Raw Dog Food Debate
To feed raw, or not to feed raw dog food, that is the question that plagues owners. Unfortunately, this debate is not as easily solved as Coke vs. Pepsi (Coke, of course!).
The reason is simple. Both sides have merit.
It was just six months ago that I made the decision to switch Sulley and Junior back to raw dog food. [READ: Raw Food: A Decision Every Big Dog Owner Should Weigh.] I did not enter this raw feeding journey lightly. It took me months of research before I felt confident enough to start Sulley on raw dog food at 11 weeks old. And it took me 8 months to gain back my confidence after my failed attempt with Junior at 12 weeks.
My point is this, none of us started raw feeding our dogs on a whim. Most spend months or even years researching, debating, and waffling back and forth. Should I? Should I not?
In preparation for writing this, I wanted to dive a little deeper into this very real internal (and external) conflict and why it is that some dog owners choose not to make the switch to raw dog food.
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Facebook Survey on Feeding Raw Dog Food
Rather than making assumptions, I surveyed some kibble-feeding friends on Facebook to gather feedback on why they choose NOT to feed raw dog food.
As I address each of the following concerns, it is not my objective to convince kibble feeders to feed raw or to address the pros and cons of either diet directly or comprehensively. I will leave that to the Dr. Karen Becker’s and Rodney Habib’s of the world.
My hope is that by sharing my experience and perspective, as one Big Dog Mom on a dietary journey, the widening gap will narrow between the two opposing sides of the raw dog food dilemma.
Because in the end, this is not a figurative battle between heads and tails, or in this case, raw versus kibble. We are, in fact, two parallel sides of the same coin. On the same team.
Welcome to Team Loving Dog Owner, a growing community of dog moms and dads who want the very best nutrition for their canine companions.This is not a figurative battle between heads and tails, or in this case, raw versus kibble. We are, in fact, two parallel sides of the same coin. On the same team.
Top 5 Arguments against Feeding Raw Dog Food
1. Raw Dog Food Takes Too Much TIME
“Kibble is just so much easier.”
Time constraints top the list as the most common complaint about raw feeding.
It wasn’t that long ago that I worked full-time, was raising two young children, managing my household, AND raw feeding my sweet, silly puppy, Sulley. Now replace a full-time job with a business, two slightly older kids in multiple sports and Cub Scouts, and I am even more stretched for time than I was when I was working outside the home.
We all have different life circumstances which determine our ability (or willingness) to add one more thing to our already overflowing plate. But with the same 24 hours in a day, my guess is we could all find opportunities to improve how we spend that time.
Raw dog food does take more time than pouring kibble in a bowl. There’s no doubt about that.
My raw dog food routine consists of monthly trips to my co-op to pick up food, breaking down the cases of meat into smaller, freezer-size portions (a.k.a. Cross Fit for Raw Feeders), thawing and planning their menu for the week, and weighing the food at every meal.
This may seem crazy to some of you, but with the exception of breaking down the cases of meat on co-op day (which is as enjoyable as doing my taxes), it is really not that bad.
2. Lack of Freezer SPACE for Raw Dog Food
“I just don’t have the freezer space. I can barely fit our human food in there, much less hundreds of pounds of meat.”
When I started feeding Sulley raw dog food, I did end up buying a second freezer. It was not expensive to buy new and I know many people have picked up used freezers on sites like Craig’s List for less than $200.
For two Mastiffs, my second freezer provides more than enough space for their raw dog food and frozen food for a family of four.
3. Raw Dog Food is COSTLY and Difficult to SOURCE
“Cost is a big factor. Meat is really expensive where I live.”
Cost ranked as tied for my Facebook kibble feeding friends’ top reason for not choosing a raw dog food diet. Most of my friends are fellow big dog owners who are already spending a small fortune to feed their dogs. The desire to not add to a ballooning dog food budget is justifiable.
My average raw food co-op bill is around $350-450 and I pay that monthly for two Mastiffs who are 100% raw fed.
In addition to that, on a quarterly basis, I order green tripe, knucklebones and duck necks from a different co-op. That bill runs me $200-300 on average every three months.
At the peak of my kibble feeding days, I was spending between $300-350 on a variety of “premium” kibbles. I say variety because when I was feeding kibble I switched foods quite a few times trying to figure out why one would cause Junior to have soft stools, and another would cause Sulley to itch.
In addition to pouring the kibble in the bowl, I would add any number of “mix-ins” to get the boys to eat it. With the exception of Burton, our Labrador retriever [READ: The Labrador Retriever May Hold Answers To Feeding Woes In Big Dogs], none of my dogs have been that crazy over their kibble.
So, for me, while raw dog food requires more of me mentally and physically, it is not that much more expensive than the “premium” kibbles I was feeding.
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way” is a phrase that perfectly describes what it is like to source raw dog food economically for more than one giant breed dog.
Most people have access to some source of meat; an organized co-op, a farmer or hunter, a meat market, friends or neighbors with a freezer they need to empty, and even a local grocery store can all serve as sourcing options for raw dog food.
Yes, this does require more time and energy than picking up a bag of kibble from the pet store. But fortunately, once you have found your source, you don’t need to find it again.
It is like learning to ride a bike. Once you figure it out you can ride like the wind (with a helmet on, son!).
4. The BACTERIA in Raw Dog Food is Dangerous
“Just like in humans, there is a lot of risk in eating raw meat. I don’t feel comfortable with that risk.”
