In Part I of this series, we examined the history of kibble and its rise in popularity following the Second World War when carbohydrates and manufacturing became less expensive and marketing more pervasive.
In Part II, we looked at the anatomy of the canine digestive system, which is identical to that of the gray wolf. We discussed the two major schools of thought regarding raw feeding: BARF (biologically appropriate raw food) and WPM (whole prey model). And we concluded that, while a BARF diet is preferable to kibble, WPM is most closely modeled after the natural composition of a wolf’s natural prey, when the whole composition of the prey is taken into account.
In this issue, we’ll explore the Whole Prey Model and approaches to starting and maintaining a raw diet for the life of your pets.
Note: the information in this article is meant for owners of healthy dogs; if your dog has special dietary needs or a health condition, including a suppressed immune system, talk with your veterinarian before embarking on any new health or dietary regimen.
The good news is that feeding raw is actually a lot simpler than it may first seem!
As discussed last issue, the goal of the Whole Prey Model is to feed dogs in the same ratio that wolves eat: 10% edible bone, 10% organ (about half of which should ideally be liver), and 80% everything else (meat, skin, fat, connective tissue, etc.); for ease of reference, WPM feeders refer to this 80% as simply “meat,” though it is comprised of much more than that. Here is a quick primer on what food items each category encompasses:
The most important thing to remember when feeding WPM raw is to avoid cooked bones and the weight-bearing bones of large animals (like cows). Aside from that, raw bones are no less safe for a healthy dog to consume than kibble.
Cooked bones are particularly dangerous because they have had all the moisture seeped out of them. They’re rough and brittle, and they can splinter in a way that raw bones generally can’t/won’t. They are to be avoided at all costs, whether from a chicken or a cow. Weight-bearing bones of large ungulates (cows, deer, etc.) are too dense to be safely consumed by most dogs. Even wolves will generally leave these leg bones behind when consuming a kill. Some dogs love to snack on these leg/knee bones, and you can buy them as “recreational” bones in pet stores. But we raw feeders often refer to them as “wreck-reational” bones, because of the high likelihood that a dog will chip its teeth on these dense bones. Of course, a chipped tooth here and there won’t endanger the dog, but it can get expensive and painful over time.
All other raw bones, be they chicken/turkey bones, fish bones, pork bones, or even lamb ribs/skulls/etc., are generally safe. Even some leg bones can be safe, depending on the size of the animal they came from, and depending on the dog. For example, a Doberman can generally crush through a lamb leg bone without a problem – it has a stronger PPI (pounds of pressure per inch) in its bite than a small- to medium-sized terrier.
Additionally, WPM feeders generally feed meaty bones (raw bones that are covered in meat and fat), rather than bare bones.
Organs should account for about 10% of a dog’s diet, with half of that being liver, and the rest being whatever else you can get your hands on: kidney, spleen, brain, eyes, reproductive organs, green tripe, etc. Think of liver as “nature’s multivitamin.” It’s the most nutrient-rich part of any animal, and is therefore a vital part of your dog’s diet. If that’s the only organ you can find, you’re still doing okay. Calf liver and chicken liver can be found in nearly every grocery store; kidney, spleen, and other “oddities” can often be found at “big box” super-stores, ethnic markets, or farmers’ markets.
Though a diet including 80% meat may seem unbalanced at first, feeders must remember that (i) it’s not just meat, but really meat, skin, fat, and all other parts of the animal excluding bones and organs; (ii) it’s extremely “bio-available,” in other words, because it’s a good quality raw protein, it’s much less taxing on the dog’s digestive system than processed kibble or cooked proteins; and (iii) it’s mostly water! Realistically, a boneless steak is actually over 70% water, with the rest being meat and fat. The “80% meat” category also includes certain organs that function as muscle, such as hearts and gizzards.
Locating a source of bones, organs and meat can be a challenge. The ideal source of meat is hunted wild prey: it is not injected with hormones or antibiotics, and it is not grain-fed, so the meat has significantly higher levels of natural Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.
Some WPM feeders have unusual resources that can supply them directly, like hunters willing to bag a deer during deer season. Alternatively, for the price of a hunting permit, a dog owner could acquire hundreds of pounds of meat, organs, and edible bones themselves. Other raw feeders have built relationships with meat processors and even taxidermists, both of whom will sometimes let them poke through scrap barrels and retrieve trimmings. Not only is this a good source of naturally reared meat, it’s also often free.
