Some pet parents are trading in old-fashioned dry kibble for what they feel is a more natural dog diet. This popular, though sometimes controversial diet is known as a “raw diet” or BARF. Developed by an Australian veterinarian named Ian Billinghurst, BARF stands for both “Bones and Raw Food” as well as “Biologically Appropriate Food”.
On a raw feeding plan, your Great Dane eats the same style of meals as his wolf relatives and canine ancestors. The diet includes plenty of raw meat, nutritious organs, and a limited amount of fruits and vegetables.
What are the Benefits of a Raw Diet?
- Overall health -Supporters of the raw food diet for dogs claim that it is a healthier way of eating and offers multiple benefits. A raw diet may improve your dog’s coat and give him healthier skin. Raw fed dogs may also have stronger immune systems and be less susceptible to illnesses and parasites.
- Weight – Many people use a raw diet to help their dogs maintain an appropriate weight. This can drastically improve their overall health and appearance. The bones will also help keep his teeth clean, which in turn will improve their breath!
- Poop! – Most owners report a reduction in the volume of feces after switching to a raw diet. Better yet, the poop even smells better! If that doesn’t get you psyched, I don’t know what will! This is believed to be a result of their enhanced ability to digest and absorb nutrients from the unprocessed food.
- Peace of mind – Last but not least, a raw diet ensures that you know exactly what you’re feeding your Great Dane. This removes any need to worry about a kibble manufacturer changing their formula for the worse.
What are the Potential Downsides?
1. Harmful Bacteria
There are concerns about the potential for harmful bacteria in raw meat. Studies have found both salmonella and E. coli in many commercially sold raw dog foods. These pose a potential risk to both the dog as well as your family.
However, the risk can be greatly reduced by using the same hygienic practices you would use when preparing meat for your own consumption.
Frequent hand washing, clean surfaces and equipment, and proper storage will help prevent contamination.
2. Dietary Balance
People have also expressed doubt that raw feeding truly offers a balanced diet. However, there is no single consensus on what a completely balanced canine diet actually is.
There are many websites and books that have tools you can use to plan your dog’s meals. This way you can ensure that he is getting all of the vital nutrients he needs to thrive.
Meals can be easily adjusted to add or reduce certain vitamins and minerals to create the perfect balance for your individual dog.
Some dogs develop diarrhea when they are switched to a raw food diet. This can be prevented by slowly, gradually adjusting your dog to the new diet.
Start with just a small spoonful of raw mix in his regular dog food, and increase it a little more each day.
If your dog suffers from pancreatitis or another digestive problem, you may want to switch them to a cooked diet first. Once they are comfortable with the new foods, slowly introduce them to the raw version.
4. Bad Fit
A raw diet is not appropriate for all dogs. Dogs with weak immune systems, from chemotherapy or other medications or illnesses, should not eat a raw diet.
While puppies can eat a raw diet, it is incredibly important to get the right nutrient ratios. An imbalanced diet or nutritional deficiency will impact them more than it will an adult dog.
Imbalances of phosphorus and calcium, in particular, can result in deformities and issues with growth.
It may be more expensive to feed your dog a raw diet instead of dry kibble. Buying trimmings and less desirable cuts directly from a butcher can help mitigate costs.
You can also check with your grocery store and see when they usually mark down their meat for a quick sale.
Purchasing in bulk from a distributor or participating in a raw food co-op is another great way to bring down the cost.
Remember that the higher cost is likely to be offset by the decrease in vet bills due to your dog’s improved health.
Are the Bones Safe!?!
It’s a pretty well-known rule that you should never give your dog bones, and people often worry about the bones in a raw diet. However, it is only cooked bones that can cause problems.
Cooked bones harden and lose their flexibility, which allows them to break apart into sharp pieces. These bone splinters can do serious damage to a dog’s digestive system.
Raw bones are softer and bend instead of breaking. They can travel safely to the stomach, where a dog’s highly acidic stomach acid easily breaks them down. Bones are also a critical part of maintaining proper mineral ratios in the diet.
You should, however, avoid giving your dog any large leg bones, knuckles, or vertebrae. These bones are denser and can damage a dog’s teeth.
Cow bones are often too large and too hard as well. Stick with bones from animals that your dog would actually be capable of hunting in the wild.
What Does a Sample Raw Meal Look Like?
Variety is key when feeding your dog a raw diet.
You should strive to rotate through several different protein sources, organs, and fruits and veggies. This will help ensure that your dog receives all the vitamins and nutrients that he needs.
An ideal raw diet consists of:
- 70% muscle meat
- 10% bone
- 5% liver
- 5% other secreting organs
- 10% fruits and vegetables
The goal is to provide your dog with an overall balanced diet. Not every meal has to follow this exact ratio, but you should achieve this balance over a week’s worth of meals.
