Food & Nutrition
Print|Email|Text Size: ||
Raw Food Primer
Raw feeding isn’t just for experts anymore [Expanded]


The web is crowded with passionate bloggers extolling the benefits of the raw-food diet: cleaner teeth, less odor, shinier coats, more energy and far fewer visits to the vet’s office. But when we move beyond anecdotal evidence, does science support it? And what exactly constitutes a healthy home-cooked canine diet anyway?

For more than two years, Sir Robert McCarrison, a doctor whose work is referenced in the authoritative Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats, conducted a study in which he fed roughly 1,000 rats a healthy diet, including sprouted beans, raw cabbage and carrots, raw milk, and a moderate amount of meat and bone. He also provided them with sun, fresh air and a clean place to live. Their eventual necropsies revealed no disease — not one. Two other groups, who had the misfortune of being fed rice or diets rich in boiled, sweetened and canned foods, showed disease in every organ, and some became so agitated that they devolved to cannibalism.

Taking this compelling research into account, the next question is where to begin. Two major schools of raw feeding exist today. The first, “Biologically Appropriate Raw Food” (BARF), was created by veterinary surgeon Ian Billinghurst. A typical BARF diet is made up of 60 to 80 percent raw meaty bones (poultry necks, wings and backs; rabbit or quail quarters or halves; and so forth), and 20 to 40 percent fruits and veggies, meat, eggs, and dairy foods, along with an abundance of supplements. The second, the “prey-model” diet, strictly mimics what proponents believe would be the animal’s natural diet in the wild. Whole rabbits or game hens, for example, are often offered to the dog. This diet recommends 80 percent muscle meat, 10 percent bone and 10 percent organ meat, and nothing more.

Starting Out
Whichever approach speaks to you and your vet, the foundational principles are largely the same: dogs’ meals should be organic, unprocessed, wholefood- based and raw whenever possible.

According to most raw feeders, dogs should eat muscle meat (hamburger, chicken, turkey), as well as a healthy array of organ meat (heart, liver, kidneys), whole fish and raw meaty bones (RMBs). Cooked bones are dangerous and should never be fed, as cooking leaves the bones brittle and prone to splintering. To balance out nutritional needs, you’re generally advised to add other ingredients to the menu, including dog-safe vegetables, legumes, limited grains and fruits, and some supplements. That’s where it gets tricky.

Heidi Hill, the owner of Holistic Hound in Berkeley, Calif., is a trained homeopath who has been feeding her dog Pearl raw for nearly 10 years. She often advises her customers to start out with prepared diets to avoid becoming overwhelmed or, worse, neglecting the nutritional needs of their dogs. “If you’re home-cooking or preparing more than, say, 20 percent of your dog’s food yourself, you really need to do your research,” says Hill. Complete and balanced commercial diets and pre-mixes to which you add your own fresh meat can take the guesswork out of healthy nutrition. Hill also recommends that you confirm that products are locally sourced, made in small batches, organic whenever possible and both hormone- and antibiotic-free.

If, on the other hand, you feel up to the task of managing your dog’s nutritional needs yourself, you can work with your veterinarian or an animal nutritionist to assure that you fill the most common gaps in canine nutrition created by home feeding: bone meal for calcium, fish oil for omega-3s, supplementation for vitamins A and D and more.

Custom Cooking
From the outset, liberate yourself from the myth that one diet fits all dogs. Many dogs, for example, thrive on the fatty acids and minerals present in sea vegetables (kelp, nori or dulse, for example), but others may experience allergic reactions to them.



CommentsPost a Comment
Please note comments are moderated. After being approved your comment will appear below.
Submitted by Frances | September 3 2011 |

I feed a combination of raw and home cooked. I have two toy dogs and two cats - not only do I now know exactly what they are eating, but even at UK prices it is considerably cheaper than reasonable quality kibble. It takes me about 30 minutes a week to prepare their food, they are all fit and healthy, and they thoroughly enjoy every meal. The only downside is finding the freezer space for bulk buying!

Submitted by Lisa | September 7 2011 |

I often see raw chicken and turkey bones at the supermarket, and I've been tempted to buy them and feed them to my two dogs. But I've been afraid to feed them raw poultry.

I always thought raw poultry could make you sick, and that it contained harmful bacteria (that's why we've always been told to wash the cutting board, don't let it come into contact with other foods, etc.)

And there are always the stories every Christmas and Thanksgiving about people being sick from eating turkey that's been left out of the fridge too long.

Is it really safe to feed raw poultry to my dogs? What about bacteria? And are the raw bones really safe to eat (i.e., they won't splinter?)

I want my dogs to have a healthy diet, but I don't want to make them sick (or worse).

Can anyone provide some reassurance about raw poultry?

Submitted by Kelly | September 21 2011 |

I feed a combination of Nature's Recipe and raw chicken and I add other meats as they fit my budget.

Regarding bacteria, like a previous poster noted, dogs can metabolize bacteria we humans cannot. My dogs have never been sick, and I have even given them some chicken that I personally would not eat. It wasn't totally gone but just starting to go, and they were just fine. As long as the chicken bones are not cooked, they won't splinter. My one beagle swallowed a bone whole tonight. Not my preferred way for him to eat, but I know he will digest it and be ok.

As far as people getting sick from holiday poultry, again, the human digestive tract works differently from a dog's.

I have also cooked for my dogs which they love as well. I like giving them the bones to keep their teeth clean. My dalmatian is 13 and she has cleaner teeth than many of the younger dogs that come into the grooming salon where I work.