Yes, it can be dangerous … if you handle it and stick your fingers in your mouth. Otherwise, handling raw dog food is no more dangerous than you prepping a raw steak for the grill or a raw chicken breast for your casserole.
Most of us are aware of the risk of cross-contamination when we are prepping our own food. Handling raw dog food bears the same risk as they are essentially one in the same; raw meat.
I keep a container of Clorox wipes handy while I prep raw meat (human or canine) and I usually wash my hands several times during the process. I sanitize both the counters and all of the dishes judiciously. I also use handmade drool cloths to wipe the boys when they are done eating which then go into the laundry.
I have two young children, elderly visitors, and neighbors with toddlers that have come over and fed these raw meals for me when I am traveling, and, knock on wood, not one person has ever gotten sick from it.
**For some simple, actionable tips on preventing the spread of bacteria and food-borne illness, download my FREE Raw Feeder’s Guide to Preventing Cross Contamination.
What about our dogs? Can’t they get sick from eating raw meat? The simple answer is no, they shouldn’t. More often than not, dogs and cats handle food-borne bacteria well due to the acidity of their stomach and short digestive tract. That said, I make sure all of the meat I feed has been frozen at least 1-3 weeks to kill off bacteria and I always thaw my meat in the refrigerator.Raw food can be dangerous …if you handle it and stick your fingers in your mouth. Handling raw dog food is no more dangerous than you prepping a raw chicken breast for your casserole.
5. Raw Dog Food is Not Balanced
“I feel I don’t have enough nutritional knowledge to feed my dogs accurately, so I have always talked myself out of raw feeding.”
While this was not the top concern of my Facebook kibble feeders, it ranked high especially among those who either worked as Veterinarians or Vet Techs. “Nutritional deficiencies” were cited numerous times as reasons to opt for a “balanced” commercial kibble over raw dog food.
The trepidation surrounding one’s ability to prepare a balanced homemade dog food diet at home is not only understandable, but it is also what drives the educational evolution of most raw feeders.
This elusive “balance” is what we all strive for, but never quite know if we have achieved it. Imagine a mirage of a goal post. You see it. You are running toward it. But it’s hazy and keeps moving. This is how I feel.
My solution to this enigma is not to opt for a “balanced” commercial kibble, but rather to provide as much variety as I can into my dogs’ diet. This includes meat, bone, and organ as well as cooked, minced or fermented vegetables and fruits. I also add Nupro, NWC Naturals Probiotic and Enzyme powder.
Am I 100% certain their raw dog food diet is 100% nutritionally balanced? No. I am not. But that doesn’t stop me from trying to reach the goal post.
Annual preventative exams by a Veterinarian are essential whether you are raw feeding or not. I prioritize these screenings for preventative health maintenance and to monitor the balance we are able to achieve through their raw diet.This elusive “balance” is what we all strive for, but never quite know if we have achieved it. Imagine a mirage of a goal post. You see it. You are running toward it. But it keeps moving...
What is a Dog Owner To Do?
No More Guilt
I believe letting go of the guilt is the first step. We make decisions every day that affect ourselves, our family, and our dogs. Fortunately for us, the vast majority of those decisions are not of the life and death variety.
Second, lose the judgment. In a country with over 300 million people, we aren’t all going to agree and that is ok. When I reached out to those kibble-feeding Facebook friends, many of them cited their dogs’ years of health and longevity on a diet of commercial kibble.
Who am I to minimize the significance of that experience for those people?
I firmly believe in the benefits of feeding a raw dog food diet. I’ve seen the indisputable benefits first hand.
And while I am happy to share my raw feeding journey, I believe each one of us should be free and empowered to make our own decision on behalf of our canine companions.While I am happy to share my raw feeding journey, I believe each one of us should be free and empowered to make our own decision on behalf of our canine companions.
How Do You Eat An Elephant?….
Perhaps a gory reference given the subject matter, but the essence of this saying is true for raw feeding. If time, space and balancing concerns are forcing you into a perceived dry kibble prison, take heart. The following are a few natural ways to improve the quality of the food you are feeding, one bite at a time.
- Bone Broth – Easy to make in bulk and freeze. It adds much-needed hydration and is great for the immune and digestive system as well as bone and joint health. Here is a terrific recipe from my good friend and fellow raw feeder, Holly Montgomery, from Brindleberry Acres.
- Omega 3 – I alternate between whole sardines, cooked or canned salmon or salmon oil, krill oil, regular fish oil, Dr. Harvey’s Health & Shine, or phytoplankton. Here is a terrific article by Dr. Karen Becker, DVM, who covers why Omega 3 supplementation is critical, especially for kibble-fed dogs.
- Probiotic – Gut health is critical for the health of our dogs. I alternate between kefir, raw goat’s milk and a probiotic by NWC Naturals for Junior and Sulley.
- Cooked Meat and Vegetables – While I am not one that cooks for my dogs, I do believe there are enormous benefits to providing some healthy whole food to a dry kibble diet. Perhaps you could alternate between a whole cooked meal and a kibble meal?
- Raw Whole or Ground Meat, Bone & Organ – If you are not ready for cold turkey (so to speak), perhaps adding one or two raw meals a week? Baby steps.
Additional Raw Feeding Resources Worth Checking Out
- The Truth About Pet Food
- Pet Fooled
- Raw Feeding 101
- Perfectly Rawsome
- Dogs Naturally Magazine
- Keep The Tail Wagging