Category Archives: Food, Feeding, and the ‘Prey Model’

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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No Bones About It: Calcium From Eggshell?

Here on Pack Lunch we’ve talked about bones quite a bit. (Notably in the article Terminology: Raw Meaty Bone.) There’s a reason: Bones are integral in a raw diet. This goes both for bones that are actually eaten and bones that are not. A lot of folks out there don’t want to feed bones or feel they can’t feed bones, though. Often the recommendation for these people is to use eggshell “for calcium”. Eggshell is cheap and easy to source, and there’s no argument that eggshell has calcium. In fact, eggshells (all “eggshell” referred to here are bird eggs — chicken eggs are, of course, the most familiar and common eggs) are almost all calcium — upwards of 95%! The rest is another form of calcium (calcium phosphate), magnesium carbonate (a form of magnesium that has low bioavailability), and some really minute amounts of other stuff. (cite 1) Following is a discussion on using eggshell in place of bone. Note that this does not apply to feeding whole eggs with the shells on them, or even using eggshell is a super-temporary substitute. This is about the idea that you can just replace bone with eggshell, and why you might not actually want to do that.


First and foremost to consider is why you’re not going to feed bone. Bone is the best source of calcium for a carnivore of the type that dogs, cats, and ferrets are. It’s the only thing you can feed without getting math and biochemistry involved in your meal planning. Feeding bones is also a really important part of food and eating for carnivores. Aside from just the nutrition factor, pulling the meat from bones and eating bone-in items is needed physically to keep teeth and gums toned and to regulate and stimulate digestion. Eating meals with bones also provides mental stimulation and exercise for other muscle groups. Working on a nice big raw meaty bone is isometric exercise for the whole body. The importance of bone can’t be overstated. If you have a healthy companion carnivore you really should feed raw bones as part of their diet for many reasons. Even pets with limited abilities (e.g., damaged or missing teeth) really should be working on and eating meaty bones. Most people would be really surprised at what a dog with even no teeth can accomplish! That’s a discussion for another day, though. My main point here is that if it’s you as the meal provider that is not comfortable with raw bones, then there’s no time like the present to overcome that discomfort and learn that bones aren’t really optional.

That said, if you want to use eggshell then you must take into consideration the following: Eggshell is 95%-99% (depends on who you ask and presumably the bird and egg laid) of a type of calcium called calcium carbonate. (Calcium doesn’t really exist in nature alone. It’s always bound up in different compounds, of which there are many.)  The calcium in bone is within a crystalline structure called hydroxyapatite. Additionally, this substance in bone “only” makes up like 65% of the overall bone. Bone also contains organic material — namely lots of collagen —  and even water! (cite 2) Trying to figure out how much actual calcium is released for use in the body and how efficiently from eggshell vs. from bone is a problem so complex I think it’s safe to say no one’s really ever worked just that one part out. I’m sure there have been feeding trials performed where calcium carbonate is part of a food formula that’s being tested, but that’s just one part of a big whole. There are too many factors to consider for there to be just a formula for subbing amounts of calcium carbonate for hydroxyapatite (or calcium phosphate or calcium lactate or calcium citrate or calcium gluconate). If there is some table that’s been produced for this purpose I’d be very wary and wanting to know how the source came up with the calculation!

We could probably argue the benefit (or lack-of) from powdered eggshell calcium ’til the cows come home. Some say it’s great, a few say it’s not, though most sources agree that it’s pretty easily assimilated by the canine (and human) body. Whether that high ‘usability’ is good or bad is the point, though. Here’s where I really take issue with the whole eggshell thing: Just because powdered eggshell calcium is highly “usable” in the body doesn’t make it a good idea. More isn’t better. You can’t one-up nature by eliminating edible bone and replacing it with a form of calcium that’s has a higher bioavailabilty than a dog’s natural time-tested source and call it a day. Even if a person were to figure out exactly how much calcium carbonate to use in place of bone, there’s the issue of what replaces all the other stuff in bone in the diet/lifestyle, nevermind achieving a good balance of all the co-factors that need to work together to put calcium to use in the body. Most dog people are familiar with the importance of the calcium : phosphorus ratio, but how many of those people are equally as diligent about magnesium and vitamin D balances? You can’t use calcium right without those in the right amounts, too. I’ll note here that nutrition is way more complex than matching up, say, the NRC or AAFCO established requirements for a nutrient with the same amount of said nutrient. Nutrient synergy is way too complex to reduce it all to a catch-all mathematical formula.

Proponents of eggshell calcium use/supplementation point out that the body will “get rid of” excess calcium so you don’t really have to worry about it — just feed “enough”. While it’s very true that the body is very good at maintaining homeostasis including the “right” level of calcium in the cells and blood given what it has to work with (i.e., what’s eaten), I think it’s worth considering what pressures and imbalances on and in the body that dealing with excess creates. Kidney stones are only one associated problem with the intake of calcium carbonate in excess of calcium demands. Another issue is that calcium carbonate dissolves in acid, and weakens the strength of stomach acids that are crucial for proper digestion. (TUMS™ antacid tablets are calcium carbonate.) These things might not actually turn up as problems for a long time, but once you get on that roller coaster it’s hard to get off.

In conclusion, since there’s no “easy” answer, it’s my thought that sticking with the tried-and-true methods established and perpetuated in nature (eating bones) is a preferable bet to mucking with such a questionable substitute (powdered eggshell).

Website citations (please forgive the unorthodox method of citing these references):
*** Please note a lot of the info contained on this webpage actually come from secondary sources cited through that page

Here’s a few webpage links that contain information that’s relevant, though not directly (in no particular order):


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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 diminishment 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.

Like the “Because Science….. Diet” image? It’s available printed on a variety of items including fine-art prints, canvases, tote-bags, mugs, shirts, and much more! Visit my Society6 page for purchases and to see more items! Thanks!


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Microwaves and “Oops, I Forgot To Thaw Dinner”

I can sum this up in one sentence word: DON’T. Just don’t. Don’t ever ever ever use a microwave to thaw your pet’s food if it contains bone — ground or otherwise. It doesn’t matter how “careful” you are or what kind of fancy defrost function the guy at the microwave store told you about when you bought it. DO NOT EVER THAW FOOD CONTAINING BONE IN THE MICROWAVE. Are we clear? Good. Now, this wouldn’t be a Pack Lunch article unless I told you  how I arrived at the above warning, why you should heed it, and what you can do instead. There’s the added bonus of a fun video if you keep reading.

No microwave wolf --

I’m sure you’ve heard from the detractors of microwaves. There’s plenty of information circulating online that speak to microwave ovens altering the molecular structure of food and destroying nutritive value. You’ve seen that story about the little girl whose science fair project ‘proved’ that microwaved water kills living plants. (Probably not accurate.) My warning against defrosting raw dog food with a microwave has nothing to do with denaturing protein or any other arguable attributes of microwaves, but the fact of the way in which microwave ovens work. Choose to use one for reheating leftovers and cooking potatoes (my two favorite microwave functions), but don’t thaw bone-in pet food in one.