My husband was concerned when I started feeding them raw so I started with the little wing tips from the chicken and progressed from there.

My vet is well aware of the diet I feed my dogs and she is totally on board!

Good luck!

Submitted by Margarita | August 16 2012 |

It is absolutely safe to feed raw poultry to your dog. Having said that, there are ways you can help ensure that the bacterial load is kept to a minimum. One, you can wash the poultry with plain water, scrubbing with the palm of your hand, much like you might do for a fruit or a vegetable, or you can do as I do a lot of the time and gently bake the poultry, 350 degrees for twenty minutes--make sure the meat has been thawed first in the refrigerator. You don't want to cook it. The meat should still look fairly raw on the outside and definitely raw on the inside, but the cooking should take care of the bacteria without cooking the bones per se. Usually just washing the poultry should suffice, though. Good luck!

Submitted by Anonymous | October 8 2012 |

This is a great video that discusses Raw Meat Diets for Dogs and Cats! Explains why dogs and cats can eat raw meat.
Dr.Karen Becker is a great vet, she knows her stuff :).


Also check out the myths section at--->


Submitted by Shell | February 27 2014 |

My Vet said to freeze the poultry for a minimum of 3 full days, then thaw in refrigerator before feeding to the dog!

Submitted by The Octopus Gallery | September 8 2011 |


Dogs have digestive systems that are much better suited to handling bacteria than we do. Look at how many feral dogs live okay as scavengers. While a little excess E. coli could ruin our day, most dogs are going to be able to shrug it off. Follow safe food handling procedures and you should be fine. When I buy a larger portion of poultry than my dog will be able to eat in a day or two, I'll portion and freeze the rest. Even if I screw up and don't get it defrosted all the way, my dog will happily spend the time when I'm at work gnawing on any frozen bits which is actually a godsend if you have a dog that needs something to do when you're out. Just be sure to cover anything they might sit on while gnawing if you don't crate.

Submitted by Erica K | September 9 2011 |

I was under the impression that you shouldn't feed commercial and raw food at the same mealtime because they digest at drastically different rates and can cause stomach upsets?

I am just starting to dip a toe in the water by transitioning from Wellness commercial food to home-cooked. Obviously my two dogs are thrilled to find some "real" food in their bowls along with a little kibble, but as it's only been a couple of days I'll be keeping a close eye on their energy levels, weight, and bathroom habits! :)

Submitted by AlexV | September 9 2011 |

I just adopted a dog last month, and we've kept her on the dry food the rescue group had her on to avoid digestive upsets up til now. Now, however, we'd like to switch her over to raw. My only concern is, how do I keep the house clean? I don't want her carrying a RMB around and spreading the blood/bacteria on the floor. Also, how do I make the transition from kibble to raw? Do I need to do a fasting day?

Thanks in advance,


Submitted by Anonymous | September 15 2011 |


Submitted by Tina | September 15 2011 |

We have been feeding our dog raw food for his entirel life. He is fit, healthy, has great teeth at 8yrs old and loves his food. We feed raw chicken neck and raw marrow bones. Yes we need to be a bit more careful about washing hands etc.... But never have we had a issue with bacteria passing to us our our child.

Submitted by Anonymous | September 22 2011 |

I wish the author had share some of the research mentioned in the first line. That said, however, I've done a lot of my own reading and have my 2 dogs on a raw food diet.

Submitted by Amy | February 25 2012 |

I've been feeding our two dogs raw for 3 years, and they are thriving. They are both rescued mixes, 90 and 55 pounds, 7 and 5 years old. Before feeding raw, we were paying top-dollar for high quality kibble (I liked Evo the best). Feeding them raw is not only better for them, but it's cheaper! There are ways to make it more economical. Since I have two big dogs and like to take advantage of when times are plentiful (such as during deer season), I have two 15 cubic feet chest freezers in the garage. But I understand that this is not for everybody! If you have (a) smaller dog(s) and go to the grocery often, then you won't need a freezer. My new energy star chest freezer claims to operate at only $30/year. That's much less than I was paying for a bag of kibble!

To keep it clean during meal times, I prefer to feed my dogs outside. If you want to feed indoors, try feeding in a crate. Lots of raw feeders will feed on old towels. You can use the towel until you feel it needs cleaning, then pop a load into the washing machine. Pretty easy.

When selecting raw meats, make sure to avoid "enhanced" varieties. Lots of chicken and pork will be injected with sodium solution to make it more palatable for humans. But some dogs are sensitive to all the salt and will get upset tummies. All the excess salt is certainly not good for them (or us). Check the nutrition facts on the back of the package - it should be less than 100 mg sodium per serving. Even "natural" varieties of chicken typically have 60 mg of sodium. My dogs have never showed sensitivity to sodium, but every dog is different.

If the cost of raw is the issue, besides shopping around at grocery stores & butcher shops, you can join a pet food co-op. There is info about this online if you do a search. Some raw feeders have luck placing craigslist ads for freezer burned meat. I have been given lots of "old" meat for my dogs. Many times the stuff was "expired"/a year or two old, but otherwise perfectly fine - but the people didn't want to eat it. My dogs loved it! A little freezer burn won't hurt them. I am a little on the extreme end, but I hunt deer to share with my dogs, and I also will pick up fresh deer roadkills to butcher for the dogs. Of course, that's not for everyone... I just have a hard time passing up 100 pounds of free dog food!

Besides meat, bone and organ, my dogs get a raw egg every day, and a couple of fish body oil capsules (human grade - the same stuff you'll buy in the store for yourself. My dogs eat them like treats).

Submitted by Russell Hartstein | October 12 2012 |