Is there a right way or a wrong way to feed a raw diet?

I’ve thought about this a lot over the past few days. At first I thought any raw meat is beneficial to a dog or cat’s diet and that may be true, but …

A wild canine or feline is going to be consuming prey animals who are consuming their natural diet. The nutritional value of a prey animal consuming natural food (vs. grain) and getting a normal amount of exercise (vs. sitting in a feed lot) is going to be very different from, for example, meat from cattle who are finished (if not raised entirely) in a feed lot consuming grain. The amount and quality of fat is the big difference.

If an individual has a lot of animals to feed, corners are often cut. I know of many dog breeders whose dogs’ primary diet is chicken necks and backs, organ meat and a small amount of muscle meat. The ideal diet should be 10-15% bone, 10% organ meat and the rest muscle meat. Bone and organ meat can be purchased relatively inexpensively. Muscle meat is expensive.

Once a week I stop at a local Mexican market for meat. I like to purchase my meat there because I know it’s fresher than what I’d be able to get in a grocery store. My normal purchase is eight to ten pounds of chicken drumsticks ($1.20/pound), two pounds of chicken liver ($1.20/pound), two pounds of beef liver ($1.50/pound), two pounds of pork stew meat ($2.40/pound) and two thin ox tails ($2.50/pound). I can often get beef kidney while I’m there, for free if the owner isn’t watching. There is only one butcher who works there who speaks English and I hope he continues to work there. While I’m there, he’ll cut up a large beef bone into seven or eight pieces for recreational bones for the dogs. I grind the chicken drumsticks and chicken liver primarily for the cats, but the dogs get some of it and if there’s any left after two or three days, I’ll put it in my dehydrator to make treats.

In addition to the Mexican market purchases, I go through about 20 pounds of rabbit a week, again, primarily the cats eat it, but Fern eats rabbit as well. I have access to lots venison from November through February or so. Once the venison dries up, I’ll butcher sheep and goats which will be primarily for the dogs. About the only meat I regularly buy in grocery stores is turkey, beef heart and kidney and canned salmon or mackerel.

The above represents a great deal of variety for my carnivores, but it also equals a lot of running around. At least twice a month I have to drive 45 minutes one way to get rabbits, which I get whole so I have to skin and clean them. Of course butchering sheep and goats is a lot of work. I could pay a butcher to do it, but that adds to the cost.

Variety and balance over time is extremely important when feeding a raw meat diet. Because of the variety and amount of pasture-raised meat my carnivores get, the only supplement I use with any regularity is salmon oil. Is the diet I feed my dogs and cats any better than one that consists of chicken necks and backs, organ meat and a small amount of muscle meat? I believe it is.

The one problem with the later is that it’s very high in bone. Too much calcium can cause a lot of health problems. Nutritionally, conventionally raised chickens are not ideal. They are fed a lot of growth hormones and antibiotics. These days my cats will frequently turn their noses up at chicken. They may eat it for a meal or two, but that’s about it. Their primary food is rabbit, venison, beef organ meat and canned salmon or mackerel (a couple of times a month). They also do a lot of hunting and consume their prey (except for frogs!).

As much as I hate kibble, I think it would probably be a better idea for someone to feed high quality kibble rather than a raw diet that is lacking in variety and too high in bone. Feeding a raw diet is a commitment, something I do because I believe my dogs and cats are healthier on it, but it can be expensive and time-consuming.