While I really don’t think learning how to correctly feed raw is as difficult as people might think, finding the right raw food sources can be absolutely DAUNTING! (I am particularly strict about my sources so it does not have to be this way for everyone!)
There are two basic models that people follow (BARF and Prey) that I’ll discuss more in another article. The most common and simple raw feeding guidelines are: 80% meat 10% bone and 10% organ (usually 5% liver and 5% offal aka a secreting organ) In the beginning, it doesn’t have to be perfect and you learn over time what works best for you and your dog. Balance is the goal but in the beginning we all just do our best, the important thing is to start. You don’t have to learn everything in one day or have it all figured out before hand, nature kind of has a way of teaching us what we need to know as we go along. Dog poop is the best indicator if there’s too much or too little of something and we’re lucky because we get this daily 😉 The easiest place to start is either with pre-made raw (links below) or with simple protein choices such as chicken and beef. Then you can be a little experimental. The important thing is, anytime you add something new, just read up on it and soon you’ll have a whole book full of knowledge just based on experience. You don’t have to worry about remembering everything or knowing it before hand unless your dog has certain health conditions to watch out for. Variety is very important and is the key to avoiding most problems.
I chose to home “cook” so I learn everyday. Today for example, I learned that beef trachea can lead to hyperthyroidism (especially when you combine it with necks, feet or green lipped mussels) This is because the thyroid is often left attached and unless you can cut it off, your dog will be getting too much of the secreted thyroid hormone and if you feed a lot of it over time it can lead to problems. In small doses it’s a GREAT joint supplement because of the glucosamine and chondroitin levels, so it’s shouldn’t be avoided but it’s just one thing to look out for. I’ve also learned a lot about how long it takes to thaw meat …I’m bad at it lol, but all of these things come with hands on experience. It’s a learning process, it can be overwhelming if you decide to make the food yourself but if I can do it, anyone can!
To start, I want to dispel the myth that raw feeding has to be expensive. I can honestly tell you that I am not someone with resources. I have the same amount of money as I did when I bought kibble so everything I talk about on here is coming from someone with a very small budget.
Like everything, our journey to raw didn’t happen over night. The first dog I had all on my own literally found US out of the blue one day and all of a sudden I was a brand new dog owner. I had some background in human health issues but none in dog health. Our first stop was the vet for obvious reasons because she came from the streets of Miami and we wanted to make sure she was OK! Luckily she was and no one claimed her so I was blessed to be granted with the gift of being her mom. One of the biggest jobs of any mother is providing food, so I asked my vet what the best food was. She said Science diet… . I’ll admit I bought this once but fortunately learned very early on that this wasn’t only a bad food but one of the worst on the market. I did some research and the next step we took was Honest Kitchen . I am very grateful for this because I still feel like it’s a good quality food. I’m also grateful because I know how expensive premium kibble can be and it would have been an absolute waste. I got some Origen occasionally which I think IS the best kibble and it still doesn’t compare in quality. We did that for a while and then one day she just stopped eating it… like entirely! At the time I was super busy so I resorted to cooking her organic chicken etc and just adding it so she would eat at least a small portion and get a balanced diet. One day I finally just decided this had to stop because she wasn’t getting a wide enough variety of the things I knew she needed. I decided to really take the time to commit to finding her the best food for her. I discovered after reading countless volumes of evidence on the subject, that doing that meant only one thing: raw food. From that time forward, we haven’t looked back. I set out on the path to make that happen and that has brought me to where I am today.
Because I knew the danger of raw food is not parasite related but balance related, I tried to learn all that I could about what that meant. (I should add here that balance is only a problem over time, in the short term transition, it is perfectly safe to introduce raw meat slowly. Some days are more perfect then others and dogs systems are set up to naturally balance as long as they get what they need over time. In the wild they didn’t get perfect meals and they skipped days getting food (it’s actually good for them), so while balance is a big deal long term, it should not scare people from trial and error.)