We all know that cooked bone is a big no-no, but that raw bone is safe. Why is that? Raw bone is “safe”, because of its moisture content. The collagen and connective tissue are unaltered and lend a sort of flexibility to bone tissue, which, I’ll add is a living tissue in a live animal just as much as muscle or organ. Digestive juices can go to work on raw bone, breaking it down as it passes through the digestive tract. Sharper pokier bits of raw bone are rendered relatively harmless to a dog or cat’s insides — even ones that would look kind of scary if you could see them. Cooked bone on the other hand, is dry and the structure is changed. The water cooks out, fats break down, and the mineral matrix that bones are made out of becomes very brittle. The digestive process doesn’t work to dull edges and break down the bone itself because what’s left is more or less inert (can’t be changed). When cooked bone is crushed by the jaws or cracked in between teeth, the resulting pieces can be very sharp and are capable of lacerating the soft tissues of the mouth and digestive tract. Cooked or dried bone shards can build up and create blockages and impactions in the gut, too.

What about ground bone? Pre-made raw diets are all the rage and make raw feeding accessible for people who feel that certain aspects of raw feeding are inconvenient, scary, and/or gross. (I don’t happen to see that point, but that’s another article.) Even if the bone is ground up, you still need to feed it raw — not cooked — for the same reasons you wouldn’t feed cooked whole bones. When raw bone is ground, it’s not reduced to a powder, just very small pieces. If these pieces get cooked they’re essentially being made into little itty bitty razor blades. Have you ever used a ceramic knife? Seems a poor replacement for steel ’til you use one. They’re deadly sharp.

So we’ve established that cooked bone is bad. Back to the microwave. I’ve understood that microwaves were bad for thawing food for a long time. I kinda knew why, but most articles that are more than baseless propaganda sound like this, “…there are several microwaves interfering with each other, meaning the resulting electric field at that point is the sum of their respective electric fields….” (source*SNORE* I’m no dummy and I know you’re not, either, but all the technical mumbo-jumbo has never really illustrated what is really wrong (or right) with microwave ovens.

I had a “lightbulb moment” watching this fun little video. It came out at Easter time, and I watched it more because I’d just learned that my brother-in-law hates Peeps with a passion most people reserve for spiders and politicians than because I thought it was going to be enlightening. The whole video is fun and worth watching, but if you want to skip to the part that I think is significant skip to 2:30. OK, watch the video, then we’ll talk more:

So…? Yeah…..? Did you get out of that what I did? Crazy, huh? (If not, then think about the soft spots in the dish of Peeps and think about that being bone-in meat instead. In place of gushy marshmallow you’ve got cooked spots of bone! Very basically, the microwave oven heats spots of food and relies on the heated spots radiating outwards to cook (or thaw) food.) For me that was the missing conceptual link as to why microwaves are bad news for defrosting bone-in food, and kinda suck for thawing in general.) No matter how many work-arounds microwave oven manufacturers build in, it always goes back to this basic concept. No matter how you present the mechanics or tweak it with oven functions, it means the potential for cooked bits of bone is always there. This might not be a huge problem if you do this only once in a blue moon, but for those folks who might be serving microwave defrosted bone-in meats often, the risk is very high. Why take the risk at all now that it’s a solid fact in your brain and not just a rumor?

That still leaves what you can do if you’ve got hungry dogs staring at you and a hunk of bone-in meat that’s frozen solid. It happens to us all.

  • Feed frozen: Admittedly that probably isn’t the most helpful suggestion, but it is a possibility, and some folks don’t realize that it’s OK to feed frozen items. The only case in which this isn’t a great idea is if you’re feeding a very small dog, or one that might be suffering health issues. Feeding frozen food can actually bring down internal temperature, forcing the body to spend energy on digestion as well as temperature regulation which can be stressful, especially in very small or sick animals. Most dogs love the challenge of a frozen meal, but not all do. Dogs who are particularly averse should be checked for possible dental issues, though it could just be a preference.
  • Running water/water bath: Run the tap with cold or lukewarm water over the food. (Hot water isn’t necessary.) You’ll be surprised how much faster this thaws meat than just leaving it out or thawing in the fridge. If it’s not wrapped in a water-tight way already, stick it in a plastic bag. You don’t want the natural juices washing away and the meat soaking up tap water. Pro Tip: Make sure any loose wrapping or things in the sink aren’t plugging the drain. Even if you’re pretty certain you’re OK, check on it regularly, and if you hear water pouring onto the floor from another room don’t ignore it. You can also use a sink or bowl full of water. It won’t do the job as fast, but it’s not such a big waste of water, and the flood risk is greatly reduced.
  • Have alternatives on hand: I always try to have both cans of fish (no-salt-added water packed sardines are good) in the pantry and eggs in the ‘fridge. In a pinch being able to feed a meal (or at least a snack) of fish and/or eggs can save you the hassle of dogs who are expecting a meal, and are perfectly healthy items to feed. (Beats feeding the dog your $20 beef tenderloin steak because the only other thing you have is a 40-pound chunk of frozen-together chicken!)

Hopefully this sheds some light on the subject and that funny Peeps video drives home the point for you like it did for me. (Thanks to NPR’s Skunk Bear tumblr for the video!) If you think I’m off base here or have any other suggestions for “Ooops, I forgot to thaw dinner” days, leave them in the comments or come over to the FB page.


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Gone Fishin’

Variety is the ‘spice of life’ and a a great way to ensure a well-rounded diet for raw fed pets. Different animals, different parts of animals, and different ways of raising livestock (or the lifestyle of wild game) result in different nutrient profiles. What about fish? Fish can be a great addition to a raw diet, but it does have some unique considerations and concerns.

Gone Fishin' -- Dog eats salmon head


Most of us have heard of Omega-3 EFAs, even if it’s just from the press they get on the covers of magazines in the check-out aisle and those ‘health’ segments on your local news report. Omega-3 fatty acids belong to the classification of “Essential Fatty Acids” (EFAs) along with Omega-6’s. They are polyunsaturated fats that humans and other mammals cannot synthesize and have to get from nutritional sources (thus the ‘essential’ part of the title). They are very important to health and body functions.

When it comes to the EFAs it’s not only about sheer amounts, but about the ratio of one to the other. There’s a pretty wide discrepancy of what is thought to be the ideal ratio, with amounts recommended by pet food manufacturers of O-6:O-3 ranging anywhere from 10:1 to 3:1. (I think this variance comes from what ‘they’ can get away with when it comes to a shelf-stable commercially prepared pet food, not so much what the actual requirement is.) When you examine ancestral diets the ratio is pretty close to 1:1, and aiming for as balanced a ratio as possible is important. Currently, the average human diet in North America is between to 10:1 and 30:1 (source), and commercially produced pet food diets that include grains and vegetable oils would have a similar profile. The way to accomplish a balancing of omega EFAs is to decrease the amounts of O-6’s while increasing the amount of O-3’s in the diet. Simply switching from a processed diet that includes grains and/or plant oil (like kibble) to a raw diet of meats, bones, and organs takes care of the first thing, and including bioavailable sources of O-3s (like fish  and fish oil, not things like flax or chia which can’t be broken down and used the same way in the canine or feline body) is the key to the second.

