I procrastinated for years putting my pets on a raw diet. They were just fine the way they were, I told myself. But, as a pet writer, well-versed on the ingredients and processes used in making commercial dog food, even so-called high-end pet food, I really had to face the fact that my own sweethearts were not getting a truly healthy diet.
My dog was raised in a large kennel at a breeding farm; he had been a stud dog for the first 6 years of his life when I adopted him. I trusted his breeder and just kept feeding him the same kibble she fed all of her agility and show dogs.
Nukkles, a Welsh Terrier, is 12 now, and about three months ago I noticed he was really starting to slow down. I was giving him good supplements for his bones, his cataracts, and his mental alertness, but I owed him more. I knew it was the right thing to do, so I started introducing raw food into his diet.
©Nukkles at 12 years.
I dragged my feet. “I don’t have the time,” “It’s too much work,” “What if he gets sick from all that raw stuff?” Resist. Resist.
My family and I buy organic foods and grass-fed meats and cage-free poultry for ourselves. Most of what we eat would also be healthy for Nukkles.
Okay. One decision down, I started giving him some raw hamburger with his kibble. He was confused, I could tell, but he ate it… fast. I was confused too. What was the logic in mixing hamburger with kibble? Instead, I should be adding some raw fresh veggies and fruits to the burger meat.
I needed to have some real commitment to this project. But I didn’t want to be grinding up veggies, and who knows what else, like I saw people doing on YouTube videos. I just didn’t have the time. So I purchased a dehydrated base mix of organically grown vegetables and fruits that contained canine-specific supplements - Honest Kitchen Dehydrated Human Grade Base Mix - especially formulated for dogs. And, following the manufacturer’s instructions, I mixed a weight-appropriate amount of the stuff with warm water and a raw hamburger. Nukkles sniffed at the mixture and ate it cautiously, as if something with uncertain consequences was going to happen.
After awhile, he was not that eager to eat unless I hand-fed the food to him. His 'burgers' were gooey and he just didn’t want to dig his face into them - doesn't sound like a kennel dog, does he? Also, I thought the mixture needed something to spice it up besides warm water, but I couldn’t see myself cooking broth for days. (You may have guessed, I’m not much for cooking.)
So, believing that Honest Kitchen is an honest brand (I’m not the only one who thinks so!), I purchased the Honest Kitchen Powdered Bone Broth With Tumeric, made especially for pets, as well as their Probiotic Instant Goat’s Milk. They are both easily mixed with water, and I use one or the other to add moisture to the base mix instead of water! I rotated them, one in the morning meal and the other in the evening meal, using them to moisturize the Base Mix instead of water. Both the Bone Broth and the Goat’s Milk are very healthy in themselves and they turned out to taste better than water too.
For a couple of weeks, I fixed Nukkles either ground beef or ground turkey plus the Base Mix, and either Bone Broth or Goat’s Milk to moisten it and make it more nutritious. (I love the idea of my dog drinking goat’s milk!)
Tip: If you feed your dog raw food, you must make sure it's as fresh as possible. As soon as you bring meat or bone products home, split them into serving portions for your pup, and bag individual servings and freeze them. I freeze them for minimum of 3 days before removing one by one as needed for each meal. Let them thaw in the fridge before serving. Make sure all foods are fresh enough for you to eat, before feeding them to your pets.
One night I opened a bag of organic broccoli and cauliflower to steam for dinner, and I thought, “Well, it wouldn’t be so much trouble for me to grind some of these up for Nukkles before I cook the rest.”
Initially, it was trouble. I tried using my blender to mix them - not a good idea. Then, I tried my Bullet; that didn’t fare well either. I almost gave up when I remembered an old Black & Decker food chopper, and I pulled it out. I couldn’t believe my eyes, but in three quick fills of the chopper, I had a cup of very finely, evenly-ground broccoli and cauliflower! That’s enough vegetable servings for three dog meals!
This was getting easier. We already shared our ground meat and turkey with Nukkles, why not our vegetables too? Well, needless to say, my whole family started eating more vegetables so I could get Nukkles as much variety as possible. Whatever fruits and vegetables we had on hand that were safe for a dog, we started sharing with Nukkles. (Here you will find a list of very unsafe vegetables for pets.) I was willing to do this extra work (really not very much), chopping fresh fruits and vegetables for him, as long as I knew I had plenty of Honest Kitchen Base Mix to fall back on in case I got lazy.
I noticed that some of the leading dog food experts were recommending adding occasional fresh eggs, including the shells, to a raw diet. So I started grinding an egg shell (egg from cage-free hens) in with the veggies - one shell for every two cups of veggies. I now mix one-third of a beaten egg into Nukkles’ food every few days. I’ve also started grinding breast of chicken up with the veggies - this grinder is super, but look out old mine is!
Then I read about the BARF diet (Bones And Raw Food). Raw bones - chicken legs, necks, beef marrow bones, etc. Nukkles' gums are healthy but he’s missing some teeth.
After consulting Kimberly Gauthier, who wrote A Novice’s Guide to Raw Feeding for Dogs, I learned I should start his bone routine with raw chicken wings or necks, holding one in my hand while he ate it. Maybe he will graduate to marrow bones, but I think I’ll keep those for some home-made bone broth.
I read up on additional supplements that Nukkles might need and, after reading what holistic veterinarians had to say about added vitamins, I learned that if I fed my dog a variety of fresh organically sourced foods, he shouldn’t need supplements. Nevertheless, I decided to keep giving him his current supplements for extra support, as they worked well before this diet.
Now, here's what I prepare for Nukkles meals - two per day:
- Fresh ground meat, chicken, or turkey, including muscle and organ meat, previously frozen for at least 3 days. Occasional cooked salmon. Occasional water-packed sardine. (85 percent)
- Fresh ground permissible raw vegetables and fruits or Honest Kitchen Base Mix (15 - 20 percent)
- Bone Broth w/ Tumeric, Probiotic Goat's Milk, and partial raw egg in rotation. (5 percent)
- Occasional raw chicken or turkey legs or necks for desert, held by human.
Nukkles? It’s amazing how he’s changed over the course of three months. He’s more alert, more curious, and definitely more active. He wants to play again, loves to run, and goes crazy searching for treats I spread around the yard. He has puppy spurts where he runs wildly around the house and won’t stop until he poops himself out. He wants more attention, more belly-scratching, more loving. He even eats without me hand-feeding him.
I won’t go on. Suffice it to say, I’m really glad I changed to a raw diet for my dog. I know I have more to learn, but one thing I did already learn - this diet does a lot more for my dog than any other diet has, and it's no big deal to prepare.
Now I have to work on getting my cat to eat raw anything!
(I’d love to hear about your own experiences with raw food for your pet. Feel free to write about them in the comments section below.)
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