Organs are an important part of a raw diet. Liver and kidney in particular are nutrient-dense and provide a great deal of nutritional value. These foods should make up 5 to 10 percent of the total diet. Note that they may cause loose stools if too much is fed at one time. It’s better to feed smaller amounts daily or every other day than to feed larger amounts once or twice a week. This also spreads out the nutritional value, allowing your dog to receive more benefit.
Heart is nutritionally more like muscle meat than organ meat, but it is rich in taurine and other nutrients. If possible, make heart another 5 to 10 percent of the diet. More can be fed; just remember that too much can lead to loose stools in some dogs.
Other organs, such as spleen, eyeballs, sweetbreads (pancreas and thymus glands), brain, etc. are nutritious and can be added to the diet in small amounts.
Muscle meat, eggs, and more
The rest of the diet will be made up of muscle meat and eggs, along with dairy products and other healthy foods.
Muscle meat consists of all meat that is not considered organ meat. Feed muscle meat from a variety of sources, such as beef, lamb, pork, chicken, and turkey. Muscle meat can be fed ground or in chunks. If you have difficulty feeding much variety in your raw meaty bones, you can make up for it in this category. For example, if your raw meaty bones are mostly poultry, then you can feed beef, lamb, and pork muscle meat. Never feed more than half the total diet from a single protein source, such as chicken.
Eggs are an excellent source of nutrition.
They can be fed raw or cooked; cooking actually makes the whites more digestible. You can feed as many eggs as you want, as long as you still feed lots of variety.
Dairy products, such as yogurt, kefir, and cottage cheese, are well tolerated by most dogs and offer good nutritional value. Yogurt and kefir have the added advantage of providing beneficial bacteria (probiotics). Dairy fat is a source of medium-chain triglycerides, a form of fat that is easier to digest for dogs with pancreatic disorders and other forms of fat intolerance.
Green tripe, which is the stomach lining from cows and other animals, is an excellent food for dogs, but be warned that it smells awful – at least to us; dogs love it. Nutritionally, it is similar to muscle meat. Green tripe can be purchased only from sources that sell food for dogs; it cannot be sold for human consumption. The tripe that you find in your grocery store has been bleached and treated, and does not provide the same nutritional value as green tripe.
It is also fine to feed healthy leftovers (food you would eat yourself, not the scraps you would throw away) to your dog as long as they are not too great a percentage of the diet – 10 to 20 percent of the diet should be okay.
Raw Meaty Bones
Most of us who feed a raw diet to our dogs include whole raw meaty bones (RMBs), animal parts that are at least half meat but also include bone that is fully (or mostly) consumed. This is in contrast to recreational bones, such as knuckle and marrow bones, which usually have little meat and where the bone itself is not eaten.
RMBs that are commonly fed include chicken necks, backs, and leg quarters; turkey necks; lamb breast and necks; pork breast (riblets) and necks; and canned fish with bones, such as jack mackerel, pink salmon, and sardines (preferably packed in water rather than oil). Raw fish can also be fed, though some may harbor parasites (freshwater fish are more likely to have problems than saltwater fish). Never feed raw salmon or trout from the Pacific Northwest (California to Alaska), as this can cause a fatal disease called salmon poisoning in dogs. Cooking makes salmon safe to eat; canned fish is cooked, so there’s no concern about salmon poisoning from canned salmon.
It’s not always easy to find RMBs. If you ask your local meat manager or butcher; they will often be able to order them for you, though you may have to buy a case at a time. (Most of us who feed our dogs a raw diet have purchased a separate freezer to help store their food!) Ethnic markets often have a wider selection than grocery stores do. There are a number of raw food co-ops and groups who share information and to buy in quantity directly from vendors, both to lower the cost and to gain access to a wider variety of foods. If there is no group in your area, you might consider starting one.
You can keep costs down by buying in bulk, looking for sales, and buying meat that is close to its expiration date and marked down. It helps to develop a relationship with your suppliers, who may be willing to save bargain-priced meats for you.
RMBs should make up 30 to 50 percent (one third to one half) of the total diet, or possibly a little more if the parts you feed have a great deal more meat than bone (e.g., whole chickens or rabbits). The natural diet of the wolf in the wild contains 15 percent bone or less, based on the amount of edible bone in the large prey they feed upon. While a reasonable amount more won’t harm an adult dog, it’s not needed and reduces the amount of other valuable foods that can be fed.
Too much bone can also cause constipation, and the excess calcium can block the absorption of certain minerals. The stools of raw fed dogs are naturally smaller and harder than those fed commercial foods, and often turn white and crumble to dust after a few days. If the stools come out white and crumbly, or if your dog has to strain to eliminate feces, you should reduce the amount of bone in his diet.
Most dogs do fine with raw meaty bones, but a few may have problems, including choking and (rarely) broken teeth on the hardest bones. In my experience, turkey parts are associated with the most problems, though many dogs eat them regularly with no trouble.
You can also feed larger, harder bones with a lot of meat on them; just take the bone away when your dog is done removing the meat. You can do it with beef rib and neck bones; people with large dogs use bigger bones. There is still some danger of broken teeth, but less than if you allow the dog to continue to chew on the bone after he's eaten the meat (bones also dry out and become harder over time).
Remember that if you feed a diet that includes 30 to 50 percent RMBs, there is no need to add calcium supplements.
Vegetables, fruits, and grains
Feeding vegetables, fruits, and grains is optional, as dogs do not require carbohydrates in their diet. Even though these foods would make up a tiny percentage of the natural diet, they provide some nutritional value, especially trace minerals and phytonutrients from leafy green vegetables.
If you feed veggies, they need to be either cooked or pureed in a food processor, juicer, or blender. Whole, raw veggies are not harmful, but their cell walls are not broken down during digestion so they provide little nutritional value to dogs. Most veggies have few calories, so they should be added on top of the amount of food you feed, rather than calculating them as a percentage of the diet.
Good veggiesto feed include broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, all kinds of leafy greens, celery, cucumber, bell peppers, zucchini and other summer squashes, carrots, and more. You can mix up a large batch and then freeze them in ice cube trays or muffin tins for easy meal-sized portions.
Steaming is the best method to cook fresh or frozen veggies. You can add the water used to steam veggies to the meal, as it will contain the minerals that were leached out during cooking. Small amounts of leftover meat juices, drippings, sauces, and gravy will make this into a savory soup.
Some dogs enjoy vegetables, but others refuse to eat them no matter how they’re prepared. If your dog won’t eat vegetables, or if you prefer not to feed them, you may want to add a blend of kelp and alfalfa, or a green food supplement (more on this below).
Fruits such as apples, bananas, papayas, mangoes, berries, and melon can be added to the diet in small amounts. Don’t feed grapes or raisins, which can cause kidney damage in some dogs.
Grains, legumes, and starchy veggies, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes and winter squashes, are a source of inexpensive calories, but don’t provide as much nutritional value to dogs as foods from animal sources do. These starchy foods need to be cooked in order to be properly digested by dogs.
Many health problems can be caused or exacerbated by grains and other starchy carbohydrates. If your dog is overweight or suffers from allergies, arthritis, seizures, chronic ear infections, incontinence, IBD, or other digestive disorders, you may want to try feeding a diet without these foods to see if your dog improves. If you decide to feed them, it’s best if they make up no more than 20 percent of the diet.
Potatoes (not sweet potatoes), tomatoes, peppers (all kinds), and eggplant may aggravate arthritis pain, but are otherwise fine to feed. Grains and starchy veggies may also aggravate arthritis and other forms of inflammation.