The insanely high ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 EFAs comes from the fact that our society relies heavily on plant-based oils, which are sources of high amounts of O-6, but contain virtually no O-3. We eat a lot of plant oils and feed them directly to our pets in commercial pet foods. We also feed our livestock grains instead of allowing them to naturally graze in pastures. When a cow, chicken, or any other animal, is fed an unnatural diet high in grains and soy (as most of the meat you’ll find at the grocery store is), the O-6 to O-3 ratio of their meat accordingly skyrockets to as high as 13 : 1 (source).  As you can deduce, if our pets are eating a species-appropriate diet but the animals they are eating are not, it creates an imbalance of nutrients. We are what we eat! Enter fish and fish oil supplements.


Not every fish is created equally, nutritionally speaking. Fatty fishes that come from cold northern waters like herring, mackerel, and sardines are great for their high O-3 EFA content. Salmon and trout are also great. This is not to say that other fish are of no value, but most people who choose make fish part of their dog or cat’s diet are looking for that O-3 boost.

Gone Fishin': Wild Salmon score


An observation among my dogs and anecdotally from others is that not only are fish like sardines, salmon, and trout better for them nutritionally, they’re the only fish that they really like. In my raw feeding tenure I have tried out a variety of fresh water fish as well as ocean fish from more temperate habitats in addition to the cold-water fishes. Even my most eager eater wouldn’t touch smelt or tilapia, (this was before I learned how gross tilapia is — Storm was smarter than me). I got halibut trim once, and the aftermath of 3 dogs vomiting up partially digested fish all over the yard in the summertime is something I will never forget! [New content alert: Please see update at the end of the article regarding fish and warm weather, and something I learned recently that could affect you!] In online forums I’ve noticed the trend of people trying to force fish and other “exotic” meats on their dogs just achieve more variety. My two cents is that it’s just not worth it for food items that aren’t crucial to health. A little Pack Lunch heads-up: Save your money and prevent exasperation. Do not buy large amounts of any new fish unless your dog has already shown a great love of all things fishy. Even if it’s on sale you’re just setting yourself up for having to throw out food or have a bag of little smelts looking at you thru their zip-seal bag week after week after week….

If you look at the ancestral diet of dogs via that of their ‘living ancestor’, the wolf, you’ll find that they do feed on fish. Notable are the fishing habits of coastal wolves in the Pacific Northwest. According to a great documentary I watched about the wolves of the Rain Coast in British Columbia, Canada (link), during the weeks that the salmon return to the shallow waters of their birth to spawn a great feast is provided for the wolves (and other animals) of the area. The wolves spend large amounts of time fishing and eating the dying salmon who’ve journeyed to their spawning grounds to reproduce then die, as is their life cycle. One neat thing the documentary points out is that the wolves mostly eat the heads of the fish, leaving the bodies for bears and other animals who are part of the cycle of life that includes the spawning salmon as a food source. The high fat content gives the animals who eat them a great boost for the tough winter months to follow. Why would it be that the wolves only eat the heads? No one can say for sure, but it is thought that because the heads are specifically rich and nutritious they are favored, or, perhaps the wolves do it out of an innate sense that the body could be harmful to them, which is one concern we as pet owners should be mindful of, too.

“Salmon Poisoning” is the common name of a potentially deadly infection that affects canine species through eating fish and amphibians from the Pacific Northwest — namely salmon and trout — whose muscle tissue is infected by a certain fluke (a parasitic flatworm) via a species of snail. When a dog (or other canid) eats an infected fish, they ingest the flukes, which then attach to their digestive tract and release a certain species of rickettsia (similar to bacteria) which make the dog very sick and usually leads to death within a week if not caught early and treated. (source) Humans and cats and other mammals can become hosts for the fluke, but don’t get sick from the rickettsia like dogs do. (source) There is only one absolutely-sure (realistic) way to ensure that salmonids from the PNW that you’re thinking of feeding are rendered incapable of transmitting these nasties, and that’s cooking to a certain temperature. Of course, cooked fish aren’t raw. We know that cooking denatures a lot of nutrients, and O-3’s are subject to being altered by heat. Is there an alternative?

I’ve heard varying theories on whether home freezing (as opposed to commercial flash and deep freezing) can effectively reduce or eliminate the risk of contracting salmon poisoning from infected fish. Many sources say freezing solid for at least 24 hours is sufficient to kill the parasite. (Such as this one.) Common knowledge passed around online raw-feeding communities and forums dictates a month of freezing for any wild game and fish for mitigating parasitical infection. If you do decide to rely on home freezing for salmon poisoning prevention, make sure you’re keeping your freezer cold enough (I’d use a separate thermometer inside the freezer) and that you start timing after the fish is frozen solid, not from the time you put it in the freezer. I, personally, am confident enough that commercial flash freezing can eliminate the risk, and do feed raw PNW salmon without freezing again at home. Even “fresh” salmon in most stores has been flash-frozen before it’s thawed again and sold as fresh (often several times). That said, there was a dog owner who posted on one of my dog related forums a couple years ago who is certain that her dog contracted salmon poisoning and died from raw salmon purchased at Whole Foods store in Arizona. Conversely, I have heard from people living in Alaska that they have been feeding fresh salmon for years without incident. A main thing to keep in mind is that the only fish that can transmit infection are those who are infected. Not all fish from the waters of the Pacific Northwest are infected. Risk assessment is important, especially if, say, PNW salmon is the most available, affordable, and/or well-liked item you have available to you. Your decision should be based on how well you understand your supply, and what risks you are willing to take. From what I understand if caught early enough a dog infected with salmon poisoning can be saved, but time is of the essence.

Unfortunately we have made such a mess of our oceans and other waters that contamination is probably the biggest health issue with feeding fish. PCBs, mercury and other heavy metals build up in the fat, bones, and other tissues of the fish we eat, and in turn these harmful things build up in our own tissues. Because of a process called ‘biomagnification‘, the tissues of predatory fish at the top of the food chain like tuna and mackerel can be chock full of toxins, and to a point it could be dangerous for people or animals to eat them on a regular basis. It’s recommended that humans don’t eat more than one tuna sandwich a week (and that pregnant women don’t eat it at all) to avoid dangerous levels of mercury and other things. Dogs aren’t exempt from this kind of threat just because they’ll drink out of puddles and lick their own butts without getting sick. They’re generally smaller than us which arguably makes them more susceptible to dangerous toxin loads coming from their food and environment. Keep in mind toxins like heavy metals and PCBs can’t be denatured by cooking or processing. The good thing (if there can be a ‘silver lining’ to poisoned lakes and oceans) is that the high O-3 fish tend to be small, fast growing ones who are unlikely to have much toxic build-up. Be aware of where your fish is coming from, how it’s handled, and any localized contamination issues in the waters they come from. Farmed fish isn’t necessarily better — in fact often times farmed fish is less healthy and less safe — so don’t assume that because fish was farmed that you’re in the clear. [New content alert! A recent potential threat to the food-fish supply has been recognized: Contamination with radioactive materials following the Fukushima disaster in Japan. More on that at the end of the article.]

