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Our journey switching our pets to raw food –and back again—began when we brought home Pico, a third member of our dog family. Pico, we were certain, was a senior German shepherd with a vague adoption history. Upon our first vet visit, it was clear that our adoption had been a rescue.
Our vet’s evaluation revealed a number of very treatable, though concerning health issues: fifteen pounds underweight, possible hip dysplasia, ear infections, and a skin infection that thinned his fur to patches, caused open wounds, and an unrelenting itch all over his body. Pico was also, as his microchip showed, barely six years old.
As our vet’s prescribed treatments healed his ears and skin, and Pico’s personality began to shine brighter through the pain relief, my partner Morgan and I researched how Pico’s diet might further enhance his recovery. We raised the idea of feeding him a raw diet with our vet. Our other two dogs were on traditional dry food.
She asked us to proceed with caution and educated us on the very real risks of exposing our pets and home regularly to uncooked food. She recommended a Listeria vaccination and in-depth research with a vet nutritionist to create a balanced, nutritious diet for our pets.
We reviewed the B.A.R.F. and prey model diets. We read peer-reviewed vet nutritionist articles from the AVMA and vet medicine at Tufts University. We consulted frozen raw dog food dealers in the Seattle area. These resources taught us the intricacy of nutrition ratios within our dogs’ meals, and ultimately we decided to do it ourselves.
What the Raw Dog Food Diet Was Like
Every dog is different and we understood that raw meals, for each of our three dogs, needed to vary, too. Our raw protein plan included some combination of local, free-range chicken, livers, turkey necks, beef, lamb shanks, and eggs (including ground shell). While the eggs came from our hens, we bought meat by-the-case from a local butcher.
Pico alone ate more than a pound of meat a day. We supplemented with Dr. Harvey’s powdered vitamins and minerals, bone broth, and added organic carrots, parsnips, peas, green beans, and blueberries to their dishes.
I learned how to break down a whole chicken. We sanitized everything and sanitized it again. I scratched my head at the unforeseen complexity of traveling with our dogs on raw diets.
Cases of salmonella cross-contamination between dogs and humans have been documented. Even their stool could carry it. We watched for any negative changes to our pets’ behavior and poops. We never prepared the dogs’ food near ours and we removed and discarded uneaten portions immediately.
If we didn’t bring the protein home already frozen, we immediately processed what we needed for the dogs’ meal that day, refrigerated another day’s serving in an air-tight container, and froze the rest. One of the drawbacks we faced, and also contributed to us moving away from raw food, was not having a deep freezer to buy and prep meals in higher quantities of bulk.
Because of the high amounts of fat in meat, our dogs’ coats began to shine and feel silky. You could no longer see Pico’s hips and ribs through his thickening coat and lean muscle gain. We celebrated with our vet as he climbed closer to his goal weight and his energy and movements improved. The diet check-in was essential and our vet did not find signs, in his stool or otherwise, that Pico’s raw diet negatively impacted his health.
Life After Raw
After nine months on raw, we realized that Pico’s itchy, inflamed skin, though significantly clearer, was not completely healed.
Our other two dogs did well on the diet, even lost some troublesome weight, and their appetites stabilized. But Pico’s incessant itch, through oatmeal baths and all, was not improving. We wondered if maybe he had a very mild allergy to chicken.
After consulting our vet, combing the internet, and visiting our favorite pet store, we decided to move the dogs to a competitive dry food source. Slowly, over the course of two weeks, we introduced our pets to an air-dried lamb dog food.
It took a while, but Pico’s skin inflammation fully healed. The secondary benefits are that we get to spend more time playing with our dogs than meal prep, our monthly costs were reduced by nearly half, and the fear of food-borne pathogens and contaminants with their food is almost nonexistent.
I still supplement their bowls with Dr. Harvey’s, a raw egg, bone broth, and fresh, organic vegetables. We all enjoy the variety! Two years after he arrived at his forever home, Pico is youthful, strong, and as enthusiastic for what’s in his bowl as ever.