how to transition your dog to a raw diet

Are you eager to switch your dog to raw?

Let me guess, you were…

But somewhere along the research process, the wind was blown right out of your sails. You heard (or read) several different – and opinionated – theories about how to transition your dog to a raw diet.

Now you’re not sure which one to follow.

Don’t abandon the hoorah attitude.

Transition options are plentiful. You can choose an approach that works for your dog, but also your schedule, lifestyle, and comfort level.

And in today’s article, I’ll break down the options, share pros and cons of each, and explain how to do it step-by-step.

Ready?

Options for Transitioning Your Dog to a Raw Diet

Transitioning to raw dog food does not have a “one size fits all” approach. Each dog may handle the following options in a different manner.

But we’ll discuss everything you need to know so you can determine the best option for you.

You have two choices:

  1. A cold turkey switch
  2. A gradual switch

Let’s tackle them one-by-one.

The Cold Turkey Switch

The Cold Turkey Switch, HOW TO Transition Your Dog to a Raw Diet

Some people believe the transition to raw dog food should happen immediately.

Compare this to smoking or eating junk food. Should you wean off the potato chips or throw out the bag and start fresh? The later is how many dog owners feel.

Granted, it can be more complicated than that…

But once their eyes are opened to the shortcomings of processed pet food, these dog owners chuck the old food. They march straight to the store, buy prepackaged raw dog food (or set out to make their own) and never look back.

No instruction is needed. Throw out (or donate) your old food and start with raw ASAP.

Pros & Cons:

A rapid switch is a simple, no-nonsense approach.

But before using the cold turkey approach, you must determine if your dog is a fit for a quick transfer of diet. If not, diarrhea, digestive distress, and GI upset can occur.

Best Suited for:

  • Puppies
  • Young dogs

The cold turkey switch is also for confident dog owners.

Why?

Changing your dog’s diet too quickly can result in diarrhea. Some dogs may be sick after a few days. This sends many concerned (yet unprepared) dog owners to the vet’s office.

And because many vets are unsupportive of raw, they may blame raw. Vets commonly misdiagnose the problem. They fault diarrhea or GI issues on the bacteria in raw food. When in reality, the sudden dietary change sparked the problem.

Don’t get me wrong:

Many dogs do fine with the cold turkey switch. My dog did (he was 4 months old).

But for other dogs, it can be different. And the experience can send their owners running for the hills. Panicked, pet parents return to processed foods.

Back to the same old problems…

And we don’t want that.

The Gradual Switch

The Gradual Switch. HOW TO Transition Your Dog to a Raw Diet

You transition to raw dog food gradually.

For most dogs, this is a one – two week period. But for others, it can last up to 4 weeks or even 6 months, depending on the circumstances.

Understand, some dogs have sensitive GI tracts.

Changing from one food to another may cause minor to severe GI upset. This could be from age, disease, or a life of kibble and overexposure to chemicals and toxins.

Remember:

Your dog has been eating artificial, grain-based foods for a long time. Not only are they difficult to digest but also they’re quite different from real, fresh, raw foods.

What’s more, most dogs on processed diets have:

  • Poor gut bacteria and diversity
  • Suppressed digestive enzymes
  • Weakened immune system

Many dogs need time to get their system up and running again.

By slowly introducing new foods, we can decrease the risk of GI upset. What’s more, a slow switch helps you gauge your dog’s personal preference for certain foods and helps you determine if any food intolerances exist.

After polling many raw feeders, I’ve determined 4 general game plans for a gradual transition.

  1. The “treat first” switch
  2. The “combined” switch
  3. The “separate meals” switch
  4. The “cook before raw” switch

The “Treat First” Switch

The "Treat First" Switch. Gradually transition your dog to a raw diet! #rawfeeding

This is a healthy median between the rapid and gradual switch. Fans of the “treat first” transition want to switch to raw quickly but prefer to test the waters first.

Instructions:

  • Day 1: Use the new raw food as a treat. Keep an eye on the condition of your dog’s stool.
  • Day 2 – 4: Increase the number of raw food treats over the next several days. Continue to monitor stools.
  • Day 5: If the stool is normal, replace one whole meal of old food with the new food.
  • Day 5 – 7: Do this for several more days. If the stools remain normal, stop the old food and feed the new food permanently.

Pros & Cons:

The “treat first” switch is another simple approach. But be aware the potential for stomach-upset stills exists. That’s because you’ll be transitioning from treats to a full meal in one swoop.

Best Suited For:

  • Healthy dogs
  • Young dogs
  • Puppies

The “Combined” Switch

The "Combined Switch." A gradual option for transitioning your dog to a raw diet.