There are many fish species that are raised in “farms” for human consumption. Techniques vary. A very limited few are in theory OK for the environment and produce healthy nutritious fish. Most do not, and this includes the American salmon farming industry as well as other domestic efforts and overseas operations. I won’t delve too deeply into the issues surrounding farmed salmon, as it is a complex issue with much information available online, but I will take the space here to mention that the salmon farming industry is harmful to the environment (including native wild populations of salmon), the economies of fishing communities, and does not produce a healthy product. When you see a product labeled “Atlantic Salmon” you can be almost sure that it is the product of a salmon farming operation, as native populations of salmon that use the Atlantic for spawning are critically endangered and are simply not available for commercial sale.

Salmon farming relies heavily on the use of antibiotics, and does not prevent fish from having dangerous buildups of chemicals and other toxins in their bodies. Quite the opposite, in fact. Farmed salmon is found to have HIGHER levels of PCBs, heavy metals, and organic pollutants. They also have lower levels of certain nutrients like vitamins A and D, and though the O-3 levels can be higher on paper, they type of O-3 is not as useful as the ones from wild salmon. This is due to the artificial diets being fed to them in their contained area. What’s in ‘fish food’ for farmed salmon? You guessed it — unnatural plant-based ingredients like corn and soy. Fish kibble. (source) It also contains colorants to give the farmed salmon it’s salmon-color. Without these ingredients, due to confinement and unnatural diet farmed salmon would be greyish, like the flesh of other species of fish. You’ll find arguments to all these points on the world wide web. When doing your own research be aware, and always “follow the money”. If you find an article saying farmed salmon is actually fine, who has done the research and disseminated this information? Likely a salmon farming interest.

What about canned fish? Canned fish can be a great thing to have on-hand for a variety of situations. The process of canning any food includes heating, so canned fish is cooked, no matter how you look at it. For reasons mentioned above, I wouldn’t feed canned tuna at all, but canned salmon, sardines, and mackerel (cold water fish) are widely available and still contain O-3s and other beneficial nutrients, albeit not in as high amounts as in raw fish. The undeniable benefit of canned fish is that it’s shelf stable and is unparalleled when it comes to the inevitable evenings when you get home from work and realize you totally forgot to pick something up for the pets and the only food you have in the freezer are 30 pound chunks of meat you got from your buyer’s group or a pack of $20 tenderloin steaks you were saving for a human special occasion! I look for sales and stock up on canned salmon to have for just those occasions.

You have to be careful when purchasing canned fish. Some is packed in water, some in oil, and some in sauces like tomato or chili. When buying pet food always buy WATER packed fish. The most common oil to pack fish in is soybean or sometimes olive, and this is not only unhealthy (and totally negates any O-3 benefits), but will most likely result gastric distress on some level — loose stools if you’re lucky and, well, I’ll leave the unlucky end of the spectrum up to your imagination. Even water packed fish will probably contain salt, so most raw feeders choose to drain the liquid from the can before serving.


What better way to ensure you know the source of the food you eat and feed your pets than to go direct to the source? Many raw feeders share their hunted wild game with their pets (or even hunt for them), or network with other who hunt to provide wild animals for food. Fish you catch can be a great addition to your pet’s diet, especially if they like it! When it comes to toxins and pollutants it’s good to be aware of what you’re fishing for and the status of the species and the waters you’re fishing, just as you would if you were going to eat the fish yourself. Of course it goes without saying that adhering to fish and wildlife management laws that govern the waters should be observed. If you will be feeding fish raw, be aware of any parasites that may pose a hazard in raw flesh, and how to go about cleaning/preparing fish to minimize risk of illness or infection. The freezing recommendation as that applied to ‘salmon poisoning’ is also relevant to other parasitical species that may be found in fish you catch. Also remember that wild fish may have ingested objects that could pose a threat (fishing line, weights, and garbage), and do a check for hooks and lures that may have become imbedded in the flesh of “the one that got away” from fishermen before you.

Happy fishing, whether it’s at your local grocery store or fish market, or donning the doggie life-jackets and trying to actually catch some fish at the lake this summer.


They say you learn something new everyday, and I’m reminded often that it’s true! In this case I learned about something called scombroid poisoning and its relationship to eating fish meals in warm weather. As mentioned above, I had a horrific experience once with feeding fish in the summertime, and looking back on it, I bet it was this. It’s not life threatening and self-limiting in a healthy individual, but not a desirable condition for sure. The fascinating thing about scombroid poisoning is that it’s not induced by bacteria, virus, or protozoa — as most cases of food poisoning are — so those of us who have been known to say, “well, it’s a bit off, but a little bacteria’s no biggie” are not covered by faith in our dogs’ strong immune systems. In this case, illness is caused by the natural presence of histidine in certain types of fish being converted to histamine when the temp of the fish goes above only 16°C (60°F) and is exposed to air. Histamine is a term most of us already associate with allergic reactions, and leads to the symptoms of scombroid poisoning, which is a lot like an allergic reaction. I’ll leave it up to you to read up more on scombroid poisoning, as I’m no expert myself. What I do know is that I’ll be a little more careful about warm-weather raw fish meals from now on!


It has recently come to my attention that there is a newer threat to the safety of our food supply following the Fukushima disaster in Japan in March of 2011, that being the release of radioactive compounds into fishing waters potentially affecting even the small, previously  “safe” species of fish, notably sardines. High levels of strontium and/or cesium are being found in fish and other marine plants and animals not only in Japanese waters, but much further away. The likely effect on those who eat these contaminated foods is being widely argued, but it’s something to be aware of and yet another decision to weigh when sourcing meals. The following links are a couple starters for doing your own research:

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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 just a choking hazard for an 80-pound Rottweiler, not an RMB.

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 inviting 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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Terminology: The ‘Prey Model’

The term “prey model” gets thrown around a lot in circles that discuss raw feeding. It is used to describe and differentiate between the different methods of formulating a raw diet. It means different things to different people. Some like the term “prey model”, others do not. I am of the former camp. I think it is possibly the best descriptive term to apply to a proper raw diet, and in those two little words are a frequent reminder not to get lost in the details and provide just what our domestic carnivores need.

Terminology: The Prey Model (photo: Meridian and deer)

I’m not sure where exactly the use of the term “prey model” originated, but it gained popularity among users of an online community that I’m sure can boast being the largest and oldest still-functioning raw feeding discussion group. The term has spread to other online communities, and it is very common to hear ‘prey model’ when the subject of raw feeding comes up. The reason for its popularity, I believe, has to do with the fact that it describes exactly how one needs to formulate a raw diet. It can seem like a daunting task, especially for newcomers to the idea. It describes a “bare bones” approach – pardon the pun – and is used to differentiate this simply formulated, simply fed diet from more complicated home-prepared diets and commercially produced diets. Some attribute the term to Dr. Tom Lonsdale, or at least the style of feeding he promotes. In actuality, Dr. Lonsdale is not actually a fan of the term, but from what I can gather, it is because he feels that the term is unnecessarily limiting and discourages perfectly adequate feeding of raw diets that do not strictly conform to a “prey model” approach by his definitions. (See the discussion he has made available on his website here: Interestingly enough, his reasons for not supporting the term is exactly why I think it’s great, and feel the need to clear up the way it’s interpreted and used some 10 years after the exchange from the link took place. Dr. Lonsdale’s exchange seems to me to be a discussion of semantics more than the intention of the term. What I like in the term prey MODEL, is that by using the word “model” we know that we have a suggested framework, not a set of absolute rules.

