No Longer Feeding Raw (and dog mom guilt)
If you're reading this I'll have to assume you know all of the potential benefits of feeding dogs a raw diet, this is not a post refuting ANY of that and I still wish I could have found a way that made this work with our lifestyle but for now I can't and here's why.
As many of you know, I switched Henry over to raw dog food in early November 2021. He had been eating Purina Pro Plan Savor Lamb & Rice Formula for over 2 years following the news regarding canine diet-related DCM (Dilated Cardiomyopathy).
If you haven't heard about the concerns surrounding DCM I highly suggest doing research into the subject, you can start here: https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/outbreaks-and-advisories/fda-investigation-potential-link-between-certain-diets-and-canine-dilated-cardiomyopathy
After the initial switch from what I considered a high quality dog food to Purina Pro Plan, I felt guilty. Now, most of this guilt was truly unfounded and built up by personal bias and a narrow scope of knowledge about canine nutrition. But I felt guilty all the same. Every time I poured him his cup of what seemed like dry, tasteless and dusty kibble I felt bad. My mind pitied him, "This poor boy that LOVES food of all kinds is eating cardboard 99% of the time!" You just couldn't convince me that kibble was the best option for dogs, it just seemed the most unnatural thing to feed them. That being said, I was firmly rooted in the reality that I am not a vet, let alone a canine nutritionist, and I would tell myself as well as our followers, "Listen, if dogs were dropping dead from eating Purina then we would know it because it is such a large, widely used brand." Then, in September, when I was faced with Henry having a grade 1 soft-tissue sarcoma removed from his front digits the dog mom in me immediately tried to control whatever I could in an ultimately uncontrollable situation. I want to make it super clear that I did not believe there was a link to Henrys diet and the cancerous mass, I just wanted him to have the healthiest body possible and to limit his intake of anything chemical/unnecessary. After many days of research I finally found a raw dog food company that fit my wants and our budget. If you've ever considered raw feeding this is where most people stop their research. For a 65 pound dog to eat 2-3% of their body weight in raw food daily you're looking at a pretty high price tag, anywhere from $180-300+ a month. But I figured it out and decided to take the massive leap into the world of raw fed dogs. Now it is 8 weeks later and I have decided this isn't the right change for Henry or our family and I have many reasons why. So, here they are.
Cleaning up dog vomit when its raw food is 20 times harder than cleaning up kibble vomit
Exactly 6 days into Henrys new raw diet he threw up about 2 hours after his evening meal. Now, Henry is my baby and when it comes to him (and him alone) my stomach is strong but this was gross and now all over my carpet. This was the only time Henry got sick while eating raw and it could have been caused by any number of things not necessarily related to diet change, like simply eating too fast, etc. Basically the reason for him throwing up didnt concern me, its not all that unusual esepecially in the first week of a new food. Clean up took many paper towels, a lot of baking soda (to soak up moisture), a thorough vacuum followed by spot carpet cleaning. Not to mention that I had to just hope I got all the bacteria up so that my carpet didnt start smelling of rancid meat as it dried. Gross ✔️ Unhygienic ✔️ MASSIVE PROBLEM IF THIS HAPPENS IN PUBLIC ✔️ Henry being a working dog means he's out of the house whenever I am, including grocery stores, malls, movie theatres, restaurants. I could not fathom having to clean this mess up in public, not to mention the literal damage it could cause an establishment. Accidents happen and I even have an emergency clean up kit in case it does but this possibility made me incredibly anxious to work Henry normally and I became obsessive about watching him for any potential signs of being sick. And so the benefits of raw feeding dwindled.
