This is a general “Getting Started Guide” for newcomers who have just ventured into the realm of raw feeding their furkids. From how, to where and how much is all covered in this article.
Do I want a premade or make it myself?
The very first question, is the question of convenience. Most newcomers who have fed kibble prefer to switch over to a balanced premade raw brand. Each choice has it’s own benefits and drawbacks, and I will touch very lightly on both:
Pros: Very convenient. Balanced and packaged into convenient packaging. Easy to defrost and serve.
Cons: Requires freezer space. Contents are minced. Risk feeding minimal protein sources. More expensive than DIY. Recipes, balance unknown. Supply chain shortages.
Pros: Have control over what you feed in terms of quality and quantity. Can adjust according to budget. Feed chunky or whole food. Feed wide variety of protein sources as per what’s available to you. Can feed on-the-fly or prepare bulk batches. Feed whole prey (ideal). Cons: Requires some planning to procure meat, offal and meaty bones. Risk unbalanced meals if research not done beforehand. If preparing bulk batches, you need to set at least 3 hours’ aside for prepping, portioning and cleaning up. Requires considerable freezer space if feeding large dogs or buying in bulk.
Where do I get what?
If you’re keen on rather feeding premade food, then have a look under our Files section for our BARF Suppliers File (https://www.facebook.com/notes/we-f…). WRF-SA requires that all premade suppliers listed have an up-to-date registration with the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) for their complete premade meals.
If you want to try doing it yourself, you can have a look under our Files section for Raw Meat Suppliers in your area(https://www.facebook.com/notes/we-f…). You will have to visit your local butchers, farmers, markets, deli’s and lastly supermarkets to see what you can source in terms of boneless red meat (goulash, trimmings, cheek, tongue, trimmed brisket and chuck, white meat like whole chicken, duck, rabbit, pork, organs like heart, lungs, raw green tripe, liver, kidney, spleen, pancreas and raw meaty bones like wings, necks, carcasses etc. Pilchards, egg, soup bones (for bone broth, not feeding) are all good additions to look for as well.
Try to feed from as much grass-fed and young animals as possible, to reduce the toxin or hormone load that you are introducing into your pets’ diet. You don’t need to add any grains at all to your pets’ diet – the bulk of their diet should consist of raw meat. Rice and pap (maize meal) especially has no nutritional value to dogs or cats.
How do I start?
If your pooch or kitten is completely unfamiliar with raw feeding, there are two methods – cold turkey, or go-slow. Cold turkey method works for most people, and young pups, kittens and *most* dogs and *some* cats ? take quite easily to this approach.
All it entails is dumping the kibble and switching the next meal over to a raw meal. Your pet(s) might have loose stool for a few days at most, just ensure that you are feeding a good quality probiotic and be patient, it will ease up as long as you’re keeping to our recommended guidelines.
For those pets who are reluctant or unsure about the meal being offered to them, the gentler approach of going slow entails offering a little bit of raw food together with whatever they are currently eating, and gradually increasing it over a few days’ time. Stick with one protein only, chicken is normally the best choice here, or choose a single premade choice and offer the same batch over the transition period.
Monitor for loose stool, remember to add a good quality probiotic during this transition period, and increase the raw food offering until pooch or kitty is eating the raw food completely on it’s own.
It’s important not to give in during the transition period and revert back to offering kibble as a complete meal. You won’t starve your pet if they skip a meal or two, unless it’s a puppy or kitten who have to eat every few hours.
Once completely transitioned, offer different types of raw food and or premade brands and again, monitor for loose stool.
Some dogs and cats (just like children), have preference over certain meat and organ types, as well as preparation thereof. Reluctant offal eaters will sometimes happily consume liver and kidney if well hidden amongst yummy tripe or slathered in yoghurt or broth, and some prefer searing the meat ever so slightly, however do reduce the cooking time so that eventually they are consuming the meat and organs completely raw. Don’t offer cooked, roasted, steamed or seared meat with bone in at all.
Offering meaty bone:
Please do consider that your pooch or kitty doesn’t have the necessary jaw strength to crunch through bone, so you might have to offer chewier pieces of meat for a while until they are able to crunch through meaty bones.
