Deciding to change your dog’s food isn’t a quick decision and it’s not always an easy one, but sometimes it’s necessary to find a balanced diet that will give them everything they need to be happy and healthy on the inside and out.
In this article, we are looking at raw dog food - specifically raw dog food for beginners and with the help of Stef, Head Nutritionist at Nutriment, we’ll be answering some of the most common questions about raw including what to look for when choosing a raw dog food, how much to feed and average daily costs to get you started.
Raw dog food for beginners
If you are new to feeding raw and trying to work out if it’s right for your dog, here’s a beginners guide to raw dog food and five things you should know.
- The concept of feeding raw has been around for over 100 years and it’s known as the BARF diet (also referred to as the 'Biologically Appropriate Raw Food' and 'Bones and Raw Food' diet)
- At its core, it’s about feeding a more natural diet which involves getting the right balance of meat with bones, vegetables and superfoods so dogs get the right nutrients (and variety is key)
- Dog owners who feed raw report health benefits, including better skin and coat health, more consistent energy levels as well as improved digestion resulting stools that are smaller, firmer and are easier to deal with, according to Nutriment
- Storage space is key for planning ahead. If you buy raw dog food meals, these are usually delivered frozen
- Feeding your dog a balanced raw dog food diet can cost as little as £1.14 per day (based on feeding a complete diet to a 20kg adult dog)
Now, with the help and nutritional expertise of Stef, let’s delve into each of these areas and explore a little more.
What is raw dog food?
If you are new to raw dog food, it’s important to know the origins of the diet to understand if or how it could benefit your dog.
Stef shares the history of the BARF and how it transitioned into convenience food, explaining its rise in popularity in recent years.
“Dogs have always been fed fresh ‘real’ food until 1860 when an entrepreneur, James Spratt decided convenient pet food could appeal to the market. Spratt then developed the first commercial dry food for dogs."
Since then, in the same way that convenience food has become popular for human diets, convenience food has also become popular for our pets.
“In the last 10 years, raw pet food manufacturers have started creating nutritional meals, conveniently prepared and packaged, appealing to the modern pet owner from both a usability point of view, but more importantly to offer the very best nutrition for their pets.”
Is the BARF diet ‘controversial’?
In the past, the BARF diet has sometimes been referred to as controversial. We asked Stef why this might be.
She explained that the BARF diet isn’t ‘controversial’ as such when you look at the biology of a dog and what they are able to digest efficiently, but DIY raw meal plans may be considered so in certain quarters (the veterinary world).
“Feeding a raw diet seems different to other forms of feeding as we simply aren’t used to storing our pet’s food in the freezer, but ultimately this is the best way to preserve the freshness and integrity of the product without the need to include any artificial preservatives.
“There is some controversy within veterinary professionals when it comes to those creating DIY raw meal plans that are deficient in essential nutrients. By sourcing a reputable, complete and high quality raw food you can be assured your pet is getting everything they nutritionally require for a healthy life.
“As always we challenge pet owners to read the ingredients list on the packaging of what they feed and question ingredients they don’t know or understand. With real food, there is no hiding ingredients and quality.
“BARF is inspiring a new collective of pet owners who want better for their family members and who will research what is going into their pet’s diet.”
5 raw dog food health benefits for dogs
There is a long list of benefits that come from raw feeding and dogs of all breeds, ages and lifestyles can benefit from a raw diet.
A lot of dog owners report their dogs to have better skin and coat health, more consistent energy levels for their lifestyle, and improved digestion which results in stools that are smaller, firmer and are easier to deal with, to name just a few (more feedback from dog owners can be found here).
Stef explains how dogs young and old can benefit from a raw diet.
“If you start feeding raw food to puppies they will get the full benefit from the diet before the common issues associated with feeding kibble have a chance to occur, but of course you can start feeding a raw diet later in life too.
“As always we suggest consulting with your vet, especially if there are any underlying health concerns, and our team of nutritionists are happy to talk through options for your dog or cat if you are interested.”
How to choose a raw dog food diet plan
It is incredibly important to make sure the nutritional balance of the food you are feeding is correct, and the best way to ensure your pet is getting everything they need is to source your products from reputable raw manufacturers - particularly those who are members of the PFMA, according to Stef.
“Feeding your dog stripped bones from the butcher (and nothing else) is NOT a raw diet. Whilst bones make up part of a raw diet it shouldn’t be what you solely feed. Dogs require the meat and organs too in order to balance a variety of vitamins and minerals required for healthy living.
“In addition to this, they need carefully selected vegetables and superfoods to enhance those nutritional levels and meet the FEDIAF standards. When feeding an unbalanced diet with nutritional deficiencies for a long period of time you run the risk of illness or disease occurring, so make sure you’re feeding a complete food or supplementing accordingly.”
The best place to start is to visit your local pet shop or get in touch direct with a brand that is a member of the PFMA (Pet Food Manufacturers Association).
“We always advise you start with a complete meal that is formulated to FEDIAF standards before looking at introducing raw meaty bones. There is a lot of information available on websites of the leading brands in the UK, and pet shops are extremely knowledgeable with the latest advice and information.”
A complete and balanced raw diet will contain fresh vegetables and superfoods (natural supplements).
Stef suggested avoiding fillers such as rice, grains and potato or legumes such as peas, or foods with any more than a 15 per cent carbohydrate content.
“If you cannot identify or pronounce one of the ingredients then investigate into this before deciding to feed. It is also important to research the manufacturer, as the quality is extremely important with a raw diet too.”
Raw dog food calculator: how much does raw dog food cost?
A lot of factors dictate how much it costs to feed a raw diet. We asked Stef to share the cost per day to feed a raw diet to a two-year-old Labrador to give us a guide.
“Based on our high quality, premium products, feeding a 20kg adult dog a complete, balanced diet, could cost you as little as £1.14 per day.
“Adult dogs generally need 2-3 per cent of their ideal body weight per day (e.g. 20kg dog = 400-600g per day) and growing puppies can require anything from 4-10 per cent depending on breed and activity level (e.g. 5kg puppy = 200-500g per day).”
How to begin feeding your dog raw
To begin feeding your dog a raw diet, the most important thing to do is to find a complete, balanced ground raw meal.
Stef shares this advice.
“Start off with bland, easily digested proteins such as chicken or turkey. Once your dog is eating these and you can see a better and consistent ‘output’, introduce one new protein at a time to their overall diet.
Variety is essential in a dog's diet to offer a wider profile of nutrients as well as give the dog a variety of flavour and texture. This will also keep mealtimes interesting.
“We suggest an absolute minimum of three different proteins on the menu (balance comes over time so think of this spread across a week to ten days) but the more variety the better. Do be mindful that some dogs with allergies, intolerances or underlying health concerns may need a more tailored diet, in which our qualified team can advise further.”