Tag Archives: do it yourself dog food

Mother Nature’s Best Raw Dog Food

This article is copyright 2016 by Cinda Brent are-you-sustainable.com.

This is not a brand name. This is what I call my recipe/technique of making a fresh-raw dog food ration for my own dogs. Let me start out by saying this, I am not a veterinarian. I have done a lot of research on how best to feed my dogs when three (out of about a dozen dogs) had issues with several brands of commercially available dog foods, and I was at a point where dog food was the most expensive variable expense in my monthly budget. I would have to buy as many as five different brands or formulas of dog food to best care for twelve dogs.

For those who do not know, I am striving for self-sustainability — being able to produce what I need for myself, my household, and the animals that I keep with as little sourcing from the outside world as possible. That said, my animals have animals. About eight years ago, we bought our first dairy cow. She is a wonderful cow, and has served our family well. The real “reason” why I think we were led to buy that cow from that farmer is that we had an opportunity to watch his Livestock Guardian Dogs in action, defending the free-roaming chickens from a would-be attacker: a red-tailed hawk. We realized that we need one of these dogs!

With a little experience and some research later, we realized that we needed several of these dogs. Add in some herding dogs (Austrailian Cattle Dogs are our choice) and we are dog-heavy. We have NEVER had a predator problem that resulted in death or injury to our livestock in an area that was patrolled by these gentle giants. They are truly the heart of the farm.

Each dog food batch makes about 20-30 lbs of dog food, and lasts us about one day. It is, as follows:

15-17 lbs meat/animal protein (more description on each item to follow)
5-10 lbs vegetables or fruits safe for dogs
1/2 lb organ meat
6-24 eggs, with shells (not for dogs under 20 lbs)
1/2 c. ground eggshell
4 cups or 5 ounces fresh dandelion greens (or 1 cup dried)
1 white potato to clean the grinder (OR grind vegetables, or some vegetables, last)

Other add-ins that may be given as available or that are optional, IMHO:
Ground flax seed – 1/2 lb per batch
1-4 cups gelatin per batch
1-2 cups blackstrap molasses
Cow’s or goat’s milk, whey, or cottage cheese (in limited amounts)

NOT OPTIONAL: Weekly Raw Meaty Bones, approximately the same weight as the dog’s food ration

Meat: One fish per dog per week is a standard rule of thumb. The whole fish is fine. What size fish? Obviously, not a huge one….but “what you catch” is good. Some dogs like fish more than others, four of ours enjoy dog food with fish only as the meat source, others totally reject it. Best to stick with a limited fish intake unless you know.

You can mix and match the types of meat included in the food based on what you have, what is on sale, what you found or hunted, etc. I strongly encourage everyone who wishes to embark on a similar adventure (pun intended) to research many different opinions and make your own decision on how to best feed your dog from the information you have available to you. There may be many reasons for the recipe and source of the foods that you choose. I do not worry about the percentage of fat to the percentage of lean meat, per say, but I also typically use all of one animal to make dog food and feel that unless you are feeding a dog who is very thin or very overweight, it is not a huge concern. That said, I would not buy “scraps” that are mostly all fat without supplementing that with lean meat. We have fed fresh diet to our canines for over 15 years and have found that some meat sources are better than others, and more palatable to your dog. Most any meat you would eat (if your diet is omnivorous), the dogs will enjoy. Beef, pork, chicken, turkey, rabbit, duck, quail, pheasant, fish, lamb, venison, elk, moose, and furbearers such as beaver, muskrat, nutria are all excellent choices. Some dogs may object to raccoon, oppossum, otter, bobcat, coyote, fox. I would not feed armadillo. Although dogs can handle meat that is “off”, it is oftentimes not the best base for homemade diet and you will certainly loathe it if it stinks, and thusly, so does your dog. Fur, skin and feathers for the most part is something that I avoid feeding, poultry/game birds that have been plucked are okay with skins on.

That said, dogs ARE NOT vegetarians. Please, don’t try that.

Vegetables: I will list some basics, but again, please do your own research as to what vegetables are best for your dogs. Get many opinions. Think for yourself, and do what you feel is best for your dog within your capability.

This is how I categorize vegetables: Safe for Dogs, Do NOT Feed, and “Eh”. The first two are relatively self-explanatory, the “Eh” means that it might be okay in small amounts, cooked but not raw, only occasionally but not as a staple in the dog diet, etc. Foods that I feel are safe for dogs and preferred in their dog food include: squash or pumpkins (limit the seeds), melons, green beans, sweet potatoes, carrots (although they might be in an “eh” category for high sugar content), dandelion greens, lettuces, spinach (might be an “eh”), blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, apples (but not their seeds).