With this approach, we offer both types of food at the same time. Each day, you’ll offer less kibble and more raw foods.

The ratios are adjustable for your dog. Consider the following as a starting point:

  • Day 1: feed 1/8th of the new food, 7/8th of the old food
  • Day 2: feed 1/4th of the new food, 3/4th of the old food
  • Day 3: feed 1/2 of the new food, 1/2 of the old food
  • Day 4: feed 3/4th of the new food, 1/4th of the old food
  • Day 5: feed 7/8th of the new food, 1/8th of the old food
  • Day 6: feed 100% of the new food

Some dog owners choose to start at 1/4 to simplify things but if your dog is hyper sensitive, start at 1/8th. And feel free to to extend the transition time to two weeks or longer if you feel it will make it easier on your dog and your family.

Pros & Cons:

The “combined switch” is a solid choice for reducing stomach upset. It also seems to work well for dogs that refuse raw food in a cold turkey switch since it’s being mixed into kibble gradually. But it requires measuring and mixing food and that might be inconvenient for some people.

Best Suited for:

  • All dogs
  • Senior Dogs
  • Dogs with sensitive digestive systems

Debunking an Outdated Rumor:

Were you told to never combine raw and cooked/processed foods?

The rumor claims:

Raw meat and bones digest within a few hours. Yet, kibble or cooked foods take between 12-24 hours. The “rates of digestion” between the two foods is what causes GI irritation.

This is a myth.

Plenty of people feed their dogs a mix of fresh, raw foods and processed foods at the same time. In fact, this is recommended if you can’t make the switch 100%.

Want proof?

This post mentions a study. It cites a decrease in the risk of canine cancer by adding fresh, raw foods to processed diets. What’s more, raw dog food research carried out by Finnish veterinarian, Dr. Anna Bjorkman reveals:

A dog’s diet had the ability to increase or decrease the odds for disease. The turning point for a decrease in odds for disease is when 20% of a dog’s diet (or 1/5th) is raw. See her discuss it in this video.

The takeaway:

Don’t let this rumor stop you from supplementing with fresh foods if a complete raw diet is not possible.

As for the rumor, these are the real facts:

  1. Raw food digests slower than kibble. Not faster (see the data here). That makes sense. What moves out of you quicker? Low quality foods or healthy foods?
  1. Dogs do digest raw food differently than kibble. But it’s not the timing you should be hung up on.

Veterinarian, Dr. Karen Becker explains raw food is processed as a protein. It’s held in the stomach for an acid bath, where kibble is viewed metabolically as a starch. Digestive confusion can occur, which results in gassiness or belching. But for most dog owners, there’s little to no issue.

The moral:

Any kind of sudden diet change can cause digestive upset. This is not exclusive to feeding raw and kibble together.

The “Separate Meals” Switch

The "Separate Meals" switch. How to transition your dog to a raw diet, gradually! #rawfeeding

For the people that can’t shake the “never combine kibble and raw foods” rumor, we have a solution for you too. This approach is almost identical to the “combined” gradual switch. The only difference is you’re going to feed the old food and new food separately.

It has the same breakdown:

  • Day 1: feed 1/8th of the new food, 7/8th of the old food
  • Day 2: feed 1/4th of the new food, 3/4th of the old food
  • Day 3: feed 1/2 of the new food, 1/2 of the old food
  • Day 4: feed 3/4th of the new food, 1/4th of the old food
  • Day 5: feed 7/8th of the new food, 1/8th of the old food
  • Day 6: feed 100% of the new food

Except, the portions of new and old food are separated. Provide one in the morning and one in the evening. Feel free to start at ¼ if your dog isn’t overly sensitive.

Pros & Cons:

The “separate meals” approach is a great candidate for reducing stomach upset. And it’s perfect for people who are uncertain if they want to feed raw foods and processed foods together. One drawback is the mixing and measuring of both foods.

Best Suited for:

  • All dogs
  • Senior Dogs
  • Dogs with sensitive digestive systems

The “Cook Before Raw” Switch

The "Cook Before Raw" Switch. 1 Option for Gradually Transitioning Your Dog to Raw! #rawfeeding

This is a good choice for pet owners who have always fed a homemade, cooked diet but who want to transition to raw. It works equally as well for picky dogs that aren’t interested in raw foods. But “cook before raw” is even better for chronic illness and dogs that are unhealthy. It allows more time for them to build up their stomach flora and pH.

