How to prepare raw dog food at home

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Izzet
Raw dog food: eggs, yogurt, tripe and other organs. Photo by nancybeetoo – CC BY 2.0
Raw dog food: eggs, yogurt, tripe and other organs. Photo by nancybeetooCC BY 2.0

About a year ago my partner and I took the leap and adopted a dog, Olive. This was our first foray into dog parenting. I had big dreams for life with our new pup — I would play fetch with her in the yard, take her to the farmer's market, and make all her food myself. Most of my dreams dissolved after the realities of house training and leash reactivity and Olive-doesn't-like-fetch set in. But one goal that stuck is that Olive eats raw, home-prepared food.

Before we continue, two things: One, I am not a veterinarian. This is simply what has worked for us and our pup. Two, we are about to talk about poop. LOTS OF POOP. If you're eating a tasty burrito, maybe set it down 'til we're done.

When I started researching raw food, I found that information online was sparse and mostly from people's personal experiences. Dog forums had helpful tips and our vet had recommendations (we were immensely lucky to find a vet who supports raw feeding), but mostly we were on our own.

Our first attempt was to buy all the recommended raw food ingredients and use a meat grinder to make ground patties. Here's what I learned from this. Firstly, most dogs don't require their food to be ground. Olive was INHALING the ground patties because she didn't need to chew them. Secondly, grinding 30 lbs (14 kg) of raw meat each month was a royal pain in the ass. This didn't last long.

Next we tried chunking up meat and mixing it with kibble. This also didn't last long. Fun fact: dogs' stomachs process kibble and raw meat at different rates, which can cause nausea and inconsistent poops. Olive was eating grass and butt-scooting regularly (a sign that her anal glands weren't emptying properly). We tried shifting to meat in the morning and kibble at night. It helped, but her poops were still hard in the morning and liquid at night. Ugh! So the vet expressed her glands and we switched up her feeding again.

Our current system is to feed only raw meat, no kibble. We chunk up meat in roughly meal-sized portions, 8oz (0.2 kg) for each meal. And we supplement with organs, raw eggs, and raw meaty bones. This has been AWESOME. In the beginning her poops were still inconsistent. The solution: a probiotic. Since we've added a probiotic with dinner, things have been going regularly (yup, that's a poop pun).

I wanted to share with you some of the raw-feeding knowledge we've accumulated from experience, our vet, and the internet. It's by no means comprehensive, but hopefully it's enough to help first-timers start their own raw food journey.

Dog'd Raw Food for the Week
Raw dog food for the week. By: varresaCC BY 2.0

First, the staples of a raw food diet are meat, bones, and organs

It's what a dog would eat if it were consuming an animal carcass, since that's basically what dogs ate before domestication. In our house we aim for roughly 85% meat, 5-10% bone and 5-10% organs. In the beginning we transitioned new proteins slowly, over the course of a week. Anything beyond meat/bone/organs is extra. Some owners believe veggies are essential while others believe they're unnecessary. We've tried including veggies; currently we exclude them because they're fiddly to prepare. We add a raw egg every few days (we crack it directly into her food bowl, shell and all) to keep her coat shiny.

Adult dogs eat about 2% of their body weight per day.

For Olive this means 1 lb (0.4 kg) per day split between breakfast and dinner. For puppies and elderly dogs, percent of body weight will vary and is available online.

So how do we feed our dog bone?

I can hear people right now clicking their teeth about how dangerous it is to feed bones to dogs. Please listen! RAW bones are not dangerous for dogs. They're pliable and dogs' teeth are designed to crunch them up safely. COOKED bones are extremely dangerous. When bones cook, they become brittle and can break off in shards in a dog's mouth and digestive system. We only feed raw bone.