Green leafy veggies, for the most part, can be very good for your dog and provide vitamins (as does organ meats such as liver, kidneys, and hearts) and should be included in nearly every batch of food, and up to 50% of the overall fruit/vegetable content of the dog food. Some are better choices than others, Swiss Chard is an “eh” as too much is just, well, too much. Dandelion greens can be wildcrafted from your yard IF they have not been sprayed with herbicides or pesticides. If you live in the city and/or rent your home, be cautious.

Other great ways to provide for your pet on a budget include the sale bin at the grocery story for less than perfect produce, “waste” produce from produce stands, truck farmers, neighbors who garden, etc. We raise the majority of meats for our animals but will pick up a fresh roadkill, if you know hunters who don’t want the meat or have filled their freezers, hunting, fishing or trapping if you aren’t opposed to it is are other good ways to provide for your canine companion.

Now, for the DO NOT FEEDS: RAISINS. Grapes. Both cause kidney failure, and it is variable dog to dog how much is “too much”, but I know of a dog who died after eating TWO raisins. Eat raisins in something, or not with your dog under the table. Use hydrogen peroxide to encourage your dog to throw up ASAP if you discover that he has eaten raisins. Within two hours is good. Seek veterinary care.

Other Do NOT feed items include: onions, leeks, garlic (in my opinion, others add it to their food – research, make the best decision you can.) I don’t feed grains to my dogs, with the exception of ground flax seed. Dogs and humans alike need flax seed to be ground in order to digest it, otherwise it passes through with very little benefit.

Avacados, chocolate, wine or other alcohol should not be given to dogs.

My personal opinion: if you are allergic to something, like my husband is allergic to watermelon – don’t feed (and handle more than you have to) something that you are allergic to.

My “eh” list: tomatoes (do your own research here, my notes have gone missing), spinach (I think it has issues with too much and too often and oxalates), white potatoes (better to be cooked than raw, if given in any substantial quantities), legumes, including shelled peanuts, could be given to dogs but beans such as pintos or black-eyed peas should be cooked first. In my opinon, soybeans are totally out. I don’t eat them, either. Again, make your own decision. You found this blog, you obviously care about your dog or you wouldn’t be reading this. I admire your love for your animal(s). I respect your decision as long as it is an informed one.

Organ meat:
I have this theory. I’ll base this on a 100 lb pig, for simplicity. I think that if you take every bit that can be ground and used from your 100 lb pig, minus entrails (I’d not feed digestive tract or contents thereof), skin (unless you can grind it, we can’t!) and RMBs (unless you could grind them up) and combine that with the right ratio of veggies and other add-ins and have all of what your dog needs in his/her diet. I have not been able to experiment with this, but we do have “leftover” organ meat when butchering a whole hog to use as dog food. We have, however, used as much as 2 1/2 lbs of organ meat in one 25 lb “batch” of dog food and also added extra vegetables to balance that out. The dogs tolerated it fine. I will get to how to know how well your dog food and your dog are doing together later on. 1/2 lb per batch of dog food, from our experience, is fine. A little more or a little less is okay, too. Every batch of dog food does not have to be exact, especially if you know that you can balance it out in future batches. Look at the dog’s overall diet for 1-3 months and see how it balances out. Take notes, use a calendar if you need to.

Did I mention that my animals have animals? Having a flock of chickens for making dog food can be beneficial if you are making a lot of dog food. If you have, or wish to raise, other poultry to use eggs for the dog food, more power to you! You may, however, need to change the quantity if feeding eggs that are sized differently. For example, if you are using quail eggs, you should use 4 eggs to equal one chicken egg, or only 5 duck eggs in leu of 6 chicken eggs.

Eggs can be too rich for dogs under 20 lbs and could be problematic. As a general rule, the number of eggs to use can be determined by the number of meals per batch of dog food. If feeding multiple dogs, an average is close enough. The shells are good for calcium.

Also, if you save eggshells when you eat eggs (all but hard boiled eggs), you can dry them and add to the dog food. I do not boil, bake or otherwise prep them other than air-drying and aging them to add to dog food. If for human use, I do boil and bake them.

Dandelion Greens:
Dandelion Greens are the vitamin powerhouse of your dog food, high in Vitamin K and Vitamin A. It also offers Vitamin C, E, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate and Choline as well as Calcium, Iron, Manganese, Magnesium, Potassium, Copper, Phosphorous, Sodium and Zinc.

