Transitioning Your Pet to a Raw Diet

The hard part is making the decision, then sticking to it. It is important to know what may happen and be prepared. A healthy dog may go through the transition without a twitch, but some may be more picky or sensitive then others and there may be a few bumps along this road. In the long run, the feeding regime becomes second nature. Your pet will enjoy the food and most importantly you will both enjoy her improved and healthy life.

Who Can Transition?

Who can transition?As a rule of thumb every cat or dog will benefit immensely from a raw diet. Of course the younger and healthier the pet, the easier the switch. Puppies and kittens will have the easiest time, especially if they have never eaten anything else and can see their mom doing the same. Remember THIS IS natural for them. Pets who have been fed commercial food all their lives may be reluctant to change their habit and may require some help and 'persuasion'. Cats (and some dogs) are known to be a little fussy when it comes to their food so again some patients and maybe cunningness may be necessary. For very old or sick pets more care should be taken. If in doubt it is always advisable to consult with a pet health professional that has experience in the subject. Some vets are not yet open to the raw food diet, and naturally will not be able to provide positive advice. From testimonials and stories we have heard and read, it is often harder for the human involved then the animal…

Cold Turkey Or Slow?

Once you have decided to go forth, comes the question: how do we make the transition? There are probably as many answers to that question as the number of pets who have made the switch, but there are two main methods: 'Cold turkey' and slow.

The fast method: The 'cold turkey' (fast) method is simple: up until yesterday your pet ate commercial/ cooked food, from today he will find raw food in his bowl. Countless are the stories of a dog sniffing and licking, and after some hesitations gobbling it all as if there is nothing more natural. (And there isn't..). The fast method works best for dogs who are habitually omnivores. If you have the kind of dog who will munch on anything you throw his way anyway, he will probably not even think twice about some raw meaty bones. Most hungry, healthy pets (hungry being the operative word) will give whatever is given to them a chance.

Now, letting your pet be hungry (although against your 'parental' instinct) is not cruel, it is something they are naturally built for. Wild animals cannot order their prey on regular hours and may go days if not weeks without food. We do not advise to starve your pet, but a day of fast is in many cases even advisable. In fact some will say that a day of fast every week is good practice for a healthier digestion system. Most pets are in the habit of eating more then they need and the problem of pet obesity is the best evidence. A day of fasting will let your pet, literally, get that commercial food out of his system, and, make him much more receptive to trying a new menu.

The slow method: This involves some kind of gradual transitioning from one type of food to the other. One way is give both at the same time, either mixed to one consistency, or side by side. The idea behind this is that the taste of the old food will still be there and therefore will seem familiar. The portions of the mix will slowly shift towards the raw until it will all be raw. The downside of this method is that you are feeding two foods with very different digestion times and may cause an upset stomach (more then just switching).

If doing this DO NOT try to wet the dry kibble, it will make it into a soup of bacteria and fungi in a very short time. A second way is to alternate meals: One meal of, whatever he is used to, and one raw. The objective is to slowly eliminate the old meals and stay with the new. If your pet does well with this method, chances are he would have been fine with going 'cold turkey' anyway and it was mostly to YOUR benefit. A third, for people who feed homemade cooked food, is to slowly reduce the cooking time until it is eliminated altogether.

Expected Side Effects

Expected side effectsIt may get worse before it gets better, so consider the transition a healing process. As with many cases of natural healing, symptoms may get worse or have a sudden outburst. That is normal and probably not as frightening if you are expecting it. The most common symptoms are itchy skin, rashes and pimples, bad breath, diarrhea, runny eyes and smelly ears. This is a part of the healing process as the body is detoxifying. These symptoms should pass over a period of time, usually a few days. It is always advisable to use your judgment and in any case where the symptoms seem excessive or persisting for a long period, consult a pet health professional who is familiar with the process.

Abnormal stools

As with any change of diet there could be direct effect on the stools.

Diarrhea: Diarrhea or mucusy stools are very common during the transition, and occasionally afterwards as well. Loose stools can also be attributed to dairy, or just too much veggies for a transitioning pet. A process of elimination could be the next course of action. The idea is to start with one type (chicken is usually a safe and a good overall option) of Raw Meaty Bones. Higher concentration of bones (wings, necks, backs) will also yield more firm stools. After a few days of stabilizing other meats, veggies treats and supplements can slowly be added.

Constipation: Keep in mind that a pet on a raw diet will normally have relatively dry, light coloured stools, due to the bone content of the diet. Those will also be smaller and less smelly then what commercial food produces. Your pet will have to make a bit of an effort (very healthy for his anal sacs). If it seems too much of an effort the easiest way to soften the stools is to increase the veggie content of the next few meals. For more extreme situations some recommend giving pumpkin (cooked or canned). Again, if symptoms are extreme or persisting, a chat with a pet health professional or even taking a stool sample may be comforting, to rule out other reasons.

Vomiting & Regurgitating

There are a few NORMAL instances when your pet may vomit or regurgitate (sometimes hard to distinguish). He may be really hungry, in which case the stomach is empty and the vomit will be yellowish, or he may have had too much water on an empty stomach, producing a white foamy vomit. In both cases large feeding him will probably solve the problem. ( Some pets do better with more meals of small quantities rather than one feeding a day). If there is undigested food in the vomit there can be a couple of reasons. The more common is dogs' habit to swallow chunks as big as they can fit down their throat. They may then regurgitate and eat it again. The other reason may just be rejection of something that did not agree with their stomach (in which case they will probably not eat it again).