We started Olive off with relatively soft bones, like chicken bones, and we always ensure the bone is surrounded by meat so she chews it properly. We never feed a bone with no meat on it. When feeding raw, bone content determines poop solidity, so we use that as a gauge for how much to feed. For Olive, she gets chicken for breakfast (with bones) and boneless meat for dinner. This creates firm, but not crumbly, poops. We also try to feed bones that are a size Olive might consume in the wild, such as chicken and rabbit bones, so she doesn't chip her teeth on bones that are harder than she can handle. We do feed "raw meaty bones" (a specific raw-feeding term), which are large bones with chunks of meat and sinew still on them. They're too large for her to eat the whole bone – usually beef ribs or pig feet — and they provide awesome dental cleaning and jaw exercise. It takes Olive about an hour to gnaw off all the meat and sinew, and then I throw away the bone.

It's also important to note that we don't feed Olive grains

Dogs have a difficult time processing grains like wheat and rice. We noticed an immediate, dramatic change in Olive's poop when we eliminated grains. It had been "poop filler" and didn't provide nutrition. When we stopped feeding grains, Olive's poop volume cut in half. She went from two poops a day to one. As the person who picks up that poop every day, it's been one of my favorite things about raw food.

Do any other homies feed raw? What are your tips? Or if you're interested, what are your questions? Let's discuss!

  1. I raw-fed my cat for about 18 months. I had to stop when we moved because my living situation just doesn't allow for all the prep.

    When I switched Fae to a raw diet the improvements were
    -glossier coat
    -less visible dander
    -firm & nearly odorless poop
    -weight loss (she went from 14 lbs to 12 lbs, should be about 10 for her body size)

    I used all the recommended supplements, but cheated on the meat: Whole Foods sells frozen "pet food" that is lightly ground chicken necks & backs. That's a bit too much bone, but it's a good base for a cat food. I had a hard time getting Fae to eat larger pieces of meat (it can take some time for older cats, she's 11) so I stuck with the ground stuff. She got raw meaty chicken thighs on occasion to gnaw on. The most important part of the process was keeping Fae on a two-meal-a-day schedule. Free-feeding and raw diets do not work and are not healthy for cats.

    After we adopted a second cat this past April, I started switching Pumpkin onto a raw diet too. She loves kibble, hates wet food, but loved raw food even more. She went from having very wet, voluminous, and foul smelling poop, to firm and nearly scentless. This is something we REALLY miss now that we can't feed her raw. The pre-mixed raw options are unfortunately too expensive. We at least keep them on grain-free kibble.

    http://feline-nutrition.org/ has a ton of great info for cats!

  2. We raw-feed our dog, but we give her about 60-70% meat/RMB and the rest fruit and veggies (pureed or steamed) so she gets tasty vitamins. We also add salmon oil, linseed oil and coconut oil to her food (each twice a week), which keeps her coat gorgeously shiny and her tummy worm-free.

  3. Great info! My dog has had to have her glands expressed a few times as well. And based on current symptoms, it's time to schedule another. Maybe this will be the last time!

  4. We also raw food feed our dog! It's a little pricier with a 60+ lb lab but when she went into early stage renal failure she was NOT having the low phosphorous, gray playdoh looking food the vet recommended so we had to look for other options. So our diet is a bit more veggie heavy(veggies are lower in phosphorus than meat/bones) she loves chomping on uncooked broccoli and carrot "treats".

    for ease of use/space saving we use:
    Honest kitchen's dehydrated veggie base
    uncooked (sometimes frozen to slow her down)ground beef or turkey
    plain yogurt
    raw eggs
    the occasional frozen salmon filets- the SMELL of raw fish/fish oil lingers….

    you would never guess she's got renal issues and as others have said less poops, more shiny coat!

  5. We feed raw as well wth two dogs and three cats. We haves a supplier that provides high quality "grinds" with meat, organ and none all ground up. It works great for the cats but we need a better solution for the dogs. We also use Honest Kitchen's Preference, which we mix with the grind. We have found it keeps poops consistent for the dogs. Whenever I make chicken wings they get a couple, as well as if I'm grocery shopping I'll pick up some chicken legs for them. Our supplier is a full service butcher and they have any cut you could think of, even all the nasty bits. You can even get a whole cows head from them (they have a picture of a Great Dane eating on on their facebook page. I highly recommend them to anyone looking to feed raw, and they ship! Raw Feeding Miami is their name.

