A Raw Deal

A Raw Deal

The holidays are the time of year when people come together to enjoy friends and family. Whether you celebrate Diwali, Hanukkah, Yule, Kwanzaa, Christmas, Solstice, Chalica, Las Posadas or Festivus, including your faithful furry companion is a must. 
Written by Rebecca Sanchez | Photos by Julie Austin


The food we cook for the holidays, tends to be loaded with fat, spices and other ingredients that are not good for dogs. Whether it's Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, or a birthday party...these times call for a splurge—just not for Fido.

Never fear, there are a number of ways to incorporate your pooch’s nutritional needs into a healthy meal and keep it fun for the festivities. You can top your dog’s food with pieces of your meal (be sure to rinse all oil and herbs) or make a separate, (fat and skin free) protein-based, raw meal for your dog.

According to nationally recognized raw dog food expert, Kimberly Morris Gauthier, some of the benefits of feeding your pooch raw food includes “healthy skin and shiny coat, clean, white teeth, fresh breath, healthy digestive system, a stronger immune system, healthy body weight and muscle mass, smaller and less smelly defecation,” and a decrease in “allergies and doggy odor.”

Anna Rocha Vargo, dog mom to two-year-old Maya, wanted to learn how to serve her dog fresh, nutritious and healthy meals, so we introduced her to Morris Gauthier for a one-on-one raw meal preparation session. To start with, everything you need to feed your dog raw fresh food can easily be found in your favorite grocery store, and if you prefer specialty meats you can go to your local butcher. Basically, the same theory of shopping healthy for you applies to buying for your dog’s meals—stay on the outside aisles of a grocery store, as that’s where they keep everything that is fresh and biologically appropriate for your dog.

As Morris Gauthier started to pull the biologically appropriate raw foods, or BARF for short, out of her shopping bag, Rocha Vargo kept repeating “I didn’t know dogs could eat that!” Soon the two of them were washing, cleaning, chopping, and preparing Maya’s meal together. Like Morris Gauthier, many raw pet food professionals adhere to a BARF diet for their dogs.

The goal is to replicate what a dog would typically eat when consuming prey. Science indicates that the historically natural diet of dogs consisted of meat, minimal fat, bones, a bit of organs and the partially digested ingredients found in the prey’s stomach, typically vegetables and berries.

The key to your dog’s proper digestion of the nutrients found in vegetables is to pulse or ferment them prior to including them in your pup’s meal. And, just like you would when preparing a raw hamburger to cook for your own meal, you’ll want to follow proper handling techniques and wash your hands with hot water and soap when working with raw dog food.

While Rocha Vargo is interested in raw dog food for Maya, it’s new to her. Morris Gauthier offers, “If pet parents aren’t able to transition their dog or cat to a full raw diet, I recommend a hybrid diet. When I introduced my dogs to raw, I started by feeding raw in the morning and kibble in the evening. In two weeks, I saw sweeping improvements in their health.” Raw doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing—treating your dog every now and then is a good start. Also, a raw meal, doesn’t have to be complicated.

Just follow a few simple guidelines. By preparing a raw meal that’s 80 percent protein, 10 percent bone, and 10 percent organs, you have a great foundation. Augment with sardines for omega fatty acids, eggs for minerals, pulsed or fermented veggies and berries for vitamins and probiotics, oysters for minerals, and other health-based items that give your dog nutrients.

But, and here’s where it’s all made easy, you don’t have to feed your dog all of these things at once—do it over time with what is nutritionally best for your dog. Plus, you can grind and mix your dog’s meals in batches and freeze them in convenient meal size servings. Rocha Vargo agrees with this approach, “Serving our pets the same dry kibble every day just seems so limited. Maya gets bored with her food pretty quickly, and we have to switch it out every six months or so. With a raw diet, she will get a ton of variety.”

While some people may consider a raw diet as new or a fad, it is not. Dogs ate raw in their natural environment, prior to the domestication of animals. Humans, and our need to provide quick meals, directed dogs away from fresh food in favor of quick convenience for us, particularly during the 1960’s and 70’s when prepackaged food exploded. Now that we’ve come full circle and are embracing fresh and organic fruits and vegetables, along with grass-fed proteins and ethically caught wild fish as the key to our own good health, we are connecting the dots and providing the same good things to our dogs.

To learn more about feeding your dog raw food, visit Kimberly’s blog, Keep the Tail Wagging, at keepthetailwagging.com or check out her book, A Novice’s Guide to Raw Feeding for Dogs.

From the Editor, Brandie Ahlgren:

Keep it simple. With the expansion of pre-packaged raw pet food, feeding your dog healthy and nutritious dog food is easier than ever, particularly with Darwin’s Natural Pet Products.

Darwin’s makes fresh, healthy, grain-free raw pet food using human-grade ingredients: free-range, grass-fed beef and lamb, cage-free poultry (chicken, turkey and duck), and a variety of organic vegetables. Every meal is complete and balanced, with the necessary vitamins, nutrients, and minerals for your pooch, with no hormones, steroids, antibiotics, fillers, by-products, or artificial colors. Plus, they ship for free to anywhere in the continental U.S. within one to two days after ordering, assuring your dog's meals arrive fresh and frozen. 

Simply fill out a short questionnaire that includes your pet's weight, then choose a meal plan. Custom orders are available to accommodate allergies and sensitivities. Thya (pictured here), is sensitive to chicken, so I was pleased to receive a starter kit that included individually-packaged beef, duck and lamb meals. To give you an idea of some of the ingredients, the beef recipe includes not just beef, but also beef heart, liver and kidney plus organic yams, lettuce, squash, cabbage and zucchini. Thya is not a picky eater, so she loved all three, but some dogs may have a preference. I recommend ordering a mix of proteins for variety, but also to see if your pooch has a preference. Prices vary depending on the protein, starting with chicken at $5.79/lb, up to lamb at $8.19/lb -- a bargain when you consider buying all of the ingredients individually and the time to prepare each meal. Even better, Darwin's is offering 50% off your first order!

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