This is a guest blog from Casey Lomonaco, KPA CTP, APDT owner of Rewarding Behaviors Dog Training (www.rewardingbehaviors.com) I asked her if she would write something about the BARF (Bones and Raw Food) diet because she is an avid raw feeder. I dabbled with raw a little bit when my dogs were young with fantastic results. However, I am no where near the expert she is. A great blog to check out for more information is http://irawfeed.blogspot.com
If you were to visit my home and voyage into the basement, you would be greeted with a sight unexpected in any vegetarian household – two full-sized freezers (one chest freezer, one upright) chock full of buffalo, rabbit, smelt, venison, pork, chicken, beef, turkey, whiting, duck, an assortment of organ meats, and a fair bit of raw green tripe.
I’ve been a vegetarian for nearly 18 years now, and for the past three of those years have been feeding my dogs a home-prepared raw diet. I was thrilled when my friend Jules invited me on board at her fantastic Sit, Stay, and Play blog to discuss what I feel is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made on behalf of my dogs. Throughout my history as a dog owner, I’ve run the gamut on feeding choices. Growing up, we fed our dogs Dad’s or whatever was on sale at the grocery store. When I got my own dogs, I fed what I understood to be “premium” diets, Science Diet and Iam’s. After a bit of research, I realized that there were far better dog foods on the market and expanded to offering my dogs Innova brand foods, eventually transitioning to a variety of grain-free kibbles and canned products.
I did approximately 6 months worth of research before transitioning my dogs onto a raw diet. It was scary for me, as a very dedicated pet owner, to take responsibility for my dogs’ nutrition. Most dog owners have been taught for as long as we can remember that we are not capable of creating a “nutritionally complete” and “balanced” diet for dogs and that “people food is a no-no.” There was definitely a learning curve to feeding this new diet once I made the leap. I was confronted with many culturally reinforced myths and errant beliefs about raw diets. “Raw diets are a fad.” “Your dog will become a blood thirsty savage.” “Your dog will die.” “Your entire family is in danger from blood-thirsty savage dogs and imminent bacterial destruction.” While the first myth always seemed silly to me (what the heck did dogs eat before the kibble industry arose in the twentieth century?), the latter myths were downright scary. Miracle of miracles, my dogs are not blood-thirsty savages, are both healthier than they’ve ever been, and Jim and I are relatively healthy human beings and happy to report that we have noted no human casualties despite hosting many visitors in the past three years.
Here is a fantastic website dedicated to dispelling many of the common myths and misconceptions about raw food diets for dogs: http://www.rawfed.com/myths/
IS A RAW DIET RIGHT FOR YOUR DOG?
In my personal opinion (and please remember I am not a veterinarian or nutritionist), the dog that cannot thrive on a raw diet is a rare exception. If you look at your dog’s teeth, you will see that they are designed to eat meat. That said, raw diets are not for everyone, as feeding raw, particularly for a DIY-er like myself, is a lot more involved than just measuring out a given amount of kibble and plopping it in a bowl at feeding times. If you decide you would like to feed raw, you can choose to purchase pre-made raw foods or you can make your own. Pre-made raw blends are generally more expensive (sometimes significantly more costly) to feed than the DIY version, but are much more convenient and less messy. DIY raw can save you quite a bit on your food budget, but is more involved and requires a couple hours’ a month preparation time on your part.
MY VET SAYS I SHOULDN’T FEED RAW
If you choose to feed your dog a raw diet, be prepared for resistance from your veterinarian. Most veterinarians have a very good reason for dissuading clients from switching to a raw diet. Why? Because a poorly constructed, slipshod raw diet is dangerous. It is not as easy as throwing a hamburger on your floor each day at your dog’s mealtime. It requires careful planning and a bit of research to feed raw correctly. If you are unable to provide an appropriate and well-balanced raw diet, it may be healthier for your dog to eat a high-quality kibble or canned food, perhaps with occasional raw meals included.
To be honest, my veterinarian was initially not thrilled that I decided to transition my dogs to raw. She is a trusted professional and someone who I respect a great deal, and she knows that I am slightly maniacal about doing all I can to ensure my dogs’ optimal health, physically and behaviorally. I discussed my research with her, showing her an Excel file I had created to be my feeding guide as I constructed my dogs’ diets. I offered to email my spreadsheet to her. At subsequent check ups, my veterinarian marvels at my dogs’ good health, beautiful coats, shiny teeth, bright eyes, lack of doggy breath, and muscular condition. I know that she has forwarded the spreadsheet to other clients interested in feeding raw as an example of what is involved in “doing it right.” Since I originally created the spreadsheet, I was able to enlist the help of some of my raw feeding mentors to improve it tenfold. I will share the spreadsheet at the end of this entry for all of you to use as a resource.
RAW FEEDING RESOURCES
I participate in an online community where there is a fantastic raw feeding forum. Many of the raw feeders on this forum, generous though they are with information, grew tired of answering the same questions over and over again each time a new raw feeder joined the forum, so a compilation of great internet raw feeding resources was created which could be sent as an information library for those looking for more information on raw feeding. The thread is called “So You’re Interested in Feeding Raw?” and can be found here: http://www.dogster.com/forums/Raw_Food_Diet/thread/431875
When I first transitioned to raw, I needed to create a spreadsheet to help me plan my meals. Raw fed dogs are generally fed between 1.5 and 6% of body weight, depending on age, breed, activity level, and individual metabolism. My spreadsheet auto-calculated the amounts I’d need of various types of foods in the diet for each of these activity levels both daily and weekly. Some wonderful raw feeding friends helped me make vast improvements on my original spreadsheet, including new information based on NRC guidelines, the ability to auto-calculate critical values based on information entered by the user, and making it all around more informative and functional. Once you learn the “how’s and why’s” of a raw feeding diet from the “So You’re Interested in Feeding Raw?” page, check out the spreadsheet for a detailed diet plan: http://www.dogster.com/forums/Raw_Food_Diet/thread/491589 (again, do check this plan over with your vet and remember that we are not veterinarians, just a bunch of well-intentioned nutrition nerds).
The Whole Dog Journal is a fantastic resource with lots of wonderful articles on raw feeding. You may purchase back issue articles from their website at www.whole-dog-journal.com after doing an article search for “raw feeding” to get more wonderful information.
If you are looking to learn more about raw feeding, check out books available by Tom Lonsdale, Ian Billinghurst, Kymythy Schultze, Monica Segal, and Dr. Karen Becker, among others.
I also highly suggest joining the raw feeding forum on dogster, for more help on answering questions you may have as a new raw feeder and to get support on your new nutrition plan for your favorite dog!