Instructions:

  • Day 1: introduce the food in a cooked state
  • Day 2: cook the food ¾ of the way
  • Day 3: cook the food ½ of the way
  • Day 4: cook the food ¼ of the way
  • Day 5: serve the food in a raw state

Tips:

  •  How fast you transition from cooked to raw depends on how your dog is handling it. You many need to extend this transition schedule.
  • If your dog has issues with a decrease in cooking, wait until digestive upset resolves before moving to the next stage. You can wait it out at the current level. Or, go to the previous level for a few days
  • If you’re unsure how long to cook a percentage of your dog’s daily serving, time how long it takes to cook through on the first day. Then, use that time frame as a guideline for reducing cooking.
  • With this approach, cook only meats, NEVER edible bone. Cooked bone is prone to splintering and should not be fed to dogs.

Pros & Cons:

The “cook before raw” switch is a safe option for sick dogs. It also provides the best protection against digestive upset. But cooking meals require more prep time than the other methods.

Best Suited for:

  • Senior dogs
  • Dogs used to eating cooked, homemade diets
  • Picky dogs
  • Dogs with chronic illness
  • Dogs with an impaired immune system

Raw Transition Considerations for Life Stages

Consider life stages when choosing a raw dog food transition method.

Puppies:

Puppies tend to have a healthier digestive system, which is why they can tolerate a rapid switch in diet. Some puppies can handle a raw transition in 1 or 2 days with little issue. Young dogs and puppies can be transitioned with any method (unless they have a health condition) and are great candidates for the cold turkey switch.

Healthy Dogs:

Healthy dogs are in a similar boat. They’re able to transition faster than older dogs or dogs with digestive issues. Again, any transition method works for healthy dogs.

Senior Dogs:

Move slower with older dogs.

Their age makes them less robust and more fragile to dietary changes. Give senior dogs plenty of time to adjust to a new food. The transition process may need to be extended for several weeks or months. Most senior dogs have eaten processed pet food their entire lives. And the same brand!

The older the dog (and the longer they’ve eaten kibble) the longer you should take to transition them to raw.

Switching a Dog with GI Disease to Raw Dog Food

HOW TO transition your dog to a raw diet. 5 options to choose from! #rawfeeding

The raw transition for most dogs is smooth and straightforward. But some cases—especially dogs with GI disease—will be more complex. You’ll need to proceed responsibly and carefully. According to veterinarian, Dr. Karen Becker, dogs acquire GI issues from dietary transitions for two reasons:

  • The speed of the change
  • Dysbiosis

Dr. Becker explains dysbiosis as “an imbalance of gut bacteria – too few friendly bacteria and too many opportunistic or pathogenic (bad) bacteria.”

This is why dogs with GI Disease need:

  1. A gradual switch
  2. Additional support during the transition.

Stomach pH plays a Role in Digestive Upset

Naturally, dogs have a highly acidic gastric PH (2 or lower). This acidic environment is suitable for the breakdown of meat, raw bones and is effective at killing pathogenic bacteria.

According to Dr. Bruce Syme, dogs that consume diets high in carbohydrates and plant proteins notice a few symptoms:

  • The acidity level of the stomach begins to decrease
  • The stomach becomes more alkaline
  • The dog is less effective at handling raw meat, bones, and bacteria

This can result in the “rejection” of bone or meat through vomiting. It can also cause a bout of gastroenteritis, or loose stools.

No need to worry.

Dogs can handle a switch in food if it’s introduced gradually and the gastric acidity is allowed to normalize. According to Dr. Syme, it takes 7-10 days on a meat-based diet for a dog’s gastric acidity levels to drop down to normal. He goes on to say:

“Feeding a raw food diet will actually protect your dog or cat from bacterial contamination and food poisoning, and greatly reduce the chance of an obstruction from eating raw bones. It is a fact that dogs that eat processed foods are even more likely to shed salmonella bacteria in their feces than are dogs that eat raw food”

The moral:

A slow transition gives the body time to adjust and adapt. This is especially important for dogs with GI disease.

Additional Support May Be Necessary

Along with a slow change in diet, an additional medical protocol to treat dysbiosis and an inflamed GI tract is recommended. Dogs with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or an overactive immune system may need both a detoxification and leaky gut protocol to transition.

Consider these tips from Dr. Karen Becker for transitioning dogs with GI disease:

  • Food should be thoroughly ground
  • Bones and bone meal should be excluded at first
  • Food should be gently cooked for many months in the initial transition phase
  • Begin with only two ingredients in a homemade diet.
  • Slowly add nutrients one at a time as you dog’s health improves
  • Provide probiotics (to build up good bacteria) and digestive enzymes to aid in the transition.

Remember, dogs that eat kibble and dogs that eat raw have different gut microbe populations. When you’re first transitioning, it’s likely your kibble-fed dog may not have the gut microbes and “healthy” bacteria to get the most out of raw food.

