I wrote a blog post a while back called “My Dog Eats (mostly) Paleo“. The title started out without the “(mostly)”, but I added the descriptor when a commenter rightfully pointed out that my dog, Zala, was not totally Paleo. After all, she was eating kibble every day, even if it was the most expensive, Paleo-ish kibble we could find.
If eating Paleo is going back to our roots and eating the way we evolved to eat, then my dog had a long way to go. Dogs descend from wolves, and wolves eat animals. Only in the rarest of times do they eat plant matter, as far as I’ve read. My vet tried to tell me they actually eat the stomach contents of their kill to get vegetable matter, but from what I’ve read I’m not so sure. Wolves eat raw meat, bones, bone marrow, blood, sinew, skin, organs, and fat, and their whole social organization is built around hunting big prey so they can eat that way.
Kibble, on the other hand, is densely packed, cooked food with lots of vegetables, fruits, seaweed, and legumes that dogs don’t need, plus synthetic vitamins and minerals that may or may not be good for anyone. Kibble doesn’t even allow dogs to do what they love most: gnawing on animals. They just slurp those kibbles up without chewing. Every other night my dog was getting a marrow bone, and every minute in between those bones she was thinking about when her next one would come.
So we thought, ‘Why not just give her that kind of food all the time?’ We researched raw feeding, reading about the BARF model (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) and the Prey Model. BARF includes vegetables and fruits and the Prey Model does not. We went with the Prey Model. However…
It turns out that feeding a dog raw animal matter isn’t cheap.
We figured we were spending about $2.50 a day or $75 a month on food for her when she was eating kibble and eggs/meat/bones. How were we going to stay even close to that while feeding her high quality animal foods? We all know how expensive grass-fed meats are, and sometimes getting organ meats from grocery stores is impossible.
Enter Brad Olson of www.carnivorelife.com.
He’s a local rancher who sells meat for pets from beef, alpaca, pork, lamb, bison, and llama. Prices for all parts of those animals range from $1.50/lb to $3.45/lb and hover around the $2.50/lb range. Not bad, huh? It’s all grass-fed, organic meat. They don’t spray their fields, but I don’t think they’re USDA certified (and I don’t really blame them because it’s a really expensive process). You can find someone similar in your area at www.eatwild.com. Or go to www.dogaware.com to find a source specifically for raw dog food in your area.
Why is Brad Olson’s pet food so cheap? I asked him the same question. He told me the animals they slaughter for pet food are older and thus less tender. They’re often animals who get injured and have to be put down, and they’re not dry-aged as long as people usually prefer, which cuts down on the processing costs. We order about 100 pounds of meat at a time from him over the phone, text, or email, and then meet him in some parking lot between his place and ours to pick it up (he lives about an hour away). Like a drug deal.
What We Order
We like to get some mixture of organs (about 10% of the order), meat, and bones in the form of pork, beef roasts, alpaca roasts, lamb roasts, beef ribs, neck bones, bison and lamb hearts, liver, and stomach… I will tell you that I have never smelled or seen anything so vile as cow stomach. Ever. But my dog freaking loves it. We also add pastured eggs (which we taught her to crack open herself!), raw whole fish, raw whole chickens, and occasionally beef tallow. Yes, tallow is cooked, but it’s an easy source of calories if we don’t have quite enough food available. We store the frozen stuff in our extra freezer and take it out as we need it.
How Much We Feed Her (And Our Troubles Figuring It Out)
Here’s where it gets tricky and where we ran into some problems. As a caveat, I will say I’m not an expert in feeding dogs raw food, but I can tell you what happened to us. We learned somewhere along the way that our dog should eat 2-3% of her ideal weight every day in pounds of food. In other words, she was 46 pounds (a little chubby) when we started and she should have been at about 42 pounds. That means she should’ve been eating between .8 and 1.3 pounds, or between 13 and 21 ounces per day. So we started with the lower amount to see what would happen. We gave her about 7 ounces of some combination of meat, bones, and/or organs two times a day. We bought a little food scale for about $10 and just weighed it out every meal.