These lucky few feed the nearest thing to real whole prey that you’re going to get. But most of us don’t have those kinds of connections. And even if we did, processing and storage are a challenge often too large to overcome, especially since commercial processors will generally throw away those parts of the deer WPM feeders find most valuable: the offal (i.e., the tripe, lungs, spleen, kidney, and other items not generally consumed in western culture). The majority of WPM feeders have therefore chosen to feed “FrankinPrey”: a term used to describe the concept of feeding bits and pieces of whatever animals you can get your hands on — with as much variety as possible — while still achieving the 10/10/80 ratio of bones/organs/meat over time.
Where do they find it? Most WPM raw feeders get all or most of their dogs’ food at grocery stores. It’s meat that’s packaged and sold for human consumption. It may not be organic, grass-fed, or hormone-free, but neither is the meat most people are eating. And despite being a few steps below wild natural prey, it’s still worlds better than kibble.
Be aware, however, that a lot of meat packaged for human consumption is marinated or injected with solutions to tenderize the meat and enhance its flavor. Those solutions are generally very high in sodium. While sodium is not particularly dangerous for dogs, high-sodium meat products are not as healthy as their unenhanced counterparts. In attempting to model our dogs’ diets after natural whole prey, we strive to keep the addition of salt to a minimum.
The solution to avoiding solutions is simple: read the labels. Most meat labels will either say, “contains up to _% of a [natural] solution,” or alternatively, “contains up to _% retained water”. The meat with the solution will generally be high in sodium. The meat without the solution, and/or the meat with retained water, generally will not be. If the packaging has a nutrition label, check the sodium content: anything under approximately 75mg per serving is generally not enhanced; anything over 75mg per serving generally is.
If you can afford to feed your dogs organic, grass-fed meats, then feel free to do so; it can only benefit them. But feeding standard human fare will still improve their health and their lives.
Common food items for WPM-fed dogs include, without limitation, raw: chicken leg quarters, lamb steaks and lamb medallions, beef steaks, ox tails, pork feet, pork shoulders, beef and chicken liver, beef and pig kidney and spleen, goat meat, and fish such as tilapia and wild-caught salmon (which is especially good for infusing the diet with Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids). Many raw feeders will also give their dogs canned sardines in water as treats (or part of a meal) to increase the Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids in the diet.
From Theory To Practice
Now that you know what is meant by bones, organs, and meat, and you have identified some possible sources, the next challenge is to figure out how much your dog needs to eat and how often you should feed your dog to ensure a balanced diet:
The first thing to keep in mind is that each individual meal doesn’t have to be comprised of 10% bone, 10% organ, and 80% meat. It’s really about achieving dietary balance over time. Many WPM-fed dogs, for example, will eat a bony meal one night, and a meaty (boneless) meal the next.
There are caveats to every rule, however. As a new raw feeder, think of bone as “fiber for dogs.” (It’s not really fiber, but it keeps the stools firm like fiber would in humans.) When starting a dog on raw, it’s important to make sure your dog gets 10-20% bone every day, to ensure that its stools stay firm while its stomach and digestive tract become accustomed to the new diet. If you notice the stools getting hard and chalky in appearance, that means you have fed too much bone and the dog needs more meat/organ.
Every dog is different, so you might find that one dog needs more bone regularly to regulate its bowel movements, while another acclimates to meaty meals without issue. By no means does a diet need to be perfectly balanced, nor do animals in the same house need to always eat the same things: just as a wolf pack doesn’t portion out its kill evenly to all members, a dog’s diet needn’t be exactly 10/10/80.
The “rule of thumb” for WPM raw is to feed a dog 2-4% of its healthy adult body weight daily. If you have a puppy, estimate its adult weight based on its parentage and/or its growth pattern to determine what its healthy adult body weight is for calculating food quantities.
By way of example: if your dog weighs 100 pounds, feed 2-4 pounds per day; if your dog weighs 20 pounds, feed 6.5 ounces (4/10 of a pound) to 13 ounces (4/5 of a pound) of food per day; and if your dog weighs 10 pounds, feed 3.25 ounces (1/5 of a pound) to 6.5 ounces (4/10 of a pound) per day (there are 16 oz in a pound).
It’s recommended to start feeding a dog at 2% of the dog’s healthy adult weight. If the dog starts gaining weight, cut that down. If the dog starts losing weight, add more to each meal. Each dog’s metabolism is different, just as with humans. Metabolism is affected not only by basic genetic traits, but also, without limitation, by hormones (intact animals have higher metabolisms than altered animals), lifestyle (active dogs have higher metabolisms than inactive dogs), age (younger dogs have higher metabolisms than older dogs), and medical conditions (disorders, diseases, and medications).
