Venture into the unknown. You’re different. You have a genuine interest in providing a healthier lifestyle for your dog.
Upon first hearing of raw feeding, most people aren’t sure what to make of it.
And that’s completely normal.
Hesitant and apprehensive, their mental movie screen begins to highlight reels of Cujo. Or another blood thirsty, frightening, or salmonella-ridden creature may come to mind.
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
And while raw feeding sounds complex and intricate, it’s quite simple.
But what’s even more confusing for new raw feeders is the kind of raw diet to pursue. Prey Model vs BARF vs commercial diets. What do these even mean and which one is best?
Let’s navigate through this together. But before we get started, it might help to define raw feeding.
Despite the straightforwardness, it’s hard for many of us to grasp.
You see; we’re conditioned to believe otherwise. So, when we learn about raw dog food, it doesn’t sound quite right.
In fact, the most common raw diet questions I receive sound like this:
“It’s really raw?” or “You don’t cook it?”
Let me reiterate: This is a raw diet. It includes uncooked meat, edible bones, organs, and often other ingredients.
But it might help if you were to understand why.
Except today, the shocking new information goes something like this:
Kibble could be contributing to your dog’s health issues. And there’s a better way to feed your dog.
Because the truth is: the concept can be shocking at first. Like the first time your mother said Santa Claus didn’t exist. It takes time to get used to the idea. But it’s for the best. No one likes a college freshman that still believes in Santa.
Raw feeding has been around for thousands of years. Well before the Paleo Diet exploded into mainstream popularity. Or before kibble was even invented. How’s that for ancestral?
You might be familiar with the trendy Paleo or Primal diet. You know, the idea that we should follow a diet like our ancestor’s?
Yes, the foods advocated in these regimens are different. But raw feeding is the same concept. Except, it’s geared towards dogs, not people.
Common terms for raw feeding also include: “ancestral diet,” “species appropriate,” and “biologically appropriate.”
Plus, it’s REAL. Raw diets contain fresh, raw, unprocessed foods and nutritionally – you can’t beat that.
Buy, defrost and serve.
Commercial raw dog food is more convenient. No doubt about it. And many dog owners are content feeding this type of diet.
Others start here before transitioning to the homemade variety.
Still, some prefer to skip this option all together.
Raw dog food is stored in the freezer section of specialty pet stores and even some national chains. Why?
Because it’s real and it’s perishable.
It’s ironic. Commercial raw dog food is one of the few items in a pet store that’s unprocessed. Despite the sea of meaningless words like organic and natural plastered on every package.
This type of raw dog food is premade.
It’s purchased from a pet store, grocery store, or even online. Except it’s not found on the shelf. It comes in a different format:
There are two basic types.
It’s that simple.
And it’s no different than making dinner for yourself or your children. Other than the menu’s different and there’s no cooking involved.
You source the ingredients, create meals, and watch your dog gobble it up.
This is less convenient but tends to be more affordable. It also allows the dog owner the most control over their dog’s diet – and their health.
Let’s see what they’re all about.
The prey model approach attempts to best resemble what dogs would eat in the wild.
And that’s whole prey.
This diet operates on the philosophy that dogs are true carnivores.
Prey model raw (PMR) feeders believe domestic dogs should follow in the wolf’s footsteps. This means consuming a diet that mimics what their predecessors ate in the wild.
So, what does wild prey consist of?
Bones, muscle meat, skin, organs, fat, connective tissues and either hide, hair, or feathers.
The “Prey Model” method models our pet’s diet on the ratios of parts found in wild prey animals. Dog owners feed these proportions through raw product that’s readily available.
Some dog owners provide these dietary components by feeding their dogs whole prey.
This might mean allowing your dog to help themselves to a deer carcass or perhaps a whole rabbit – fur, feet, and all.
But whole prey is not practical for everyone. So, what does the average Prey Model feeder do?
They piece together whole prey as best they can.
How? A more realistic approach might be feeding a whole chicken or duck. But the grocery store version.
Commercially raised livestock does not contain the same nutrients found in wild prey. Feeding a range of animal product helps to provide a better spectrum of nutrition.
PMR feeders can provide a range of animal proteins. All in a variety of different formats to reach the proportions above.
Raw meaty bones might include animal feet, tails, backs, ribs, necks or whole carcasses. Organ and offal could include liver, kidney, lungs, pancreas, spleen or green tripe.