Cleaning the grinder at the end of the batch:
Although potatoes are on my “eh” list, we use a potato (or a couple chunks of pumpkin) at the end of the dog food batch to naturally flush out the grinder…which brings me to the next important point.

Dogs need some vegetable/plant matter in their diet, but typically need to have those vegetables run through a food processor or food grinder in order to get the most out of it in digestion, and, like a toddler, you need to “hide” the veggies in other foods. (Just kidding.) If you are feeding one or two very small dogs, you might manage making smaller batches (even daily ones) in your food processor, meat and all.

Equipment we use:
We use a 3/4 HP meat grinder with plans to upgrade a size or two to better meet our needs. Other equipment that we use includes a sausage mixer (if I had it to do again, I’d buy one that tilts) and a vacuum sealer (we love our “Sinbo” DZ280 A over “home use” vacuum sealers). For dehydrating, we use and recommend the Excalibur Dehydrator. We can store an entire batch of dog food in a 15 qt storage tote and freeze it (thaw overnight about 24 hours before you need it). Freezer space is a very good thing. A dedicated freezer (and fridge) is also great. A digital scale is a great help, too. I have found that a salmon can (15 ounce or so) makes a great measure scoop for big dogs, and holds two pounds of dog food or so. To handle the food and measure it, I use a neoprene glove that is watertight and insulated so that my hand doesn’t freeze off, fall on the floor, and shatter into a million pieces. I hate to have cold hands! I also wash dog bowls often.

If the dog food mixes dry, try adding some water to it. Alternatively, you could add extra homemade bone broth, milk, or whey. If it is very, very wet, you could add gelatin to it. Blackstrap molasses can add quick energy (great for old, young or ailing dogs or extreme hot or cold temperatures) and vitamins. I make electrolytes for most any animal (including humans) based on a switchel recipe (no ginger for dogs, please!) and that or bone broth is an excellent addition to the food, or fed seperately in a water pail.

If you have a diary cow or goat, cheese that didn’t make right, whey, and/or cottage cheese when milk is plentiful, are all good additions to the dog food. When in doubt, start with small quantities and see how your dogs do on it.

You will need to monitor your dog(s)’ poop! No need to get too close, usually, but be mindful. It helps to either walk your dog on leash or pick up his/her poop from the yard so you look at it. If it is too runny, you have too much meat, egg, milk, or organ meats. Balance this by adding more vegetables. If it is too dry, give your dog more water, broth, or electrolytes. (It is costly to buy electrolytes mixed up or in powder form, make your own. Trust me on that one.) Expect the poop to be chalky and/or disentigrate into powder very rapidly after feeding Raw Meaty Bones. Your dog will poop less. That is okay. There will not be as much quantity of stool. That is okay. Some vegetables, like beets, will make your dog poop blood-red. That is why I don’t feed beets. Your dog will also most likely drink significantly less when eating fresh-raw. Make sure that clean, fresh water is available to your dog at all times and relax, but be aware of what the “normal” might be for your dog. Dogs are different, if you have multiple dogs, they might handle the diet differently. Ours are all very similar, excepting the fish thing. Some like it, others hate it.

What about treats?
I’m glad you asked. That question was there, just begging for an answer. Dehydrate bits of prepared food, or slices of carrot, pumpkin, etc. to give to your dog. I will NOT give, or allow my dogs to be given, commercially produced dog treats. There is too much unsafe out there.

Food Aggression
Feeding fresh raw has not increased any tendency in my dogs to be food aggressive. I have one dog who is food aggressive. He always has been. If you have issues with this and your dog, and are unable to train past it, please consult with a trainer and/or veterinarian for professional advice. I do not mind my dogs being food aggressive towards other dogs or animals, so long as they do not involve me in a fight or cause damage to one another. Squabbling is okay to an extent. I do tie up and supervise my LGDs who are pastured with livestock as goats and my horse are all too interested in the dog food, and bad things could happen.

We raised a litter of LGDs that we bred on this food. Their first taste of this was at three weeks, we hand-fed each pup, and the response was amazing! They anxiously fed and wagged their tails, begging for more. We taught them that we are food-givers and to eat with one another. At six months of age, two males who are in a pasture together will eat from the same bowl with only occasional growling and never serious fights.

I feed RMBs after a meal with mutliple dogs such that no one is hungry and “needs” the bones, everybody goes their own direction and squabbles are minimal. The dogs happily devour their entire bones, usually. Raw bones, even pork and chicken, are relatively safe for dogs to eat. I remove small bits and pieces, and anything that sits around long enough to “smell dead”.