It wasn’t too complicated, just very important. To err on the side of caution, I decided to start with a company that took the guess work out, came from a reputable source and was readily available in my area. That lead me to Steve’s real food and Answers. Answers, as a company truly blew my mind because not only were they 100% ethically sourced but they had come up with a solution for unlocking the key ingredients in food that’s usually lost because dog’s don’t have the ability to extract nutrients from certain things like vegetables. Their fermentation process literally unlocks the foods full potential (meat too) and because they use such high quality sources, this was a very big deal! They even have incredible and unique supplement products like raw goats milk and fermented fish stock, that use the same process and provide superfoods in a way like no one else in the industry. PLUS they were SO affordable, I was literally in shock when I heard the prices. They deliver to my local pet shop so no shipping fees and no having to order ahead of time! I was in love (and still am) but alas our journey wasn’t quite over yet because my dog just wouldn’t touch it. This doesn’t mean I’ve given up, I know it takes time and I will go back to it eventually for supplemental feeding, it just made me decide to cast a wider net of resources.
* Fermenting is not the only method but it’s one of the best because it’s the most similar to how the dog would receive vegetable nutrients from an animals stomach in the wild and helps maximize the digestive process at the same time. One side goal I have is also learning how to ferment my own vegetables. This way I can be sure of ingredients and benefit by eating it myself. It’s still far off but when I get there I’ll post about what I did to do it!
*Another easier method is blending or food processing. The important thing is to break the cell wall to release nutrients. The finer grind the better. Feeding this along with an enzyme supplement or probiotic that contains amylase is my go to solution when I can’t get fermented.
(Dogs don’t have salivary amylase (what breaks down the cell walls in fruits and veggies so the nutrition can be released) they do have some amylase in their pancreas but not very much overall. Cooking, freezing and pureeing are all ways of breaking the fruits and vegetables down into a more usable form.)
SIDE NOTE: When Answers comes up, often Darwin’s does also. In my eyes it’s a company very similar to Steve’s (the other pre-made raw food I tried) so it’s the main reason I haven’t tried it. I think it’s a good company also, just not one I could get without a subscription. That along with the fact that I didn’t see any outstanding reason to use it (or any other pre-made) is why I’m not going to. I know they offer a trial but I was only looking at things I could pick up locally. Steve’s was my backup for answers (that she wouldn’t eat either) and other than answers I’m going home-made for stronger source control. I’m not discrediting the value of these resources. Many are wonderful and extremely convenient. They also help a LOT of people make the transition. It’s very important however to be sure it’s coming from high quality meats. Here are two links for more info on these companies that may help in choosing one.
The journey continues…
One thing I am obsessed with is quality. This is the reason my journey was so difficult. It doesn’t have to be this hard, I just refused to compromise. If I was going to learn raw feeding, I was going to learn how to do it right and if I was going to learn all that, I wasn’t willing to use sources that I didn’t trust absolutely! Human Grade didn’t cut it. The meat industry is FULL of horrible profit based practices. They are inhumane and I am not willing to support that.
I am a vegetarian, so ethical farming is of huge importance to me, plus it’s the highest quality of meat.
The grocery stores and even Whole Foods might be ok for finding some organic meats but ultimately I wanted better. My first stop was finding a local organic farm. I did this by using a service online called Eatwild.com . This is not the only search engine, just one I came across that had good results for where I live. I found one small farm right away, but they only sold meat a few times per year and weren’t selling at the moment. I ordered some for the end of the year but ultimately it was a dead end. Some hours and google searches later, I found a local seller who worked at one farm but traveled and sold from a network of organic farmers. This made their resource list HUGE and their ability to supply a year round operation. I was beyond excited about this and blown away by the fact that they had organs and bones on their lists!! One might think this meant that my search was over lol but I’m never satisfied, so I kept looking for a secondary source for certain cuts that were more specific to my dog’s needs. (I could get chicken bones from this seller for example but no other bones that were a good match for my dog’s size.) The biggest benefit from this is that by casting a wider net I have a better chance of getting high quality things. I enjoyed the people I met at this small farm very much and I think human quality is always better, but I didn’t get to see the animals or other farms. I trust them but these are just the best farms in proximity to where I live, so I wanted a wider net for more reasons than just the cut choices.