Then she started losing weight. At first we were psyched! Our little pudge muffin was getting lean and mean again. Then… she started really losing weight. She was skin and bones and did not look healthy to my motherly eye. We even took her to the vet and she’d gotten down to 39 pounds. Doesn’t seem like a whole lot of difference – 7 pounds – but on our little dog it showed. Mostly it was a little painful to pet her because of the bones sticking out…
So we upped her food. She started eating a pound per meal, which is 32 ounces or 2 pounds a day. Then she started throwing up and having diarrhea. She was even a tiny bit less crazy active. She did not seem happy.
Anyway, we quickly realized we were feeding her too much at a time, so we started giving her three meals a day, with 10 ounces or almost 2/3 of a pound at each feeding. No more puking. She started gaining weight and looking healthier. Sorry I don’t have pictures, but it was pretty subtle. She’s a hairy beast, so you really couldn’t tell by looking at her what was going on.
She got back up to her healthy weight in a couple of weeks and now we’re feeding her twice a day, about 10 to 12 ounces each time for a total of 20 to 24 ounces, or 1.3 to 1.5 pounds per day. Now, after being on this current regimen for a couple weeks, she’s at a healthy weight, has way too much energy, and she looks good. We think the reason she needs slightly more than that 2-3% of her body weight is that she’s very active. She’s like an Olympic sprinter for about an hour every day, chasing her ball. One vet could tell she was a prolific athlete just by her very low resting heart rate. We’re considering starving her again so she’s more motivated to sleep for most of the day than sprint. Just kidding. Sort of.
How Much It Costs
Our mutt is currently costing us about $3.36 per day if you average out the costs of all the different foods we get for her. That’s about $100 per month, compared with the $75 a month we were spending to give her kibble. I know people can do it for less, especially if they compromise on the quality of meat (which I don’t recommend). This woman does it for $1.44 a day. I also just met this guy who got on a call list in Estes Park, CO for road kill announcements. If someone hits a deer or elk with their car, he gets a call and goes and hauls the thing away. He’s a skilled guy and he butchers it himself, and that’s free food for him and his german shepherd. Nice.
I think our dog is worth the cost, but I know a lot of people can’t imagine spending that much on their dog every month, much less 2 or 3 dogs.
What About Nutrients?
Especially fiber, right? We’ve been brainwashed about dogs needing copious amounts of fiber from seeds, grains, and vegetable matter just as much as we’ve been brainwashed about the same for ourselves. That’s another blog post, though. My dog poops at least once every day. She’s fine.
And other nutrients? Organ meats, bone marrow, and meat itself are incredibly nutrient dense, despite what the government and its hatchlings would have you think. That’s why entire cultures have survived and thrived off of diets that contain almost exclusively those things.
And carbohydrates? Dogs don’t need carbs any more than we do. They’re really good at using fat and protein as energy. So are we if we give ourselves a chance to try it out. My dog is displaying no signs of distress or undue fatigue during her supercharged workouts. That much is certain.
Would I Recommend It?
Again, I’m not an expert in this, but hell yes I’d recommend it. Nothing freaks people out more than sending your dog off to the backyard with a giant meaty bone. How uncivilized!
If you do the research on raw feeding, you’ll come up against a TON of naysayer veterinarians and animal nutrition experts who say it’s dangerous because of the bacteria on raw food and that there’s too much protein in the diet. These are the same kinds of “experts” we’ve been failed by in our own human health our whole lives, though. So I don’t buy it. I’ll stick with evolution to tell me how to feed my dog.
I can’t say that my dog’s health has improved any, but she was incredibly healthy and well-behaved to begin with, except for those few pounds of extra fat. I can say that she loves eating now, and it gives us great satisfaction to watch her act like a dog and destroy some flesh. It takes more time for her to eat, so she’s using her brain and busy with a task for more of her day.
I definitely think that people whose dogs or cats are overweight or have skin problems, diabetes, fatty tumors, bad breath, low energy, allergies, or possibly even behavioral problems should give it a try, or at least research it.
Plus, if you’re going to eat Paleo and your kids are Paleo, why not that other little member of your family?