Do it! We give Ivermectin for heartworms once a month and Pyrantel as needed and occasionally in between. Safeguard is another relatively safe choice for dewormers and is used from time to time. Ivermectin may be unsafe if not dosed properly, and some dogs have issues with it. When in doubt, please consult with your veterinarian. Breed-specific groups can also help if you have a breed that is known to be sensitive to Ivermectin.

How much food?
Each animal may vary, but for the most part, feeding 2-3% of your dog’s body weight* (or goal weight if the dog is underweight or overweight or use best judgement with growing puppies, I found 4-5% about right.) I prefer my animals a little heavy than a little thin, especially going into winter. Most of my dogs are outdoor dogs, LGDs do not come in the house when it gets very cold outside. They have shelter if they choose to use it (usually, they do not) and Arkansas winters are not typically that cold. You can shock a dog’s system by bringing it in when it is freezing cold outside to a 65-75 degree environment, then back out into the cold again.

Raw Meaty Bones
Raw bones are fine to feed to your dogs. It is COOKED bones that you may have trouble with. Dogs will consume these bones nearly in their entirety — in most cases, it is okay. We feed raw 6 days per week, and have a “skip day”. Monday is Bone Day, after a dog’s evening meal is finished, they are given a RMB, and the followig day is a skip day. We do not give RMB’s on a day that they have no other food. The end result is chalky poop and their body doesn’t seem to process it well. I have found that if they have a full belly when you give RMBs, they are less likely to fight over them, will happily take them “to their own corner” and gnaw until the bone is finished, and their system is not upset by this. If their poop gets too liquidy after feeding RMBs, or too chalky, try adding more vegetable matter to their dog food just before feeding RMBs. (Ground vegetables, stirred in well so they eat it.) If you have a dog who is food aggressive, you may wish to place the RMB in the back of the crate and crate him/her while the bone is consumed. They don’t particularly like to be watched while they eat these, so keep your distance for their comfort. You could separate into a separate pasture, stall, or pen as well. Our other-dog food aggressor has been fine with his other two paddock-mates, a spayed female and 7 month old trainee pup, as long as he is fed first. Then, the dogs aren’t competing for food when hungry.

Spoiled Food
“When in doubt, throw it out.” They can handle some taint, but clearly spoiled food, be it milk, meat, eggs or vegetables, is NOT good for your dog. We feed things past the point of human consumption, but if you cannot stand the smell of it, don’t give it to your dog. If you are unsure how much they will eat, give just a little – not a huge bowl with a lot of food that will sit and go bad. If you think dog bowls are nasty – they are. The dishwasher is your friend! If I had no dishwasher, I’d at least set up a “wash” and “rinse” basin and dip and swish bowls a little in each. You may find that the majority of the “yuck” factor is their slobber from cleaning up the meat in the bowl. Ewwwww. Our male Great Pyranees has the nastiest bowls ever. Seriously. Pick them up with gloves on. Yuck.

Watch your dog’s poop!
Yes, I just said that. Be intimately familiar with what is “normal” for your dog’s poop. On raw diet, they will poop significantly less and less often. Think coyote poops. Small piles. Maybe once a day or less, depending on the dog. Colors may vary with the vegetable you are feeding. Beet pulp is great for dogs but it leaves horror-film scary red poops – I’d be afraid I wouldn’t know if my dog were hemorraging. Really. Scary. And, most of my dogs don’t really enjoy beet pulp. If the poop is too liquid, add more vegetable content to that dog’s diet, and/or less organ meat. If it is too hard, add more meat and make sure your dog drinks plenty of water.

Raw Diet Eaters Drink Less Water
Oh yes, they do. Shockingly so. My cattle dogs go from drinking about half a gallon a day, each, to maybe two cups of water a day, four on a hot day. Make fresh water available to them. If they need it, they WILL drink it. Think of making jerky in the dehydrator. Remember how much it shrinks up as it dries? That’s liquid loss. So, if your dog is eating steak instead of jerky, they are getting a lot more water in their food.


Disclaimer: I had stopped writing on this and it may be incomplete so if I’ve forgotten something or you have any questions, feel free to contact me for more information. I plan on continuing to update/tweak/share this “article” and recipe with anyone who is interested. This food works for my dogs. Commercial dog food has…left them dry.

I may come back and edit to add photos, and/or repost a version with photos.

This article is copyright 2016 by Cinda Brent are-you-sustainable.com.