The commonly held antithesis of the ‘prey model’ approach is ever so attractively termed “BARF”, which stands for either “biologically appropriate raw food” or sometimes “bones and raw food” depending on who you ask. This term is attributed to Australian veterinarian and early champion of raw food awareness, Ian Billinghurst. If you follow his work (several published books and an internet presence), you’ll see his approach change over time, from a diet plan very much along the lines of what most consider “prey model” now, to one that includes a lot of ground veggies, fruit, herbs, flax seeds, and things like yogurt in a ground form. He even sells this food construct as frozen patties thru his website, BARFWorld. The “extras” content is what a lot of people use to distinguish a “prey model” approach from a “BARF” approach to raw feeding, though that’s not the end of it. I feel the term “BARF” is pretty outmoded these days, and I also strenuously object to any diet plan that comes in a ground or highly processed form without emphasis on the need for whole parts and pieces. Therefore that’s about all I’m going to say on that!

Terminology: The Prey Model (image: Meridian eats deer RMB)

Roughly 15,000 years ago (or as little as 8,000 and as much as 32,000 according to some sources) the domestication of the wolf resulting in today’s dogs began. Modern scientists attribute the domestication of the cat to the ancient Egyptians about 10,000 years ago. Domesticity and all that comes with it has changed for humans and our pets over those thousands of years. For most households with dogs and cats nowadays, if done at all hunting is a seasonal activity for partial subsistence or sport and is not a regular requirement for basic sustenance. The process doesn’t necessarily even include the pets! Thus the need to formulate pet diets using the natural diet as a model rather than a reality:  The impracticality of providing whole prey and the space to eat it in our modern homes.


The prey model is exactly as it sounds. It is the practice of looking to the physiological make-up of a natural prey animal, and the observed eating patterns of those animals by wolves (our dogs’ living ancestors) or wild cats or other predatory carnivores, for a “recipe” that we can use to practically feed our domesticated companions. (I will also take this opportunity to point out that ALL domestic animals and livestock can benefit from their own version of species-appropriate feeding, from fish to guinea pigs to chickens to horses. Seems there’s a “kibble” for every species these days!)

The idea behind the prey model is that nature has everything figured out, more or less. All we have to do is follow that plan to keep our kitchen-wolves and wildcats happy and healthy. There is one axiom a pet owner must accept before deciding that this is the correct approach: Our domestic carnivores are just that — carnivores. Whether “obligate” like cats and ferrets or more “opportunistic” like dogs, they have the digestive process and physiology of an animal that best derives sustenance from eating other animals. This, in my opinion, is more than easily acceptable fact, with proof coming from everywhere from scientific journals to simply taking a look at the dog or cat sitting by your feet as you read this.

Sourcing appropriate and practical parts, pieces, chunks, and smaller “whole prey” animals that fit into your lifestyle can be done in a variety of ways. Some raw feeders use only the meat section of their usual grocery store or butcher. Others hunt and/or fish, or connect with outdoorsmen or guides to acquire deer, fowl, fish, and other appropriate wild game. Raw feeders in more population-dense areas have formed co-ops and buyers groups which welcome new members. Restaurant suppliers and wholesalers will often deal with individuals willing to purchase in relative volume to save money. Some pet supply stores and boutiques meet the needs of raw feeders, and make available not only frozen ground food, but meaty bones and small whole prey.


Of course to model a diet off a natural prey animal, one must know what one is and what one consists of, and in what proportion. First-hand experience with dressing and butchering animals for meat is not a skill most of us grow up with, though having had my own introduction to it as an extension of raw-feeding I do highly recommend the learning experience if you can make it happen! If that’s a little too hands-on, that’s OK, though.

Terminology: The Prey Model (image: deer from "An Atlas Of Animal Anatomy For Artists, 1956)

The paragon of the natural prey animal for dogs (of all shapes and sizes) is members of the deer family — e.g., white tailed deer, mule deer, elk, caribou, moose. (Also see P.L. article, “A Brief Look At the Prey Model, With Excerpt From Barry Lopez“). Contrary to popular belief, cats have different needs than dogs, (though both are carnivores) and their natural fare consists of frequent meals of rodents and small birds.

From the viewpoint of a predator, a member of the deer family roughly consists of about 70% – 80% meat, fat, skin, fascia, and connective tissue; 10% – 15% edible bone, ligaments, and tendons; and 10% – 15% certain internal organs and glands. The stomach, intestines, and lungs of a prey animal are physically large, but not observed to be choice food for wild canids and are usually considered by raw feeders as “sometimes food” and part of the general “meat” allotment — if fed at all — rather than that of the vitamin-rich internal organs — the dark red squishy or really fatty ones. Of those internal organs the liver is the biggest, with the kidneys following that. (For more see P.L. article, “What Is Classified As Organ?“). While an ideal diet would include a representation of even the smallest glands, a perfectly good diet can be fed that does not, though liver and arguably kidney are crucial for maintaining good health. Other natural prey like rabbits and smaller mammals have a slightly closer ratio of meat/fat to organ/bone.

Another issue when practically putting together the diet using your “prey model” is what meat to use. Unless you hunt or have hunter connections, you likely won’t be feeding actual natural prey animals. More commonly available meat comes from domestic livestock, including, beef/veal, pork, and lamb/mutton, and the less common goat, bison, and rabbit. While it is the author’s opinion that “red meat” is important to nutrition, it is perfectly viable to utilize “white meat” like chicken, turkey, quail, and other birds, as well as fish (see Gone Fishin’). Poultry is especially nice for it’s edible bone content for even the smallest dog or cat and availability at good prices. This, of course, is not an exhaustive list of possible food animals. One can make use of a variety of protein sources. The only real limitation is your own resourcefulness, and while variety is really important to cover nutritional bases, I will caution against “variety for variety’s sake. The “prey model” not only can help you determine in what ratio to feed parts, but can serve as a guide in choosing what animals to feed. For example, since we know that deer and small mammals make up the majority of a “natural” diet, it becomes obvious that feeding a diet that includes a lot of squid isn’t going to serve your “prey model” very well. No in-depth nutritional analysis needed.

One of the most vital lessons I think we can derive from looking at our “prey model” and one SO detrimentally underscored in the current raw feeding community is the importance of the non-nutritive aspects of the prey-predator relationship to food: Actually working to eat food, not just having the constituent parts cut up into “bite-sized” pieces or ground. The importance of food as an activity and ‘toothbrush’ I do not feel is an optional part of the ‘prey model’ method of feeding.


