Natural Diet for Dogs
By Barbara Anderson Leaf (Wyatt’s mom)
Wyatt has been eating raw since the age of 5 months (he turned 4 years old in March 2003).
He weighs about 95 pounds and is an active bouvier.
The advice given here may need to be adjusted for your individual dog’s needs. Puppies
may actually eat MORE food. Older or less active dogs might need to eat less. I found I
had to adjust amounts and fat content of Wyatt’s food seasonally (less of both in the
summer; more of both in the winter).
Feeding your dog a raw diet is generally no more expensive than feeding premium kibble.
And once you get a system down, it really doesn’t take much extra time. Cost depends on
where you live, as prices can vary considerably. For example, when I lived in Idaho I spent
about $25-30 a month on Wyatt’s food. I live in New Orleans now, and spend about $15 a
month to feed Wyatt AND my husband’s 40 pound staffordshire bull terrier. The keys to keeping costs down are: be creative – make friends with your butcher – be flexible – think
Where to Get Information:
Here are a few websites that I found particularly helpful.
http://www.njboxers.com/faqs.htm (print this guide – it answers a ton of questions for people new to this diet).
http://www.barfers.com (Has great info, and links to a large number of discussion groups
about the diet).
http://www3.sk.sympatico.ca/riverien/nutridglike.htm http://www3.sk.sympatico.ca/riverien/nutritogether.htm Although feeding a raw diet isn’t rocket science, DO YOUR HOMEWORK!!! Read as
much as you can and talk to people who feed raw.
If you have a dog that gulps its food or has a health condition (thyroid, diabetes, hip
displaysia, etc.), PLEASE consult with one of the raw feeding lists about any adjustments
you may need to make to the standard raw diet. Dogs that gulp their food are at risk for
choking – but people out there can give you advice about how to deal with this. Same goes
for special diet considerations for dogs with health problems. There are two good
discussion lists on Yahoo Groups (both are very high volume). To join, send an email to:
What to Feed:
Raw Meaty Bones (RMBs): meaty off-cuts from the butcher of lamb, beef or pork (note –
some dogs have trouble digesting pork, so don’t buy a lot until you try it and find out how
your dogs do). Beef bones tend to be harder, so I don’t often use them as the raw meaty
bone (i.e. bones that can be completely consumed). I usually just give larger roast bones or
knuckle bones as recreational treats. I have used lamb necks (cut in half) and legs as RMBs.
People also feed pork ribs and necks. If you can get it, rabbit is good (it can be really
expensive, but you’re more likely to get a good price from local farmers). I got rabbit that was skinned except for the feet and head. Also, have the stomach and intestines removed –
there isn’t much risk of worms from farm-raised rabbit, but it’s better to be safe (besides, it
really isn’t pleasant to listen to a dog eat those parts!). I have also fed deer meat, spine & ribs. NOTE: if the deer population in your state has Chronic Wasting Disease in it, don’t
feed deer. You can call your local Fish & Game Department to ask. If you don’t hunt, talk to people who do. They discard the bones and “blood shot” meat (where the bullet enters
you get lots of coagulated blood – which people don’t eat but which is great for the dogs).
Handling meat with lots of “deer jello” (the coagulated blood) is not for the squeamish, but
your dogs will adore it! Also, if it is a young deer, you can feed leg bones. But
SUPERVISE your dogs. If the bones splinter into large raggedy chunks, take them away
and don’t feed them.
Chicken and turkey bones contain essential fatty acids that lamb and beef don’t have, so
they are generally used as the staple RMB source. The most commonly available are
chicken backs and turkey necks. Chicken backs have bits of organ meat still attached, which
is a bonus. If your dog needs to lose weight, remove the skin/fat first.
Muscle Meat: I generally use beef. Mostly hamburger and the lesser cuts of roast cut into
chunks. You can also use chicken, turkey, lamb, etc.
Bone Dust: A great substitution for muscle meat. Ask your butcher about this. Bone dust
(sometimes called saw dust) is the pulverized meat, fat, bone & marrow that collects under
the butcher’s saw and is generally just thrown away. But it is great for dog food. The
butcher may think you’re weird at first, but explain it’s for the dog. Most butchers are
happy to see it not go to waste and will give it to you for free. I’ve gotten butchers to save
the bone dust daily and just keep a running box going in the freezer, which I pick up once
every week or two. Butchers will often also give you scrap meat/bones that they would
otherwise have thrown out, for really cheap or free.
