feeders to see if we can partner with them for larger bulk ordering. That will result in even further savings.
The Best Raw Food Diet For Dogs
I believe the best raw food diet for dogs will give them everything they need to have better mobility, a strong immune system, and great overall health.
Our German Shepherds are thriving, and we’ve seen their health improve since we switched from a kibble based diet. So for us, this was the right move.
What do you think about a raw food diet? Is it something you’d like to try for your pooch? Let me know in the comments below, along with any questions, and remember…