Choosing a Commercial Raw Pet Food

Top quality protein is essential to a top quality raw pet food.

Over the past few years, commercial raw pet food has become so popular that some ‘shady’ companies have popped up on the market. They use crappy, cheap ingredients, held together with crappy, cheap binders. They then slap the label “Raw Holistic” on it, and charge a premium price. They’re the raw food equivalent of Old Roy, with better packaging and marketing.

Also, the term Holistic makes me suspicious, because:

a) there’re absolutely no regulation as to what this word has to mean, when applied to food
b) there’s almost never a good reason for it to be used to describe a food, other than as a market buzz term

Instead of getting caught up in what terms food manufacturers use to describe their food, I prefer to get down to brass tacks, and ask some clear questions that I believe let me decide if a food is really quality, or just masquerading as such.

I’ve created what I consider to be my own ‘wish list’ when it comes to shopping for a commercial raw food.

Things I would personally look for:

Is the company using HUMAN grade ingredients, specifically grade “a” certified meat, poultry and fish? If not, then you’re not getting top quality protein, but you’re probably paying top price.

Are they doing in house testing for Salmonella and e coli? The only answer I want to hear to that question is “yes, on every batch”.

Do they outsource, or is all their food prepared in house? Outsourcing is when you have another company make the food for you, at their plant, and then slap your label on it. Think “Menu Foods”.

Are all of their ingredients domestically sourced, if possible? ie; is all of their meat/fish/game/poultry from the USA or Canada? You can’t expect their papayas to be from here, but for most ingredients the answer should be ‘yes’.

An added bonus – do they use as much local and/or organic produce and ingredients as possible? Not necessary, but it’s a sign that the company is putting some thought into what they’re making, and how sustainable it is.

I believe that you almost always get what you pay for, and that this is doubly true for raw pet food. If one food is 50% cheaper than almost everything else on the market, I’d be asking “Why?”, instead of just rushing to buy it. A bargain is good – but a bargain that seems too good to be true, usually is.

Raw Dog Food Super Simplified

I’ve been a bit short on time lately – which is more than just an understatement. Between work, Pickle, the other puppies, and the ten gazillion emails currently sitting in my inbox, the last thing I have time for is a three day raw food making spree.

At times like this, I’m grateful that there are raw food short cuts available.

Several companies offer ‘base mixes’ that allow you to make your own, home made raw pet food, without all the grinding, blitzing, food processing and mixing. Just pick your own protein of choice, add a few ingredients (or, in some cases, none at all), mix with the raw food base, and package. That’s it. You can make a week’s worth of raw in an hour or even less.

Here are some of the shortcuts we’ve tried and like.

Read more

Raw Dog Food Simplified. Sort of.

A few people have written to me asking for my ‘recipe’ for raw dog food, so I decided this deserved a post of its own.

To be honest, there really isn’t a ‘recipe’ per se. What there is is a ratio break down, which as I’ve mentioned before is:

50% or so turkey necks and fish with bones (salmon, sardines and mackerel, primarily)
5% liver, kidney, giblets (organ meats)
5% heart
25% muscle meat (beef, sometimes mutton or pork)
10% ground vegetables, fruit and greens
the rest is a mix of eggs, dairy, nutritional yeast, molasses, yogurt and cider vinegar

Bear in mind, this is MY ratio, based on what I have access to most often, and at the most reasonable prices. You, on the other hand, can muck about with this to suit your own preferences, and your own locally available ingredients.

Some people might have an easier time getting chicken necks and backs than turkey necks. Others might have a line on venison or elk in season, which they can substitute for beef. The same applies to veggies and fruits — if I’ve gotten a good deal on bananas or carrots, there’s going to be a lot of bananas and carrots in their food. Right now, my dandelion ‘garden’ is a reliable source for greens, so we’re using that (and getting some weeding done at the same time).

I don’t weigh out anything, either — I estimate by volume, using my trusty pots and pans and bowls.

I grind and chop all my veggies, and I pre bake sweet potatoes and squash. Technically speaking both of these orange vegetables are carb sources, so I keep them to a 20% ratio in my veggie mix. You can adjust as you like. For people who want a grain or carb source, try adding quick cooking oats or quinoa (although technically speaking, you don’t really need a carb source other than the veggies).

If you are confident that your dog can get through necks and backs, then by all means, skip grinding them. I, on the other hand, am confident that I’d spend a good deal of time pulling stringy bits of turkey out of the throats of my choking dogs, so I do grind. To each their own, and don’t let the hard line party advocates on either side of the issue bully you out of doing what’s best for you dogs.

Since I grind, I give my dogs recreational beef bones to chew on once a week or so.

Remember, this is all about finding what works for you. Preparing your own raw food is messy, time consuming and back breaking. Honestly, if I was only feeding one or two dogs, I’d have no hesitation about feeding them a pre made raw diet (we like the Nature’s Variety patties).