2. Manual labor cut the cost and my energy
In order to get the price of Henry's food to within a reasonable range, I chose to do some stuff myself. Buying in bulk was the best way to cut the cost per pound and save on shipping. This also meant that I would need to cut and portion out his food into baggies for daily feeding. So, a 38 pound barrel of frozen, raw ground meat would arrive and I would take a knife to it as best I could. I couldn't just feed him daily from the container because it couldnt stay unfrozen longer than 5 days AND it took up our entire fridge. (I'll get to the part about freezer space later) With a scale, I dutifully measured out 1.625 pounds of food for each day, bagged it and placed it in the freezer. After our first shipment I realized how unrealistic this was. There was no way I could guarantee that kind of energy every single month. But I was determined to stick with this even if it took a little elbow grease so I bought an electric knife, that shouldve solved my problem. It did not. I looked into butchers blades but that would still require a lot of physical exertion and then my anxiety chimed in with, "what are the odds I seriously injure myself if Im doing this 12 times a year for the next 10 years?" And so the benefits of raw feeding dwindled.
3. Happy, jolly? Henry
Henry will be 5 years old this month and his entire life I have maintained his ideal weight by feeding him based on his level of activity. This means he would sometimes get 2 cups of kibble, on a lazy day maybe 1.5 and on a busy day maybe 3 cups with extra treats. It's not for every dog but it certainly has proven to work fantastically with Henry. He has maintained a body condition score of 4/5 and I am able to do this without weighing him or his food frequently. Since I measured out his raw food based on the 2-3% body weight suggestion he was now being fed the same amount every day and gained a couple pounds quickly. It is substantially more difficult to regulate his caloric intake now. I could measure out bags with more/less based on activity but then lets tack that on to the manual labor portion we already discussed. Henrys weight is something I monitor very closely because it is one of the biggest health issues amongst dogs as well as being scientifically linked to many canine diseases. And so the benefits of raw feeding dwindled.
4. Space. Or lack-thereof
When our first shipment arrived I was all ready to buy a large chest freezer to accommodate all of the new food. Luckily, I decided to wait and give it a month to see if I could manage with the freezer space we already had. I was able to fit an entire months worth of food into our freezer but was definitely going to get a chest freezer because his food left us with no space. This would've worked fine but then I had to also consider having a seperate refridgerator to defrost the months initial supply before measuring out the daily portions. It can be highly unappetizing having a giant container of meat taking up the entire fridge every time you open the door. But ya know, I chalked it up to "start up costs" and went on my way. And so the benefits of raw feeding dwindled.
5. The Cost and "The Cost"
I have no problem sharing that Henrys monthly food bill was $186, well, kind of. Because not only was it $186 but then I needed 30 ziploc bags, not good for the wallet or the environment. Okay well then use reusable containers...and add to the mountain of dishes I already don't have the energy to do. The cost of at least a chest freezer, albeit a one time cost. Supplements seem to be highly recommended when feeding raw food and I hoped to find a way to elimate the need for them but couldn't really get a straight answer and I became worried I would leave him deficient in some way. Let's assume that if you're feeding raw you care greatly about your dog and want to do it the right way, so pencil that in under potential costs. Now I'm considering the logistics of this all. If we travel we either take his food in a cooler ($120) with the special ice packs ($30) and hope that the ice machine works or the food will keep long enough in the mini fridge. Or I cold switch him to a dehydrated raw food which comes out to about $150 for 7 days. Or I cold switch him back to kibble while traveling which defeats the purpose of switching in the first place when you're traveling as frequently as we do. If anyone else was to watch Henry for any period of time they would need to store and handle his raw food. And so the benefits of raw feeding dwindled.
So ultimately all of these seemingly manageable aspects added up to one clear answer, raw feeding isnt for us. It seems obvious, switch to a premade/prepackaged company, but that isn't realistic. I cannot justify taking on a monthly bill of upwards of $240 for the foreseeable future when that still wouldn't solve some of the hurdles. I am so happy I finally tried Henry out on raw food, though. It was something I was strangely stuck on for years but there is no more guilt about it now, I can say I gave it a try and exhausted my options. Henry still has about a month of raw food left before we switch him again. As always, this is just whats best for us and that certainly isnt true for everyone. We're all just trying to keep our fur babies healthy and happy. 🐾