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"It's very simple. Dogs and cats and other talented animals have tails; their tails, with their thousands of flourishes, provide them with a wonderfully complex language of arabesques, not only for what they think and feel and suffer, but for every mood and vibration in their feeling tone. We have no tails, and since the more lively among us need some form of expression, we make ourselves paintbrushes and pianos and violins..."

Hermann Hesse

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Feeding Raw - Venturing into a New Territory

Well, this week I broke down and started attempting to feed my three dogs a raw diet. I was driven to it because Sage just hasn't done well on kibble since I brought him home. As well, one of my other dogs, Elbee, had not been doing well on her kibble diet for awhile.

After my clumsy attempts over just a couple of days, both dogs showed dramatic improvement. Elbee is an extremely small Pembroke Welsh Corgi, with a very large appetite! Needless to say, she is nothing less than Thrilled with her new diet of fresh chicken meat, bones, veggies, and a small amount of cottage cheese!

Formerly I fed my senior dog, Bart, fresh cooked meat and veggies, combined with some kibble, so this part of the transition isn't too much of a leap. But feeding bones has proven to be my area of real paranoia - and frustration! 

I've been attempting to feed chicken wings, which are evidently too small. None of my three dogs understands how to hold a bone and they attempt to swallow a wing bone whole - which is way too scary for me!

Getting larger bones, like chicken necks and backs is something you have to do through a poultry wholesaler. The average market doesn't carry these items. And even so, I just read in one article where these bones were high among those who complained that their dogs tended to break teeth eating them...and that dogs still made attempts to swallow necks whole...what to do?

So for right now, I am kind of stuck with a bunch of wings! This means that I have to sit and hold the bones for each of the dogs to eat - a very time-consuming process...and likely to be a deal breaker on the raw feeding thing.

As well, there is a lot of stuff written about raw feeding. It is rather overwhelming. I have big concerns regarding whether the dogs are going to get enough of the requisite vitamins and minerals on this diet - especially for a young puppy. (Note: puppy wants to play with the bones, not eat them. And he has no clue as to how to remove meat from the, so I have to de-bone the meat first. It is becoming very challenging to get enough bone in his diet at this point. I know he'll grow out of it, but for now...) At the same time, I am not into the idea of purchasing 6 different supplements to be added each time I feed, as a couple of the websites I visited recommend.  

I also found a "prey-model" website that says there is no need to feed veggies, as a wolf in the wild doesn't eat stomach contents and would never get veggies.  Not sure I agree with this, since we're not talking about wolves here, but...honestly I wonder if anyone REALLY knows what is best as far as the variety and types of foods to feed, after reading some of the articles out there. 

I only know that when I started feeding Bart meat and veggies, due to bladder stones, he seemed a lot healthier on that diet and he liked the food more. So I am thinking that the addition of the veggies and fruits on occasion is a good thing. It is clear that Sage really likes the addition of a little cottage cheese. The other day I gave him just meat and veggies, without any dairy and he looked at it, then at me quizically. It was obvious that something important was missing!

And so, I open this up for suggestions and advice from those with tried and true experience over years of raw feeding - both adults and puppies! I am feeding a 5-year-old Cardigan, an 11-year-old Pembroke, and a 15-week-old Cardi puppy.

My primary questions: 

1. What bones to feed? How small must bone pieces be in order for me to be comfortable with the dogs swallowing them and not risking blockages? I've been pulverizing the larger wing bones into very small bits for the puppy, and for Elbee. Elbee's mouth is actually smaller than the puppy's. She is an extremely petite girl, weighing only 15lbs, with a very small bone structure. They are able to gnaw the smaller wing bones, with me holding one end.

2. Supplements? Which ones and how do you know your dog is getting all of the vitamins and minerals it needs?

Sign me...the Raw Food Newbie!

P.S. Carolyn and Heidi do not have to reply, as they've already offered so much helpful advice - thank you! At this point, I am collecting any/all information so I can sift through and figure out what works best for us. Thanks to all!


penni said...

Kathy, I've fed raw for several years and would not go back to kibble for the world. I went to an organic meat store (Keller's Home Stores) and have a standing order for necks. That's what we have for breakfast. A real butcher shop would probably be glad to sell the necks -- they are not much in demand. For dinner, I use Oma's Pride or Bravo which is meat ground with bone, veggies, etc. You can do the grinding thing on your own, but I have too many other events going on to spend that time. I supplement with 500 mg Vitamin C, 1 tsp. Missing Link Plus (it includes Glucosomine), and a tsp. of apple cider vinegar which decrease urine odor. At least once a week for dinner, we have duck necks, organic lamb ribs, chicken quarters (they are often on sale for 10# for $4.00), or drum sticks. I make sure to feed tripe or heart or liver once a week because the organ meat is so good for the dogs.

