Raw Feeding: The Basics

Raw Feeding: The Basics

Posted by Heejo Yang on

Raw feeding has emerged as a popular alternative to industrialized pet food and mass-produced kibble. Its proponents urge pet parents to follow the feeding habits of wolves and wild cats. They cite a wide range of health benefits, but there are hurdles to a complete raw diet, including complexity, expense, and safety.

Want to learn more? Then read on and decide if it’s time to let them eat meat!


Work animals like sled dogs and racing greyhounds have a long history of eating raw. The practice expanded in the late 1980s, when select veterinarians emerged as advocates of raw meaty bones for household dogs and cats. In 1993, Dr. Ian Billinghurst, DVM, published Give Your Dog a Bone and coined the term BARF as an acronym for the Bones and Raw Food diet (later changed to the Biologically Appropriate Raw Food diet).

BARF remains a leading raw feeding model today. It recommends diets consisting of raw meat, bones, organs, fruits, and vegetables. A competing model, Prey Model Raw (PMR), recommends only meat, bones, and organs without fruits and vegetables.

Recent incidents surrounding commercial pet food have led to a surge of interest in raw feeding. For example, in 2007, the FDA investigated contamination of pet foods with melamine, leading to a recall on over 150 brands of pet food. Conventional kibble continues to be recalled at an alarming rate today, as evidenced by the FDA’s continuously growing list of recalled feeds.

Benefits of Raw Diets

Though there is no scientific consensus on the benefits of a raw food diet, advocates explain that raw diets provide an alternative to heavily processed kibble and wet food. Conventional feed is made at temperatures that kill nutrition, and often contains potentially unhealthy grain and starch fillers like corn, wheat, rice, and potato.

Holistic vets like Dr. Judy Morgan, DVM, are influential proponents of raw diets today. Dr. Judy explains, “Years ago, I started with Ian Billinghurst’s BARF diet…. That enabled me to see how my dogs would fare on a raw diet. The results were dramatic, with more energy, better stool, better coats, and overall better health.”

Consumers can readily follow the experiences of other raw feeders who have turned to social media to share their own experiences. For example, Amanda Tromp (@goldilocksandthewolf to her 300,000+ Instagram followers) switched her dogs to a raw diet and records her dogs' bowls both on Instagram and on her own blog.

Understanding and Mitigating Concerns

Before switching to any new diet, be sure to understand potential issues. Raw feeders must provide complete diets, which can be time consuming, complex, and expensive. Let’s take these in turn.

  • Concern: Formulating Complete Diets

Complete pet diets require a mixture of protein, fat, minerals, and vitamins. You’ll need to fulfill your pet’s diverse nutritional needs - a daily slab of raw beef won’t cut it! If you’re preparing your pet’s raw food from scratch, it’s important to discuss with a vet or pet nutritionist beforehand. Once you get going, there are plenty of additional resources available, including guides from social groups and commercial providers, as well as raw feeding meal plans from pet nutritionists.

Raw supplements are an easy option for adding necessary nutrition to a raw diet. Kimberly Gauthier, author of popular raw feeding blog Keep the Tail Wagging, writes, “Like many raw feeders, I add supplements because I want to make sure my dogs get all of the nutrients they need in their diet.” Ronny LeJeune, pet nutritionist and creator of Perfectly Rawsome, says that she is “totally for supplementing,” but that “it has to be whole foods, not synthetic supplements. The ingredients are from food.”

kin+kind’s line of raw supplements follows the real food philosophy. Its certified USDA organic supplements start with raw coconut and add superfoods like turmeric, wheatgrass, seaweed, and berries for 100% natural nutrition. Its low-heat process preserves maximum nutrition for both raw diets and conventional kibble feeders.

  • Concern: Difficulty Preparing Raw

Apart from formulating a complete diet, raw feeders must be mindful of other difficulties. For example, raw meat and fish can carry bacteria harmful to humans, so proper handling is crucial, particularly for households with young, elderly, or immunocompromised members. Proper handling requires storing raw food in secure packaging, and thoroughly washing hands and all surfaces touching raw meat.

If the idea of assembling a raw bowl for your dog or cat from scratch seems daunting, fret not. Commercially-available, pre-prepared meals are readily available. These combine the convenience of kibble with the health benefits of raw food. Use our store locator to find independent pet stores in your area - they are a great resource for complete raw meals that are frozen or freeze-dried. So too are regional stores focused on natural products such as Tomlinson’s, Kriser’s Natural Pet, Especially for Pets, and Bark! You can also have complete meals shipped to your door with direct providers such as Ollie, We Feed Raw, or San Francisco Raw, or build an order with components of raw meals from Raw Feeding Miami.

  • Concern: Expense

Raw feeding can be expensive. Ms. LeJeune reminds pet owners, “You can’t expect health from food to be cheap and quick - the pet industry is the only industry that supports feeding processed food for the entire lifetime.” To achieve a healthy pet, she tells pet parents that you can either expect to “spend time, or spend money.”

If price is a hurdle, try feeding partial raw by combining raw food and kibble. Partial raw allows you to transition slowly to a raw diet, or keep the convenience of premade pet food with some of the benefits of raw feeding. kin+kind’s raw supplements are another low-cost way to add raw nutrition to conventional kibble. Start with Healthy Skin & Coat (MSRP $11.99) for essential minerals and nutrients to support the immune system, and then check out other varieties for nutritional support to the hip and joints, urinary tract, and digestion.

Next Steps

Is raw for you and your pets? There is lots of promise, but the science is not complete. So decide what is best for your pets in consultation with your veterinarian or nutritionist and bone appetite!

    Blog thumbnail and header credit to @graywoof


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