Introduction: Guide to Natural Dog Food (BARF)

Back to the basics.
As you all probably already know, dogs are the domesticated descendants of wolves. (Some say there is some coyote and some other canidaes in there too, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole of a conversation now, ok?) During the thousand of years wolves have lived with us and turned into dogs, their digestive system has gone through some changes as well. The modern dog is much more adaptable and omnivorous than the wolf, but it doesn't mean we can feed them what ever crap is the cheapest! Dogs are loved family members and taking care of their health is a great and rewarding responsibility.

I’m an animal handler by trade and I have been with animals my whole life. I studied natural feeding and BARF (Bones And Raw Food, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) feeding for carnivore pets and I truly believe it is a great way to feed your pet. I’m not against feeding your pet only half raw foods, everyone does what they think best for their pets. I’m feeding my dog almost purely on raw foods, because she loves it, her body reacts to kibble badly and also it is way cheaper than commercial foods in Finland.

I do not hail raw feeding as the ultimate- only possible- otherwise you hate your pet- diet! I've seen dogs live forever on unimaginable crap- diet and also die really young on the most expensive, high quality super kibble- diet. This is just a instructable, a story about what I feed my dog and how you can do it too if you like.

Please read the whole instructable carefully and if you still have questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

Step 1: The Test Subject

This is my little puppy Tiera. Tiera is now (December 2013) 10 months old and she has been fed with raw food for 7 months now. Tiera is half giant schnauzer (riesenschnauzer), half leonberger, so she is considered a giant breed dog. At 10 months she weighs 33 kg (72,7 lbs.) and I estimated she will be about 40 kg+ (88 lbs.) as an adult.

Tiera is very active, intelligent and a fast growing. Balancing her diet has been a challenge, but luckily she eats whatever I put in front of her. I have been monitoring her growth carefully and she is in as good health as any dog could hope to be. 
She used to get rash on her belly and ears from commercial kibble. Even the wheat,- and gluten free food didn't suit her. I have studied raw feeding and was keen on giving it a try. I have never looked back. One big compartment of our communal freezer is full of Tiera's foods and so far it has been enough. 

As you can see from the photos, her coat is shining and she looks healthy and slim. I like her to be bit on the light side, so her joints doesn't have to carry any extra weight during growth. She'll bulk up later on when the muscle mass starts to grow. 

Step 2: Facts and Fiction About Raw Feeding

First some important facts and odd fiction you should read before starting:

- Never change your dogs (or any other pets in that matter) diet in one day. It will unbalance the dietary system and lead to bunch of unpleasant problems like diarrhea. Change your dogs diet slowly from kibble to half raw/ full raw. The change should happen during a month by taking away bit of the kibble and adding some raw food.

- If your dog gets a legendary buttrocket attack, you have changed the food too quickly and should just continue with the current amounts until the poop turns solid again. This could take 2-3 days. If the diarrhea continues for more than 5 days, your dog could be sensitive to the type of meat you are offering. Change the meat and wait for some more. Remember to keep your dog well hydrated during diarrhea. You can offer yogurt or other probiotics to aid the transition.  

- Don’t be alarmed if your dog at first rejects the raw food, they can be addicted to the additives and artificial flavours of commercial food. Just like us and junkfood. Usually they gobble everything up without thinking too much.

- Raw feeding will eventually make your dog’s poop very solid and it will start to turn white, when it dries. The yard will be much easier to keep clean.

- Experts will say raw feeding your dog is rocket-surgery and should only be done by a superior specialist or overpaid dietary technician. Wild dogs have lived forever with only garbage and roadkill. How hard can it be?

- Some sources say you should feed your dog 60% of it’s diet bones. This could severely unbalance your dogs calcium intake and actually damage the bone growth. You can give your dog raw bones between meals and especially on fasting days, but don’t make it the main part of it’s diet. Meaty bones are important part of raw feeding, but not in those numbers.

- Raw food has a high contamination and the possibility of salmonella. Use good hygiene when preparing the foods and don’t let your kids play with it. Use common sense! Dog’s stomach is so acidic (ph 1) it kills off most of all bacterial and other harmful micro organisms. The food has to be severely rancid or otherwise contaminated to make your dog sick.

- Raw food is expensive.
Let’s do the math:
Good quality dog food costs on sale 5,77 €/ kg, Tiera needs 400 g a day,
so the daily cost is 2,30 €/day.
Frozen, animal quality minced meat costs 1,80 €/kg, she needs 800 g a day,
so the cost is 1,4 €/day. Even with all the extras like oils and minerals I can’t get the cost to rise above 2 €.

Step 3: How Much Is Good?

Very first thing is to weigh your dog.

-Adult dogs should get raw food 2-3% of their body weight. (Obviously, if you feed your dog half raw, you divide the result.)

20 kg (44 lbs.) adult dog would eat 400- 600 g (0.8- 1.3 lbs.) of raw food /day.
If the dog needs bit of a diet or lives otherwise a very inactive life, give it the 400 g. If the dog has a really active life and seems hungry, or thinner than should give the full 600 g. In very cold climate, or with super active working dogs the diet can be pumped up to 4-5% of full body weight. Remember to tone it back down when the action stops and climate warms up! Don’t let your dog get too fat or too skinny. Use your common sense.

-Puppies can be fed up to 10% of their current body weight, or 2-3% of expected adult body weight. (Again if feeding half kibble, remember to divide the result.)
Puppies need much more food to grow than adults need to maintain. Here is  few good charts to give you a guess, how big you puppy will be puppychart and puppyweights If the puppy’s breed is unknown, use the mother as a guideline. Remember to change the diet extra slowly with puppies!