I don't know where you live, but you might want to go to the Bravo or Oma's Pride web site to see if there is a distributor near you. Those products come in frozen 1 lb, 2 lb, 5 lb, and 10 lb chubs. You might only use the prepared meat a couple of days a week (for convenience).

I'm not sure where the story came from that the carnivores in the wild didn't eat stomach contents -- they ate whatever they killed, and they ate it all. My little wild animals love the raw diet. Dinner time last about 10 seconds and I pick up spotlessly clean bowls. Breakfast is even faster.

We have beautiful coats, sparkly eyes, clean teeth and breath, and small (relatively un-smelly) poop. My vet, who is not a proponent of raw feeding, says he cannot argue with success because a number of his show clients feed raw. He only sees our dogs for booster shots or for health certificates if they are flying, or because they need their Therapy Registrations signed.

The dogs learn to eat the bones. When I switched one dog to raw, she looked at raw chicken like I was trying to poison her so I put it in a Ziplock bag and let it sit in hot water for a few minutes. It was okay with her warmed like that. It was a short hop from that to cold, out of the refrigerator.

Try to stick with it. The results are beyond worthwhile.

Elbeepem said...


Thanks very much for the inputs. I live in the San Francisco Bay area in California.

I've been able to find chicken necks through a poultry wholesaler in my area, but the ground meat source is a great one to have - thanks!

I've been using Missing Link as a supplement, but did read that you should also use vitamin C. Do you give them the regular human vit. C available at any drug store, or do you have a veterinary Vitamin C of some sort?

I know that places like B-Naturals or Nature's Pharmacy sell a Vitamin C supplement, meant expressly for dogs. They of course recommend all kinds of supplements, but it seemed like a LOT of supplements to be adding. They recommend a multi-vitamin, a calcium source, Vitamin C, Selenium. Glucosamine/Chondroitin, and an Omega oil that is a combo. of Omega 3, 6, 9.


Elbeepem said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
penni said...

Since the Bravo and Oma's Pride are complete -- meat, veggies, and bone, the Missing Link Plus which has the Glucosomine, Omegas, flax, alfalfa, etc., plus the Vitamin C (Sam's Club or Costco chewable because it's easier to crush and very inexpensive) is all they seem to need. I went through the phase where I added about eight supplements to their food, but they look far better with the Missing Link Plus, Vit. C and Apple Cider Vinegar (and I am not as overwhelmed and have more counter space). Today I got some Buffalo marrow bones and they've been entertained for hours.

We have several raw dog food stores in Albuquerque -- you must have 100 in the SF area. My regular store carries chicken necks by the 40# case for $16.50. 40# is just more than my smallish chest freezer will hold and leave room for everything else, but that's a great price.

With bone in the food/chicken necks/ribs, etc., the dogs are getting lots of calcium. Of course, the Vitamin stores would recommend six or seven supplements, but if you read the Missing Link bag, you'll see it's all in there. If you don't use Missing Link Plus, then you should add glucosomine -- keeping those joints healthy will give you an active dog for many years.

My son has an eleven or twelve year old large dog (they rescued her so don't know her age). She was starting to have trouble lying down and getting back up, jumping on the bed, etc. He started giving her glucosomine, and she's back to moving around pretty easily.

Feeding raw is more complicated than throwing kibble in a bowl, but you'll get a routine going and it's no longer such a chore. The reward is seeing how great your critters look and act.

Joanna said...


I've been feeding raw for over ten years; here's my take on it:

The closer you can get to prey model, the better. It's the best way to make sure the dogs are getting everything they need--the more and more varied the organs, the better. If you choose to do it more like Billinghurst (the old "BARF" diet) you can use some veggies (though organ meats remain vital). But no, veggies are not a natural part of the canine diet and no, wolves DON'T eat stomach contents (nor do dogs, if given the chance--I've fed whole unemptied stomachs of large prey animals to dogs multiple times, and they rip them open, shake the contents out, and eat the stomach itself but not what was in it).

Thigh quarters are probably going to be your best bet until you can get some chicken backs--wings and necks really have too much bone and almost no fat, so they're not ideal. Thigh quarters are close to the proportion of bone that's found in a prey animal and chicken backs are GREAT at keeping weight on (making them very economical to feed). Many butchers will order you a case of backs; just ask around. I've never had any trouble finding them no matter where we've lived.

No need to use cottage cheese; dogs don't need dairy. They like it, sure, but there's nothing about it that's especially nutritious and it can mess with the absorption of certain nutrients.

With multiple dogs, Omas or Bravo will get expensive fast, but those are great to ease your way into the diet so you don't have to make up too much stuff on your own. As you get more confident you can drop them.

I cannot imagine a dog breaking a tooth on a chicken back--if they did, they must have had totally rotten teeth to begin with. The only bones you really have to worry about in terms of teeth are the weight-bearing bones of large animals (cow leg bones, for example).