This is why supplementing with probiotics is a good idea.

Gut microbe transitions will also take time. It takes about a week to decrease the microbe population we don’t want and increase the ones that we do want. According to dog food formulator, researcher, and author Steve Brown:

“After about a week the microbes that feed on real meet and real dietary fiber will proliferate and those that feed on dry dog food will dramatically reduce in numbers. Your dog’s gut will be healthier, and so will your dog!

But is Such a Slow Transition Natural?

Some dog owners argue that this transition approach is not natural. They say starting slow and taking a long period of time to complete the process is not what nature intended.

They’re right.

But Dr. Karen Becker says:

“With gastrointestinally debilitated animals, we must “meet the patients where their bodies are at.” Many animals must be on special protocols initially to assist in healing.

Lots of patience is necessary.

The road to recovery may not be linear. In fact, you’re bound to experience ups and downs and bumps in the road. But gastrointestinal health is critical if you want your dog to thrive.

Finding the Right Veterinary Partner

Working with a veterinarian who understands GI disease is key. This is critical for a successful switch to raw so you don’t negatively affect your dog. Veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker explains:

“If a seasoned holistic veterinarian isn’t participating in the dietary transition, it can go so poorly for some of these animals that they end up being hospitalized. These unsuccessful attempts at a dietary transition are why traditional vets will say, “Some pets just can’t tolerate raw foods or fresh foods. You just need to leave well enough alone and continue feeding kibble.”

But it’s important to recognize that with good effort and professional guidance, these animals, too, can be transitioned to better, healthier diets.”

Make sure you find a vet that supports real-food diets. Any vet that recommends you continue feeding processed pet food may not be the best choice. According to Dr. Karen Becker:

Unsupportive vets may say things like: “I guess your pet wasn’t meant to eat human-grade food.” Or I’ve heard them say, “Some animals just can’t tolerate a diet change or healthy food.”

The truth:

Dogs with GI disease will take more time to successfully transition to raw. Some can take up to a year. But the results are worth it. Sadly, many dog owners see it as too much trouble and give up. They continue the same lifestyle that caused the problem.

But consider this:

Your dog is either moving towards health or away from it.

In a year from now, do you want a healthier dog? Or, a dog just another year older with the same (or worsening) health issues? Put the time and energy into making a lifestyle change that will heal you dog’s body from the inside out.

What to Expect When Switching to Raw Dog Food

HOW to transition your dog to raw. Everything you need to know! #rawfeeding

All dogs are different.

Some will take a few days and some will take several weeks. As a general guideline, allow a minimum of one week for your dog’s digestive system to adjust.

The Detox Process:

Your dog may experience a detoxification period when switching to raw dog food.

This will occur mainly through the bowels and skin. During detox, your dog will act normal, be happy, bright and alert. But you may notice the following symptoms:

  • Runny Eyes
  • Earwax or debris produced from the ear
  • Dry skin
  • Excess shedding
  • Chronic or periodic skin conditions may briefly worsen
  • Mucus coating your dog’s stool
  • And other symptoms

Don’t panic.

This is normal. In reality, you should celebrate. Your dog is on the right track. In the raw feeding community, we call this getting “unsick.”While it may seem unnerving, understand your dog is not sick. In fact, these are signs your dog’s body is purging itself of the various toxins that have built up over time.

The detox process may resolve in a week or two. But it could take a couple of months, as new cells replace old ones.

Dogs that have been on antibiotics, steroids or other long-term drugs may experience longer detox periods. Consult your vet if detox symptoms don’t go away. Or, if you believe your dogs is experiencing severe issues from the diet change.

If you’d like to speed up the detox process:

  • Provide plenty of fresh, filtered water
  • Increase exercise
  • Clear ears of debris and wipe eyes as needed
  • Brush or groom your dog to help them shed old, dull hair so a new, soft and shiny coat can grow
  • Some dogs may choose to fast occasionally as they go through the detox period, let them.

Water Intake Decreases:

Another harmless but sometimes alarming change for new raw feeders is water intake. Dogs on a fresh, raw-food diet will drink much less water than dogs eating a processed diet.

This is normal.

Your dog is eating real, moisture dense foods now. Their diet will provide much of their water needs.

Be prepared to notice your dog drinking less and less. But, let’s be clear that your dog still needs access to clean, filtered drinking water even if they consume less of it.

Stool Changes:

Your dog’s poop will change – for the better.

What some new raw feeders do not know is raw-fed poop is quite different from kibble-fed poop.

You’ll notice variation in the consistency of your dog’s stool while transitioning at first. This is a normal part of the process.

Note: Consult with your veterinarian if your dog experiences prolonged diarrhea. And remember, soft stool is not the same as diarrhea.

