What To Look For When Choosing Commercial Raw Dog Food
In the ideal world, we would all be able to blend our own dog food exactly how we wanted it. But life can get complicated, and thankfully commercial raw dog food can really speed the process. With the new surge of independent raw dog food companies, it's easy to shop with price being the determining factor - but is it? What else needs to be considered when comparing brands?
1. MEAT QUALITY
This is the one of the most important aspects of choosing a raw food company to provide to your dog. The company you choose should be able to provide (at minimum) a nutritional analysis. Within this, some use more lean muscle meat than others. The fat percentage varies by the type of protein (animal) you are feeding, and can vary between 2% and 13%. If the percentage of your raw fat is substantially higher than this, it may be because they're only using "trim" (the secondary cut of meat after all human grade and lean cuts have been removed) from the animal, and not actual lean muscle meat. Meat included in your raw food should always be human grade and come from processing plants that meet federal regulations. Meat that is not human grade does not have to meet any regulatory standards.
How can you notice this? The food will appear greasy to the touch or leave a greasy residue in the bowl. You won't want to feed this option long term to your dog. This can cause damage over time to the liver and/ or pancreas.
It's important to also ask questions about the manufacturing and sanitization process, and how the company stores their finished product. A reputable company will have no issues answering questions in relation to their process being sanitary. This is a major difference between many companies with varying price points, as there is much more to mass producing raw dog food than just to blending it together. Cross-contamination is serious and you and your dog can get sick from improperly stored raw food. Does the company provide a warranty or swap faulty packaging if need be? Do they provide advice on how to balance your food? Do they have a storefront that you can visit, or photos of their process? Don't be afraid to ask questions!
Organ meats should also be added to the blend, so look for brands using whole animal choices to make sure these valuable organ meats are kept intact. The raw food company should be able to tell you what organs are included in the blend and the percentage they make up. Heart meat is considered a muscle meat; liver and kidney contain important trace minerals and vitamins in a natural form.
Ideally, heart meat can make up 10 to 15 percent of the total diet and the organ meats should be from 5 to 10 percent.
3. BONE CONTENT
A good balance of bone and meat is important.
If a raw food company is using whole animals in their products, the bone will be balanced in a natural way. If they’re not using whole animals, there may be too much or too little bone.
Bone content is equally as important as protein content. Some raw pet foods use a higher proportion of bone to cut costs. The most obvious sign of this is that your dog will become constipated or have dry, white, powdery stools that may be difficult to pass. This can happen when companies use a carcass "frame" instead of the whole body. If this happens, more lean meat and possibly more organ need to be added to counteract the bone density.
Some pre-made raw diets are boneless. Feeding boneless raw diets long term will result in calcium and other trace mineral deficiencies. The easy solution to a raw food that is boneless is to feed a variety of consumable whole raw meaty bones (such as knuckles, necks and femurs) in addition to your boneless raw formula.
You’ll want to ensure you’re providing lean muscle meat and bones as the base of the diet no matter which brand you choose.
4. FAT CONTENT
There are two kinds of fats: saturated and unsaturated.
Saturated fat comes from the white fat that you see in meat; it appears as a marbled look or as a long white line along the top of a Pork or Beef cut. It also can be found in high concentration in poultry skin. Unsaturated fats are present in meat and vegetables but they can also be added in the form of cold-pressed oils from fish and plant sources. These fats can be really beneficial to your dog's diet, as long as they are given in moderation.
15% fat or higher is suspicious unless you’re feeding duck (which is naturally high in fat even in its whole state.) If it feels greasy or results in greasy stools or diarrhea in your dog, you’ll want to either add more muscle meat or change brands.
5. FRUITS AND VEGGIES
Vegetables contain fiber that helps regulate blood sugar, as well as vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytonutrients and antioxidants. Be sure that any vegetable ingredients are listed on the package so you can avoid any that your pet might be allergic to. The finer the grind, the more your dog will absorb the vegetable nutrients. If vegetables are visible in large chunks, they may not be fully digestible. Not all raw food companies provide this - and that's okay. They're easy to add on your own, and some companies choose to allow customers to blend these themselves to avoid allergy troubles. That being said, just because a company includes vegetables in their blend does not mean it is a complete blend. You may still have to add your own vegetables to a blended meal. As for fruit, many berries can be high in antioxidants which is extremely beneficial. The only downside to fruits is that they are naturally high in sugar, so keep their percentage under 10%.
Some raw diets include supplements, others don’t. Look for whole food based supplements rather than synthetic vitamins and minerals (the ones with chemical sounding names).
Some basic supplements you might see include kelp, spirulina, apple cider vinegar and essential fatty acid oils. Many people choose to include Omega-3 oils (fish oils,) Yogurt, Pumpkin and other additives to increase their dog's overall health and digestion. A good raw food company will be able to advise on what additives would be best to ensure your meal is complete.
A well-balanced raw diet is not always the cheapest, especially if you’re using a novel protein.
If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you compare foods and and some more expensive than others, you need to investigate why. Sometimes the cheapest option isn't always the best, and can be shorting on certain ingredients that would really benefit your pooch. Make sure to shop around, call/visit locations and don't be afraid to switch brands if it's not working out.