Lower Quantities Of Food Consumption

Because a raw diet is what your pet's stomach was designed for, it will digest much better than a processed, grain & carbohydrate based diet. Therefore lower quantities of food may be necessary while still providing all the needed nutrition. If your pet seems to want more, unless he needs to gain weight it is better to stick to the recommended quantities and observe him after a longer period of regular feeding. Only then adjustments should be made to the quantity.

Tips & Tricks

This is a collection of little bits of advice from many who have made the switch to raw, and shared their experience.

  • Know your pet: Every pet is different and will adjust in his own way. Her character, health and eating habits will usually determine what the transition will be like. If your pet likes to 'steal' food that was dropped by mistake, introduce new ingredients by "accidentally" dropping them and letting them get away with it.
  • Hunger: is probably your best tool of persuasion for a stubborn pet. A day of fasting is recommended by many experienced raw feeders, once or even twice a week. Dogs can go days without food without any long term effects. We do not encourage starving your dog, but a day of fasting after years of commercial food will usually only benefit the digestive system. Hunger can make even the most finicky of cats much more open to new gastronomic experiences, Cats who are used to an 'all day buffet' should be limited to meal times in order to create actual hunger. Please consult a pet health provider before fasting (or avoid fasting) puppies, old, underweight or sick pets. Cats should not be denied food for long periods as they are susceptible to a liver disease called hepatic lipidosis, which can be serious and even fatal, especially to overweight cats. If a fast switch seems to deprive your feline friend from the amount of food she needs, use the slower transition methods.
  • Proenzymes: Pets who have been on a cooked/ commercial food diet, have little or none of certain enzymes (and bacteria) that the stomach and intestines will naturally develop. Many people would recommend using proenzymes (or simply probiotic yogurt), in order to aid the digestive system during the transition and even on a regular bases.
  • Tripe: Much like proenzymes the tripe (cow's stomach), is recommended by many as an aid to digestion, both in the transition time and afterward. The tripe itself is full of enzymes, nutrients and micro organisms. It is always recommended to use the green tripe which is unwashed. Don't let the smell repel you (it is not rotten, that's how it's supposed to smell), the pets love it.
  • Sprinkle: Even when doing a quick switch, some pet owners recommend sprinkling 'kibble powder' on the raw food to give it a familiar scent. Cats are, in many cases, pickier about their food and may need to be tricked into their new diet. The sprinkling method or any other form of making raw smell like something they recognize as food is recommended.
  • Suspicious pets: Cats in particular may be more receptive to bite-sized fillet pieces of meat in order to get used to the taste, and texture. Put the pieces on a surface where they can inspect it. The bowl might not be comfortable for that.
  • Keep it simple: When transitioning and running into any side effects (let's say, diarrhea for example), you may ask yourself what caused it. Although it is a normal reaction, if your pet has been fed a multitude of meat type along with different combinations of fruit, veggies, scraps, treats and supplements, you may wonder if one of those may be the cause. The safest bet is to start with (or go back to) a simple diet. Choose one type of raw meaty bones (chicken is usually a safe bet), and go with that for a while. Higher bone content may by itself help with diarrhea, and higher meat content (and veggies) will do the opposite. After the stomach gets used to that, gradually start adding more ingredients and variations. If you have stumbled upon something that doesn't agree with your pet, it will be easy to identify, and later avoid or try more cautiously.
  • Try different things: your pet may love raw meat but doesn't find one type appealing. Try more then one type of meat if the first one is unwanted.
  • Ground to begin: Another way to introduce raw food to a pet that has been eating little chunks of kibble his whole life, is to give the ground variation first. Once the taste buds recognize and get used to it, introduce the real meaty bones.
  • Temperature: How do you prefer it? Cold or room temp. Some pets will eat meat out of the freezer and some will prefer it body temperature. In any case DO NOT use a microwave to thaw or warm the meat or bones.
  • Pseudo balance: This kind of balance is a welcome side effect, although it is not exactly what we are looking for. The idea is that after eating the same type of food for a long period of time, any addition to it may add those few ingredients that the body was craving. During the transition period the body will enjoy both the remnants of the old diet AND the addition of the new, regardless of the quality of the diet/s. This effect can happen when switching between commercial food and a more home cooked diet, or another type of 'high end' canned food. For example if a person on a strictly vegetarian diet (with no supplements) has Vitamin B deficiency and switches to a meat only diet, the boost of vitamin B he will get in the first few days, when added to what the body has 'stored', will give the impression that his overall health has improved. In fact it wasn't the new diet or switch that made the difference it was the temporary combination of both. Unfortunately with unbalanced diets, this state may be only temporary. The test of time is what will separate a real balanced diet from a temporary coincidence.
  • Balance: Remember the balance in the raw diet is not something one needs to measure on daily basis, it should be looked at in weeks or longer so if there are any hiccups in the diet or ingredients in first few weeks, there is no cause for alarm.
  • Even if only chicken: Chicken is probably the best all around raw meat to feed. The bones are soft enough for any dog to handle, it is rich with fatty acids and it's highly accessible. Chicken is a good alternative to get started with, then adding more, ingredients and variety later. Feeding the backs, wings and necks (which have a large bone to meat ratio) will also help in case of diarrhea. Although your pet may live a long and healthy life eating chicken alone (defiantly better then with commercial food), it IS recommended to add nutritional variety for the full range and balance and nutrients her body needs.