Category Archives: Issues and Observations

The Reality of Vitamin A Toxicity

You might hear that feeding over the suggested liver amount of about 5% of the overall diet is a recipe for vitamin A toxicity, but this is grossly exaggerated and misunderstood. The fact is that you’d have to feed a ridiculous amount of liver to achieve toxicity, but “because I say so” has never been good enough for me, I’d imagine it isn’t for you. Let’s explore this.

One of the fun things about figuring out nutrient requirements and safe upper limits is that no two sources can ever seem to agree on numbers, and new discoveries are always being made which affect recommendations. The following numbers and figures are an amalgamation of figures from several different sources and publication years unless specifically stated (including the NRC and AAFCO), which are all listed at the end of this post. The point is not to provide exact figures, but to illustrate that you don’t need to be all that concerned with vitamin A toxicity if you’re doing things with a lick of common sense.

Let’s use the theoretical example of a 50 pound dog who eats 3% of his body weight per day in raw food. This is a pound-and-a-half of food per day. According to the NRC and AAFCO, this dog requires between 1,100 IU and 3,000 IU of vitamin A per day minimum to maintain health, with other sources recommending more than that as ideal. (e.g., Danish scholar and raw food advocate Mogens Eliasen suggests about triple the NRC minimum RDA and abut 30% more than the AAFCO RDA as ideal — up to about 4,540 IU for our example dog.)

What we’re concerned with is toxicity though — enough to actually hurt or kill a dog. The “safe upper limit” of vitamin A for our example dog is in the neighborhood of 50,000 IU, which is to say that even if you regularly fed that much it would not actually do noticeable harm, but above that it is believed that risk could start. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, “When vitamins A and D are ingested in large amounts (10–100 times daily requirement) throughout a period of months, toxic reactions may be seen.” I’ll repeat that for emphasis: Ten to one hundred times the daily requirement throughout a period of months.

To put this all into perspective, depending on who you ask (WAPF or NutritionData/USDA, with there also being an established discrepancy based on what the cow itself has been eating), 100 grams of beef liver contains anywhere from about 17,000 IU to 35,000 IU of vitamin A. (That’s a big discrepancy, and another reason why being overly concerned about numbers is pretty useless unless you have very solid data about the actual items you’re feeding at any give time!)

At 5% of the overall diet, our example dog is eating an average of about 34 grams of liver per day, which would be 5,780 IU on the low side and up to 11,900 IU on the high side for beef liver. As you can see, overall that’s actually pretty high given even the highest estimated requirement, but well within our established safe zone and not coming anywhere near the “safe upper limit”. Even the high possibility of 11,900 IU is only about a quarter of the safe upper limit. In order achieve the threshold of the safe upper limit, our example dog could be fed 150 – 200 grams of beef liver per day every day for months and likely still be fine from the perspective of vitamin A toxicity. That is about one-third to almost one-half of the total diet, and even that is just where higher risk might begin. 

I want to mention in support of feeding a variety of livers from different animals and sources that chicken liver would come in at about 3,774 IU for our example dog’s daily 34 gram serving, lamb liver 8,364 IU, and pork liver 7,378 IU. Turkey liver is very high in vitamin A with the serving contributing about 9,146 IU of vitamin A! Arctic marine animals are famous for having a lot of vitamin A stores in their livers, but even if you had regular access to walrus liver, that 34 gram serving would contain about 27,600 IU of vitamin A, which is just over half of the ‘safe upper limit’. Maybe not the best idea to feed regularly, but for the sake of our argument even walrus liver as a full 10% of the diet would be just hovering around that safe upper limit mark.

The Waltham Centre For Pet Nutrition (an entity owned by Mars, makers of some of the kibbles you love to hate, but we’ll consider their findings anyway) has established a safe upper limit for puppies at 100,000 IU per kcal fed, which in raw food terms would be approximately 67,000 IU per pound of food fed daily, or 200 grams of beef liver for every pound fed! In other words almost HALF of the total diet in beef liver over an extended period of time, and that’s still the “safe upper limit” — not recognized to cause harm. That’s pretty much the same figure as the one produced with NRC figures for adult dogs. For cats the figures are similar too.

So, as you can see, no matter which figures you use or what you’re feeding, it would be virtually impossible to impose vitamin A toxicity via a raw diet, especially one fed in an informed and responsible manner. While figures of about 5% of the overall diet or approximately half of all organ matter fed are reasonable from a nutritional angle (vitamin A is not the only nutrient in liver — just the topic of this post), when it comes to vitamin A at least, even feeding much more liver or vitamin A rich foods than that would still not pose threat of poisoning or death from vitamin A.

Resources used in this post, and interesting further reading:










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No Lost Cause — Switching Cats To Raw

Need to switch your cat to raw, but meeting with resistance? This is very common but even the most “fussy” cat can be brought around to eating a raw diet! There is a reason why our feline friends are notorious for being hard to switch, and knowing that reason is the key to success. I am getting this posted now — it’s a topic long overdue — but I intend to come back and do some tweaking in the future with a few more specifics and links to sources. (And hopefully a nice photo.) For now the basics:

Cats have a psychological hurdle based in their physiology that dogs do not have when it comes to switching to raw: A cat’s liver functions a bit differently than the livers of other mammals. That difference means cats are more susceptible to toxic build-ups and can be acutely poisoned relatively easily compared to other animals. The same thing that makes it so important for cats to eat fresh whole foods also makes them hard to switch once they’re used to kibble and other processed foods. Cats are ‘wired’ — so to speak — to be highly suspicious of new foods and environmental factors. In non-domesticated life, learning what things and habits are safe and trustworthy early in life (and then not deviating from that) is a very important survival mechanism.

When a cat is fed kibble from an early age it is not actually healthy, but since this is what is presented as food this is what the definition of food becomes. Trying to change this can be really difficult. (Pet food manufacturers know how keyed into one thing cats can become, thus many making kibbles in unique shapes and colors so that cats aren’t only stuck on kibble, but their brand of kibble!) Cats get slapped with the labels “finicky” and “picky” when all they’re trying to do is not be poisoned.