Fish: If fed RAW, the dog can eat it all – head, guts, bones, tails & scales (be sure to check
the guts and throat for hooks if the fish is fresh caught. DO NOT feed raw salmon, trout or
steelhead from the Pacific Northwest, as they may carry a parasite that can kill a dog).
Wyatt won’t eat thawed fish; I think it’s a texture thing. But he’ll chow down if it is
partially frozen. You can also feed canned sardines, salmon or mackarel. Be warned,
canned mackarel is incredibly smelly.
Organs/Offal: They contain important nutrients, but are very rich so should not be fed
more than once a week. I generally do liver (beef cut into chunks or chicken) and beef heart
cut into chunks.
Veggies: go for a variety of above ground and below ground veggies, plus leafy greens. The
veggies need to be ground to the consistency of applesauce, because dogs cannot digest
cellulose. I have found that freezing fresh veggies for a day or so, then thawing makes
grinding MUCH easier, especially for the harder veggies. Raw frozen/thawed veggies will
have a stronger smell and be a little slimy/soft. This is from the freezing breaking the cell
walls, so be prepared. Dogs can have every part of the veggie – skins, seeds, tops, etc. I have fed: carrot, celery, squash, sweet potato, yam, pumpkin, zucchini, any dark leafy
lettuce (iceberg doesn’t have many nutrients, so I don’t feed it), parsley, collard greens,
rutabega, parsnip, turnip, asparagus, jicama, napa cabbage, bok choy, carrot tops,
clover/sunflower/broccoli sprouts, kale, etc.
You can feed these in small amounts every so often: broccoli, cauliflower, tomato, brussels
sprouts, spinach, potato (DO NOT feed green or sprouted potatoes), bell peppers, garlic.
DO NOT feed onion or alfalfa sprouts.
Other: Yogurt is good every so often. I use goat yogurt, as dairy doesn’t set too well with Wyatt – but most dogs do just fine on plain cow’s milk yogurt. An egg or two once a week is very good. They can be fed raw, shell and all. Wyatt won’t eat the whole shells, so I just
grind them up in the veggie mush. Some dogs love to crunch on them whole, though.
Fruit: Wyatt loves all kinds of fruit, and gets it as a treat – grapes, apple, banana, berries, melon, etc. DO NOT feed fruit within ? hour of other food, though, because it digests
more quickly and may cause tummy upset.
Nuts/Seeds: Grind thoroughly. I sometimes add these to a yogurt/egg/veggie meal. Only
use raw, unsalted nuts/seeds – I’ve used almond, brazil, cashew, sunflower, sesame,
pumpkin. You don’t HAVE to feed nuts/seeds, but you can. FYI, peanuts are a legume, not a real nut. I don’t feed them.
What About Supplements?
Some people use a lot of supplements; some none at all. I will occasionally give Wyatt
some kelp tablets or vitamin C (use calcium ascorbate, as it is easiest on a dog’s stomach).
The main supplement I use is fish oil capsules and vitamin E. The vitamin E helps them
utilize the maximum amount of the Omega-3 fatty acids that are in fish oil. You can get
fish oil capsules at a health food store or the health food section of a regular grocery. I give
Wyatt 2 fish oil capsules and 1 vitamin E capsule 4-5 times per week. He’ll eat them as is; but if your dog won’t you can prick them with a pin and squeeze the oil out onto their food.
Flax seed oil is also a good source of Omega-3s, though it can make dogs with allergies itch.
How Much to Feed & How Often:
Some people try to get amounts down to a science, but amounts really depend on the age,
breed, activity level, etc. of the dog. I’d suggest looking through the sample menus on the links provided, Wyatt’s amounts, the recommendations on the njboxers FAQ document, and then adjusting for the size and age of your dogs. NOTE: young dogs (up to 2 years)
will often eat more food than an adult dog.
Here’s Wyatt’s menu as another benchmark (he’s 95#). The amounts are per day:
Approximately 1 pound of RMB (1 large or 2 small turkey necks; 2 large or 3-4 small
chicken backs). Rib and neck portions are harder to gauge, but you can either have your
butcher weigh them for you or buy a cheap kitchen scale.
3/4 c. muscle meat/bone dust + 1/4 c. veggies OR
1/2 c. veggies + 2 eggs + 3/4 c. yogurt OR
1 c. canned fish (or 1 fresh fish) + 1/4 c. veggies OR
1/2 c. meat/bone dust + 1/4 c. organ meat + 1/4 c. veggies
Some people feed a smaller amount of veggies, which is ok too. The yogurt/egg and organ
meat meals should not be fed more than once a week. The meat/bone dust/veggie makes
up the bulk of Wy’s food per month.