I plan on writing a separate article regarding supplementation, but feel it’s important to address the issue here, too. Pages of online communities that discuss raw food are full of suggestions to feed things like coconut oil, turmeric/golden paste, fish oil, milk kefir, yogurt, and a host of other foods as “supplements”. A “prey model” diet is not mutually exclusive of supplements, but no matter the diet choice I urge people to consider what they’re utilizing as a supplement and consider carefully what the substance is supplementING. A supplement replaces or augments a nutritional gap in the diet. Presumably from the prey model approach you have identified a missing element that you can’t source in proper amounts given the meats you have available to you, and need to go outside of more ‘natural’ meat/bone/organ sources to provide the nutrient. Fish oil is a very good example: When a diet consists of conventional (grain-fed) meat, the Omega-3 EFA content will be low, and the ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 EFA out of balance. Fish body oil (like salmon oil) is a great substance to use to add O3’s and close the gap of O3 to O6. You’re not going to see a wolf or a feral dog refining oil out of fish just to get at the O3’s, but that’s why you feed it: Your dog isn’t a wolf. It should also be noted that “supplement” is also not synonymous with “therapy” or “medication”. Natural substances that are used to heal or treat medical conditions are not “supplements”.

I hope that this article has helped to make the “what and how” behind a good raw diet more accessible.  For more practical “how-to” suggestions for getting started with feeding a raw diet please check out the links page and/or Reading and Resources article.







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Frequently Asked Questions

This is a work in progress, with questions being addressed as I am reminded of them. Please use the comments section or come over to the Pack Lunch Facebook Page and send a message or post on the wall if you have a question you’d like to see addressed here. Each question has a toggle to click and see a detailed explanation. Click again to collapse.

All these wonderful photos of attentive dogs are the contributions of a great group of fellow raw feeding folks that I have gotten to know along the way. Special thanks to them.


Isn’t feeding raw terribly expensive?


Expense is a common concern among those new to raw feeding, and can cause anxiety for the experienced raw feeder who moves to a new place or loses a valued supplier for experienced raw feeders. There is definitely a learning curve when it comes to sourcing meat for pet food. Cost is entirely dependent on what is available in your area, and/or how much work you’re willing to put into it,  e.g., Do you want everything cut into meal-size portions already or are you willing to take a whole animal and do it yourself? Acquiring a stand-alone freezer (cost can be anywhere from free thru online classifieds to about $150+ new) you can take advantage of sales, freebies, and bulk deals. Some time invested in tracking down sources and having the space to store food can make raw feeding very much cheaper than feeding commercially prepared foods! The long-term factor of healthy eating often means fewer trips to the vet over a lifetime for things like dental work and diet-related ill health or disease, too. There are many many many websites out there devoted to helping raw feeders network and find food in their area.  Check out the “Resources” heading of the PL Links page and/or Read About Raw for more.

Raw feeding sounds really complicated. Does raw feeding require advanced degrees in mathematics and science?


The beauty of the raw diet is that nature has done the number crunching for us for the most part. Some people really get into the numbers, which is fine for them, but it’s perfectly doable to feed a great diet without sweating the amounts down to the ounce, especially when you have dogs that aren’t tiny. Do you have a spreadsheet and kitchen scale to measure and qualify what you feed the human members of the family on a daily basis? Likely not.

The whole idea of feeding raw is that you mimic a natural prey animal with the pieces and parts you have available to you — for many of us that’s cut up meat on trays from the grocery store. It’s passed around raw feeding groups and message boards that the edible parts of a natural prey animal consist of about 80% meat, 10% edible bone, and 10% organs. This is merely a guideline to help us visualize what makes up a prey animal, as not many people out there these days have actually dressed and butchered a deer or other medium/large sized ungulate, which is the type of animal that we’re tying to mimic.

It’s really hard to get away from the idea that a homogenized daily blend of nutrients is NOT actually the ideal way to feed a dog, and I think a lot of people derive comfort from making calculations. While it’s good to be aware, when you get too involved with numbers and math (especially if it’s not your strong suit) you can make yourself crazy. Meanwhile your dog is fine. Keep it simple. Once you’re calculating nutrients and what’s in the food you feed down to the eighth of an ounce — or even an ounce or three or more if you’re feeding a big dog — you might as well start considering nutrient binding, interference in uptake on the cellular level, and/or taking into account the fact that nutrition labels and charts can vary quite widely from the hunk of meat in your freezer. I think most would agree that’s not practical.

Feeding the meat, bones, and organs from a variety of animals and sources will help ensure you are meeting your dog’s needs even though you’re not tracking the content of every meal. The prevailing collective wisdom of seasoned raw feeders dictates three protein sources (in other words types of animals, i.e. chicken, pork, and beef) and a variety of cuts (not just chicken breasts or pork loin) is a satisfactory and achievable goal. It’s generally people who feed mostly or solely chicken and, say, just beef liver for organ content that are likely to run into problems sooner or later. It should be mentioned that “variety for variety’s sake” isn’t necessary. Feeding really far-out things like squid or snake that aren’t so species-appropriate just to feed them isn’t necessarily going to improve your overall nutrient profile.

If you still want to have numbers, but need a structure for making them and using them in a practical way, the spreadsheet provided here on Pack Lunch is a great resource.



I’m not comfortable with raw feeding. Can’t I just cook the parts of a raw diet?

The short answer is: No…..


Cooking alters and affects nutrients, as well as the rates and quantities of absorption in your dog’s body. While it may seem that you’re only changing one little thing by cooking, this step is removing the diet so far from any ‘prey model’ that you need to make adjustments to account for this, and there are lots of them. In other words, if you feed cooked food diet following the guidelines and rules of a raw food diet, at best you’ll be providing a barely adequate diet, and worst-case-scenario you’re feeding a dangerously lacking one that could result in illness or death either in the short term or long term.

The reason feeding cooked food is not just an ingredient tweak away from raw goes beyond simple nutrition. Eliminating the act of your dog or cat removing flesh from bone, crunching up bone in parts and pieces, and other activities inherent in the ‘prey model’ (some call it “Franken-prey) approach to feeding means you’re taking away an integral part of what eating is for a carnivore — teeth and gum care, muscle strength and toning exercise, mental stimulation and outlet for natural drives which keep emotions, manners, and mental health in check among other things.

While arguably processing meat and organs with heat might be minimally problematic — especially if cooked ‘rare’ — the same cannot be said for bone. COOKED BONES ARE DANGEROUS TO FEED — WHOLE OR GROUND. Some interested in a cooked diet utilize bone meal or ground eggshell to get around this. Bone in its raw state is a matrix of minerals, collagen, and — depending on the  type of bone — a fat content contributed by the marrow. Muscle and connective tissue are attached to the bone. In the process of removing the meat and rendering the bones into bonemeal the amino acid structure of the collagen is transformed, turning it into gelatin. This includes the collagen present in the raw cartilage present at the joints, which is a great source of a few nutrients.