Since cats have that overwhelming urge to only eat familiar food, even the slightest change can put them off food entirely, which you need to be aware of. When you add a supplement or different food you’re not just adding or presenting food that’s different than the current food, you’re introducing an unknown quantity to a known quantity, therefore changing that known into the unknown. To a cat, you’re contaminating the familiar and safe! It’s really not about “preferences” so much as it might seem. You can switch your cat to raw, though it’ll probably take patience. Likely if you’re reading this you’ve been trying and have hit a point of frustration. Don’t lose hope! 

First, something that does not work and should not be used: “Tough love” and holding out ’til a pet gives in to what you’re offering is fine for dogs, but can actually KILL a cat, so toss that idea right out.

Some people use the technique of a very gradual process of adding new (raw) food and reducing old food (kibble) in minuscule increments until the cat is eating all raw, which works for many, but after reading the above, you can see that you have to start with literally undetectable amounts of food. It can be a long process and prone to failures. The technique described below works similarly, but will give more reliable results without as high a risk that your cat will go off all food, and also allows for the cat to direct the progress, which means a faster transition for those who are inclined. What you need to do is sell this new food (raw) as “normal”. It’s really not so much about overcoming aversions as it is breaking through that self-preservation instinct.

Instead of the actual mixing (contaminating) as described above, set a bit of raw food out at the same time as the normal food, but not mixed in or even touching the regular food. Use an entirely separate dish. (If your cat is used to a certain type of bowl or dish, using something similar could help things along.) You don’t need to set out a full meals worth, just a little bit so that the cat can see and smell it. The raw food is likely not going to get eaten immediately. (If it does, great. No trouble for you!) After the meal of the current food (kibble) is eaten and the cat walks away take the uneaten raw and feed it to a pet that will eat it, or just toss it. It may seem like a waste, but what you’re doing is introducing a concept more than what’s in the dish.

You will need to repeat this over days, maybe weeks, maybe in really tough cases longer. One day the cat will start showing interest in the raw food, and then eat it. As you see that barrier come down you can go from there. Just make sure that your cat is eating something in that transitional time, and if it’s a situation of one step forward and two back for a little bit just roll with it. What’s happening is that the smells and awareness of the new food in proximity to the regular food eventually drive home the fact that raw food is food too: Acceptance by association. It works!

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Case Study: Coal’s Calories

While I was working on the post, A Word On Protein, I stumbled upon an interesting discrepancy in calorie recommendations, caloric content of food choices, and what seems to work for most individuals. This made me scratch my head, and I decided to go to one of my online raw feeding communities for some real-life info from people who have feed both raw and kibble in recent times, or feed both raw and kibble. I got just one response (I’m learning lots of words cause people to ignore posts even if you pair it with a cute meme), and following is what I extrapolated from the information she gave me. The dog in this sample is an active young-adult Belgian Malinois male who is not neutered, with an ideal weight of 62 pounds. His name is Coal.

This is the pertinent info I received to start the number crunching: “He was getting 2 cups of Taste of the Wild and 2 cups of Hills w/d a day and was actually a tad heavy. On raw I had him up to 2lbs a day and he was not maintaining weight. I put him averaging 1.75lb with about a cup of mid-high end kibble (Solid Gold, Pinnacle, Wellness) and he was great. Raw was varied but about 50/50 red/white meat and 5-10% fish.”

I wanted to use this info to figure out two things, and then compare those. The first was the recommended caloric intake for a dog of his description. This is the first area where I noticed a large discrepancy, and it makes sense. Dogs vary so greatly in size, energy level, lifestyle, body type, etc. that it’s almost impossible to nail down an accurate formula for predicting how many calories need to be consumed by an individual for both energy needs and weight maintenance. It’s really useful to try, however, for both dog food manufacturers and pet owners. Feeding trials have been performed, energy expenditures have been evaluated, and both practical and theoretical numbers have been crunched by many parties. I used the following websites and charts/formulas to get caloric recommendations for Coal.

(1) WSAVA Calorie Needs for an Average Healthy Adult Dog in Ideal Body Condition
This is a simple chart, and for a 62 pound dog, it recommends 1020 kcal/day.

(2) The dog food calculator from The Dog Food Advisor. This one lets you refine recommendations based activity level. For Coal I selected “active”. The recommendation is 1529 kcal/day.

(3) The online Merck Veterinary Manual has a page devoted to nutrient requirements, and provides formulas for figuring out caloric intake. I used the linear formula for figuring out resting energy requirement (RER), and then the multiplier for “healthy adult intact dog”. This resulted in a recommendation of 1638 kcal/day.

* See bottom of page for more feeding recommendation figures from pet food manufacturers.

The first thing you notice is the difference between 1020 and 1638. That’s more than a 60% increase!!! That’s a lot. It gets even more interesting, though.

I needed to figure out how many calories per day Coal was getting when he was eating the combo of Hills w/d kibble and Taste Of The Wild kibble (TOTW). I used the information from the respective manufacturer websites to establish that the w/d contains 240 kcal/cup. I then took an average of nine of the TOTW dry formulas to get a figure of 357 kcal/cup. This means that Coal was eating about 1200 kcal/day of these foods. That’s just a bit higher than the WSAVA chart figure. Now, remember that Coal was a “tad heavy” eating this combination.

Then, I needed to figure out how many calories per day Coal was eating when he was switched to raw. Usually when feeding raw most people do not use calories or “cups” of food to gauge how much to feed. They use percentages of the dog’s body-weight combined with observation of weight, activity, and condition to tweak until their dog looks and feels good. 2%-3% is usually recommended as a good starting point for medium and large breed dogs, and I’d say based on experience both first- and second-hand that most average-to-active dogs fall within this percentage as a functional working formula for weight maintenance and energy needs. The difference in measurements can make comparing raw and kibble difficult. (There’s also the issue of using “dry matter” figures when talking about processed foods, and weights and ‘as fed’ figures when talking about raw. This is an issue when talking nutrient density expressed in percentages. Calories are not subject to the problem of “dry matter” vs. “as fed”.)