I tried to google “best raw food suppliers” but as you know if you’ve ever googled something looking for unbiased reviews or truth about a product, it’s an unlikely thing to find directly. First you need patience, then you need to sift through all the nonsense, fake reviews and huge amounts of MONEY put into making certain companies come up first. Once you do that, you might actually get somewhere.
It took hours but I finally stumbled onto something useful by reading the comments section in a blog thread of the Dog Food Advisors chat forum. (I forgot to mention why I didn’t do this with raw meat for humans: 1. They didn’t have cuts any different from my local supplier and 2. They rarely ship and if they did I couldn’t afford it) I followed the discussion by real unbiased people who had real experience trying certain companies and shared my sourcing concerns. I took some notes and then proceeded to look up each company one by one. My conclusion to all of this was that while it IS hard to find true transparency, it’s not impossible. I ended up learning a lot about meat also. Everyone’s pretty much heard of “grass-fed, steroid, antibiotic and hormone free” but denatured and irradiated were two new terms for me that made me really re-evaluate what I wanted to know about my meat. I’m not going to get too much into it but basically Denatured means it’s been made “safe” and the USDA requires this of all “compromised” (3 and 4D for example which stands for “dying, diseased, disabled or dead”) meat. It’s considered too dangerous for human consumption until it goes through a process usually done with charcoal and other dangerous additives that get rid of diseases the meat may contain (not including many chemical drugs that the animal may have been treated with however) but have horrible side effects. Irradiation is similar but it’s done to preserve (salts, and yes, RADIATION etc). BOTH are horrible for dogs so I wanted to add these to my list of requirements. (These links provide great info on both!) The problem with this is, because they’re less known words, “unaltered” may in fact mean these things but I wanted a source that had more clarification than this. (Plus a raw food company that uses 3 or 4D denatured meat will say it’s USDA approved NOT that it’s 3/4D OR made from from certain farm animals fed this, or affected by the contamination in their food as a byproduct of this, which is another big deal… so it’s important to clarify!) Almost all kibble comes from these sources. The USDA’s guidelines when it comes to this are notoriously lax and continued abuse of the system takes place, especially where marketing is concerned. Getting clarification has become something we as consumers unfortunately have to do on our own. There was only one company that I’ve found so far that did this completely.
What I will say is that out of the companies I looked at, they have one of the worst web sites and their packaging is “lame” but I see this as one of their biggest advantages in my book. It means they’re not spending oodles of money on “selling” and to me the people who do are usually trying to sell an inferior product because they’re making more of a profit and that allows for the marketing budget. I know this is cynical and NOT always true but it seems to be a consistent thing in this particular industry. They also had the smallest selection and I even liked THIS because it means they’re not outsourcing or accepting lower quality products just to sell more. They say it’s all local and this proves it really is. One more thing that I liked was customer service. I scoured their face book page and they had only one or two negative comments (shipping related of course) but they responded and went above and beyond to refund. Plus the fact that they had a review option matters because many companies now just don’t even ALLOW it! And their website was “nice” no rules or saying things like “if you order too little your order will be deleted and refunded!” Just things put in a rude way for no reason. Plus they had PHOTOS of the farm all over… not just cute staged dogs everywhere! If I’m ordering from a farm I want to see the FARM animals not dogs on a photo shoot. But I digress… lol Anyway, I liked these people. All of the companies I looked into had pros and cons but these guys are number one on my list because my only “cons” are in selection and shipping costs. It’s unrelated to quality so to me it doesn’t really count. I just can’t order from them all the time. Because of that I’ll follow this link with my reviews of the other sources I found.
The next two companies I interrogated come in at a tie because I really think they’re very comparable but one is right by my house so it’s second on my list ONLY for that reason.
