Feeding a Raw Diet
I feed my dogs a raw diet, it is a choice I made after loosing one of my Bernese at just under 7 years old to cancer. My husband and I decided that as Bernese have a predisposition to cancers that we wanted to feed them the least amount of additives and toxins as possible. We ourselves eat a diet with virtually no processed food at all as we do not like all the additives and came to the conclusion that this was the way we wished to feed our beloved dogs too.
I obtained several books about feeding raw diets and read so much that I confused myself totally and though I could never do it properly, however I am not so easily put off and so plunged in and came up with a diet I am very happy with, and guess what? It's easy!
A Balanced Diet
We hear so much about a "Balanced diet" and the dog food manufacturers would have us believe we need to feed a balanced diet at every meal. What's that all about? Well I got to thinking that in the wild a dog may eat a variety of foods dependant on what is available on a given day, maybe a rabbit today, a nest of eggs the next. Some carrion one day or, on a bad day, a chew of a few root vegetables if nothing else is available. Over a period of a few days he will get a pretty good variety and the "Balanced" bit comes over a longer period of time. Over time I have by trial and error worked out a diet that leaves my dogs looking fit and healthy, sleek glossy coats clean sparkling teeth and fresh breath. They are happy healthy dogs and vet visits are minimal. I found what suits them and me and this is how I do it.
I realised early on that feeding three large breed dogs on a raw diet requires a freezer. It is possibly to do it without but probably more expensive! I was not keen on the raw meaty bones ideas though some parts I have adapted to suit me. Many people do use a raw bone diet and find it very good; it is a matter of personal choice. I wanted my dogs to have a good variety of foods so I started with a basic staple meat source and for me this is raw minced tripe. I purchase my tripe in bulk from a raw food distributor who delivers to my door. There are many distributors around, Albion, Durham Animal Foods, Raw to Go etc... Some sell food that is complete with the food minced in bags ready to feed. If you are worried about getting the bone/meat quantities right this may be the way for you to go. My distributors offer a variety of foods including tripe, minced chicken, minced rabbit, minced turkey, lamb and some "complete" mix's including one which is a mix of raw oily fish/tripe/and pulped raw vegetables and one that is organ meat/tripe/pulped veg.
I also get whole chicken carcasses and chicken necks. These are my staple basics and to this I add such things as eggs, tuna in oil, yoghurt, cooked veg/table leftovers, and some bones. The dogs need some bone content and as I find I am a bit worried about small bones like chicken wings (I know a lot of people feed them but my girls wolf them down whole and I was not happy with that!) I found they got on better with chicken necks, they still eat them whole but the bones are so small it is not a problem. I have a variety of butchers who have learnt what I like to feed and provide me with a selection of lamb ribs/chicken backs and beef brisket, which is all cartilage, and not bone. The chicken backs have lots of organ meat and are literally just the back of the raw chicken and are large enough to make the girls chew them up properly. A lot of this is free or I pay a minimal amount.
Mix and Match
Obviously it would be silly to try to feed all of these at one meal and so I mix and match. I feed twice a day so they may get some tripe with a little compete mix for breakfast then some rib bones with and egg or some yoghurt for tea. The next day may be some minced chicken with some compete and then rabbit and tripe for tea. Often when my human meat supplier has just slaughtered they will have an abundance of lovely young lamb ribs and she also gives me the briskets minced up and they love that but it is a little fatty so not too much. It is important for dogs to have some organ meat. They get a certain amount from the chicken backs and the compete mix but I also get liver/kidneys from time to time. At first I found they did not like eat it raw so I used to just sear the outside first and then they were happy to eat it. Now after many years of raw feeding they will eat anything! They were always happy to eat the minced complete raw as the organ meat is disguised in the mince! I also make liver cake for treats and this is very well accepted.
Over a weekly time scale I try to ensure that they have at least three bone meals, some eggs, once a week is fine, a little of all the pre-prepared minces i.e. Chicken tripe, turkey, rabbit, oily fish mix etc. some yoghurt, some tuna in oil and some vegetables. They get any left over scraps from the table as well (In their meals, not from the table!). I do not feed any additives as they get plenty of oils from the fish element, lots of calcium from the bones and plenty of fresh vegetables too. All the mineral content comes from the variety in the diet, potassium from the chicken necks, iron from the organ meat, and vitamins from the eggs/yoghurt/fish etc...
The Benefits of a Raw Diet
I have been feeding this diet now for about 6 years and am delighted with how they look and how healthy they are. My 10-year-old has the most wonderful set of teeth, clean and sparkly, her coat is lush and glossy and she is happy to go on her walks with the younger dogs without problems. The baby at 2-years-old is slim and in hard fit condition with clean teeth and bright shiny eyes and the middle girl at 8 is in the prime of her life and looks it too. It is not for everyone and we must all make our choices as to what we are happy to feed. This works for us and was easier than I at first imagined. I am so glad that I persevered and worked out what was right for us. The girls have benefited and for me it is so much cheaper to feed a raw diet than one of the premium complete kibbles. There are some much better kibbles available now but the prices are quite high if you are feeding 24 stones of Bernese!
I feel a raw diet is so much better for the dogs as it is what nature intended them to eat. There are always possibilities that even raw meat has some additives as of course farming is a much more intense art nowadays but I can live with that. Most of the meat I get has come from human grade sources so really it would be virtually impossible to eliminate all toxins but at least by feeding raw you are not cooking it to death and adding flavour enhancers as in dry kibbles. Oh and the other benefit? Well I never get anyone who looks into their dish and turns away now, they eat with enjoyment and look for more. The poop round in the garden is better, nice firm stools and less of them too. Have I found any drawbacks? Not really, it is not so easy to take them away for a week but we have done it, with freezer bags and local butchers we manage.
For anyone who is thinking of trying it I would say have a go, maybe you, like me will find it is the best for you and your dogs... or maybe not. But it is not rocket science and if you remember that variety is the spice of life and stick to it well, who knows your dogs may just thank you for it.