The items that are used to feed raw-fed dogs also vary in calorie density by quite a lot. Lean protein has fewer calories by weight than fattier cuts, and protein and fat content varies quite a bit from food animal to food animal, and cut to cut. (See “A Word On Protein, part 1” for more on this, plus some charts.) To come up with an average calorie content that might reflect the ‘average’ raw diet — if there is such a thing — I used the calorie content for chicken breast, beef sirloin, domestic rabbit, wild salmon, and venison from as well as an average of all ‘complete’ formulas intended for adults from commercially prepared raw food manufacturers, Nature’s Variety Instinct, Darwin’s, and Primal. I came up with an average of about 45 kcal per ounce. (There are 16 ounces to the pound, so by extension the averaged pound of raw diet is about 720 kcal.)

“On raw I had him up to 2lbs a day and he was not maintaining weight.” Two pounds of food per day by the above figure is about 1440 kcal/day. It’s also about 3.25% of Coal’s body-weight. That is a 20% increase in calories from the Hill’s w/d and TOTW combo, but he was not maintaining a good weight. Of course this is not a controlled study where we can consider the calorie factor in isolation, but 20% is a significant number, and also the beginning of a pattern.

Coal was shifted from the all-raw diet to the raw-with-kibble combo that his person observed to keep him at a nice weight and with a good amount of energy. This was “1.75lb with about a cup of mid-high end kibble”. The kibbles mentioned were Wellness, Solid Gold, and Pinnacle. Again, I took an average of ALL the adult and all-life-stages formulas from these manufacturers (that’s a lot of formulas!) and came up with an average kcal/cup of 400. (OK, it was 401. Discredit me if you will, I’m using 400.) 1.75 pounds of raw is about 1260 kcal (and 2.75% of his body weight). Add the cup of kibble at 400 kcal, and you have a total of 1660 kcal/day.

Now, if you go back to the caloric recommendations from the three sources mentioned before, that’s darned close to the Merck Manual figure, which, remember, is based on assessed physiological needs, and not necessarily based on a particular feeding trial or assumptions about the source of food. I have to say that this was a surprise to me, and a neat one, too. By extension, Coal would probably need closer to 3.75% of his body-weight in only raw food, perhaps more given the trend we’ve observed. That would be about 2-and-a-third pounds of food per day. Maybe more like 2.5 pounds (4%). Since Coal is a real dog and not a theory or experiment we won’t be actually putting this to any sort of further test.

Besides the fact that calorie calculators and charts are all over the place, what is to be learned from this? I think the different values of raw vs. kibble and the fact that ‘a calorie is not a calorie’ is illustrated by how Coal handles the calorie loads. On a combo that included a grain-based kibble (Hill’s w/d) Coal maintained a body weight that was even a “tad high” on 1200 kcal/day. On a diet with fewer carbs — and these carbs not being highly processed or with much, if any at all, coming from grains — he couldn’t maintain a healthy weight even though he was likely consuming almost 250 kcal/day or 20% more actual calories! While it may seem like a good thing that a smaller amount of kibble is capable of keeping a dog at a certain weight and that it might be “better” than fresh food, I’ll point out that less food at a higher caloric density means less “room” to get in the right protein, fat, vitamin, and mineral contents, as well as other important functional food contributions like fiber and micronutrients. There is little room for error in a product that does vary from batch-to-batch when you’re fulfilling a caloric need so seemingly efficiently. Keep in mind this isn’t just one meal out of a month with many others to make up for any shortcomings or excesses and balance it out over time, but one product that is fed day in and day out, presumably for years — or a dog’s lifetime! (This is a topic that is discussed in “A Word On Protein, part 2” more thoroughly.) A highly concentrated food will require more of an effort on the part of the digestive system, especially for an animal who is ‘designed’ not to pick at small amounts of food over a day, but to get his fill after a hunt. This isn’t really a relevant figure, but just for the sake of visualization, on their web page Hill’s gives both gram and cup figures, from which we can establish that a cup of their w/d formula is 2.8 ounces, which is a weight measure correlating to our raw food figures. When it comes to “as fed” amounts (think what’s actually going into his belly at a time), Coal was not eating even 3/4 of a pound of kibble in a day, but on his raw/kibble combo he was getting almost two pounds of food total. Ultimately that’s a LOT of water he was getting in his food through the raw, increasing mass and weight, and all-in-all leading to a nice full stomach that could signal to the rest of his body, “I’m FULL. I’m satisfied. I’m hydrated. Let’s digest this stuff!”.

The next step in this analysis would be to figure out where the calories in our sample foods are coming from (i.e., carbs, fat, protein) and how nutrient density and caloric intake play off each other. That will have to wait for another time, however.

My thanks to Christine for providing me with the example to work from!

* Here are some more calorie intake suggestions based on company recommendations for their brands of food used in the preceding example. Additionally, there are a couple provided by pre-made raw-food manufacturers. The TOTW, Wellness, and Pinnacle recommendation figures are averaged.

Hill’s w/d Dry Food : 1140-1320

TOTW: 920-1300

Welness: 1070-1285

Pinnacle: 990-1200

Instinct Raw calculator: 1335

Primal (raw food) calculator: 1240


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The Problem With Prescription Veterinary Diets

The topic of prescription vet diets may seem to have little to do with raw feeding or natural health, but I think it’s actually important to consider even for the most established and comfortable raw feeder. The subject came up in one of the online communities I participate in where someone posed the question, “If prescription diets are said to be so bad, why do veterinarians have success with them and continue to promote them?” Following is the response that I wrote, which I thought I’d share here.

Prescription diets definitely “work”. When people question prescription diets (well, thinking people who aren’t just being argumentative), it’s not so much questioning whether the food does what it’s designed for, but if that purpose is what you want to achieve. Prescription foods on the whole are designed to deliver a particular result — usually a general picture of health and diminishing of symptoms. They often do deliver that result (couldn’t sell the stuff if it didn’t work), but there is a cost to consider, and it’s not the (high) price of the bag.