While edible raw bone needs only make up 10%-15% of a raw diet — which really isn’t much — bone meal is an entirely different substance than raw bone, and needs to be fed differently. Calcium is largest mineral presence in bone and bonemeal, and an essential nutrient that plays a role in many body functions. It’s also something that needs to be present in pretty specific amounts. Too little is bad, so is too much. (Complicating things is that too much can cause the same signs and symptoms of a deficiency.) The ratio of calcium to other nutrients plays a key role in use and absorption — this is called nutrient synergy — and it affects more than just calcium. All nutrients are affected by this synergy, which is why a raw diet is nice — all this is accounted for in a diet modeled on the natural form of food a being is meant to consume, in a dog’s case this is big chunks of prey animal. The form of the calcium delivery also affects absorption. By rendering out the minerals naturally bound in the bone tissue, bioavailability is actually increased, which sounds great, but isn’t necessarily so, thus the need for calculating the diet to account for the altered state.

If you must, feeding a home-prepared cooked diet is viable, and preferable to commercially prepared foods. For the reasons listed above it’s best to formulate your home-prepared cooked/processed diet drawing on advice and guidelines from a qualified mentor who is knowledgable about home-prepared diets and animal nutrition. There are some really great books and other resources out there, including nutritionists who offer one-on-one diet planning and advice.  


The meat I intended for my dog’s meal smells funky and/or looks weird. Dogs have strong digestive systems so can I feed it anyway?


We all know dogs love smelly stuff — the smellier the better in most cases. We also know that a dog’s digestive system isn’t the same as a human’s — thus the need for a carnivore’s diet of raw meat/bones/organs instead of one based around plant matter and cooked proteins. Most of us have experienced first-hand instances of our dog ground-scoring something truly gross, stealing a drink from a nasty puddle, and of course part of their day-to-day existence consists of licking their own butt. We’re in touch with the fact that dogs are in many ways still very much physiologically connected with their wolf ancestors who we’ve read about scavenging carrion when times are tough. Of course wild and feral dogs who do the same. So eating meat that’s well past-its-prime is “natural”, right? Maybe we should even feed rotten meat on purpose since it’s “natural”?

Not exactly, in my way of thinking. Here’s why: Our goal should be feeding safely and healthfully. Our domestic dogs are not wild dogs. They don’t have to eat carrion and rotten food. Part of our partnership with them involves seeing to their best potential for health which includes feeding them in an ideal manner, not just one that will (likely) keep them alive. There’s a HUGE difference between not inducing vomiting or calling up the vet because your dog ate something really gross, and feeding it to them on purpose. There’s a difference between “I’m eating a slimy blob of dead because I need to survive and there’s nothing else” and feeding it to them on purpose. Now, that said, I’ll feed dogs things that are too “ripe” for me, but there’s also a line between “ripe” and downright spoiled. The line isn’t a clear one and some dogs have a stronger stomach for not-freh meat than others. Your household’s tolerance and the wisdom in feeding food which has a relatively higher load of certain types of bacteria won’t be the same as your neighbor, either.

There are different kinds and degrees of “past prime” and “rotten”, too. This has to do with the conditions under which iffy meat has been stored and what exactly is causing degradation and spoilage. A common argument you hear in support of feeding ‘off’ meat is that a person’s dog likes to bury meaty bones in the yard, then go back to them days or weeks later, which has never resulted in illness for this dog. Therefore it must be “OK”, and by extension feeding chicken that, say, defrosted in a sealed plastic bag, sat at room temp for a day or more, then was re-frozen and is smelly and slimy and maybe green is OK too. There’s a BIG difference there.

If you give your dog a bone or a piece of meat and to whatever purpose they bury it, you have a piece of meat that is covered, but relatively loosely, with dirt, grass, and/or leaves. Air can get at it which is important. Even in a deep hole that’s been back-covered with dirt, the meat isn’t in a totally sealed environment. Meat “stored” like this will more likely ferment or dry out than it will skip straight to putrefaction and chemical decomposition. Meat buried in a covering of dirt and organic material (or left out in the open) still supports the growth of microbes, but more or less in a balanced way. The real nasties aren’t going to get a chance to proliferate to the exclusion of microorganisms that might be contributing to decomposition but not in and of themselves a threat to health. Bonus if it’s cool outside. In other words, this is a natural process. Plenty of traditional food preparation techniques for humans involve fermentation and even controlled putrefaction by burying items in the ground or sealing in containers made from animal products, natural fibers, and/or pottery and we don’t even have the same constitutions we can credit dogs with.

Now…Let’s consider a package of plastic-sealed chicken. Here’s a fun fact: Salmonella and many of the other organisms that cause food poisoning are anaerobes — they thrive in environments without oxygen. A plastic seal is perfect for keeping out oxygen. When you create a closed environment it affects the decomposition process. Kept totally frozen, all your little nasties are more or less dormant — not up to much. As soon as that temp starts to rise all these things wake up and start doing what they do. Some of this includes making people and animals very ill when given the chance. Eating them is a great way for them to enter the body! Because you’ve provided this oxygen-less warm environment it creates a rather unnatural situation where certain microbes will go absolutely bonkers without the “good guys” present that like air and dirt to keep them in check. Another thing the plastic wrap does is holds in moisture, which is also crucial to bacterial proliferation. When meat becomes slimey or smelly this is a sign of bacterial proliferation. Just because you re-freeze meat (or put vinegar on it or even cook it) at pretty much any stage of decomposition does not render toxic metabolites from being present, nor does it “fix” the decomposed state of the meat itself.

Under normal circumstance dogs can handle bacterial loads — even high ones — and we as people can handle what they shed as that part of being able to handle it too. With something that has such a huge load of goodness-knows-what, though — like plastic-wrapped meat — your dog might do fine with it, but you’re seriously increasing the risk of making yourself sick. You might be following common sense and not eating dog poop or rubbing your eyes with meat juice on your hands, but when your dog is fed then craps out the results of meat that’s well on its way to being little more than bacteria soup, the margin of safety gets smaller. I have to say I think it’s this kind of thing that feeds misconceptions about raw-feeding, raw-feeders, and the relationship to bacteria-related illness when these cases end up at the vet.

Buried or temporarily abandoned bone? Sure, though I request my dogs keep it reasonable via me picking things up once they’ve crossed the line into “ew, gross”. Chunk of meat that’s a day or two past what I’d cook for dinner? Probably. Putrefied commercially handled meat? Nope.  

I bought tripe at the grocery store. Is this the stuff I hear everyone talking about? Do I need to feed green tripe as part of my raw diet?


The stuff you hear everyone talking about is green tripe, and no, this isn’t the stuff you buy at the grocery store. It is the same part(s) of the animal for the most part, though. The tripe and other digestive organ products that you might find find at the grocery store or butcher have names like tripe, chitterlings, tripas, menudo, maw, honeycomb tripe, bible tripe, omasum, abomasum, leaf tripe, reed tripe, flat tripe, and probably more! Names tend to vary with geography. All those names have one thing in common — the stomach/intestine is prepared for sale and consumption by humans, so it has been throughly washed, scalded, and bleached. Processed. Most of us feed raw to have gotten away from processed food, so this prepared tripe really isn’t a good choice for pet food.

