We’ve always said that a home-prepared diet, comprised of fresh, wholesome foods, is ideal for all dogs. We recognize that many people can’t or won’t shop for and prepare their dogs’ food; they may not shop for and prepare their own! This is why we review the best-quality commercial dry and canned foods every year.
However, a growing number of brave folks want to realize the benefits of homemade food for their dogs. People who have raised generations of dogs on home-prepared diets say their dogs grow and age more gracefully, experience far fewer health problems, look and feel terrific, and even exhibit fewer behavior problems. And who wouldn’t want all that for their dogs?
Of course, we all want that for our dogs. But not everyone is willing to deal with the continual shopping and food preparation that a home-prepared diet entails. Interestingly, it’s the meat component that seems to discourage the largest percentage of dog owners who are interested in homemade diets but who have not yet taken steps to give it a try.
Acknowledging that shopping for, storing, and preparing meat can be daunting for some people, a number of companies now offer a wide variety of whole, raw meat products just for dog owners. (There are also many companies who sell frozen complete diets that contain raw meat; that’s not what we’re talking about this month, though we will be reviewing these before year’s end.) This month, we’re focused on companies who manufacture meat products intended to be fed in a supplemental fashion, or (more frequently) as the meat component of a home-prepared diet.
For those of us who don’t shop for fresh food every few days, keeping a ready supply of meat on hand can be a hassle. That’s why manufacturers focused their efforts in this market on two different methods of preserving meat. Some offer frozen, raw meats, and some offer canned meats.
Anyone can buy a quantity of meat and freeze it, so the manufacturers who sell frozen meat products add value for dog owners.
Many offer a wider variety of meats and cuts than most of us have access to in our local grocery stores. Some offer pasture-fed, free-range, and/or organically grown meats that are simply not available locally.
Most significantly, many offer meats that have been ground with fresh, raw bone included. This is important, because any diet that contains meat (which is high in phosphorus) must also contain a source of calcium to maintain the optimum calcium-phosphorus ratio (1.2:1 to 1.4:1).
Fans of the so-called BARF diet (Bones And Raw Food, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) include raw bones in their dogs’ food as a matter of course. Some feed their dogs whole or crushed raw poultry wings, necks, and backs as a source of both meat and bone. Others, fearing a bone-related problem (perforated stomach or intestine, broken teeth) use powerful meat grinders (or their friendly neighborhood butchers’ grinders) to reduce fresh bones of poultry, pork, lamb, or beef to a safe paste. The only problem with grinding bones is that the manufacturers of most meat grinders will not honor their warranties if they learn the grinders were used to grind bone.
That’s where the companies that sell frozen ground meat and bone come in. They find the industrial-strength grinders that can stand up to the job, and provide you with nutritious, perfectly risk-free ground meat and bone.
Not all the people who feed their dogs home-prepared diets are BARF proponents, however. Some don’t appreciate the argument that fresh, raw bone is the best source of calcium and other minerals; they prefer supplementing their dogs’ meat-based diet with (cooked) bone meal, eggshell powder, or some other source of calcium.
Others object to diets that include raw meat or poultry, citing the potential dangers of salmonella, campylobacter, and other bacteria that can be present in raw meat. Some people actually cook the frozen meat products described below, and others buy canned meat products, which are cooked in the canning process.
Another advantage of purchasing meats from one of these vendors is the ability to buy products with organ meat ground in with the muscle meat. Liver, kidney, and heart are famously full of nutrients, and most proponents of home-prepared diets include a variety of these organs in small amounts. It’s difficult to find local butchers with good sources of organ meat from animals that have been raised organically or at least pasture-fed, so this is a great opportunity.
Finally, these vendors make a wide variety of meats available: in addition to beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, and pork, many sell rabbit, ostrich, buffalo, goat, kangaroo, and duck. The varying amino acid profiles and levels of vitamins and minerals in each meat help maintain a dog’s nutrient “balance over time.”
Consider before buying
Some of these products are available only in a local area; other companies are more than happy to ship anywhere in North America. Make sure you calculate the cost of shipping into the price when you compare one source to another.
All of these products are less expensive when purchased in larger quantities. If you have friends or acquaintances who also prepare their dogs’ food, you may want to place a group order to reduce costs. Some enterprising owners have had success forming buying groups by posting fliers at their local holistic veterinarians’ offices.
Make sure you ask the companies who sell frozen foods about their shipping methods. How long should it take the food to get to your home? What happens if it arrives defrosted? Who will pay for that?
If you are new to the whole idea of home-prepared diets, you should definitely do some homework before buying any products. Check out our suggested reading list on page 13. There are widely disparate opinions about several important aspects of canine nutrition; you’ll have to make up your own mind whether a cooked or raw diet is best for your dog, whether you feel comfortable feeding raw bones, and whether grain should be included, for just a start.
Contact the manufacturers listed on the next page and ask for their opinions on those topics, too. Most of them have years of experience and research to draw on.
If all of this seems too daunting, by all means, keep your dog on his commercial diet while you read up on home-prepared foods. And consider starting out with a “complete” frozen raw diet; we’ll review these products in an upcoming issue.
-Nancy Kerns is Editor of WDJ.