Let’s take the example of hydrolyzed proteins. (Certain lines of prescription foods use this technology.) Hydrolyzing breaks proteins down into their constituent parts, so in essence part or most of the “digesting” is already done. A dog with digestive issues will, therefore, be able to assimilate and use a food like this better than whole foods, because there is a serious problem in the body. The body will be provided with what it needs to perform basic functions and give you a good poop and a shiny coat, which we see as a sign of good health.

The problem comes in the fact that the food isn’t helping to actually *fix* the root cause of the problem — it’s just something that creates the illusion of normal functions. The root cause of the complaint or illness oftentimes will actually become worse because the food is like a band-aid over a wound. In some cases the band-aid offers protection while the body heals and you can take it off and go back to normal a few days later. In other cases, though, it’s like putting a band-aid on an infected wound which just traps the infection and causes it grow worse. Since it’s covered up it’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind. You can go on thinking it’s all OK, but that band-aid isn’t going to be able to keep covering the wound as it festers and grows, and you’ll have to address a more serious problem down the road. Using our band-aid analogy, you have to consider what putting a band-aid on when you don’t even have a cut does, too. It’s probably going to trap moisture and bacteria, and the skin under the patch is going to at least get wrinkly and gross if not infected from the band-aid!!! Some people try to use prescription foods as preventatives, which due to poor quality ingredients actually damage health making the prescription food an actual necessity. Prescription foods do not foster good health in the long-term.

Medical conditions tend to snow-ball when you are only suppressing symptoms, and prescription foods are designed to suppress symptoms. Prescription foods may offer temporary relief as a medication of sorts — which can be life-saving — but if true health is the goal it’s best to work on identifying and fixing the problem so that the dog is able to eat a really truly healthy diet that will provide life-long bodily support thru sustenance — like raw — not just function on the crutch of prescription diets as long as they work.

If it has been suggested by your veterinarian that you feed prescription food (or you are now feeding prescription food) and you are unsure of the intentions and/or terms of feeding the food, please open a dialogue with your vet and ask for clarification. If your pet is being treated for a medical condition please include or at least inform your vet of any diet changes.






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Dogs Can’t Chew Like People Do! (With Infographic)

Dogs Don't Chew full image

Click on pic or download to see larger. Separate panels to view and share below! Text in middle panel same as article.

A common hurdle for people new to raw feeding is knowing the size of the pieces to feed to their dog, especially when they have a dog who seems to just swallow food instead of chewing it. Internet groups are full of suggestions for “gulpers” which range from chopping or grinding the food (including bones), to feeding the pieces frozen, to holding onto the food in hopes the dog ‘learns’ to eat more slowly and ‘carefully’. All of these suggestions neglect one important fact: Dog’s don’t chew. In fact, dogs can’t chew. Not like people do.

Take a look at your dog and watch him or her eat. It becomes obvious when you’re conscious of it: A dog’s jaws don’t move in a side-to-side or circular motion. It’s only up-and-down. This completely eliminates the ability to create a grinding motion like omnivorous and herbivorous animals use. Dogs are capable predators who are equipped with what they need to hunt and eat. They don’t require that grinding range of motion and have never developed it.

Holding onto the end of a piece of meat is far more likely to result in an accidental but damaging bite to the hand than it is a dog who thoroughly mashes each mouthful before swallowing. A frozen chunk of food isn’t going to be safer than the same chunk not frozen. Grinding reduces food to “just food” and eliminates all the other purposes a meal satisfies for a dog – toothbrush, exercise routine, puzzle, even promoter of emotional well-being.

When a dog is presented with a food item, the one and only requirement that must be satisfied before it is swallowed is that it will fit down the throat. Well, probably fit. Choking is a very real possibility and happens all the time with food, toys, treats, and other objects when “small enough to fit” is misjudged or disregarded. If you give a dog something small enough and/or throat-shaped enough, it will not get chewed. People report varying levels of success to the contrary, but you can’t teach a dog to chew food into a mush any more than a person sitting on their hands can eat a steak dinner when presented with a whole deer. Possible? Yes. Efficient? No. Absurd? Totally.

The key to safe, successful, and healthful meal times is to FEED BIG: Big chunks of bone-in-meat, big chunks of meat-on-bone. Since dogs range in size from about 4 pounds to over 150, there’s no one ‘good’ animal or cut, but the rule of thumb is that if a chunk is bigger than the dog’s whole head it will require work and not be horked down too fast for health or safety. A piece that can be worked on for upwards of 20 minutes is a satisfying meal, and generally speaking a satisfying meal is a safe meal.

Dogs Don't Chew

Wisdom From T'Paw - Chewing




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Terminology: Raw Meaty Bone (or THAT’S not a bone, THIS is a bone!)

This Pack Lunch article contains a lot of information that can be used by the owners of all domestic carnivores, but addresses dogs a little more thoroughly. I’ve chosen to address dogs specifically with my language and terminology in this article and when discussing size/shape of bone, but for the most part the information contained within is universal. Pack Lunch will be releasing an article in the future dealing with cats and some the needs and specifications of their unique physiology and psychology.

By now you’re likely familiar with what a raw diet is and the basic idea that you can re-create the proportions of the edible parts of a natural prey animal with items you can acquire from the grocery store, butcher, or many other sources. (If not see Just What Is Raw Feeding? and/or Terminology: The Prey Model.) In the article What Is Classified As Organ? we covered what the organ part of the diet should consist of, and why. Now it’s time to talk about bones, how they fit into the prey model, and the difference between edible bone and Raw Meaty Bones, or RMBs for short.

Bone, plainly, is the structure in vertebrate animals that provides a framework on which muscle and other tissue is built. It lends stability and protection for a vertebrate’s soft and relatively vulnerable insides. Bone is also responsible for the production of blood cells, and it stores and releases minerals. Given the ‘prey model‘, bone is obviously an important part of the diet. Edible bone should make up roughly 10%-15% of the whole. That is approximately the proportion of edible bone matter we figure from observing our dog’s living ancestor and model for our ideal diet plan — the wolf. It’s also the tried-and-true ratio for keeping our domesticated companions in great health.

