Updated: May 30
When you are starting a raw diet for the first time, there are a few things a lot of us experience which go slightly wrong. It’s easy to make mistakes when you're a newbie to raw. Many of us make slight errors of judgement and can get overly enthusiastic with the swap. In this list below, I'll go through some of the most common mistakes we make when first taking the plunge.
Too much Bone!
Bone is only about 10% of the diet, and feeding too much can result in constipation, and the more serious “impactation”, which is when stools become completely stuck!
Some raw feeding models recommend feeding 30% bone, but they mean MEATY BONES, where there is more meat than bone. Raw meaty bones can be very difficult to find, unless you’re hunting in the wilderness. Every dog has a different tolerance to bone. Some older dogs for example, can only cope with less than 10% bone. Sick dogs, and those taking certain medicines, can have a hard time dealing with bone.
You can find charts online that give you a general idea of how much bone there is in a chicken wing, or a duck carcass, etc. But don't let that be your only source as the bone content in such things can vary. It can depend on the age of the animal when it was slaughtered and how it was processed. When you start feeding a raw diet, it's best to start with small amounts of bone. Your best guide to know if you're feeding a good amount of bone is POOP! You want to see relatively small, firm, non-stick pellets, that are neither crumbly nor white, and your dog should not be straining to get them out. If you do have any of these things, then it’s a sign you need to lower the overall bone content in your dog’s diet.
Raw feeding is not about giving your dog a giant bone once a week, and that’s it, it’s important to be more consistent with bone. I like to give my dogs a bone 3 times a week or every other day, and I don’t give too much in one sitting. If you see that dog has constipation, or is straining, or has crumbly white poop, then simply make their next meal boneless, all meat and include some liver, kidney or heart.
Many raw feeders steer clear of weight bearing bones, from bigger animals like cows. If you have just started raw feeding, then you should first learn about your dogs individual bone tolerance, before you feed big bones.
Too much variety too soon and not enough in the long-term
Many people get really excited cause they see that their dogs are enjoying the new diet, so there you are on day 3, and you can’t wait to get to the supermarket or butchers to find bargains from different proteins. DON’T DO IT! You should stick with one protein for a while. Don’t introduce a wide variety in week one cause if you do, then your dog may well have the runs and a very unsettled tummy. Take it nice and easy with introducing new proteins, you have plenty of time. Think in terms of weeks instead of days when introducing new proteins. Another benefit of feeding this way, is that if your dog is intolerant to a particular meat, then you will be able to find out what it is. If you have mixed everything up from the start, then you won’t be able to tell, and you would need to start again, introducing one protein at a time, to find out.
Variety is an important longer-term target, so in the first few weeks of raw feeding, you should have introduced a variety of proteins. Don’t get accustom to just one, instead try to aim for 4 staple proteins (chicken, turkey, beef, pork). When you start looking for others, it’s good to include some “wild game” meats for example. Consider the meat you feed in relation to the animal it came from. What I mean by this is, lambs do not consist of 50% heart, so don’t overfeed heart. The same goes for tripe, an excellent food, but don’t forget that dogs also need muscle meats. Picture the animal (lamb, cow, chicken, etc) , perfectly balanced as a whole and consider what part of your particular meat cut makes up in their bodies to give you an idea. No cow is made up from 75% tripe right?
The best way to achieve a successful raw diet is trying to replicate the balance of nutrition, which can be obtained from feeding a variety of proteins. Different meats, cuts and proteins, bring different things to the table in terms of minerals, vitamins etc, so don’t focus on one, and aim for a variety over the longer term.
Organs, organs, organs
Many newbies don’t realise that organs (offal), for example liver and kidney, are great bowel movers. This is why it’s an important part of a balanced raw diet, and why you might feed a bit more of it if your dog is constipated. If you feed a lot of organ however, your dog will get the runs, or at least extremely sloppy poop’s, so be careful. Organ makes up only 10% of the diet, but once again you should start with small amounts and not a full meal. Heart, which is not classed as organ, is also an important part of a balanced raw diet, and also has a similar “bowel moving” effect.
It's JUST a guideline!
I can't stress this enough, but it’s impossible to know EXACTLY what the right quantity of food is for any individual dog. This is why feeding guidelines are just that! Keep a close eye on your dog. If he or she is losing or gaining weight, the don’t be afraid to adjust the percentage up or down, so if you're feeding 2%, bump him or her up to 3% or down to 1.5%. If your dog is becoming fat, it doesn't mean cutting out all fats from the diet, it’s about feeding less within an overall balanced diet. Fat is essential to dogs as it's great for their brains, cell growth, and nervous systems etc.
I know it can be very tempting for newbies to use too many supplements and too soon. It’s important to remember that they represent a dietary change for your dog, which can cause upset tummies, and the runs. Supplements are an endless road, and can distract you from making the best raw start, making it all very complex. Ignore supplements until you are comfortable with feeding a basic raw diet, as this is the most important thing. Then you can start to add some in, and see what your dog needs.
There you have it, these are just some of most common mistakes we make when starting out on a raw diet. Try to avoid these and you will make your transition a peaceful one with great success!