I feed Wyatt twice a day. I’d just keep the same schedule your dogs are on. RMB in the
morning and veggies+ in the evening is just the habit I’ve gotten into. But you can feed
them the other way around if you want.
? Be creative:
Do you know anyone who hunts or fishes?
Ask the produce manager if you can buy a roll of the heavier produce/bulk food bags for
repacking raw meaty bones (these are much cheaper than freezer bags – I bought a roll of 1,000 for $14.50). Use the “disposable” Ziploc containers instead of Tupperware. Better
yet, save plastic yogurt, cottage cheese, etc. containers.
A great money saver is to get culled veggies from the grocery store – veggies that have gone limp, wilted, bruised, trimmed, etc. (not moldy, though). These are usually free, as they
would’ve been tossed out. The larger chain groceries won’t give you cull – but co-ops/health food stores and smaller groceries might if you ask.
Don’t throw away wilted veggies from your fridge or peelings/trimmings from making
veggies for yourself – save them for the dogs! Same goes for meat trimmings when you
cook for yourself and fruit that gets a little too ripe for your taste. When you thaw a case of
turkey necks or chicken backs, don’t pour the “red water” down the drain. Freeze it in ice
cube trays for “blood cube” treats your dog will LOVE.
? Make friends with your butcher:
THE most important thing you can do. I can’t begin to add up all the free/discounted meat
and bones I’ve gotten just because I’ve established a good relationship with a butcher.
Being a good customer, talking to your butcher and above all, letting them know you
appreciate them (even for giving you something they would’ve thrown out anyhow) – go a
? Be flexible:
If you come across a great deal, STOCK UP!!! It’ll save you money in the long run. For example, I found a great deal on canned sardines (3 for $1) and bought 30 cans.
Venture to stores you might not normally go to. Grocery outlets and ethnic stores can be a
great source of good deals. Also, go to farmer’s markets and get in touch with local farmers for veggies, eggs & meat.
? Plan ahead:
The best way to save money feeding a raw diet is to invest in a separate freezer
(ESPECIALLY if you are feeding multiple dogs). This will allow you to make up lots of
meals in advance, and to take advantage of meat sales and seasonal availability (deer, fish,
This all sounds much more involved on the surface than it is in reality. I make up about a
month’s worth of food for Wyatt at a time and freeze 2 day’s worth in the cheap Ziploc containers. I partially thaw the RMBs (enough to pry them apart) and bag 2-3 day’s worth in the heavier produce/bulk food plastic bags. It takes about ? hour to re-package the
poultry and about 1 ? - 2 hours once a month to make up the veggie mush/meat/etc. meals.
Before I go to bed at night, I take out a bag of poultry and a container of the other food and
put it in the sink to thaw. Sometimes the poultry leaks a bit, but it doesn’t bother me. The leftover meals can go in the fridge for the next day.
For three dogs, you might want to figure out how much veggie/meat/etc. they’ll get total How to Switch to a Raw Diet:
I switched Wyatt cold turkey from kibble to raw and he did just fine. Some dogs experience
a couple weeks of “detox”, which you is discussed in the FAQ document (DO read that).
Most dogs love the diet, though some people have had problems introducing the veggies
and/or poultry bones. Mix the veggies very well with the meat/yogurt/egg/fish. If they
still refuse, you may have to sneak a very small amount of veggies into the other food and
gradually increase the amount. If they won’t initially eat the poultry bones, you could try
rubbing something on them that the dogs really like (like liver or muscle meat). Even a
really stubborn dog will take to them, though, if that’s all they get. Give the dog a few
minutes and if they won’t eat at all, pick it up and try again at the next meal. They may
have to go hungry for a couple days if they don’t want to eat it, but they’ll soon get the idea. If you introduce a new food (like lamb, rabbit, deer, etc.) do so in small amounts at first.
Even with a dog who’s been on a raw diet for a long time, new foods can cause some
digestive upset. And even the happiest raw fed dog can turn their nose up on something
Finally, remember the mantra of the raw diet: BALANCE OVER TIME. Not every meal
has to be perfectly balanced. You don’t HAVE to have meals with yogurt/egg/fish/organ
meat every week, but they should have organ meat fairly frequently – at least a couple times a month.
”Thanks, mom, for giving me such great food!!!” -- Wyatt