If you’re looking into switching your dog from kibble to homemade raw dog food, it’s important to understand what balanced raw dog food consists of.
Since this blog post is a bit longer, I added a table of contents for your reading experience. That way, you can easily jump in between sections. Please enjoy!
- The different models of raw feeding
- 1. Balanced Raw Dog Food: Muscle Meat
- 2. Balanced Raw Dog Food: Secreting Organs
- 3. Balanced Raw Dog Food: Raw Meaty Bones (RMBs)
- 4. Balanced Raw Dog Food: Veggies, Fruit, Herbs, Nuts & Seeds (Optional)
- Balanced Raw Dog Food: Final Thoughts
- Related Reading:
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The different models of raw feeding
There are a few different ways and formulas of feeding raw dog food, and none of them are right or wrong. It’s up to your interpretation of raw dog food and personal preference when it comes time to decide how you want to feed.
That said, there’s the B.A.R.F. way of feeding, the Prey Model approach, and a mix of both.
B.A.R.F. Raw Feeding
B.A.R.F. stands for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food, or Bones And Raw Food. It’s a mix of meat and veggies, fruit, herbs, seeds, and nuts.
B.A.R.F. follows the formula 65-70% muscle meat, 10-15% veggies/fruit/herbs/nuts/seeds, 10% raw meaty bones, and 10% secreting organs.
Prey Model Raw
Prey Model Raw mimics what a prey animal would look like. That means that it’s an all meat diet without the addition of any plant matter.
Prey Model Raw follows the formula 80/10/10. 80% muscle meat, 10% raw meaty bones, and 10% secreting organs.
I personally feed a mix of both. That said, I feed 70% muscle meat, 10% plant matter, 10% raw meaty bones, and 10% secreting organs. I also rotate my protein sources. That’s important regardless of the model you follow because different cuts of meat contain different nutrients.
For example, an all chicken diet would be nutritiously deficient. That’s why you’ll want to feed as many other protein sources as you can get your hands on. This could be beef, turkey, pork, salmon, duck, lamb, rabbit, kangaroo, ostrich, venison, etc.
I personally began feeding my 2 Boxer mixes Missy & Buzz raw dog food in 2015, and my new pup Wally, a Feist mix, has been eating raw since 2019.
When I first switched Missy & Buzz in 2015, I started with pre-made raw meals because it’s simply easier and I didn’t yet have the knowledge to make their own raw meals.
Beginning in 2016, I started making their own meals at home, and I even got my raw dog food nutrition specialist certification from Dogs Naturally Magazine in early 2020.
These days, I feed mostly homemade raw dog food because I enjoy making it and it’s less expensive than pre-made raw. That said, I also still buy pre-made raw dog food from reputable brands whenever I can find some on sale.
1. Balanced Raw Dog Food: Muscle Meat
Muscle meat makes up the vast majority of raw dog food and ranges between 65-80%. Like I mentioned above, it depends which raw model people follow, but in general it will be between 65-80% of their dog’s daily allowance.
Which cuts are considered muscle meat?
The following cuts are considered muscle meat and make up the vast majority of raw dog food:
Tongues & Lips
Muscle meat I’ve fed my dogs:
Beef, Pork, Goat, Chicken, Duck, Rabbit, Ostrich, Venison & Turkey Hearts
Beef Backstrap, Lung, Gullet, Trachea, Cheek, Oxlips, & Tongue
Pork Jowl & Uterus
Chicken & Turkey Gizzards
(Beef & Bison) Green Tripe
Ground beef, chicken, and turkey
Where do I buy my muscle meat?
When I put my own raw meals together, I purchase the individual cuts of meat mostly from Raw Feeding Miami and Raw Paws Pet Food. But I’m also able to find some muscle meat at my local grocery store in the form of:
Chicken gizzards & hearts
Chicken breasts & thighs
(Organic) ground lamb
(Organic) ground beef, chicken, and turkey
Raw salmon & canned sardines (more about fish in the section What about fish?)
Get your first 10 lbs from Darwin’s Natural Pet for only $14.95 (includes shipping).
How do I prepare the muscle meat?
I use a variety of knives and a pair of kitchen scissors to cut the muscle meat into smaller chunks.
Raw Feeding Miami’s meat typically comes in 2.5 and 5 lb bags, so some meal prep is required. That means I have to set away some time to first thaw the frozen product and then portion it out into food storage containers.
Some raw feeders use commercial meat grinders because they have gulpers or their dogs/cats simply prefer the texture of ground meat.
The Weston Butcher series #32 is a powerful meat grinder that can even grind raw meaty bones. My pups have healthy teeth and gums and actually chew what’s in their bowls rather than just swallowing parts whole, so I personally don’t use a grinder. But it’s definitely one way of preparing raw meals.
A few of Raw Feeding Miami’s products already come in ground form. Some can be fed as is because they consist of ground muscle meat, bones and secreting organs.
Others are only ground meat, ground bones, or ground secreting organs and have to be mixed with other cuts of meat.
What about fish?
Feeding raw fish is important and should make up about 10% of your pup’s overall muscle meat allowance.