But after your dog has transitioned to raw foods, stools will be smaller and firmer. They may even turn white and crumble in a day or two if you forget to pick them up.

Your dog may pass them with ease or may strain slightly when passing. This is normal and beneficial. Harder stools help your dog express their anal glands. This reduces the likelihood of infection or needing to have them expressed at the vet’s office.

Again, this is nothing to worry about.

Be excited.

Heaping, messy, smelly piles of poop will be a thing of the past when your dog is on a proper raw diet.

Obviously, being on a raw diet does not make your dog immune to diarrhea or “less than ideal” stools. Especially, if they ate something they shouldn’t or when they’re trying to new foods. But when fully transitioned, a proper raw diet will produce smaller, harder stools.

I’m telling you this so you know what to expect.

Believe it or not, some dog owners have returned to kibble because no one explained their dog’s stools would change so drastically.

Tips for Raw Transition Success

HOW TO transition your dog to a Raw Diet + Tips for Success! #rawfeeding

Do you want to know how to transition your dog to a raw diet successfully? Follow these tips below:

Before the Switch:

  • Fast your dog before their first raw meal – This gives their digestive system a chance to reset and detox. Plus, it ensures they’re hungry and will have greater interest in their new food the next day.
  • Fast adult dogs for 24 hours – (12 at the very least) and don’t fast a puppy under a year of age.
  • Choose a transition method that supports your dog’s potty schedule. – I recommend a more gradual switch if you’re limited in your ability to let your dog out throughout the day. If you’ve opted for the cold turkey switch, start over a weekend or when you’re off from work. That way, you’re available should additional potty trips be needed.

During the Switch:

  • Stop (or at least limit) treats during the transition – Particularly flour/grain based ones. We want to increase your dog’s appetite for raw meat and decrease their desire for junk food.
  • Provide access to plenty of clean, filtered water.
  • Be positive! – Dogs are sensitive to our emotions, like apprehension and skepticism. Confidence will reassure your dog about their change in food.
  • Be smart about accidents. – Consider where your dog stays when you’re not home. Diarrhea and digestive upset are possibilities. Avoid messes on the carpet or in other areas of your home by crating your dog.

Introducing Proteins:

  • Start with one protein. – Unless you’re feeding premade raw dog food, we’re not aiming to provide a balanced, long-term diet at this step. Variety is important but when transitioning to raw, start slow. This makes it easier on your dog’s digestive system and ensures a gentle and positive introduction to raw feeding.
  • Feed one protein for at least a week. – Some spend 2 weeks or more getting adjusted to a new protein source, it will depend on how your dog is handling it.
  • Add other protein sources gradually. Give each new protein a week – several weeks to adjust. This way, we can ensure your dog is doing well with the addition of each new item.
  • Consider starting with poultry. – Most dog owners begin with chicken or poultry sources since these proteins are easiest to digest. Bland meals help your dog adjust as too many rich foods can cause diarrhea and digestive upset.
  • Next, add red meat to the diet. – Red meat is essential to a raw diet. But it should be added following a successful transition of white meat. Try pork, beef, or lamb. Introduce in small amounts and gradually increase.

Introducing Edible Bone:

  • Feed bone (or a bone replacement with muscle meat)
  • Add extra bone (if your dog eats it safely) – It’s recommended to add some extra bone for the first couple of meals and while transitioning. This helps keep stools firm during the transition.
  • Make sure edible bone is introduced properly. – Ensure you know how to introduce bone before blindly giving it a whirl.
  • Feed correctly sized raw meaty bones – Make sure the RMB you’re providing is suitable for the size of your dog.
  • Monitor your dog while eating bone. – Most kibble-fed dogs have never eaten a raw meaty bone and may not know how to do so properly. Choking can happen if your dog eats too fast or tries to gulp his/her food.
  • Start by hand feeding if you don’t know what to expect. – If you’re uncertain if your dog will try to gulp, start with a ground raw diet, hand feed edible bones to your dog, or provide RMBs larger than their head so you can remove them before they become a choking hazard.

Introducing Organs and Other Ingredients:

  • Add organ after your dog has adjusted to muscle meat. – If your dog has adjusted to several protein sources and can eat edible bone (or a bone replacement), it’s time for organs.
  • Slowly introduce liver and other secreting organs – Organs are super rich so start small and gradually build to requirements. Understand organs are most likely to cause loose stools and diarrhea. Be mindful of this when feeding. But don’t skip them, they’re essential to the diet. Just take it slow.
  • Feed organs with bone. – Organs have a natural laxative effect so make sure they’re fed with bone and to avoid loose stools and diarrhea.
  • Next, try offal. – Now you can experiment with more of the other, unique ingredients like green tripe. The same rules apply, start slow and give your dog time to adjust.