    However, they arrangement is becoming a bit pricey for us with 5 animals and a baby on the way so I am looking into ways to keep them on raw but make it at home. But I am always concerned about getting the proper nutritional balance. Especially for the cats, which have much more strict diet requirements than dogs and require very certain things in their food.

    • It's so great to find a full service butcher! We've had trouble finding a good butcher that sells organ meat and the head/feet/fun bits. There's a great raw pet food site (www.hare-today.com) that we're hoping to use in the future. For now we feed beef liver, chicken giblets, and some organs provided by family who hunt.

  6. How do raw feeders deal with the risk of salmonella? Both for the dog, and for the humans? The idea of having my dog slop raw egg and meat around her bowl, then turn around and lick me, or sniff a kid with egg-goop on her snout….aaaagggh *shudders* I'd admittedly very paranoid about food poisoning in general, but I don't even like handling raw meat/eggs for cooking, much less having my dog decide what it touches.

    • I am also paranoid about food poisoning! My friend let her cat eat raw chicken ONCE and her cat was having liquid poos all over the house and she had to take her to the vet.

      But I am interested in what actually goes into dog food after our dog gained a lot of weight on Iams (even though it's been great for other dogs I've known). We switched her to a grain-free kibble and supplemented some of the volume with frozen green beans, and now she's at a healthy weight with consistent poops. Our vet is very happy, so we're not going to change anything. But we could have a dog in the future with different needs.

      Also I am interested in what happens to a dog's teeth when eating a raw food diet- does the bone work as well as kibble to prevent tartar buildup? Feeding only canned food can cause dental problems for normal pets. (Obviously if your pet is older and needs soft food or needs a specific prescription diet, canned food isn't bad then.)

      • Oh dear! Liquid poops…that sounds awful. Our pup, Olive, went through that when we first started too. For us, we found we were trying to switch her too quickly. We went back to kibble and slowly added raw food over a week or so, and that helped.

        Raw food is beneficial for dogs' teeth, especially chewing on raw meaty bones. The action of chewing helps clean their teeth. So far Olive has gotten great marks from the vet in her dental checkups.

        We do have to be careful about big, hard bones though. Last year Olive chipped one of her canines on a beef femur . It was totally my fault! I should have taken it away after she chewed off all the meat and sinew. Now we stick to smaller bones (chicken, pork ribs) for daily meals and we take away big bones (pigs feet, anything beef) after she's chewed the meat off them.

    • This is my question too! I get that dogs eat raw meat in the wild, but that meat doesn't get raised in questionable conditions, shipped all over the place, stored, frozen, unfrozen, and touched by multiple people before it gets consumed. This probably sounds like I'm anti-meat, which I'm absolutely not, but the idea of feeding my pets anything raw (and then having them touch/lick everything in the house) seems dangerous.

    • That's a great question! Here's how we've dealt with it:

      For the dog, salmonella isn't a concern. Their bodies are designed to process raw meat and the risk of them catching salmonella is very, very low. Our vet has said it's related to 1) the shorter time it takes dogs to digest food and 2) the makeup of their stomach acid and digestive bacteria.

      For us humans, we process (cut up) meat once a month, and we clean up afterward the same as we would if we were preparing raw meat for ourselves. We wash our hands well and disinfect the counters and table. After all the meat is processed, it goes in the freezer in individual tupperwares. We defrost one container per day. After we feed her or handle the container we wash our hands. She eats her meat from a dog bowl, which we don't clean every day and it hasn't been an issue. About once a week I wash it along with the other dishes.

      And when we feed her raw meaty bones, we typically do it outside. She takes the bone into the yard and gnaws on it in the grass. When she's done (when I start to hear her trying to crunch the hard bone), I take the bone from her and put it in the outside trash, then wash my hands.