It’s a great alternative instead of bottled fish oil. However, if you’d rather use oil, I recommend Bonnie & Clyde’s Fish Oil.
I personally feed mostly whole fish like canned sardines in water, thread herring, salmon, green lipped mussels, and mackerel.
Good to know: Raw salmon & other fish from the Pacific can carry a deadly parasite. That’s why you should freeze those types of fish for 3 weeks prior to feeding them. Or just don’t feed Pacific fish at all.
Sometimes I also treat with air-dried fish from my monthly single-ingredient treat supplier Real Dog. They rotate their fish treats every month between smelt, anchovy, pollock, and salmon skins and chunks.
2. Balanced Raw Dog Food: Secreting Organs
Secreting organs are a small, yet crucial part of feeding dogs a balanced raw food diet. Although they only make up a small portion of raw dog food, they’re a powerful component that can’t be overlooked. That’s because they’re nutrient dense parts of an animal’s body that other cuts of meat lack.
They’re essentially Mother Nature’s multivitamins!
Which organs count as secreting organs in raw feeding?
Did you know that in the raw feeding world, only secreting organs count as organ meat? Secreting organs are those that secrete a substance that is excreted by the body.
This can be a little confusing when first making the switch from kibble to raw..trust me.. been there, done that…At first, I had no idea that organs in raw feeding didn’t equal “regular” organs.
I remember my light bulb moment when I first realized that heart actually counts as muscle meat, and not organ, although it is, of course, a very hard working, muscular organ!
But since it’s not a secreting one it counts as muscle meat.
That said, the following body parts are to be fed as secreting organs in raw dog food:
Sweetbreads (= Thymus & Pancreas)
Testicles & Ovaries
As mentioned above, secreting organs make up 10% of a balanced raw meal, 5% of which has to be liver. Don’t worry though, not every single meal has to be 100% balanced. Just make sure you achieve balance over the course of 7-10 days.
Good to know: This applies to adult dogs. Puppies need more food while they’re growing. Check out my blog post about raw dog food for puppies to learn how much and what to feed.
So don’t stress out if you forget to add a piece of liver to a meal every now & then – but don’t make it a habit. Dogs do need the essential minerals and vitamins liver contains in order to thrive and not just survive.
Liver is rich in iron, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, iodine, the fat-soluble antioxidant vitamin A, all of the B vitamins (including B12 & folic acid), some vitamin D, vitamin E, & vitamin K.
Secreting organs I feed:
I typically switch between beef liver, chicken liver, goat liver, and rabbit liver. Rabbit liver ($8/1 lb) is more expensive than chicken ($5/2.5 lbs) and beef liver ($4.25/2.5 lbs).
During hunting season, I also feed and stock up on venison liver (and other cuts of venison like heart, kidneys, and meat).
Besides liver I feed kidneys, pancreas and Raw Feeding Miami’s custom organ mix, Monstermash. It consists of ground liver, kidney, green tripe, and two other organs the company switches between.
Monstermash is the perfect organ mix for meal prep purposes when you’re just starting to meal prep. The only time I wouldn’t feed it is if you know or suspect that your dog doesn’t do well with beef.
What about green tripe?
Green tripe is generally considered a muscle meat and should be fed as such, but it also falls in the offal (= internal secreting organ) category. That’s because it’s chock full of digestive enzymes, gastric juices, and amino acids.
Good to know: If you’re interested in Darwin’s green tripe, you have to specifically ask them for it because it’s not featured on their website.
Where do I buy my secreting organs?
As mentioned above, I purchase secreting organs from Raw Feeding Miami and particularly like their Monstermash organ grind because it’s so convenient. It doesn’t require any cutting up of organs and it’s already the perfect secreting organ mix.
I’ve also purchased beef liver from Raw Paws Pet Food – their price point is typically higher than Raw Feeding Miami’s, but in December of 2015, they had a p h e n o m e n a l deal on beef liver strips (20 lbs for $44), so I stocked up on it, and it’s lasted me about a year and a half.
I’m also able to find chicken liver as well as calf liver at my local grocery store!
Lucky me also finally found out about a local, organic farm not far from me who sell their produce and meats at a Farmer’s Market on Saturdays. Their selection includes chicken liver (as well as hearts and feet).
Let me throw in a word of caution though – don’t be tempted to feed more than the recommended 10% of secreting organs. For example, a giant meal of liver at once.
If you do, you’ll risk vitamin A toxicity in your dog(s). Symptoms of that are lethargy, weight loss, constipation, stiffness, limping, and loss of appetite. Feeding too much secreting organ at once can also cause diarrhea.
3. Balanced Raw Dog Food: Raw Meaty Bones (RMBs)
RMBs make up another 10% of balanced raw dog food and are great for keeping your dog’s teeth clean.
However, toothless dogs or those with weak teeth should not eat whole raw meaty bones. In that case, it’s best to grind them if you’re planning on making your own meals.
Remember, it’s less expensive than pre-made commercial raw dog food. A powerful meat grinder that’s able to grind chicken leg quarters and turkey necks is the Weston Butcher Series #32.