Some call this “Frankenprey.” It’s the act of assembling parts from different animals. Then, combining them in a way that mimics the relative proportions of prey animals.
PMR feeders also try to keep food as natural as possible. Some don’t approve of ground beef because it’s not in its natural form.
Variety is the key to any healthy diet but is especially important in a PMR diet since it’s a meat-only diet.
• MEAT PRODUCT
• NO PLANT MATERIAL
• LIMITS SUPPLEMENTATION
• AND FOCUSES ON WHOLE PREY (OR AS CLOSE TO WHOLE PREY AS POSSIBLE).
Grain fed commercial livestock and factory farmed meats lack the proper omega 3:6 ratios. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements compensate for this. That is, if grass fed and more natural products are out of your price range.
Wild animals sustain their nutritional needs through whole prey alone. And since a prey model diet mimics this lifestyle, it should – in theory– provide a dog with all that they need.
Of course, there’s always an exception to the rule…
There’s no hard and fast rule. If you asked 20 people, you’re likely to receive 20 different answers.
This depends on the BARF feeder’s point of view and also their own experience feeding their dogs.
Those supporting the facultative carnivore theory might feed less plant matter. Omnivore theory supporters are more likely to include a higher percentage of plant matter.
BARF stands for “bones and raw food” or “biologically appropriate raw food.”
Outside of the hideous nickname, this feeding program is also based on a dog’s ancestral diet. And it’s also comprised of fresh, raw, unprocessed foods.
So, what’s the difference?
The theory behind the diet.
Some BARF feeders operate based on the philosophy that dogs are omnivores. Other BARF proponents believe dogs are carnivores but consider them to be facultative carnivores.
The common denominator?
Both of these camps advocate the use of raw fruits and vegetables in the diet.
Regardless, BARF feeders maintain raw meat should be the focus of the diet.
The format is also more forgiving.
Whole prey and large meaty bones are provided. But ground meats or chopped meats are also acceptable
New raw feeders gravitate to the BARF diet for several reasons.
It has a lower barrier to entry and has a wider commercial availability. Because it’s less restrictive, it’s more appealing and approachable for newbies. Plus, most of the commercially prepared raw diets are BARF diets. They contain meat, bone and organ but also plant matter and come in a ground format.
We know how they’re different but what concepts do they share?
Neither diet requires your dog hunt or kill wild prey. This is a homemade and modern way to feed our pets. This means we provide the food.
Both raw feeding styles also exclude all processed foods and grains.
• Contains meat product
• Contains plant matter
• May contain diary
• Tends to more heavy-handed with supplementation
• Has a more lax attitude towards “whole prey”
Don’t feel compelled to choose a "side" (or type of raw diet) for that matter. Go with an option that makes the most sense to you: logically and financially.
Truthfully, it doesn't matter what "type" of raw diet you feed.
If you’re feeding a diet compromised of REAL foods (especially fresh, raw foods), you’re ahead. Ahead of all the other people shelling out kibble and “prescription” foods.
When the raw feeding world was much less mature than it is now, there was a lot of bickering among both viewpoints: prey model vs barf.
The disagreements could get heated (and cruel) at times. It always upset me to see this because as raw feeders, we're all on the same side. We're just people trying to feeding our dogs' healthier diets.
We should be working together, sharing knowledge, and trying to help one another instead of tearing each other down.
It's okay to be new or inexperienced with raw diets. It's okay to make mistakes, for others to point those mistakes out, so we can correct them and learn from them. It's okay for each of us to do things differently with our dogs and share those differences of opinion. And most importantly, it's okay not to agree on everything.
As long as we're kind to one another.
It's important we approach raw feeding (or at anything really) from a point of curiosity instead of judgement. When we can do that, it will be amazing how far we can come, together.
And that will result in the ultimate goal: improving our dog's health.
Then, tweak as you go.
Start with something that’s manageable, accessible, and practical. Do your research, try both models and see what works for your household and your dog.
Some dogs do better on one type of raw. Take your time, try both, and figure out which one works better.
It might be reassuring to hear many dog owners feed a variety of foods and don’t 100% commit to either model. One day, meals might align with PMR. Another day, they may support the BARF diet.
At the end of the day:
The great thing about raw diets, is that there are truly so many options and so many ways to feed raw. Options to suit every type of dog owner and every type of dog exist.
So don't let this bog you down when researching raw diets.
You can tailor a raw diet to suit your lifestyle, your dog's preferences and the modern world we live in.