16 week old Samoyed puppy weighs 14 kg (30.8 lbs) and the expectations is 27.7 kg (61 lbs.)
The puppy can be fed 550 - 1400g of raw food a day. (I would aim to the middle and modify from there as needed.)
With puppies you need to be much more careful than with adults. Check your puppy's growth and figure weekly and make modifications based on that. If the pup is getting chunky, cut down the portions and if the pup seems skinny give more.

-Half and half feeding:
If you a planning to feed half kibble half raw remember to divide the both amounts so you don't overfeed your dog.

If I would feed Tiera average kibble, her whole daily need would be 400g a day OR 800g raw food a day.
Result would be 200g of kibble and 400g of raw/day. Simple, eh?

Step 4: What Do I Feed It?

When you know the amount you need to feed, you need to look at what you should feed.

- about 70-80% of the amount should be muscle meat with fat
- up to 10% should be organs
- up to 10% raw meaty bones
- up to 20% of overall amount can be green tripe; green smelly tripe, not the white cleaned one.
- optional up to 10% can be low glycemic: raw vegetables, like broccoli, cucumber, zucchini, berries, salads, and so on.

This means the diet can vary weekly and even daily. One week it might be 80% meat, 10% bones, 10% organs. Another might be 70% meat, 20% tripe, 10% vegetables. Variation and adaptation is the key here.

All kinds of meats are suitable for pet food: beef, pork, mutton, goat, rabbit, moose, elk, horse, chicken, turkey, salmon, trout, you name it, you can use it. Just make sure it is fresh and preferably not too full of hormones and antibiotes.  
I know everybody wants to feed their pet the best, but what is the best for you is not the best for your pet! Where you would like to feast on file and leave the nasty bits, your dog needs all the nasty bits too. Grizzle, tendon, bones, even skin are important parts for your dog. They have important qualities, example the fluid in animal joints is very beneficial for your pets joints and it can help relieve or prevent arthritis. I know the idea of bone bits in minced meat grosses people off but your pet won't mind. They get calcium and minerals out of it. 

Liver, lungs, trachea, kidneys and so on. Heart is counted as normal meat, because it doesn't have any special qualities except just being the strongest muscle in the body. I don't give my pet liver or kidneys every week, only about every other. 
Dogs that have problem with their pancreas, or have the whole thing removed, can be fed fresh pancreas. They can actually use the enzymes and hormones from it. Discuss the possibility with your vet. Don't give pancreas to a healthy dog.

Meaty bones
Feeding whole chicken/ turkey wings and necks clean the teeth and give your pet something to do. Just remember to keep your eye on your pet while she is eating the wings or necks, they might cause choking if your dog gets greedy. I weigh the pieces and just give them as extra, or as breakfast instead of the mixed meat. Never ever ever give your pet cooked bones! No boiled, baked, roasted or any other cooked bones. Air dried ham bones, or prosciutto bones and just dried bones are ok! 

- Egg about once a week
- Oil, if needed.
I use linseed, salmon and canola oils. I add 1 tablespoon every other day. Keeps the fur shiny, adds D-vitamin and important Omega oils.
- Vitamins and minerals, if needed.

BIG No No’s
I can not repeat this enough: Never ever feed cooked bones to your dog. The molecular structure of animal bones changes during cooking, which causes splintering that can create obstructions in your dog's intestines. All bones fed to your dog should be raw!
Never feed the following: Avocado, onion, tomatoes, most nuts, fruit that hasn't had leaves, stems, seeds or pits removed, raw/green potatoes, or rhubarb.

Step 5: The Process Itself

Shopping list:

-Meat, for about a weeks worth
 This week I have pork, beef, turkey, pork liver and green tripe. 
- Oil
I'm using cod oil this week
- Egg
- Garlic
- Optional vitamins
I'm giving Tiera seaweed powder. It has lots of minerals and vitamins.

You also need 

- Big enough mixing bowl
- Spoon or ladle to mix it with
- Kitchen scale
- Plastic bags
- I use surgical gloves to avoid the possibility of salmonella.

- Mix everything together. No need to panic if you can't get them mix perfectly. Dogs are made to balance their diet over the week, so no need to worry. I buy my meats already minced, but you can use whole pieces of meat and just cut/mince it up. Remember: Animals NEED the nasty bits too! Fat, tendon, bones, marrow, they are all very important for your pet. Don't be a wuss, what may gross you out is probably your pets greatest feast.
- Weigh the food in to plastic bags. I like weigh them 1 bag - 1 day and give 1/3 in the morning and 2/3 in the evening. You can bag your food witch ever way you want. For tiny dogs: you can weigh the food in to paper cupcake molds or even in to a ice cube tray! Just remember how many you need to give in a day. 
No need to be too picky on this one either. If your dog is supposed to eat 200 g a day, 170 g one day and 230 g the next is not going to kill it. If you use plastic bags flatten them, so the storage is easier and they thaw faster.
- Put the bags/molds in to the freezer. Obviously you don't have to freeze tomorrows dinner, you can just leave it in the fridge. 
- Remember to wash all the equipment with hot water and dish-washing soap. Wipe the counter tops too.

Thaw the food either by taking it to the fridge previous evening, leaving it to the counter for a while, or in extreme cases by submerging it to warm water. Never ever put it into microwave oven or cook it! Cooking the food will mess up the proteins and make the bones brittle and sharp. 

Step 6: Last But Not Least

You can mix and match endless amount of different recipes. Write notes of what meat you used, so you know what your pet really likes. I always let my dog lick the mixing bowl after I have bagged the foods. If she doesn't want to clean it, I know there may be something wrong with my mixture. Maybe too much fish or not enough beef. 

Keep an eye on your dog's fitness and weight and adjust the food according. 

Raw food requires some extra effort because you have to make the food yourself, but from my own experience I can say:
it is worth it!