It's totally normal for puppies to play before they figure out how to eat. I'd give him a drumstick or thigh instead of a wing and then just let him go chew on it. He'll gum it and throw it around for a while, maybe even a day or two, and eventually bite it hard enough and it will all fall into place in his brain.

If you want to feed veggies and raw meaty bones (Billinghurst style) I highly recommend Sue Johnson's Switching to Raw.

Oh, and one parting shot: You ARE feeding a wolf. Don't forget that. Dogs are just a "race" of wolves and are the same species in every way. So feed the wolf and you'll be feeding the dog right too.

Elbeepem said...


Thanks very much. You've verified much of what I've read, or concluded. Any comments on supplements? Which ones, what's really necessary?

Thanks again,

Kady Cannon said...

I'm going to second Joanna on chicken backs being great. They are just about a complete diet in themselves.

When feeding necks, I have found that they vary. Some are just necks, without extra skin, so would be lacking fat. Others that we have bought have included all of the skin and extra fat.

Backs seem to be more readily available here as people buy them to make stock out of.

starrynights said...

Yay for raw! I know it's hard at first and you worry that you aren't feeding the right stuff or that your dog is missing something vital. But with some trial and error, you will get it figured out and the results are undeniable.

Greta's coat is SO shiny, her breath is clean and her poops are tiny so I know she is healthy. Our puppy class instructor even says she notices dogs on good diets (raw or high quality low grain kibble) are better behaved and have an easier time staying calm and concentrating. Greta is by far the easiest puppy I have ever had. I feel her raw diet plays a part in that.

I follow the Billinghurst model. I have been feeding a combination of chicken and turkey wings, backs, necks and thighs. I do feed veggies but I grind them in the food processor. I also give her Missing Link because it supplies so many of the ingredients that Billinghurst identifies as key. I dropped the cottage cheese however I found that when I was first feeding raw, mixing it with the veggies made them more appealing. Greta loves hearts and livers too.

I echo other's comments as to letting Sage play with the wings. I know it seems gross, but he will eventually "get it" and then he will learn that it's very satisfying and yummy to crunch away on those raw, meaty bones.

Keep us posted on your progess!

starrynights said...

Oh, and I live in a podunk town with only a Safeway and a "Select Market" so I do not have access to all the fancy meats, etc. I just shop the sales and keep my eye out for things like necks and backs and organ meats. When I find them I stock up and then freeze them. Safeway often has bags of thighs (make sure you get the ones with the bones and skin! LOL) for very cheap.

Elbeepem said...

Thanks to all for the inputs - very helpful.

Initially it sounded like you normally would only feed non-weight-bearing bones, such as necks and backs and wings. But I see that some are feeding thighs and drumsticks? I have read that the dark meat is considered more nutritious. Any issues with thighs and legs splintering - do you only feed them frozen?

P.S. Last night Denali got her first chicken back. Initially she was puzzled and didn't know what to do with it. I picked it up and offered it to her. She took one bite and seconds later the whole thing was gone. I was amazed how quickly she dispatched a whole chicken back! Having finished, she looked at me, asking if I had MORE!

Unknown said...

I'm grateful to learn so much from the commenters about the raw diet. I've also been feeding the raw diet for six years to the feline and canine members of my family.

My hunch is, there's less to worry about in terms of supplements with the raw diet than there is with the dried and canned foods available at the supermarket. However, like the other folks who answered, I do supplement: fish oil and a product from Animal Essentials called Organic Green Alternative that contains flax seed meal, spirulina, pumpkin seed, garlid\c, burdock root and nettle leaf. In times when I've needed to save money, I've ground flax seeds in a blender and added kelp powder and spirulina to them. It got my attention that several people mention vitamin C. I'll have to reconsider that one.

I agree that dogs are carnivores and they thrive on raw meat, organs and bones. But they seem to have a pretty strong omnivorous streak, so I also puree raw and cooked vegetables like sweet potatoes, squash, carrots and greens. Sometimes an egg gets tossed in to the food bowl, too. However, they mostly eat raw meat, organs and bones.

Oh, and I have one way of obtaining meat that I didn't read about in the other comments. A chain of grocery stores here in Portland, New Seasons, has an awe-inspiring meat department that will chop whole chickens and turkeys into chunks manageable not only for my dogs but also for my small senior cat. I freeze the chunks in containers that will feed the bunch for a few days.

There's no question in my mind that this is the best diet for dogs' and cats' health. If I were to have to choose to feed less raw meat for economic reasons, I'd be more careful with the supplementation and add more vegetables and some cooked and pureed grains and legumes. Even though dogs and cats have no nutritional requirement for grains and legumes, having some in their diet would be better for them than going back to that crunchy stuff that keeps indefinitely at room temperature.

It's great to hear about pets being well cared for and well fed.