Terminology: Raw Meaty Bone (image: Deer skeleton from "An Atlas Of Animal Anatomy", 1956)

Within the framework of a raw diet there are two classifications of bone: Edible and non-edible. This delineation comes down to size: The size and capabilities of the dog eating the bone, and the relative size of the bone itself. Since adult dogs can range in size from around 3 pounds to well over 150 pounds, the term ‘edible’ and what might be a good source of bone — edible or not — differs greatly. There are also different types of bone present in any prey animal, which vary in density and composition. When it comes to practical feeding concerns, the intake and activity that surrounds bones isn’t as straightforward as the requirement for the nutrients they contain.

Bone being what it is — a network of minerals and other substances — can legitimately cause problems if not fed properly. When it comes to the detractors of raw feeding, many issues cited are problems traditionally associated with the consumption of poorly chosen bone items (raw or processed). The conceived ‘danger’ that accompanies the addition or incorporation of bone and/or ‘raw meaty bones’ to any dog’s existence is completely unfounded, given proper diet and feeding protocols. While this seems obvious within the context of an article about raw feeding, I take special care to note here that the feeding of ANY cooked or processed bone is dangerous. (Even the smoked bones for sale at your average pet store and butcher aimed at recreational chewing for dogs!) Heat and/or desiccation of bone tissue results in a transformed structure of compounds that can be crushed easily by the teeth of our carnivorous companions resulting in shards that can wreak havoc on digestive tract tissues that are designed for dealing with bone in it’s raw form only. Do not feed cooked bone. To any pet. Ever.

Edible bone is just what it sounds like: Bone that can be crunched with the teeth, swallowed, then processed by the gut which extracts the various nutrients. The insoluble element of a properly chosen source of edible bone contributes healthy fecal bulk and is eliminated safely. Edible bone is the bone content that contributes valuable nutrients in the form of minerals, with some associated fats and other nutrients from the marrow of certain bones. Edible bone might be a piece of poultry where all the bone nested within the meat is eaten, or part of a larger chunk of animal where some bone is gnawed off and consumed, but the denser bone left after the meal is done. Inedible bone describes a bone that can’t enter (or is prevented from entering) the digestive system. One might think the latter is, therefore, unimportant, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth! Often the difference is not black-and-white. This leaves many a raw feeder — new or experienced — with questions and misunderstandings about how to effectively feed edible bone, while concurrently providing meals that come off a bone that doesn’t actually get eaten, and the importance of doing both.

Food is about more than just nutrition for our domestic carnivores. Eating should be an experience, which is a paradigm that departs from the conventional one of providing meals that are scarfed down in seconds. In the life of a wolf, wild dog, feral dog, or other canid (and of course our kitty and ferret friends and family), the the acts of hunting, killing, and eating are integral. Mutually inclusive in those events are physical exertion of all kinds, decision making, problem solving, and communication. Because hunting and eating large prey is often an activity that requires more than an individual, social dynamics are tested and relationships reinforced. Domestication has meant changes in the lifestyle requirements of our dogs when it comes to food and feeding, but in my opinion there is no benefit in compartmentalizing activities, especially when many of our human existences include a busy lifestyle. There’s always room for improvement in providing exercise and stimulation for our valued companions. Enter the ‘raw meaty bone’.

The term ‘raw meaty bone’ in today’s raw feeding culture (mostly consisting of online communities, and, of course in homes all over the world) has its origins in the work of Dr. Tom Lonsdale, an Australian vet who helped to bring the state of companion animal health and the connection to inadequate commercially prepared pet foods to a world-wide audience with his book, Raw Meaty Bones: Promote Health. (This book is a must-read for any pet owner.) Over the years within my chosen online communities, I have watched as “raw meaty bone” has gone from meaning something very specific to something different entirely, as has the terminology governing many aspects of raw feeding in general, e.g., “prey model”.

The term ‘raw meaty bone’ can and should be broken down into it’s defining terms. A “raw meaty bone” is never anything but. “Raw” and “bone” are almost always accounted for, the biggest discrepancy is “meaty”. Many times bare bones (or practically so) are given to dogs under the guise of an RMB. A “marrow bone” is NOT an RMB. For decades — if not far more than that — butchers have been selling “dog bones” that consist of a bare cow femur bone with no meat on it as a “recreational chew” for dogs. It may or may not have the marrow in the center of the bone. This is a recipe for disaster, or at the least a very high-risk activity. Online communities have deemed this type of bone a “wreck bone” — clever word play on the term “rec bone” which is short for “recreational”. Without the surrounding meat and connective tissue, all that’s left to do with these non-meaty bones is to gnash the teeth against the bare bone while attempting to break it into smaller pieces. Arguably the best part about the marrow bones is the chance for a dog to lick out the marrow itself, but most dogs realize quickly it can be popped out with relative ease and then eaten as one satisfying fatty morsel. All that’s left then is the memory of that yummy  stuff, and a bare bone to chew on. “Rec bones” can be the direct cause of tooth chipping, breakage, unnatural wear and tear, slab fractures, soft tissue damage, lesions in the mouth and even on the jowls and face, and choking. It’s not a matter of teaching your dog to be gentle or more careful while chewing. What would you do with something like this “for fun” given the go-getter, living-in-the-moment mind set of a dog?

 Terminology: Raw Meaty Bone (image: These Are Not RMB's)

‘Whole prey’ and things that are entirely edible like poultry that are entirely edible can also fall under the “raw meaty bone” category — they are raw, there are bones, and there’s a lot of meat! Do make sure that your entirely edible RMBs aren’t just bone-in bites that are gone in seconds, though. That is a distinction I think is important to make. For reasons of safety, value, and satisfaction, RMBs — whether bone-in or off-the-bone — should take work to eat. A chicken drumstick might be an RMB for a 5-pound Chihuahua, but it’s a choking hazard for an 80-pound Rottweiler.