Green tripe is the stomach of a cow or other ruminant (sheep, goat, deer, bison, etc.) that has not been thoroughly washed, scalded, or bleached. In this state it still contains a good varyng amounts of the stomach contents, and therefore bacteria and other microorganisms that could cross contaminate fresh meat in a butcher’s case. For this reason health codes prevent the stuff from even entering the building at retail outlets where human food is sold. Therefore this is something you’re only going to be able to get either through pet-specific suppliers or directly from the source. There are lots of online retailers who will ship green tripe to your doorstep. Any pet food store that has a good selection of commercially prepared raw foods will probably have green tripe available. You can also buy canned green tripe, but it’s not quite the same as the fresh/frozen offering.

Is green tripe a necessary part of the diet? No. Despite what a lot of online communities and other places where raw feeders gather might lead you to believe, green tripe is not a requirement. It has this reputation of being some sort of canine “superfood”, but that is not an accurate attribute. As a food item it is different than muscle meats and organs, but its value is mostly as a piece of meat. You’ll hear that green tripe is a great “probiotic”, which is not entirely accurate. While fresh/frozen green tripe does contain a load of “beneficial” bacteria (know as probiotics), those bacteria are only useful to the animal with the stomach they were live in. The bacteria that live in a ruminant’s stomach are absolutely crucial to the digestion process of that animal, in fact. Without those bacteria the whole digestive process would halt in its tracks upon a ruminant swallowing a mouthful of grass!!! The bacteria don’t have any function once a dog eats them, though.

Bacteria, other microorganisms, and enzymes are specialists. Different types do different things. Most of us understand that there are “good” bacteria and “bad” bacteria, making the distinction between those that make us sick and those that we want in our guts. To understand green tripe you have to further understand those “good” bacteria. The bacteria from a meal of green tripe aren’t going to get to your dog’s stomach, unpack their bags, and get to work on anything your dog needs. To expect so would be like making an appointment with a welder to fix a hole in your roof. Even if he’s familiar with carpentry, he probably didn’t bring the right tools and you can’t nail shingles down with a torch. Since your dog eats meat, bones, and organs your dog doesn’t need the services of the bacteria that live in a cow’s gut. Even if you give your dog vegetables and fruits as a regular part of the diet, bacteria consumed with tripe are still out of their element and won’t offer anything useful. That would be assuming they last long enough in your dog’s gut to even potentially be useful, which is doubtful.

Green tripe does have some unique qualities that make it something you might actually want to feed, though. It’s STINKY, which is its biggest claim to fame. Most dogs love the fact that they’re allowed to eat such a barn-yard smelling delicacy without having to sneak around and risk a scolding or a bath upon getting caught. This makes it great for getting food into dogs who may be sick or recovering from illness or surgery. It isn’t the highest quality meat, but does have protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals, and in different proportions than other parts and cuts. You’ll hear people marvel over its “perfect” calcium to phosphorous ratio, which is yet another attribute that’s rather blown out of proportion. It’s all fine and good that this one food item has a good balance of these important nutrients, but as we all know variety is important, so it’s not all that amazing. You achieve a good amount and a balance of these nutrients whether you feed green tripe or not.

As with anything, feed in moderation as part of an otherwise balanced and healthy diet. If you can deal with the smell, that is. I often refer to green tripe as a totally self-less act; A demonstration of pure love and devotion. No human handles green tripe because they enjoy it, but seeing your dog happy is worth every nose-wrinkling second.

I’ve heard you HAVE to feed three different protein sources or your dog will get sick and die of imbalances. I can’t make that work. Should I feed kibble ’til I can do raw correctly?


Answer coming soon!

My dog had a soft poop this morning. Should I feed him some pumpkin?


The quick answer is “no”, and I’ll leave you with the following link about pumpkin which I think is great. Pack Lunch answer to pumpkin and soft poops including how to gauge whether you need to do nothing, something, or go straight to the vet coming soon!


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What Is Raw Feeding?

Raw feeding is just what it sounds like: Feeding biologically carnivorous animals (which includes the domestic dog, cat, and ferret) a species-appropriate diet of meat, bones, and organs, and — as the name implies — not cooked or heavily processed.

Why? Commercially prepared dry and wet pet foods are processed, and have the same pit falls of processed food for humans. Commercial kibbles and wet food have to be formulated for not only the nutrition of the animal eating it, but also ease of transport, shelf-stability, function, profit, and palatability. (Can’t sell something a pet won’t eat!) To achieve these qualities they have to (or simply do) include ingredients that are completely unnatural to the pets eating them. Sourcing of ingredients is often done to maximize cost efficiency for the producer, meaning low-quality proteins and meat by-products, which can even come from animals not fit for human consumption because of disease or decomposition. All of this can contribute to a range of health problems over time, including but very much not limited to rapid tooth decay, highly fluctuating blood sugar levels (leading to hypoglycemia and diabetes), kidney trouble including “stones”, food allergies and intolerances, cancer, obesity, and behavioral problems.

A fresh/frozen raw food diet reduces and/or eliminates the processing and the need for unnecessary and unhealthy ingredients. In addition, when pets are allowed to eat food in a more natural form (which includes chewing meat off bone and crunching bone-in hunks of meat) they are getting a more complete experience whereby food not only delivers nutrition, but a work-out for muscles and brain.

What Is Raw Feeding? (image: Meridian eats chicken)What?  Raw fed carnivores eat a combination of meat, bones, and organs. All of these elements must be present in the diet for complete nutrition. The short and sweet (and not entirely complete) explanation is that meat delivers protein and fat, organs confer essential vitamins, and edible bone is crucial for it’s mineral content. (For more read Terminology: The Prey Model.)

How? In the process of becoming domestic carnivores, our pets traded hunting and scavenging for a place in our lives and homes and it became our responsibility to procure food for them. Somewhere along the line (in North America this was the 1950’s) the trend became for this food to be the processed pet foods we rely on today. Raw feeding can take on several different forms. The author adheres to a do-it-yourself type of diet, consisting of chunks, parts, and pieces of meat, bone, and organ that can come from the plain old meat section of the grocery store. Of course there are as many potential meat sources as you can dream up — farm-direct, 4-H club, wild game, restaurant suppliers, reptile feeder producers, etc. While one of the beauties of raw feeding is getting away from commercially prepared formulas, there are a number of frozen raw foods on the market. These meet the pet owner half-way with the benefits of a fresh/frozen diet of minimally processed food, but with the “convenience” of pre-formulated meals. These foods are usually ground and come in patties or medallions. There are pros and cons to these products, but they are there, and a reasonably viable way to feed a raw diet.

Sounds great, how do I start feeding raw to my pets? Reading more about the specifics of the diet and “how to’s” written by vets and other experienced raw feeders is a great place to start. Concurrently you can donate that last bag of kibble to your local animal shelter or wildlife sanctuary, go shopping for “real food”, and get on the road to better health for your pet and more conscious consumerism overall. There is a vast amount of information in books and on the internet. I don’t presume to write a “how to” guide for beginners as part of Pack Lunch (yet), but my favorite resources for learning more about how to start feeding raw are listed in the Read About Raw: Links and Resources article. There’s also a page of Frequently Asked Questions.

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