Inspect bones carefully before offering them to your pets and do hold onto the bone on one end if they have never eaten a bone before – an over zealous puppy WILL swallow a chicken neck whole. Trim away pieces that may cause a choking hazard initially like the wingtip on chicken and duck wings.
If pooch or kitty doesn’t like a meaty bone on it’s own, consider chopping it slightly smaller as the size might be a little bit daunting, offer it slightly frozen or minced otherwise.
Always offer edible bones with lots of meat on them, and always supervise your pets while they are eating meaty bones. Recreational bones that are inedible should be removed once done and either discarded or packed away for another time to reduce the risk of fractured teeth and possible guarding issues among dogs.
Once you have decided whether you will be making use of a premade or DIY, then you will have to work out how much you will need to feed. If you have small freezer space available, plan accordingly.
A 5kg cat eats roughly 4.5-5kg of food a month, a 15kg staffie eats 11kg-12kg food a month, a Labrador eats 30kg-35kg food a month and so on.
Most people prefer purchasing in bulk as it offers a price benefit, however keep available freezer space in mind when ordering in bulk. Premade food generally takes up less space due to the roll sizes or contains that are used that contain minced food, chunkier premade or DIY food will require larger containers and thus more storage space.
You can either prepare a batch in advance and portion accordingly, or take out food as you need. Either way, it’s best that you plan and calculate how much you will need, to ensure that you have adequate food on hand.
Sample Recipe, 1kg nett weight, suitable for cats and dogs
100g Pilchard (2-3 fresh small fish, whole, or use tinned, rinsed pilchards)
400g Boneless Meat (200g Beef, 200g Venison, look at our Prey Model Guide for ideas)
40g Kidney (or spleen/milt, pancreas or other secreting organ)
75g Heart (Increase if feeding cats as their taurine requirement is higher than dogs’)
75g Green/Unbleached Tripe (Omit if cat won’t eat tripe and add 75g heart or dark white meat like chicken thighs)
1 Whole egg without shell
50-100g Broth/Rooibos Tea plus additional blood from all meat and organs
How much do I feed?
Adult Dogs & Cats:
The general guideline is 2.5-3% of expected adult weight for maintenance. Reduce daily amount if weight loss is required and feed more if weight gain is required or if your pets are more active. Cats generally eat slightly more at 3% of adult weight, but also reduce and increase according to activity level and weight loss/gain required.
Do not be mistaken, your pet can become overweight on a raw food diet, so do monitor your pets’ weight from time to time. You should be able to feel your pets’ ribs without having to press down too hard.
Pregnant and lactating bitches and queens have higher caloric requirements, so increase their food intake to 5-6% of her weight prior to pregnancy, and offer more if she asks.
Puppies & kittens:
Puppies and kittens generally eat the same amount of food through-out their life stages which is roughly 3% of expected adult weight until they reach 12 months of age.
Puppies and kittens can be weaned onto raw food as soon as they are interested. They can eat the same food that mom eats, and offering chunky meat and meaty carcasses with help strengthen their jaw muscles. Remember to offer a variety of different protein sources so prevent them from getting fixated on a single type of meat.
Do consider that they have really tiny tummies and require frequent offerings of food, so even if a kitten has to eat 150g of food a day, she cannot finish it in one meal, Hence, feeding them 4-5 times initially and then decreasing it gradually to 3-4 times at around 16 weeks and then 2-3 times from 6 months onward.
Between 4-6 months, increase their meaty bones slightly to compensate for additional calcium requirements for teething purposes and reduce when teething is done. Gnawing on meaty bones will offer much relief to itchy gums too and keep them away from your furniture and favourite shoes.
During growth spurts at around 7-9 months, their caloric intake requirements will increase and then decrease after 12 months’ of age, so
increased meals will be required.
What is balanced?
There is no correct answer for this, as humans do not know what a completely balanced canine or feline meal is, other than depicting an assumption based on natural prey they would consume if left to their own devices.
Whole prey including fur, consists roughly of 80% meat which includes sinew, muscle meat, heart, lungs, cheeks, fat, and then 10% bone which includes the entire frame or carcass of the body, and 10% offal which includes liver, kidneys, spleen, brains, eyes, testicles, pancreas and other secreting organs.