The purpose of serving an RMB is to meet many of the primal requirements of feasting on a whole animal in a pared-down, domestic-household-friendly meal/activity. The primary purpose served by eating in the wild is nutrition, but there are many many many more secondary befits conferred by the act of eating off the carcass of a large kill, which is largely what people are looking for when they want the “benefits of raw”. Keeping the teeth and gums healthy and clear of build-up is the primary benefit as envisioned by most, followed by occupying the mind and body, and providing fresh healthy food. While small bone-in chunks of meat or grinds with edible bone will serve those purposes to some extent, the emphasis must be on the raw meaty bone.

Enough with the negatives and what is not a raw meaty bone! After all that, what the heck is a raw meaty bone? 

A raw meaty bone is largely non-edible, partially edible, or entirely edible bone or bones held together and/or covered in LOTS of meat, fat, and connective tissue. In the body of a prey animal the bones provide a structure and foundation for the muscles, which are attached by way of connective tissue. If you have (in the past or future) the opportunity to get meat from a source other than the butcher and/or grocery store, you will find that pretty much every bone is a raw meaty bone to begin with. One just has to be a little more selective when “hunting” at the grocery store to find bones that haven’t had the bulk of the “good stuff” removed and sold as prime boneless cuts.

A dog’s ‘job’ is to deconstruct all these tissues by way of a variety of actions including but not limited to: Tearing, ripping, shearing, scissoring, pulling, twisting, gnawing, chomping, and shredding. It is in these actions that we get the all-inclusive experience of eating that makes demands on the teeth, jaws, and other muscles. Working on a raw meaty bone demands isometric use of every muscle in the body right down to the toes!

‘Safety’ is largely in the process: Once the meaty meal has been removed most dogs are pretty tired out and content to settle in for a nice calm gnaw, removing cartilage and the tiniest of scraps from the bone itself. This is opposed to the act of giving a dog a naked bone when they have a lot of pent-up energy to put to good use, and don’t have an outlet besides trying to crack open an impossibly (or ‘possibly’, but with bad consequences) dense bone, as happens with non-meaty or “wreck” bones. Some seasoned raw-feeders are abjectly against giving any dog any weight-bearing bone (the legs) from a cow or other large mammal no matter the meat coverage. I have to say I don’t agree with this assessment of risk, as a properly meaty bone can offer up to hours of meat-removal activity and subsequent focus on connective tissue before the bone itself invites risky activity. This is always about the individual and should be evaluated as such.

I am a visual person, myself, and I know many others are too. To summarize this dissertation on the raw meaty bone, I’ll leave you with some pictures and video. These are RAW. MEATY. BONES.

Terminology: Raw Meaty Bone (image: Meridian and deer RMB)Terminology: Raw Meaty Bone (image: Meridian and deer RMB)Terminology: Raw Meaty Bone (Natty and beef RMB)

Terminology: Raw Meaty Bone (image: breaking down deer carcass)

Terminology: Raw Meaty Bone (image: Small dogs eat raw too!)

Terminology: Raw Meaty Bone (image: Puppy works on lamb neck RMB)

Terminology: Raw Meaty Bone (image: Storm eats a pig leg)

Check out some videos over on YouTube of Meridian working on a deer leg. To see other videos mouse over the image and click other choices In the top left corner.


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Help! My Dog Won’t Eat Organs

Note: This is a Pack Lunch article that pertains more to dogs and less to cats (or ferrets or others). On the horizon is  an article that addresses cats and their reputation for being ‘finicky’, ‘stubborn’, or ‘beyond hope’ when it comes to a raw diet and approaches for them as the distinct and very different species they are when it comes to eating habits and making the switch to raw food.

Organs are an important part of any raw diet — they should make up about 10%-15% of the total. (Related articles: What Is Classified As Organ? and Terminology: The ‘Prey Model’) In many cultures organs are an integral part of cuisine, even earning the status of ‘delicacy’. They do not hold the same status in modern North American fare, however, and a lot of us find the taste and texture unpleasant. Likely this is just a circumstance of disliking something because it’s new and different, and the same seems to apply to our dogs who are being switched from processed food to a raw diet. Some dogs will outright refuse to eat those all-important foods (at first), and the task of delivering a proper diet can bring the most logical person to pleading and begging (which usually doesn’t work). I’m happy to report that no dog I’ve found yet is a lost cause, and no one need be reduced to the ‘eat your vegetables’ practice of “See? Mommy’s eating it!” with a chunk of raw liver.

Help! My Dog Won't Eat Organs!

I think there are about as many approaches as there are picky dogs when it comes to getting them to accept organs as the yummy nutritious thing they are (or to just plain get them “down the hatch”). The three I have identified are: “Tough love”, altering, and disguising. Each comes with advantages and disadvantages, and viable techniques will vary from household to household, and from dog to dog.


Before getting to the things that work, I’d like to touch on something that comes naturally, but can really set back progress. Given the importance of organs to the diet, as caregiving humans we have a tendency to get too involved in our ‘encouragement’. Fussing and hovering around the feeding area is a high-ranking ‘no-no‘, and almost a sure-fire way to discourage the very thing you’re trying to encourage. Dogs start learning very early in their development to take cues from others in establishing what is safe and what is not. In the home of the modern dog, you are a very important role model. Dogs are very perceptive when it comes to our thoughts and emotions, and when you are exuding frustration, lack of confidence, and generally acting weird regarding something as simple as food (which was always a simple matter when it was dumping a cup of kibble into a bowl), this sends a mixed message to your canine companion. That overall message — even if accompanied by lots of encouraging words and tones — is: “Something is funny here. Whatever you do, don’t eat it, for dog’s sake! I don’t trust it.” To summarize, step one in acceptance of different foods is: Don’t make a fuss. Approach the item with indifference. It’s just FOOD. Surprisingly enough this can be enough to get over the hump of, “Ick, nunh-unh, not gonna eat it”, even if it’s been plaguing your pack for weeks or months.