Gauging Progress:

  • Observe your dog’s reaction to raw. – Increase the ratio of new food based on their tolerance. Do they seem fine or do they appear to be in discomfort or digestive distress?
  • Poop holds the answers. – The general guideline is to look for firm or solid stools before making any new changes

Troubleshooting the Raw Transition:

  • Dark Stools. – If you feed mainly poultry, pork and beef and notice that stools are very dark (almost black), too much organ was likely added. But if you feed mostly exotics, wild game, and dark red meats like kangaroo for example – dark stools will be normal.
  • Loose stools. – If stools are soft or loose, add a little more bone to firm them up and slow down when adding new items.
  • Treat digestive upset. – If your dog experiences digestive upset or diarrhea for 2 or more days, increase the bone content. And provide slippery elm bark until stools have firmed. Dosage instructions in this article. Buy Slippery Elm Bark in powder form here (organic & non-GMO) or here, and here for just organic. Buy the capsule form here (organic, non-GMO) and here and here for non-GMO only.

Tips for Transitioning with Commercial Raw Dog Food:

The same transition tips still apply for premade raw dog food brands.
 
It’s worth noting that some dog owners prefer to switch to prepackaged raw dog food first. This allows them to gain confidence while getting their feet wet.
 
With this approach, dog owners can focus on the switch. They don’t have to worry about sourcing ingredients or balancing meals. They can hold off on buying supplies and committing to a homemade raw diet until ready.

Some dog owners choose to stay with premade raw dog food. Once comfortable, others begin learning how to feed a raw diet at home. They may switch to a 100% homemade raw diet, or feed a mix of both.

Whatever you decide to do, consider these tips:

  • Introduce new formulas slowly. Because premade raw dog food is a ground mixture, you can’t isolate ingredients. So anytime you feed a new protein recipe (even if it’s the same brand) – move slow. Prepackaged raw is a great option for the harder-to-source exotic and novel proteins. But make sure to give your dog time to adjust to an unfamiliar protein. After a slow introduction, your dog should be able to bounce between recipes without issue.
  • Switch between different raw dog food brands slowly. Each brand (and their individual recipes) differ. The ingredients used and the quantity of those ingredients vary. Knowing this, proceed slowly when switching between brands. Some brands might contain the perfect percentages for your dog. While another brand’s recipe may cause a bout of loose stools.
  • Consider bone percentages when transitioning from commercial to homemade raw dog food. Most premade raw dog food has a high bone content. If switching to a homemade raw diet, you may notice diarrhea, loose stools, or stomach upset. No need to panic. The bone percentages in your new, homemade diet might be too low. Or you may have increased rich foods too quickly. Take new proteins, red meats, and especially organ slow. And increase bone content until stools resolve.
  • Be smart when switching from ground bone to raw meaty bones. Commercial raw diets contain ground bone. This doesn’t require your dog’s teeth. Raw meaty bones do. Make sure you understand how to properly introduce bone and how to feed it safely before jumping in.

One More Thing: Don’t Stop Halfway

Some dogs never make the switch completely. Many pet parents leave their dogs suspended between kibble and raw.

Perhaps they’re:

  • Still uncomfortable with the idea of raw foods
  • Alarmed by digestive upset and detox symptoms
  • Afraid they’ll leave important nutrients out

Unless you can’t afford to feed 100% raw, avoid this.

Too many dog owners start the transition; make it halfway and remain there. Sure, some fresh foods are better than none. But you’ll see the most benefit if you transition your dog to a complete raw diet.

Lean On Other Raw Feeders

Don’t be afraid to reach out for support.

Join an online raw feeding group. Raw feeding forums and Facebook groups are an amazing support network. Members consist of veteran raw feeders who have years of experience, but also newcomers in the same position as you.

Regardless of experience level, these groups share two things in common:

  1. Members are eager to do what’s best for their pets
  2. They’re happy to help and share their knowledge.

A raw feeding group is an invaluable tool for beginners so you don’t feel like you’re at this alone. Plus, you have quick access to other raw feeders should you have a question or run into any bumps in the road.

Are You Ready to Transition Your Dog to Raw?

Learn HOW to transition your dog to a raw diet. This post covers EVERYTHING you need to know! #rawfeeding

At this point, you know how to transition your dog to a raw diet. Now it’s in your hands.

You have everything you need to ensure a smooth and successful raw dog food transition.

  1. Determine if a cold turkey or gradual switch is appropriate.
  2. Review the pros and cons for each transition option along with considerations for life stages.
  3. After you’ve made a decision, brush up on what to expect along with tips for success.

