feeding the beasts

About a month ago, I started switching my pets to raw food.  It has been difficult at times, mostly due to Henry’s pickiness, but I’ve noticed positive changes in all three animals.  I thought I’d write it out in case anyone else is wondering how to make the switch themselves.

Why

About three months ago, Buzz got really sick with giardia.  At first we didn’t know what was going on and we got very worried, so we took him to the vet.  He had an x-ray and we discovered that he had arthritis swelling the joints in his shoulders, hips and back (poor pooch!).  When we got home from the vet, I immiediately started researching how to treat his arthritis and found out an easy fix was to eliminate grains from his diet.  Most dogs are allergic to grains and they cause skin itching and joint swelling.  Well no wonder he spent so much time itching his paws, belly and tail!  Not only that, but eating dry food can give them tooth and gum problems, kidney problems, and more easily avoidable health problems.  Funny thing is that when you feed an obligate carnivore preservative-laden meat cereal for its entire life, the animal will get sick!

I read around more on the internet, researching about switching my cats too.   I read as much as I could, until I felt confident that I could provide as good or better nutrition than their dry food did.  I don’t recommend that anyone switch to raw without doing their own research.

Here are some websites I used:

food weight calculator

raw FAQ

another raw page

How I transitioned

I started offering chicken cut into smaller pieces mixed in and eventually placed alongside their normal, dry food, and then went 100% raw as soon as the dry food ran out. I knew Buzz would be instantly converted to eating raw meat because we already gave him some as a treat every couple weeks.  I wasn’t so sure about the cats but Pepin adopted it easily.  Henry has been a lot more difficult to convince.  I’ve found out that with the cats it can be as much about presentation as it is about content.  They both dislike eating from a shallow dish and prefer it on a flat surface.  I have had to wash my kitchen floor a lot more since feeding raw because they often pull the food off the plate and eat if on from the floor.

I found out that the cats are pretty picky and get tired of just one thing.  They liked chicken, but after a couple days weren’t interested in it at all.  I have tried them different types of fish, chicken and organs and so far they really like fish the best.  Pepin will eat any kind of fish, chicken or whatever. Henry will only eat something once or twice before refusing it at the next meal, with the exception of 7 mares soup mix (a Mexican seafood soup with mussels, crab, shrimp, octopus, squid, two kinds of fish).

What I feed

Some people feed to the whole prey model, with about 80% meat/10-15% organ meat/10-5% bone mass, but I have not stuck too close to that.  I’ve tried giving Buzz some small bones that are easy to crunch, but a few times he has puked up bone fragments so that put me off.  He has a really sensitive stomach and is prone to vomiting anyway, so the last thing I want is for him to hurt himself puking up sharp bone shards.  Some people are very firm about not feeding any kind of fibres but I still supplement with a bit of brown rice here and there or some pumpkin or other fruit or vegetable.  If I don’t do this a couple times a week, he gets really runny, painful-looking poops and I don’t want to be putting him in any discomfort.  I also give him little nibbles of fruit during the day–a piece of apple if I’m having one, or a couple baby carrots, corn, just a 1/4 cup worth a day at most.  I don’t give my cats anything but meat though because they don’t seem to need extras.

Like I said above, I feed the cats mostly fish and give Pepin chicken once in a while.  The grocery store nearest me often has really good deals on cheap, frozen fish like catfish, pollock and tilapia fillets and often stocks whole smelt, which are finger-size and the cats really like them.  Pepin took to eating the whole thing immediately but Henry has taken a while to get used to chewing larger pieces and so he just nibbles on the fish so far.

How much I feed

I have read that you should feed 2-4% of body weight, depending on needs, and calculated for ideal weight.  On this program, Buzz has slimmed down to have a defined waist and Henry has lost his huge belly and cat udders.

Buzz: 55lbs – 1.5 lbs/day

Pepin: 10 lbs – 4 oz/day

Henry: 14 lbs – 4.5 oz/day

Cost

I am feeding about 2lbs a day.  Chicken is usually $1.99/lb, 7 mares mix $2.50/lb, head on smelt or other fish $1-2/lb, chicken gizzards $1.50/lb, 1lb jar of pumpkin (lasts about a week) $4.  I am sure you could find a way to do it cheaper, especially if you fed red meat or went to a butcher and got cheap odds and ends.

It costs a bit more than the expensive dry foods we were feeding, but I think the reduction in vet bills coming from better health will be worth it.

Positives

Buzz isn’t as itchy, has a really thick, soft and glossy coat and has lost his stale dog-smell.  We used to have to wash him every couple weeks because of his smell but now we can go over a month before he smells bad.  He has more energy and is usually not stiff when he wakes up anymore.

All the animals poop way less, and what comes out hardly smells at all.  I mean, I live in a small apartment with two cats and a centrally-located litterbox, so change is extremely noticeable and welcome!