“No fussing” naturally gives way to the first of the three approaches given a dog who is a harder sell on the greatness that is organ meat: Tough love. No HEALTHY dog will let itself starve when food is available. To this end, if you present an organ meal and it’s not eaten in a reasonable amount of time, you simply pick it up, put it in the ‘fridge, and that’s what’s served at the next regular mealtime (or a reasonable amount of time later — several hours, not minutes). Still not interested? Repeat the process until it does get eaten. It will. Eventually. It’s not easy to feel like you’re starving your best friend or just being a big meanie, but it’s in their best interest to learn to like organs for their health and well being, thus ‘tough love’.

*** Please note that this is NOT true of cats and holding out ’til they eat something could cause great harm or even come to death. Fasting a dog with health issues may also cause harm. If there’s even a question make sure you consult your chosen veterinary professional before withholding food.***

It stands to reason in the doggie brain that when faced with an undesirable food item, not eating it will mean that something more acceptable will be turn up before real hunger becomes a problem. Depending on the behavior patterns that have been established regarding food and who’s generally running the show in your house, this expectation may have a lot or just a little merit. The decision to use the tough love approach may result in a dog that caves at the next meal, but I’ve heard of some holding out for days. In my experience 36 hours without food is usually enough motivation to get most dogs to at least try a little bit of something, which is then usually enough to get them to also think it’s pretty darned good and put up less of a fight next time. Eventually they might even come to get excited about the once scoffed organ meal and lick up every last bit of juice. Some dogs will go longer. I have read accounts of the more strong-willed sticking to their “no organs” guns for 72 hours, but never longer. I did go through such a struggle with Storm when it came to eating smelt (fish). Approaching the third day she was clearly very hungry and ate a few little tiny fish — just enough to curb her appetite and no more. There are bounds of reason to acknowledge here: After that trial I recognized that she had let me know fair and square that it wasn’t just preference, she really didn’t like it. Since the other two dogs weren’t crazy about the smelt, either, I never bought them again. Obviously you can’t just take all organs off the menu, but you might find a particular one that just isn’t worth it.


An observation that was the key to one of my own dogs finally getting over her aversion to organs in general was the animal the organs were coming from. She turned her back on organ meal after organ meal for YEARS, but the day I served elk liver I got the surprise of my life as she not only ate her serving right off the hop, but tried to help herself to more! From that day on for some reason, she became more accepting of all organs, even pork kidney, which was the one food item I never thought I’d see her eat willingly. Beef liver not going over? Try chicken livers. Pork kidney a no-go? Try beef. While a variety of sources and species is something to aim for given varying nutrient profiles too, when you’re faced with finding the key to getting your dog to eat any organs at all, focusing on the favorites could help in a big way.

Tough love not your thing? Perhaps you’re feeding a dog who is not in perfect health and shouldn’t be fasted? Is your dog one of the ones who will go 3 or 4 days without a meal in a dramatic show of strong will? Let’s face it: No one really wants to approach the brink of actual starvation. Sometimes tough love really isn’t practical. There are other ways to get those organs in there.


Sometimes just altering the actual chunk of organ meat can do the trick, usually with heat or cold. Some dogs will “warm up” to the idea of organs if the outside is seared in a hot pan (pardon the pun), but the inside left raw. Many others seem to much prefer their organs as popsicles — frozen solid. If organs don’t go over too well with a chill from the ‘fridge, let them come to room temp before serving — or vice-versa — and see how that works. Some dogs also prefer large chunks to small ones, or a mushed or blended pulp over a solid chunk set down in front of them.

There are detractors of the idea of cooking organs for reasons of nutrient break-down, and  if there’s no other way (or part of an introductory phase) I think cooked organs are preferable to none or abandoning the idea of feeding raw because you can’t get those essential organ meats in there. Cooking through by boiling or baking is an option. Many dogs seem to be more willing to eat cooked organs over raw ones. The vitamins present in organs that are most affected by heat are pantothenic acid (B5), folate, and vitamin C. The folate and vitamin C are of little or no concern for a healthy dog, as (unlike humans) dogs synthesize their own vitamin C and folate is produced by bacteria in their digestive tract [source]. In other words they are not essential nutrients. Pantothenic acid is widely available in other sources (including muscle meat) and requirements are low, so it’s unlikely a deficiency would occur if conjunction with a diet that includes raw meat. That said, there is a power-packed enzyme load, essential fatty acids, and lots of micronutrients present in organs important to the diet that are very heat sensitive. Weaning from cooked to raw organs should be the goal if relying on cooked organs for a period of time.


You’ve tried tough love and organ popsicles and you’re STILL getting that look that says, “No way, no how“? A last resort is masking organs with other foods or flavors, something you can do in conjunction with the varying temperatures or consistency changes. This is pretty self explanatory: Cover with or mix organs in with something your dog likes. Things with a strong smell tend to work best. Ideally this is something that might be part of the regular diet like green tripe or fish, but some people find that things like a bit of parmesan cheese is just the ticket. I’ve never tried it personally, but stuffing organs back into a whole chicken or Kong as part of a mix is reported to have favorable results.

Part two of my personal success story with Natty Gann was stumbled across by accident (or maybe I should use the word desperation), and was really helping before the aforementioned happy accident of the elk liver tipped the scales in turning Natty into the organ loving dog she is today: Apple cider vinegar (or ACV for short). I was getting tired of the tough love approach, which always worked but meant her missing a meal practically once a week. Doing “tough love” with two other dogs around who would gladly eat what she wouldn’t was getting tedious, and since I think that most meals should come off the bone, mixing-with-another-meal-item choices were limited. I had tried feeding amounts of organs mixed with ground muscle meat, but she still wasn’t a fan. Even chicken livers slathered in green tripe resulted in licked-clean livers sitting in the bottom of the bowl. I resorted to trying all sorts of things, but it was the day I splashed a tablespoon or so of ACV on her pork kidneys that she took a sniff and then………… ATE THEM!!! Apple cider vinegar is touted by many to be a panacea, and it does indeed have many uses.  Even the biggest natural healthcare skeptics will admit to that. It comes in a processed pasteurized version made by big names like Heinz and found on every grocery store shelf, but I’ll add here that the best ACVs are the non-filtered, non-pasteurized products from companies like Bragg and Spectrum, which are also widely available. The presence of the “mother” (funny term — it’s a blend of a special bacteria and chains of cellulose) is a bonus. (But I digress. For more on ACV, a great read is an article from The Whole Dog Journal by CJ Puotinen available online entitled The Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar).

