Feeding raw is common practice among reptile owners, and is growing in popularity for other pets as well. Dogs, cats, and ferrets can all benefit from this more natural approach to diet, and it doesn't have to be as extreme as feeding whole prey. There are several different approaches to raw diets. Let us help you choose the best for you.
Be sure to check out our Ask the Experts article: Raw Diets 101, where we explain some of the many benefits to a raw diet and why you might want to consider changing to one for a healthier, happier pet.
Raw Diet Models
There are three major styles of raw feeding: whole prey, prey-model, and commercial.
Whole prey (such as is fed to snakes and other predatory reptiles) diets are not cost-effective or easy to manage when applied to a larger pet such as a dog. Nor are they for you if you are the slightest bit squeamish or have no way to contain live prey for your pets.
The prey-model diet involves purchasing meats, bones, and organs from grocery stores or farmer's markets and building a meal schedule following the proper ratios of muscle meat to bone to organ. This model is more labor-intensive than the other three as it involves more time spent on research, and gathering and preparing materials. This model may appeal to a do-it-yourself personality, however we recommend exploring this option later and beginning with commercial raw products.
Commercial raw - raw foods made especially for pets and sold through pet stores, come in three basic forms: frozen raw, dehydrated raw, and freeze-dried raw.
Dehydrated and freeze-dried raw meals are easy to feed, share the convenience of kibble because they are shelf-stable, and are usually complete and balanced according to AAFCO definitions. Frozen raw foods are also extremely easy to feed and are available in complete and balanced formulas also, but do require thawing overnight in the fridge, which requires planning ahead, and fridge/freezer space. You might find it helpful to establish a routine of taking the next meal out of the freezer to thaw in the refrigerator every feeding time. This avoids the accidents of forgetting to thaw a meal. Keeping some freeze-dried or dehydrated meals on hand might be a wise idea.
Many raw food companies also offer a variety of recreation and raw meaty bones, vital for tooth and gum health as well as for mental stimulation. It is recommended that when feeding a commercial raw diet, to offer raw meaty bones once or twice a week.
Making the change
For raw feeders, keeping a clean feeding station and routine, as well as supervising meals, is crucial. Bacteria such as e. coli and salmonella are low-risk for pets eating raw, however they can be extremely hazardous to the health of family members. You will want to use stainless steel or glazed ceramic dishes, and wash them with hot water and soap after every use. Make sure your family knows the potential risks and that they are diligent about washing their hands.
Transitioning a pet to a raw diet can be a process, especially if the pet has never experienced a texture like raw meat. Many dogs, cats, and ferrets live many years crunching dry kibbles, and seem utterly disgusted by moist foods. Raw foods tend to have very little odor when fresh and this confuses pets accustomed to recognizing their foods as pretty odoriferous in comparison. You might find it helpful to use a blender and mix up some of their dry food (soaked in warm water), some meat-only baby food, and a small amount of commercial raw food. Blend together until smooth, then pour over dry kibble. Once your pet adjusts to this change, you can start upping the percentage of the raw foods and lowering the amounts of kibble and baby food. Doing this gradually over a couple of weeks will work wonders for your transitioning pet. You can also try buying a dehydrated raw food like Honest Kitchen to use as a gravy base. Most Honest Kitchen formulas mix into an oatmeal consistency and make a great base to build off!
Once your pet has become comfortable eating their raw food, you can start adding in raw bones. Most dogs instinctively know what to do with a bone, but some dogs, cats, and ferrets need a little encouragement. Try playing tug of war with the bone to encourage your pet to sink his or her teeth into the meat! Sometimes coating the bone in a bit of the soupy recipe can stimulate their appetite, too. Other things such as olive oil, raw egg yolks, or peanut butter can be used to entice a pet to eat a bone.
After you have transitioned to the daily diet and weekly bones, consider adding a couple different protein sources or brands. Most pets appreciate the variety of flavors, and every meat source offers different nutrients. Most raw feeders encourage at least three different proteins per week, and since commercial brands offer many unique varieties, it's very easy to do! Even for allergy-prone pets, it's easy to find a fair variety of hypo-allergenic meats – from chicken, turkey, beef, or lamb to duck, goose, venison, bison, pheasant, quail, rabbit, salmon, sardine, and even ostrich!
Pet Life stores carry: Stella and Chewy's stellaandchewys.com, Nature's Variety naturesvariety.com, Bravo bravorawdiet.com, The Honest Kitchen thehonestkitchen,com, and Steve's Real Food stevesrealfood.com. Many other brands, including Primal and Ziwipeak, can be special-ordered if requested. Stop by today to see all that raw can offer your pet!