Making The Switch

The first time we feed raw meaty bones to our dogs is always frightening. We’ve been told so many times to never feed bones to dogs that it’s hard to believe they won’t drop dead when we do. It’s important to remember that the warnings are about cooked bones, not raw, and that eating bones is natural for dogs.

Most raw feeders can empathize with my friend, Mindy Fenton, who says, “The first time I fed one of my dogs a raw chicken wing, I followed her around for three days, terrified that I was going to kill her, and waiting for that darned wing to come out whole because I was sure it would. Of course, she was perfectly fine, but it took some time before I became relaxed about feeding raw meaty bones.”

The choice of what to start with can vary according to your comfort level, and how likely you think your dogs are to gulp their food. Many people advocate feeding pieces that are too large to be swallowed, requiring the dog to chew on them first. This doesn’t always work, since large pieces become small pieces as the dog eats them, and he may still try to swallow pieces too large to go down easily.

I am most comfortable with feeding chicken necks and backs to my dogs; the bones are soft and easily chewed, and the pieces are small enough to be swallowed even if the dog does not chew them well (small dogs may have problems with chicken necks). Others will feed chicken wings or leg quarters. If your dog is not protective of his food, you can try holding onto one end while she chews on the other, to help her learn to chew rather than gulping, but watch your fingers, and don’t try this if it makes your dog anxious.

Many people worry that their dogs may be too old to switch to a raw diet, but in my experience, older dogs do as well as younger ones with the change. My oldest dog was 13 years old when I switched him overnight to a raw diet, and he had no problems.

Most dogs do just fine when switched “cold turkey” from commercial food to a homemade diet, but a few will experience digestive upset from a sudden switch. The longer a dog has been fed the same food with no variation, the more likely he is to have a problem if his diet is changed too quickly. Dogs that are prone to digestive upset may also benefit from a slower, more careful approach.

To make the change gradually, start by adding small amounts of fresh food to the current diet, then gradually increase. If problems develop, return to the prior diet and make the change more carefully once your dog’s digestive system is back to normal. That may include feeding the new food separately from the old (at least a few hours in between meals), or feeding only one new food at a time, to see if your dog reacts to any of the new ingredients.

The one exception to mixing foods is when you feed raw meaty bones. I find that the consumption of kibble interferes with the digestion of bones; digestive problems are more likely if you mix the two together. If you are feeding whole raw meaty bones, feed them separately from kibble, at least a few hours apart.

It’s fine to start with limited variety until you see how your dog does, but don’t feed just one food for long periods of time. Sometimes people will start with just chicken parts, for example, but this may lead to constipation if there is too much bone in the diet. While you may want to feed just chicken at the beginning, be sure to feed plenty of meat as well as bone, and don’t feed such a limited diet for more than a week or two.

If your dog has any problems with the new diet, back up and start again, making the change more slowly this time. Do not blame problems on “detox.” If your dog develops diarrhea or other forms of digestive upset, it is because his diet was changed too quickly, or because he is reacting to one or more of the ingredients in the new diet.

In that case, again, go back to what you were feeding before (or what you know your dog can tolerate without a problem), then add new foods one at a time in order to identify which one(s) are causing problems. Also, while most dogs improve when fed raw foods, a few cannot tolerate it for some reason and may need a cooked diet instead. There will be information on cooked diets in next month’s article.

The rewards
Preparing your dog’s meals yourself is not as easy as simply opening a can or pouring kibble out of a bag. However, once you’ve done the initial work of devising the diet and finding sources for the products you will feed, it isn’t terribly time-consuming. The actual preparation is fairly simple; the hardest part is buying products in bulk and then splitting them up into meal-sized portions for feeding. But the rewards can make it all worthwhile.

Most people who switch their dogs to a raw diet notice improvements even in dogs who seemed to be perfectly healthy before. Feeding a homemade diet may cost a little more, but many people report a decline in vet bills. Best of all is watching the enjoyment our dogs get from their meals, and taking pride in knowing we are doing the best we can for our dogs.


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