Armed with these tips and tricks, hopefully organ-y goodness without the frustration can come to every household! The Pack Lunch community would love to hear success stories past or future, please feel free to share in the comments section! Stories that are yet to have happy endings are welcome, too, of course. Let’s work this out together.


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Hunger Pukes

If you’ve experienced it in one of your dogs, you know just what this is: Your dog is probably acting totally normal — chilling on the couch, doing a happy-dance waiting for food to be put down, or even snoozing as far as you know — when all of a sudden (or preluded by an uuuurka….guuuurka…..YACK!!!  Out comes a some frothy yellow or brownish liquid, then it’s some lip-licking and back to business as usual. Unlike other kinds of vomiting, there’s usually no attempt to eat it again, usually no interest in it at all. It’s icky. It’s out. That’s good! This phenomenon is termed many things including “hunger pukes”, “bile vomit”, and — my favorite — “the urka gurkas”.

While really it’s just the sign of a healthy body doing what it needs to do to stay healthy, it’s not to be considered “normal” and it is something you should try to remedy. If you take the issue to many vets — depending on the vet — the proposed solution could be anything from feeding more often to a prescription for antacids. Of course the Pack Lunch approach to things is a look to the dog’s physiology, and then to draw a natural conclusion leading to a common sense solution — one that doesn’t mask the problem.

The fluid that comes up is stomach juices. (It’s not actually bile, as it is commonly attributed to. Bile is an alkaline fluid produced in the liver and stored in the gall bladder, which is released into the first part of the intestine as part of digestion. It is green in color.) Stomach fluids are a mix of acids, enzymes, and hormones, among other things.

It is helpful to be reminded when addressing this issue that dogs, as carnivores, have a different digestive process than humans do. A human is an omnivore who was ‘designed’ as a hunter-gatherer. As such it is necessary for a human to be ready to eat pretty much anything that comes along. The human’s digestive system is in a perpetual state of being prepared for a snack or meal, which includes digestive juices at the ready. The human body functions best if it is provided with several relatively small meals per day. Dogs, on the other hand, are descended from the same animals as modern-day wolves, and though the routine that surrounds eating has changed quite a lot with domesticity, the need (or lack of) for their physiology to change hasn’t resulted in differences to the digestive system. (Though this fact is argued, the very phenomenon of regurgitating stomach acids in and of itself is evidence of this!) Evolution based on change favoring those who adapt takes a very very very long time. Who knows? Perhaps it’s in the works, so to speak, but we’re not there yet.

A wolf’s meal starts with the hunt. Though wolves will scavenge in lean times, freshly killed animals are the ‘norm’ for healthy wolves in a supportive environment. As anyone who has exercised on a full stomach or a lot of water can imagine, trying to chase down and kill an animal like a deer with a bunch of digestive juices sloshing around in your stomach just isn’t conducive to one’s best efforts. When you have to chase down your food and eat your fill at the kill, substantial meals only happen once every few days, if that. Even small meals (like rodents) take effort. Having your stomach ‘primed’ with juices like a human is also just a waste of bodily resources. As nature works, what doesn’t make sense generally doesn’t happen, and our “kitchen wolves” still have bodies used to having to work for their food.

The hunt has been largely or entirely removed from our kitchen wolves’ eating routine, but they still need a trigger for the stomach to get ready for incoming food. Depending on diet and routine this can be a combination of many different things. It’s in these triggers that lies the explanation of (and solution to) the phenomenon of dogs who “yack” up stomach fluids, including those who start when being switched from a processed diet to a raw diet.

Urka-Gurka-GACK! The phenomenon of regurgitating fluid (image: "Get Fuzzy" June 23, 2002

We all know that even though dogs don’t wear watches (unless he’s Satchel from my favorite comic, Get Fuzzy) they have the seemingly uncanny ability to tell time according to the clock. Perhaps it’s breakfast in the morning after the alarm goes off, or knowing that the car in the driveway after work means dinner is coming. Many dogs who get fed on a strict schedule (kibble, raw, or otherwise) will rely on their internal clock to start producing and sending those “food is coming” juices to the right places. For others, that trigger may be starting to eat a meal. Whatever the signal, the body dumps digestive juices into the stomach in preparation for what’s coming. When the food arrives it’s all taken care of.

But what happens if the body gets ready but food doesn’t come?

This is the matter at hand with a dog who gets the “urka-gurkas”: The body is ready for food, but none arrives. The stomach fluid sits in the gut and its acidic nature is irritating when not neutralized by food. At some point the body figures it’s unnecessarily there and it simply gets the old heave-ho treatment — hopefully not on the couch! This can happen any time the stomach is full of juices, but not food.

When considering the dog who is currently going through a transition to a raw diet from a processed one — especially one that contained grains — there can also be the consideration of the reconditioning of the digestive tract and the body getting used to “real food”. Processed food like kibble makes demands and offers concessions to the system that raw food does not, so the dog getting used to a raw diet may need to be allowed some catch-up time. In this case, the matter should clear up on its own. One thing that can help with the “urka-gurka” phenomenon in a dog fed any diet, is to break the chain of expectation by breaking up the schedule a bit, even if it’s by 30 minutes or on the other side of a routine once in a while, e.g., before the people eat dinner one day, after the next.

Though a transition period that includes some regurgitation of stomach acids is an unpleasant fact of life for some dogs when switching to a raw diet, one of the many many benefits of feeding a species appropriate diet (raw) to a dog over time is that many of the general issues leading to the urka-gurka phenomenon are absent. These include efficient digestion, natural moisture content, and meals that take more time and effort to eat, therefore giving the body plenty of time to prepare.

FYI, the wall clock pictured above is available for purchase thru Anika’s Society6 page. Pack Lunch is 100% funded out of my pocket, and every sale on S6 helps me put a little cash back in that pocket. Thanks!



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