For example, one meal may consist of a large bone covered in plenty of muscle meat. The next day may feature ground muscle meat mixed with raw veggies. You are striving for balance over time.
You may need to supplement this basic ratio with additional ingredients. Whole eggs still in the shell are an excellent source of calcium if your dog isn’t eating enough bones.
Raw green tripe is a fantastic way to incorporate additional digestive enzymes, omega fatty acids, probiotics, and phytonutrients into your dog’s meals. Unsweetened yogurt, kelp, cheese, and salt can also be added if needed.
Timesaver! If this sounds like too much work, you can also work with a great company like Raw Paws Pet Food to have a pre-mixed blend shipped straight to you. Using this special link, you can get an extra 15% off to give them a try!
Raw fish is full of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and should be included on the menu at least once a week. However, be sure and freeze it first for a day or so, to kill any worms or parasites that could be passed on to your dog.
Grass-fed beef also offers plenty of omegas and should be used if at all possible.
Sample Raw Diet Meal
Most dogs need to eat about 2% – 3% of their body weight per day on a raw diet. This can be split up over multiple meals or given all at once. Most choose to divide this into two meals, making each meal 1% – 1.5% of the dog’s weight.
Keep an eye on your dog’s weight and appearance and adjust their meals as needed.
Due to their high energy requirements for growth, puppies can consume up to 10% of their body weight per day. Note that this is the high end of the scale, and you should probably start closer to 5%.
Adjust upwards accordingly based on your puppy’s physical appearance i.e. leanness. Remember that this is not a time to rush their growth. A good goal is to keep them lean enough to always see the outline of their last rib.
While it is important to incorporate different foods into your dog’s diet, you may find it easier to make a large batch of a standard mix and freeze it in meal-sized portions.
This will provide you with instant meals for busy days. Swap it out for whole fish, meaty bones, or whole carcasses a few times a week, and your dog will have a perfectly balanced diet.
This recipe makes 30 pounds of dog food, enough to feed a 150-pound Great Dane for about 8 days.
- 22 lbs of chopped or ground muscle meat
- 2 lbs of liver
- 2 lbs of other organ meat
- 4 lbs of par-cooked or grated fruits and veggies (pureed also works)
- 6 whole raw eggs
- 3-5 tablespoons of fish oil or cod liver oil
Mix all ingredients in a large tub until well-combined. Portion out the mix into meal-sized servings and freeze.
Each night, pull out however many bags you will need for the next day and move them to the refrigerator. They will be thawed out and ready to go by morning.
Vegetables & Fruits
Many view vegetables and fruits as non-essential ingredients in a raw diet. However, they do provide certain nutrients that cannot be obtained from animal products.
Some examples include carotenoids, lycopene, lutein, flavonoids, and many more.
The choice to include them is up to you. However, there are certain types that are not safe for your dog. For example, onions and grapes are both toxic to dogs.
Melon rinds and stone fruit pits are not digestible and may present a choking hazard, so they should not be offered either.
To simplify matters, the AKC maintains a thorough list that you can use for reference that’s found here.
How Do I Switch From Kibble to Raw?
Unlike changing from one kibble to another, the switch to a raw diet is usually done with no transition period. This is helpful in preventing them from being tempted to ignore the raw food and live solely on the small portion of kibble.
As with any food change, you can expect some initial bouts of diarrhea. Don’t worry, as this is normal while they adjust to the new diet. You can help to ease the transition by keeping their raw diet on the bland side in the beginning.
Start with lean chicken or turkey in small meals for the first couple of meals while they adjust. They may be hesitant to eat them at first, but as they get hungry they’ll dig in!
After they’ve adjusted to the new regimen for a couple of days, you can add in some lean ground meat and pureed veggies. You can add in richer foods and meats after a couple of weeks of adjusting.
Introduce new proteins one at a time, and allow for a week of adjustment before trying a new one. Allow for one month on the diet before adding organ meats.
The addition of digestive enzymes and probiotics can also help to ensure a smooth transition period to the raw diet.
Final Raw Diet Tips
- Dogs often have difficulty digesting vegetables, so it’s best to cook veggies until they are soft. You can also grate or chop them in a food processor. It is perfectly fine to use frozen veggies instead of fresh as well. Just be sure not to buy frozen mixes that include any kind of seasoning or sauce. Fruits are fine to feed whole and uncooked.
- Your dog is not used to eating raw food, and he may be resistant at first. Try introducing one new protein source or vegetable at a time. Once he adjusts and begins to look forward to his new meals, go ahead and introduce a new ingredient.
- Organ meat often has a strong smell and taste. If your dog turns his nose up at it, try lightly searing it before adding it to his food. This can make a bit more palatable for them, and it is important that organ meat is included in his diet.
We hope that you found this information helpful. Before you go, make sure to take a look at our favorite products for Great Danes!