One last thing:

Remember, a single “correct” way to transition does not exist. Choose a method that suits your dog. But also, consider your lifestyle.

If you got some value from this guide, please remember to tweet it or share on it on Facebook. And after you share this how-to guide on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, leave a comment below with your feedback.

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14 comments Comments image with loudspeaker
  • Natalie

    All these raw feeding sites have explained how to transition, why raw is better, what types of meat (muscle, organ, bone…) but I can’t find advice on where to buy raw meat. Can I really just go to the grocery store and use the same chicken breast I’d normally cook for myself and give it to my dog raw?

    Thank you for your advice and help.

    Natalie happy owner of a GSD

    Reply to Natalie
  • Lisa Rosamino

    Amy,
    Thank you for such a wonderful, thorough article. So very helpful for anyone that is tentative about how to do the “switch”! You answered every question that could possibly be asked. You also showed sensitivity to how a potential new raw feeder must feel with all the information overload out there! You answered and addressed questions that I am sure some raw feeders didn’t even think to ask or consider! This article is a great contribution to the topic of raw feeding. Your research stands behind your article content.Thank you Amy!
    You also have a very adorable model to help you out! Good job Ronnie!

    Reply to Lisa
  • micheal northcott

    Great article and very helpful. I would like to know which bone is best? I have always heard dogs should not have chicken bones but after reading another article, it says chicken neck is good for small dogs???

    thanks

    Reply to micheal
    • Amy Marshall

      Thanks for the kind words Micheal! There are tons of great bone options, more than I can detail here. But I’ll be putting out a post on the edible bone options real SOON. If you’d like to sign up for my email list, you can be notified when new posts are released. Just navigate to the homepage and enter your email. To answer your question, chicken and poultry bones are a great place to start, especially when you’re first transitioning because they’re softer and easily digestible.

      Reply to Amy
  • Trina

    Excellent article. I have a 75 lb 8 yr old dog with a very sensitive stomach (a rescue we found as a puppy that was eating her feces in a crate for several weeks by the time we found her) and found she is extremely sensitive to chicken. She can’t even look at it without scratching until bleeding. As a result I feed her and her 7yr old 5lb sister a salmon grain free diet with small amounts of dehydrated dry and kibble.

    I tried transiting to raw before but now understand that I approached the process too fast. She was spitting up novel proteins like duck (fowl was probably a bad choice) and can’t remember what else I tried.

    I think it is safe to take the last approach and follow the Sensitve GI Digestion process with enzymes and probiotics. My questions are as follows:
    1) Novel protein- she has had lamd treats in small amounts. Can I use lamb or do you reccomend another protein ? At out local market lamb is more often available than goat. Both the goat and lamb are sold with bone or boneless and only offall routinely available is lamb. They have bison but not with bone.

    2) Should I cook her food first or try transition off kibble gradually to raw? If you reccomend cooking first when can I begin transition to raw?

    3) I will shop at Whole Foods and was wondering if you prefer a specific probiotic or enzyme?

    4) do you reccomend only meat or mix with veggie or potatoes?

    As far as finding a vet. I live in Philly and my vet is will to help but could not find a vet experienced in raw food diet.
    Thank you again for a great article.

    Trina

    Reply to Trina
    • Amy Marshall

      Thanks for sharing your experiences Trina. :-) While the raw transition goes well for a lot of dog owners, that is not the case with all dogs so it’s an important point you brought to everyone’s attention!

      I would definitely consider trying a slow and steady transition approach. As for your question, it’s hard to give a definitive answer because it depends on the dog. Poultry is usually easiest to start with but you can skip it altogether if poultry is problematic. If only chicken is the issue, I would try to starting with other poultry products like Turkey, Cornish Hens, and/or Duck. As for red meat, beef and pork might be easier to find and start with vs. a novel protein. But you can use lamb or goat if you prefer. What’s more important than the protein type IMO is to go super slow with the transition and give your dog plenty of time to adjust.

      Regarding cooking, that’s up to you. It will be more work and might make the transition slower but it’s the probably the best bet for GI issues. But if your dog doesn’t have any specific GI disease or health issues and is just “sensitive,” you may be able to get away with
      a super slow transition with raw foods.

      Regarding “how long” to take, there isn’t a specific time period for every dog. Considering what you told me, aim for a two week- 1 month transition period supplementing with probiotics and digestive enzymes. Remember, you’ll be using your dog’s health to determine how they’re handling the switch. You’ll wait until everything seems fine (i.e. firm stools, no itching or skin problems, etc.) before increasing the amount of raw they eat or going to the next level. Based on how your dog is handling it, you may slow down the transition even more or speed it up.

