Emily polishing the breakfast bowls clean.
My bloggy friend Ahab was interested in me doing a post about the raw diet I feed our cats and dogs, so here we go!
Disclaimer here: if you're going to feed raw food to your pets, do your research. I am not advocating anything, and I don't want anyone suing me if they have a problem. I am just sharing my own experience here. But feel free to ask questions.
Some people are real zealots about raw-feeding. I'm not one of them! I enjoy doing it and I think my pets do very well on a raw diet but I fed kibble for years and had dogs that lived to a ripe old age on that diet. But I have changed my own eating habits over the years (not to raw meat, though!) and my views on pet diets have changed too.
I started feeding my last two dogs raw back in 2000. At first I was scared witless I was going to kill them through malnutrition. But soon I relaxed! Tara the English Setter lived to be 14 years old, and Chelsea the lab-mix almost made it to 16. Back then, I fed things like whole chicken necks and backs, but these days we buy ground raw meat/offal from a place in Quebec that also makes raw food for mink farms in the US. My friend went and checked out his plant once, before she started buying the meat for her dogs. She has higher standards than I do, so if she was happy, so was I. :) My neighbour is also getting meat for her dogs from this source now, and all of our dogs are doing very well.
If you Google "raw feeding dogs" you'll find lots of hits. When I first started, I used Dr. Billinghurst's books as my guide, but there are many other books and websites out there. These days we feed the dogs the raw meat cubes (thawed in the fridge), which contain a certain percentage of offal and bone. To this I add, in varying amounts on different days, things like raw egg yolks, cottage cheese, yogurt, flaxseed oil, fish oil, alfalfa/kelp powder, and raw veggies. I make up "veggie cubes" for the dogs and freeze them in ice cube trays. The theory is that dogs in nature would get most of their vegetable matter from the stomachs of their prey, and don't need a lot of veg in their diet. I grind up the veggies in the food processor (replicating stomach contents, supposedly making the veg easier for the dogs to digest) and use things like dark leafy greens (Swiss chard, spinach), carrots, apples, peppers, you name it. No onions, though! Not good for dogs. And go easy on the brassicas unless you're fond of dog fart air (un)freshener.
I've had years of experience raw feeding doggies now, so now I kind of wing it but if you're just starting out, there are lots of recipes to follow if search on the web.
Frozen meat block!
I think it is better to feed the dogs whole pieces of meat (like chicken necks) but these blocks just make our lives easier. I do occasionally give the dogs some necks or backs or whatever I have on hand. Bones are safe for dogs so long as they are RAW. When they are raw, they are soft and the dogs can generally eat them without an issue (and they are good for cleaning teeth.) But when bones are cooked, they are hard and dangerous. Raw bones are soft and digestible.
Sophie and Tristan occasionally supplement their diets with slower-moving squirrels and groundhogs. :( Once Sophie proudly brought me half a muskrat she'd found, frozen solid. She'd gnawed off the other half. Another time she brought me fresh groundhog hindquarters. She loves to share her kill with me!
I have heard concerns about raw diets and salmonella over the years, but I personally have never had a problem with this. I do practice good hygiene in the kitchen. I do know one friend whose dog didn't do well on raw, so she stopped feeding it. You have to do what's right for your pet AND you!
I only recently started feeding the cats raw, and as you can see, they like it a lot:
You definitely need to take more care when feeding cats raw than with dogs. Cats are true carnivores and don't need vegetable matter in their diet, but they do need taurine. Cats can die from taurine deficiency. The liver and heart in my cats' diet provides taurine, but I also add taurine supplement to their food before I freeze it and after. As I understand it, they can't really overdose on taurine.
Probably the best raw diet for cats involves feeding raw meaty bones, as with the dogs, but I have gone the ground meat route. I bought a meat grinder (everyone swears by the Tasin TS-108. I bought mine here and love it!) I do leave some meat in chunks for them, and mix it in with the ground. I freeze it in Mason jars. Here is some thawing in the fridge:
And this is the basic recipe I follow.
When I am making a batch of food, I always find Julius hanging around me. I usually give him some meat on the bone while I'm working on the grinding. For a cat with one fang left, he does an amazing job of crunching up bones! Of course, he's the cat who crunched up and ate an entire mouse in our bedroom a few weeks back. Midnight snack.
The idea is to replicate the diet a cat would eat in nature, i.e. whole mouse or bird.
So that should give you an idea of how we feed our dogs. I am still feeding with the amounts I give the cats but am using the "3 - 3.5% of ideal body" guideline. I am keeping an eye on them and the dogs. If anyone starts looking thin (not a problem for Alex!), I add a little more food. It's a learning process.
Here are some links I like on raw feeding cats:
I bought myself a good meat cleaver for chopping through bone. Makes life a lot easier!
I do feel a little Dexter-esque when I'm wielding a cleaver while wearing my apron and surgical gloves.
The other added bonus to a raw diet? LESS POOP!! No kidding. :) And the poops the dogs make seem to melt away if we forget to pick 'em up.
Tristan says four paws up to a raw diet!
Cost-wise, I find the dogs' raw diet considerably cheaper than buying kibble, but I think the cat food is costing more, probably because I've been buying them organic chicken as of late. I am going to see if I can find a local meat source for them. Some farmers around here raise quail and guinea hens and rabbits, all of which would be good for the cats.
Meanwhile, we got the cats a new toy...
Hilarious crinkly "pants" that they can crawl in and out of.
They are proving very popular!