Because we do not have access to feed our pets whole prey which would be ideal, we make up meals considered “frankenprey” to make up a meal consisting of the same components that they would find in a field mouse or a hare for example using the prey model guide below.
When starting out, use the 80% meat, 10% bone, 5% liver +5% other secreting organ guide and monitor stool very closely. 10% bone is the minimum bone that you should be offering, and it should not exceed 25% of the diet otherwise it leaves little room for other essential nutrients.
Do not feed too much of a single item, try to keep in mind that you are “building” a prey for your pet, and no single sheep consists of 50% tripe, and gizzards in a chicken only makes up 1% of it’s nett weight. You don’t need to build an exact model, you just need to exercise common sense and balance food items. Our prey model guide lists which items should be limited when feeding.
Balance over Time:
You don’t need to feed every single item with every meal either. Balance over time means exactly that – you can feed fish 2-3 times a week, and then meaty bones 3-4 times a week and organs 2-3 times a week. Personally, I would aim for balance over 7 days, as leaving too much gap between bone meals may produce problematic stool. Some people prefer feeding a boneless meal with offal for one meal, and then a meaty bone for the next meal, whether they’re feeding once or twice a day matters not.
Bone and offal tolerance is observed through monitoring stool. Too much bone will produce hard crumbly white stool immediately, and will require boneless meat to be added to meals if the same stool is produced all the time.
Black, tarry and loose stool is produced when too much organ like liver or kidney is fed, and it needs to be kept in the region of 10%-15% and if problematic feeding in a single or two meals, consider splitting it up into smaller portions and feed it more frequently. Feeding too much heart can also produce loose stool.
Essential food items:
Muscle Meat: Muscle meat contains over 20% protein, the essential building blocks of all living beings. It also contains phosphorus and magnesium, is low in calcium and also contains essential fatty acids such as Omega 6 and 3.
Bone: Bone contains really high amounts of calcium as calcium carbonate as well as phosphorus at a 2:1 ratio and about 4% magnesium and other trace minerals.
Liver: Must I feed liver? You don’t have to, but then you will have to supplement to make up for the valuable nutrients that you lose out on this very inexpensive raw food. It’s extremely dense in protein, vitamin B,C,D,E, essential fatty acids, phosphorus, magnesium, selenium, zinc, potassium and copper; and it’s very low in calcium. It needs to make up at least half of your pets’ offal requirement.
Egg: The innocuous little egg contains all the building blocks to create a perfect little chick ? Amongst other vitamins and minerals, it contains protein, vitamins A,B,C,D,E,K, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, selenium, sodium, Omega 6 and 3. Feeding whole raw egg does not cause a biotin deficiency, as this happens when you only feed the egg white. Feed it as a part of your dog or cats’ daily meat allotment at a rate of one egg excluding the shell per kg of raw food fed or 2-3 times a week including the shell.
Eggshell is pure calcium so take care not to feed a bone heavy meal together with eggshell as it may cause constipation if fed in excess.
Egg yolk is great to include in your cats’ diet overall, as it contains lecithin which aids in resolving hairball issues.
Fat:Fat is essential in your pets’ diet as they use it for energy. Don’t be over-zealous to trim away excess fat and consider that certain cuts of meat are completely devoid of fat and will require supplementation. Aim for 10%-15% fat overall in your pets’ diet, and reduce accordingly if calorie restriction (weight loss) is desired or due to health-related issues such as pancreatitis.
Heart: Although not technically required, it is another muscle meat that is so nutrient dense and inexpensive to feed. It’s rich in vitamin B, taurine (requirement for cats), Coenzyme Q10 (patients with heart disease) and iron.
Green Tripe: Another muscle meat that is technically not required, however it’s nutrient dense and offers a myriad of digestive health support. It has a near perfect Ca:P ratio and should always be fed from grass-fed animals, not grain fed.