      • That's not exactly correct. Salmonella can be a concern for your dog especially for puppies and adult dogs that have other health conditions, and they absolutely can catch it. Its just that most dogs who catch Salmonella become asymptomatic carriers. Which is fine for your dog, but might be a concern if you have small children, seniors, pregnant ladies, or other persons who might be immunocompromised living with the dog. Especially with small children it can be difficult to make sure that your dog doesn't lick your child's face right after eating, etc. Your dog could be carrying Salmonella if they eat regular pet food too, but it is much less likely since cooking kills the bacteria. The same thing applies to raw chicken also.

        • You're absolutely right, thank you for correcting me.

          Dogs and cats can be asymptomatic carriers of salmonella. When I said it isn't a concern, I meant that it's rare for dogs or cats to get sick from salmonella. Being a salmonella carrier isn't generally harmful for them. The bacteria live alongside the other natural flora in their gut and it only becomes a problem if the animal becomes immunocompromised. Dogs and cats transmit the bacteria through the fecal-oral route (i.e. fecal matter from a dog comes into contact with a person's mouth), so proper handling of poop is important.

          Pets can get salmonella from raw food, processed pet food/treats (there was a big dry food recall in 2012), and eating another animal's feces. There are other ways (infected water, etc.) but these are the biggies. We've made the choice for our house to feed raw because the risk of Olive getting sick from salmonella is very low and the risk of us contracting it from her is low given that neither of us is immunocompromised and we're careful about raw food and feces handling. We're willing to trade better health for her over a higher risk of salmonella.

          Thank you for pointing it out, though, because you're right that for people with compromised immune systems or small children that risk might not be worth it.

          Some articles I've found helpful are:

          The Merck Veterinary Manual salmonella overview:
          http://www.merckmanuals.com/vet/digestive_system/salmonellosis/overview_of_salmonellosis.html

          The CDC's article from the 2012 dog food recall (it also includes general salmonella information):
          http://www.cdc.gov/SALMONELLA/DOG-FOOD-05-12/INDEX.HTML

    • I have fed raw to dogs and cats, and when I feed eggs I cooked them. If I was able to get farmer's market eggs, then I didn't bother. I know it changed the protein of an egg to cook it, but the benefits are still there even if it's cooked.

  7. We feed our three cats raw! After doing a tons of research I've come up with a recipe and system that works for us:

    1 lb ground turkey meat @ 15% fat (we get frozen tubes from Aldi's and take one out of the freezer ever other day or so)
    1 tsp bonemeal powder (Now Foods brand)
    1 tsp liver powder (Now Foods brand)
    1 tsp greens (Ark Naturals Nu-Pet Granular Greens)
    2-3 pumps of Salmon Oil (from Petco)
    *3 scoops Life Extension Cat Mix multi-nutrient powder (*this is added at each meal, morning and night)

    Every other day or so we mix all this up in a glass container and keep it in the fridge. Having mostly powdered supplements makes this SUPER easy to prepare, as you just shake it up and slop it onto a plate. Also, since the meat we get is in "tube" form there's little to no handling of the meat. You just snip the packaging and squeeze it into your container. One pound of meat lasts us about 3 meals with out three cats. Bravo Raw food has a calculator on their site for how much to feed: http://www.bravorawdiet.com/product/feeding/howmuch.html

    Our cats' health has improved immensely since switching them over. One cat had urinary blockages, and the other two digestive difficulties. We haven't had any blockages since the switch and the other two haven't had any digestive trouble.

    Switching over can be difficult and must be done slowly so your animal can develop the necessary enzymes (kinda like when you eat beans for the first time in months and toot all day long). The best recipes online that I could find came from here: http://www.allthebestpetcare.com/home-prepared-diets-for-dogs-and-cats/
    Also The Natural Cat by Anitra Fraizer is a good resource, though I don't stick to everything she says.