      I LOVE Dr. Dobias supplements. You can find them by clicking here. I prefer not to feed potatoes because they’re starch-heavy and starch can contribute to yeast and skin issues. If you decide to feed veggies, I suggest feeding leafy greens, herbs and low starch vegetables only. With a dog that has either sensitive skin or a sensitive GI tract, you’ll need to experiment and see what works best for your dog. I’ve heard cases for both options (some plants and no plants in the diet) andso this will depend on your dog. Hope this helps, feel free to email me if you have further questions. Good luck!

      Reply to Amy
  • Pippa Coates

    Brilliant article so interesting. Me and my pug are new to this so I’ll tell you a bit about her, she’s 4 years old and weighs 9.5kgs and has been on a diet of kibble and fresh chicken x2 a day for all of her life, I’m a Paleo myself so when I heard about raw feeding I had to make the transition for her so tonight’s the night, I am quite nervous she will take one look and refuse anything except cooked chicken, d’you think I should take it gradually or cold turkey? Any advice gratefully received.

    Thank you so much
    Pippa

    Reply to Pippa
    • Amy Marshall

      Good luck on your transition! If she’s being picky, try switching gradually. You can also try cooking her raw food (don’t cook anything with bone in it though) and gradually reduce cooking time until the food is raw. Nothing wrong with taking your time. Also check out this post with tips for picky dogs.

      Reply to Amy
  • Sean Cushman

    Amy
    Thanks for all the great info. I have a 6 year old 50 pound Red Nose Pit who has been grain free because I have Celiac Disease. I have wanted to go raw but worry he won’t get the vitamins and minerals he needs. Should I be concerned? I cook from scratch, no processed food and only coconut oil or butter. He eats what I do for the most part but he still has grain free kibble. A 40 Lb bag last him about six months or more and he always has it available and may not even touch it for days. He eats grass a lot and will throw up sometimes but not always. He has done this since I rescued him at 6 months old. He has always been healthy and endless energy it just bothers me. Any suggestions on how much he should eat daily on a raw diet. Rabbit is also a good raw meat correct? Is it okay to give him uncooked chicken bones?
    Thanks for any guidance you can give us!
    Sean

    Reply to Sean
    • Amy Marshall

      Thanks for sharing Sean! I highly suggest switching your dog to 100% raw. Grain-free dog food is a bit of a fad I’m afraid. It can actually be higher in carbs than regular grain-based dog food and doesn’t necessarily come with any more benefit than other types of kibble. But you have a valid concern, anyone that wants to feed raw must learn how to do it correctly. Using vitamin and mineral supplements can help to fill in any gaps but you should know how to feed a varied and balanced diet to begin with. I’m also not sure what you’re feeding your dog but (and correct me if I’m wrong) but it sounds as if you’re providing what you’re eating. I don’t recommend this. Your dog needs specific foods and your dog’s raw diet should follow a specific format. Feel free to email me and I can help get you on the right track. :)

      Reply to Amy
  • Sarah Lim

    Thank you for the detailed article. I have a 5+ year old male Westie who has been battling itchy, flaky skin all his life. His previous owner had fed him supermarket grade kibbles since young. Ever since I adopted him at 2 years old, this battle has continued. He has had several courses of antibiotics and steriods for his skin inflammation so far. For the last 6 months, he was on vet-prescribed diet of steamed white fish, steamed sweet potatoes/broccoli, and a small amount of brown rice and apples. His skin flare-ups were fewer but he was very thin and practically starving. After lots of research, I started him on a commercial raw diet (Dr B’s BARF pork recipe) about 3 weeks ago, and saw an amazing change in his skin and coat. I started transitioning him to a homemade raw diet, starting with chicken meat, then soft bones (chicken wings and necks) without organs. From the start, he had shown no signs of digestive problems with the switch to raw (both Dr B’s and homemade). However, in the last 3 days, I have noticed scabs on his back and belly again, and he has been licking his paws obsessively. I read in your post that this reaction could be part of the detox process. Could it also be a reaction to chicken protein? What should I do now – continue to feed chicken muscle meat and bones, or switch to a new protein?

    Reply to Sarah
    • Amy Marshall

      Hi Sarah! Sorry to hear about the issues you’ve been having with your dog. But I am glad to hear raw helped clear it up. It just sounds like things need to be fine-tuned. Obviously, I can’t say for sure what’s causing it (detox symptoms or the ingredients). My gut is telling me it could be the ingredients or absence of certain ingredients in the diet. Email me exactly what you’re feeding him and we can try and figure it out :)

      Reply to Amy
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