As a matter of fact, my intact, 2 year old, Toy Manchester Terrier eats more food each day than my neutered, 8 year old, Standard Manchester Terrier (over 4% to under 2%, respectively).
Frequency of feeding varies greatly with WPM feeders. Some people split the food up into 2 meals each day. Others feed once per day. And still others follow a “BFFLO” (pronounced “buffalo”) model: big food fed less often. BFFLO feedings mimic a wolf s natural propensity to gorge and rest. In other words, a wolf pack will take down a large ungulate and eat until their stomachs are stretched to many times their normal size. Then they’ll fast for upward of 3-4 days before hunting again. BFFLO feeders will feed a dog 3 days’ worth of food (6-12% of the dog’s healthy adult body weight) in one sitting, and then will fast the dog the following 2 days.
This is a matter of personal preference, based on each raw feeder’s experiences, information, and personal concerns. Some owners of large, deep-chested breeds (like Dobermans and Great Danes) refrain from BFFLO feeding, because they fear that the consumption of large quantities of food may encourage bloat. Other owners of the same breeds feed BFFLO confidently and have never had a problem. They believe that a long-term raw diet strengthens the stomach muscles, thereby decreasing the likelihood of bloat overall. There is no evidence proving or disproving either school of thought. As with any other aspect of pet ownership, including raw feeding in general, each individual must do what he or she believes is in the best interest of the animal. It’s no different for our fourlegged fur-kids than it is for our bipedal children.
The First Is the Worst
Starting any new diet (raw or kibble!) can be fraught with questions, concerns, and mistakes. The first month in particular can be intimidating, but encourage yourself to keep going by looking at your dog and its improved condition.
Undoubtedly, before you get the hang of things, you will have fallen into at least one of the following three traps: too much, too rich, and too new. The consequences for each are generally the same: loose stools and an upset stomach.
To avoid the three traps, remember the following:
- Too much of anything — even a good thing — can be bad. Control your dog’s diet by starting off feeding only 2% to insure its transition is smooth. Increase its food quantity if it is losing weight, but do so slowly over time.
- Red meats are richer and fattier than poultry, and the bones of mammals are denser than the bones of fowl. Start your dog on bland chicken leg quarters or drumsticks (depending on how big or small, respectively, your dog is) for at least the first few weeks. They have a high bone percentage, which helps prevent loose stool, and they’re easy to digest. You may have to remove the skin at first, because it is fatty, and fat contributes to loose stool. Eventually, you should be able to leave the skin on without any negative consequence. Again, it’s a matter of incorporating the skin slowly over time.
- Avoid organs entirely for at least the first 2-3 months. Your dog will not suffer from any sort of nutritional deficiency in that short a period — remember, it’s about balance over time. Organs are even richer than red meat, and if not introduced slowly, can definitely cause digestive upset. Slowly, over time, you can add larger and larger portions of organs to your dog’s meals without the dog experiencing digestive upset.
Finally, remember that even a long-term raw-fed dog can experience digestive upset if fed too much of something too new. So take it slow: move at a pace that’s comfortable for you and your dog. After all, you have a lifetime to share with your dog — a lifetime you may very well extend through your choice to feed raw.
**A Word About Carbohydrates**
Where are the fruits and vegetables, you ask? In WPM, they are not considered a primary food source and are given as treats only.
You’ll remember that, as a result of their short intestines, dogs are physically incapable of deriving nutrition from fruits and vegetables regardless of how they are prepared. That means that vegetables and fruit are monetary expenditures that are, ultimately, wasted on the dog. Beyond that, the dog’s pancreas, kidneys, and the rest of its digestive tract, may actually be taxed.
Now, that certainly doesn’t mean dogs don’t enjoy, and won’t seek out, fruits and vegetables. Dogs are opportunistic carnivores – scavengers – and they will eat whatever they can get their mouths on. Just because it’s not optimal doesn’t mean it’s deadly (except, perhaps, in the case of grapes). After all, many people eat ice cream and marshmallows. It may not be the best choice for them, but they’ll survive.
In the same vein, wild wolves will sometimes scavenge fresh berries on a bush or eat an apple that’s fallen from a tree. They do this because carbohydrates are sweet — and so is fat. When dogs are hungry, their bodies crave fat. If fat cannot be readily found, they will eat anything else that is sweet, and therefore biologically reminiscent of fat, carbohydrates included. This is the same reason dogs will drink antifreeze if given the chance: it may be poison, but it’s sweet to taste and therefore appeals to them.