  8. As a veterinarian I will say that I'm fairly biased and for what it's worth please consider that it is not only salmonella that is a concern there is also campylobacter, several clostridium species, E. coli, yersinia enterocolitica, listeria monocytogenes, and enterotoxigenic staphylococcus aureus. There have been some studies showing that pets being fed raw diets are more likely to be shedding pathogens in their feces. This does not automatically mean that other humans or pets in the household will become ill.

    I understand that this may not sway some of those that would like create their pets diet. If you want to do so that's great but please consult the proper resources first since it can have a direct impact upon a pets health and welfare. For example cats need Taurine in their diet or they can go blind. Plus calcium and phosphorus are necessary in specific ratios or health problems can result. Here are a few resources to start with. https://www.petdiets.com http://nutrition.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/index.cfm http://www.acvn.org/

  9. I also feed my cats raw. I use the recipe at: http://www.catinfo.org/

    When I got my first Bengal, they thought he had megacolon. He didn't – the commercial diet he was being fed was causing all the problems. As soon as I got him on raw, it completely cleared up. My second Bengal also had stomach issues before I got him (but the opposite problem). While on a commercial diet, he was super picky and ended up being fed kitten food (although he's 4) and kibble because that's all he would eat. I got him on raw, he loves it, and with a course of probiotics, it has helped him so much! One thing to be careful of, for people who are feeding cats, is to make sure there's enough taurine in their food. There was a study done at UC Davis, there's an explanation and link here: http://catsndogsnaturally.com/?p=219

    The two cats I have that have eaten kibble most of their lives (a Manx and one of the Bengals) have HORRIBLE dental problems, and have had/have to have several teeth removed. The two cats I have that have eaten raw with me for most of their life (DSH and one of the Bengals) have had no problems with their teeth, so I don't believe that the kibble helps with tartar. (I realize this is anecdotal and clearly not a comprehensive scientific study.)

    We make big (40+ pound) batches because my cats will go through a pound a day. I usually order from Hare Today Gone Tomorrow (http://www.hare-today.com/) or Oma's Pride (http://omaspride.com/). If I'm in a pinch, I'll feed Primal or Nature's Variety. I've found that my cats like a mix, and they don't like things they wouldn't necessarily eat in the wild (so, things like pheasant, quail, chicken, turkey, rabbit, sometimes salmon = okay. Beef and venison = makes them sick.) I mix the food with warm/hot water before I serve it because 1 cat likes it soupy, and 2 of the cats had urinary blockages while on a commercial diet, so I want them to get as much water with their food as possible. Having the water warm/hot warms up the food that's been sitting in the fridge, and seems to make it more appealing to my boys.

  10. THIS POST EXCITES ME TO NO END. My husband and I JUST-just started looking into transitioning our 10-month-old, 40-lb. Carolina Dog puppy to raw, and I'm just… overwhelmed.

    If you don't mind me asking, what does an average month of raw feeding cost? (Meat, any additions in terms of powders or supplements, etc.) Where do you purchase the meat you use? (Frozen raw, local, etc.) How do you go about prepping, storing, freezing/defrosting? How do you determine the amount of food your dog/cat needs?

    Any help or stories/experiences would be so, so helpful.

  11. I'm sure I could look this up but I'm lazy. I'm curious about the price difference of raw vs. "normal" pet food. More expensive? Less expensive? The same?

    I liked the idea of raw but my first, admittedly selfish, thought was "that sounds expensive and time consuming."

  12. I fed my Great Dane raw all 12 years of her life! I often fed her the meat and bones (chicken backs) still frozen. She ate outside to keep the slobbering and dragging raw meat through the house. Her teeth were always sparkly and she did not have a dental visit in her life. I am a vegetarian and prepared all her food myself. I wouldn't feed any other way.

    I now have a Chinese Crested, who is 13yo and switched to raw at 3yo. He is fed The Honest Kitchen and it works for him. He had horrible dental problems anyway and THK is a mushy food- so it's great for a dog without teeth, but does nothing to keep them clean.

    Raw really worked for me and my dogs.

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