The pros of this one is that they are the only one with organic options. They also have a key word search where you can specify things like “grass fed” so although all their meat may not be grass fed they have a huge inventory and are honest about was is an what isn’t. Because of this they have cheaper options and a slightly lower shipping cost. There are also no minimum orders! I can tell you also that I visited the distribution center. It was briefly last year before I moved and we didn’t stick with it at the time but I met the employees and tried their products. They really seemed to care and it was a positive enough experience for me to order from them again for sure!
3. Reel Raw
This company in my opinion is very similar to raw feeding Miami. They have a larger amount of grass-fed options (I think they say it’s all grass fed) but no organic. I may try an order from them but I’m out of freezer space so I unfortunately can’t review them after trying them just yet. They seemed slightly vague about their sources but very adamant about them being grass fed and unaltered. I want to trust the qualities represented by both of these companies, I just wish there was a little more clarification. My carnivore even tells you what farm! These two will be on my back up list however just because their inventory lists are so huge!
This company is only very slightly below the other two. My only qualm was once again having to do with sourcing. Just not enough info. Great info, just not enough about the meat. They have minimum orders but it’s only 10 lbs so shipping is comparable to the other sites. The one thing they had going for them was very good reviews. People really seemed to like the freshness and quality, and there’s a lot to be said for that! I’m keeping them on the list because the vagueness could be an oversight and I might be able to find out more if I emailed them.
I plan on emailing these last two companies to see if I can find out the missing source info. As soon as I do I will post it, I just didn’t want to wait to share something that might be valuable. When I get there I’ll put it in a linked post.
All of the companies mentioned also have ready-to-go options which is great for time saving. It’s not accepted by some raw feeders but some people really need this option and I love that they provide that! They also have good selections of (size appropriate) raw meaty bones, organs, whole prey etc that some local small farms may not and many offer high quality supplements also!
Whew! So that was my last 2 days lol! As always, in doing this I came across some fringe benefit info.
If you’re looking for a good green tripe source, at least one of the top 3 companies have organic, but THIS organic really impressed me!
I’ve contacted them to see if they’ll ship to me. Still haven’t heard and they won’t show you prices until you email them but it looks like an awesome source for that so I’ll also let you know when I find out more about it!
Update: they would not ship to me so I still don’t have prices but they do have an east coast distributor at Green Cuisine 4 Pets
* finally got prices… only about $4/lb but minimum order is 20 lb and shipping is $30 or more PLUS a $13 service fee… so out of my price range. Customer service gave me one other option of picking it up but it requires a two hour drive. I appreciate that they did offer that though so that’s a good thing to know. We’ll still try to get it at some point. (Plus they have a lot more than just green tripe by itself.)
Oh! And I almost forgot to mention
CO-OPS! They’re not available by me or I would have absolutely gone there first! It’s basically a group of people who buy in bulk. They are formed when demand creates the supply. People get together and order from suppliers (a lot of which are just for human clients but cater to these requests). They tend to have the highest quality and are local enough that they send trucks to delivery points where your group can collect its purchases. I don’t know a ton about them because I don’t have the option but I’ve heard the most positive feedback on sources and prices from this option.
Here is one link that has more info and links to a co-op directory
One final website that may help find local meat is Food Fur Life
It’s slightly redundant but it may have some other options.
At the end of the day this whole endeavor is a learning process. I don’t think it ever will (or should) end. I’ve shared my findings so far but I know there’s a TON I haven’t found yet. My game plan is to use as much local meat as I can. I’ve ordered from my pet carnivore and raw feeding Miami for the things I can’t get. I’ll cast a wide net and try to get the best of what each has to offer. We’ll keep trying with Answers also, for at least occasional feeding and supplementation. Not putting all of my eggs in one basket gives me options because anything can happen, companies close or get bought out so I like knowing that I have knowledge to fall back on. When I get more confident I’ll share recipes and feeding requirement info as well. This process has been a little frustrating but very enlightening. I look forward to learning more and thank you for taking the time to read my story. I hope it’s helpful and I wish you all the best in happiness and health for you and your pet!!