If it’s in your budget, you can of course purchase pre-made raw meals. They’ll consist of the perfect balance of muscle meat, RMBs and organs, all ground up. Some brands such as Darwin’s also add fruits & veggies.
Tip: Get your first 10 lb from Darwin’s for only $14.95! That’s a heck of a great deal!
One way to tell if you’re over-or underfeeding RMBs is to look at your dog’s poop – if it’s too runny, you’re not feeding enough bone. If it’s too dry, you’re feeding too much.
The emphasis definitely lies on the word “raw”. Unlike cooked bones, raw bones are pliable and soft. They don’t splinter like cooked bones and keep a dog’s pearlies nice and clean.
Australian Veterinarian Dr. Ian Billinghurst writes of the benefits of raw meaty bones in his book “Give Your Dog A Bone”. Check out my review of his book if you’re interested:
What counts as RMBs?
How to feed RMBs
As a general rule of thumb, RMBs should be slightly larger than your dog’s mouth so that he’s forced to crunch down on them a few times and doesn’t swallow it whole.
If you know that your dog is a gulper, hold the RMB with one hand and let your dog chew on the other end. This has the added benefit of teaching your dog polite manners around food in general and that it’s OK for us humans to touch their food.
RMBs I feed
My pups have had the pleasure of crunching down on the following raw meaty bones:
Chicken leg quarters, feet, necks, and wings
Turkey necks & thighs
Duck necks, wings, heads, feet, and frames
Bone-in pork chops
Bone-in rabbit chunks & rabbit heads
I can feed my pups chicken and duck wings because they’re not gulpers and are good about breaking them up with a few bites. If your dog is a gulper and a larger breed, I would pass on the wings.
Duck frames are roughly 25% meat and 75% bone and are great for medium to large size breeds.
Chicken feet are mainly bone, meaty lamb bones are about 20% meat, and 80% bone.
Chicken leg quarters are about 80% meat, and 20% bone. They’re a good size for large dogs.
My supermarket around the corner has an awesome deal on those about once per month where I’ll get two bags of chicken leg quarters for the price of one. One bag typically costs around $8 and contains 8 leg quarters.
They do come with a bunch of skin left on them which I cut off because my pups don’t need that extra fat. It would be a good way of putting some extra pounds onto a dog who’s underweight.
Turkey necks are about 55% meat, and 45% bone. They’re a good size for medium to large size dogs.
Don’t feed weight bearing bones from large hooved animals like cows and deer! Those bones are too dense and can fracture dog teeth. Unlike the much softer poultry bones, they’re designed to hold up hundreds of pounds of animal.
Where I buy my RMBs
I’m lucky and can find chicken feet at a local organic farm and turkey necks and thighs at the supermarket down the street. Of course I can also get my hands on chicken drumsticks/wings and bone-in pork chops at the supermarket. Every grocery store should carry those, really.
I get duck heads and frames from Raw Feeding Miami, and have also ordered bone-in pork chops, rabbit heads, bone-in rabbit chunks, and lamb bones from them.
4. Balanced Raw Dog Food: Veggies, Fruit, Herbs, Nuts & Seeds (Optional)
It’s up to your personal preference whether or not you decide to add fruits & veggies to your raw dog food.
Dogs don’t need them to survive, but they do have some benefits when fed in moderation, particularly dark berries and cruciferous veggies. Both are rich in phytochemicals, antioxidants, and fiber. They’re also said to be rich in cancer-fighting compounds.
I learned this from my homeopathic vet Dr. Charles Loops when he provided end of life support for my late pup Missy.
Cruciferous vegetables dogs can eat are:
Other vegetables that are low in sugar and good for dogs are:
Vegetables that are high in sugar and should be fed in moderation are:
Vegetables that are high in carbs and should be avoided are:
How to feed your dog fruit/veggies
Dogs lack the enzyme necessary for breaking down plant cell walls, meaning they can’t properly digest whole plant matter.
Because of this, fruits & veggies need to be fed either puréed, steamed, or very finely chopped.
Which fruits/veggies do I feed?
I feed the following fruits & veggies in small amounts and rotate between them on a seasonal basis:
I also like Dr. Harvey’s Paradigm. I keep a bag around for convenience sake because I don’t always feel like steaming and puréeing plant matter myself.
Paradigm is a dehydrated mix of 6 dehydrated vegetables, bone broth, herbs, and a multi-vitamin supplement. All you have to add is water to rehydrate it, and then you just mix it in with your pup’s meals.
Balanced Raw Dog Food: Final Thoughts
Despite the work that goes into making my pups’ balanced raw dog food, it’s so much fun putting their own meals together and shopping for the different protein sources. A few necessities besides time and freezer space are cutting boards, sharp knives, and food storage containers.
As with everything in life, there’s a learning curve with meal prep. I have, for example, found that the easiest way to cut up beef lung is to use scissors and simply cut it into smaller pieces. The sponge-like consistency makes it a bit tough on knives.
Leave your comments or questions in the comment section below!