Pepin’s fur has gotten a bit softer and his gingivitis has started to clear up.  I’m still brushing his teeth with a commercial pet toothpaste because I want to spare him future problems, but hopefully soon raw feeding will take care of it for me.

Raw diet pretty easy to prepare.  When I buy the meat, I put about a day’s portion into a ziplock bag (one for the dog and one for the cats) and freeze.  I defrost them in the fridge and use them when I need them.  It seemed like a lot of work at first, but then I got into a good rhythm and it’s a breeze.

Another bonus about the raw diet is that your pet will never be affected by a tainted pet food recall like the one in 2007.  It feels so good to be in control of what my pet eats, and to know exactly what is in my pet’s food.  It’s empowering to not be a slave to factory-made pet food.   Not only that, but my pets are more enthusiastic and interested in eating fresh meat than they ever were about eating dry food.

Drawbacks

I’ve been a vegetarian for three years so going back to dealing with meat again has been disgusting.  At first we started buying cheaper bone-in cuts and had to cut the bones out because Buzz couldn’t handle them..yuck! It’s a lot easier to feed something that doesn’t look like what it was.   I became a vegetarian because I’m apalled at farming practitces and the effect they have both on the health of the consumer (BSE contaimination, antibiotics in the meat, diseased animals entering the food chain, unethical practices all around) and what that does to the quality of life for the animal and how it effects the environment on a large scale.  You can see why I might cringe at buying meat even though it’s for the health of my animals!  I just can’t buy beef or pork though, because feedlots are so much more destcutive than chicken operations.

Feeding raw makes a few more dishes for me to do, and I have to wash the kitchen floor more often because the cats always pull their meat out onto it, but those are pretty small sacrifices to give my pets a healthier diet and a longer life.

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9 thoughts on “feeding the beasts

  1. that’s great! i loved reading that.

    i’ve been feeding raw since sparky was a baby. he has a super sensitive stomach and most bagged dog foods gave him the runs.

    although i admire you because i buy pre-packaged raw or dehydrated raw, which is very expensive (about $175 for a month for 2 dogs (30lbs combined) so i’m starting to feel like i should try to do it myself. or at least my wallet thinks so..

    good for you!

    1. I think you should try to do it yourself, too. I think it costs me about $25 a week to feed them, so about $100/month? Anyway if I can do it, I bet you could too:) I think it’s so rad that you feed them raw!!

  2. My dog has a sensitive stomach but there is just no way I could manage a raw diet. The cost is way too much and I couldn’t stand the smell in my house. To me the smell of raw meat is disgusting. You did mention that feedlots are worse than chicken operations—um, I’m sorry, but that’s not true. Ever read about chicken farms? They are all caged up, pooping everywhere, very gross and very dirty. They are just as gross as feedlots and have just as many hormones pumped into them as cows do.

    1. I totally agree with you, the smell of raw meat is disgusting! I have to change my garbage twice as much now just to keep the smell out. It does cost a lot more, but to me it’s better to spend more on the food than their vet bills. Even the improvement in their dental health is worth it, because that can be so expensive and painful to deal with. My minor discomfort over their diet is not as important to me as them being healthy, especially since some of the improvements are so obvious.

      I guess I didn’t explain myself properly–chicken farms are not as bad for the environment as feedlots, because they’re in a contained area and though their waste is a contaminant, they are not actively stomping all over the ground and ruining the land in the same way, and not only that, it takes a lot less energy to produce a chicken than it does to produce a cow. I think I read it takes something like 16 pounds of feed to make one pound of beef! I don’t know what the statistic is for chicken but I know it has to be less than that.

      I have read a lot into farming practices so I’m not fooling myself into thinking the chickens I feed my pets are happy, healthy animals that marched off to slaughter. I have carefully weighed all my choices and I think that I’m doing what’s best for my animals.

  3. You say you’ve read a lot about farming practices — is there any book you could recommend for me, as an introduction for a person who is fairly unknowing on the subject? I’ve been meaning to read up on it, but never knew where to start.

    1. Sure, I can recommend you a couple books! The best one to read is probably Mad Cowboy. Another one I enjoyed is Dying for a Hamburger which has some areas of overlap with Mad Cowboy, but seriously delves into neuroscience and farming to discuss Alzheimer’s in relation to meat production. I think they are both super good reads, but Mad Cowboy is more of a quick, easy book and a shocking overview.

  4. Thanks so much, I’ve ordered Mad Cowboy! I guess I’ll read that for starters 😉 Right now I occasionally eat organic meat, so I’m kind of a convenience vegetarian. But I still feel bad about it, so I hope this will be a good way of forcing myself to be better.

    1. Being a convenience vegetarian is still a step! I think organic meat is the way to go if you’re going to eat it at all though. I wish I could afford to buy it for my pets but…it’s just not going to happen right now. Anyway I hope you enjoy the book!

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