Fish and Omega 3: All meat contains Omega 6 and to a much lesser degree, Omega 3 which are essential fatty acids. Due to farming methods, and to a greater degree the unavailability of true free-range animal meat produce, our diets including our pets, tend to be highly inflammatory with high levels of Omega 6. And ideal ratio is 2:1 Omega 6 : Omega 3 and without supplementation, this ratio sits around 10:1 for most diets, especially diets containing a lot of chicken.
Simply adding small oily fish like sardines, pilchards, mackerel and salmon to your diet, you will increase the Omega 3 considerably, and if fish isn’t tolerated well, then consider supplementing with a 1000mg Omega 3 or cod liver oil supplement. Use the human dosage and scale it down to your pets’ weight – a 25kg dog will require 2-3 1000mg Omega 3 capsules per day if no fish is fed at all.
Feeding fresh vs frozen vs cooked:
Always, always, always feed fresh raw meat and bone. When sourcing your own meat for your pets, buy human grade food, which essentially means meat intended for human consumption. This reduces the risk of parasite and bacterial load overall. Your pets can handle “not so fresh” raw meat more than you can due to the gastric acid that their stomachs produce, but in lieu of having a healthy pet overall, be sure of your raw food supplier’s ethos and food supply.
Some people prefer feeding frozen or semi-frozen food, due to fussy eaters or gulpers. Essentially there is nothing wrong with feeding like this as the food is still frozen, however do consider that consuming frozen food will slow down your pets’ digestive system and may make them a little sluggish.
Eating frozen food also consumes more energy from the body overall so you may find that feeding this way results in a slight increase in amount being fed overall.
Feeding raw meaty bones frozen is a great way to slow down overeager gulpers and keeps your pets entertained for longer. Take care when feeding recreational bones frozen as an already hard bone is now even harder and may fracture teeth.
Cooking and oxidation denatures food, it’s trace minerals and vitamins and bioavailability of essential fatty acids. Consider that your pets are completely dependent on you to provide the bulk of their daily food and if left to their own devices, would eat raw, freshly killed prey. No cooking involved.
If you absolutely have to cook, then sear ever so slightly, and reduce the amount of cooking overall until you can feed the food completely raw. Do NOT cook premade raw food containing bone in at all. The cooking process will denature the bone structure and make it less likely to be digested properly.
Do’s and Don’ts
Do take care in planning your pets’ meals. They are completely dependent on you and for some of them, it’s the most exciting part of the day.
Do feed human grade food if you DIY
Do feed a variety of different protein sources. Try not to feed one type in excess
Do feed a balance of muscle meat, organs/offal and bone over a 7-day period at least
Do feed size-appropriate meaty bones that are edible
Do always supervise your pets when they are eating meaty bones
Do add extra moisture to your pets’ food, especially cats
Do weigh your pets and their food from time to time. I can almost guarantee you that going by eye only will result in weight gain at some point in time, especially with smaller breeds.
Don’t add too much (if any) grains, maize, cereals, starches like rice, pasta, pap etc. as these are nutritionally deficient and maize specifically is highly inflammatory
Don’t dilute your pets’ food with too much fruit and vegetables to “make it stretch”
Don’t be over-zealous in feeding “road kills”. Feeding whole prey is ideal and only if you know where it has come from and how long it’s been wherever you found it.
What to avoid/unnecessary food items:
Anything processed: You don’t need to add packet gravies, or tinned pet food to make your pets’ food appetising – a yummy home-made broth with do just fine.
Vitamin & Mineral Supplements: If you’re feeding a variety of fresh whole food, you don’t need to supplement at all. The only recommendation we make is an Omega 3 supplement and only if you’re not feeding any small oily fish.
Low-fat anything: Just don’t even think about low-fat yoghurt. Full cream, full fat and preferably home-made is what they need.
Why not feed raw?
Once your pet/s are fully on a raw diet, whether you’re prepping the meals yourself or purchasing a premade, you will give yourself a pat on the back. So why do we feed raw?
Small, hard poop with almost no smell is possibly the biggest winner for most
Better oral and digestive health
Better body condition overall, some breeds have better definition
Less frequent vet visits, if any (although you should still go for annual check-ups)
Beautiful coat shine, soft silky fur for most breeds
Knowing that you are feeding a species appropriate food and possibly adding a few years onto your pets’ lives.