Don’t get caught in the “Unless you do it ‘this way’, you’re a dog killing heathen” trap. Too many raw feeding advocates get a sort of scary, cult like thing going on when they start preaching about their way of feeding. Personally, I don’t think any diet is perfect, unless you can make it work for you.

A Photo Guide to Making Raw Dog Food

I wrote the other day about accumulating and prepping all of my ingredients for making a batch of raw dog food. Sean and I decided that if we were going to make a batch, we might as well make a big batch — and that’s what we ended up doing. Here’s a photo series of the steps involved in making a batch of raw dog food.

If anyone wants more detailed instructions, visit this page. Bear in mind, though, that what works for my dog might now work for yours.

The first step I usually do is to grind all my vegetables. I buy vegetables here and there, as they’re on sale or available, and then I grind them and freeze them into plastic containers — one for greens, one for carrots, another for fruit (my guys love bananas, melon, apples and pear). Then I partially nuke sweet potatoes and squash, and rice them using a ricer before freezing them into batches. The day before I’m going to make my dog food, I get them out and thaw them.

I’ve been getting a really good deal on whole, frozen salmon lately, so I bough ten of them and tucked them into the freezer. I poach them, mix them up with canned Jack mackeral, and put the whole lot through the grinder, bones and all.

The veggies and fish get mixed up with my yogurt, eggs, nutritional yeast, molasses, apple cider vinegar, pressed garlic cloves, hemp hearts and flax seed (I got a good deal on some at the co op, and decided to add some to this batch of food). I mix it all up in a giant corn pot (or lobster pot, or stock pot) that I got at a yard sale. I buy these giant pots any time I see them at a garage sale or second hand store – they’re perfect for mixing up dog food.

Sean grinds the turkey necks, hearts and livers for me — another reason why a tall guy is always useful to have around the house. We use a basic grinder from Northern Tools, and it’s lasted me a year and change so far, with two blade changes. I don’t expect it to last forever, with the amount of work we ask it to do, but I’m OK with that. If it wears out, I’ll probably buy the next model up. We buy our beef already ground, so it just gets mixed into with the turkey.

Did I mention we decided to make a big batch of food? So big, that I had a panic attack about where we were going to mix it all. Usually, we have a three quarter pot of meats, and a quarter pot of mixed gunk (that’s our ‘technical term’ for it). I then mix it all together in a third big pot, but this time, there was no way that would work — we had two full pots of turkey and ground meat, and a full pot of mixed gunk.

So, we improvised, and used this big wheeled bin. Here it is, about half way full, with Tessa watching the proceedings with interest.

Hey, are you wondering ‘how on earth do you mix up this much dog food?’. Easy – you stick your arms in. Up to the elbows. Pretend you’re one of those big food processor dough hooks, and blend, blend, blend. Then, look down, see that you’re covered in bits of raw meat gore all the way up to your armpits, shriek, and jump into the shower fully clothed.

Here’s the finished product, with flecks of heart, liver, bone and greens. Mmm! Getting hungry yet?

We measure out the food into large sized, zip lock freezer bags – to be more exact, slide lock bags, which are easier to close. We buy them at the dollar store, because the same bags otherwise would be $5 per box.

We put five cups into each bag, and by the time we were done, we’d covered the island twice, for a total of sixty bags. That is a lot of dog food.

We used to just stack the bagged food in the freezer, but found that the occasional leaking bag could make quite a mess. Now, we put the bags into plastic storage bins, which we then stack in the freezer. It’s easier to lift them out, and I can still stack things on top of them (in whatever room is leftover for people food, which sure isn’t much). We ended up with five of these totes.

Finished! And a long day’s work it was, too. For those curious about these things, we ended up with sixty bags of five cups each raw, or 300 cups of food. Ignoring our time and work, the total cost was just under $95. Not bad, really.

Here’s Tula, enjoying a bowl of the finished product. I, on the other hand, enjoyed a well earned nap.

Addendum: Oh, and can I just say how stupid I feel for having defended the right of Bernann McKinney to love her cloned Pit Bull, only to learn she’s actually an on the lam, sexual predator whack job? Nice one, universe. Thanks for the metaphysical slap upside o’ the head.

Weird food, tripey goodness, and cheese with a bonus

I’ve been idly following a mailing list thread which has, in the time honored way of all the very best discussion topics, morphed from the initial subject (dog food) into something completely different (What’s the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten, or wouldn’t eat, or freak out when thinking about?).

It started with the basics – lumpy oatmeal – and it was all downhill from there to Haggis, blood pudding and Goat’s Head Soup (that one was mine, and yes, I’ve eaten AND enjoyed it, although the random floating eyeball sort of freaked me out, but not as much as the jawbone still with teeth in it. Biting something that can bite me back gives me Rod Serling-esque nightmares best analyzed through long sessions on a couch with a paid mental health professional).

A while later, I was chatting with a friend of mine who’s a food writer, and mentioned our on line discussion of weird food. She, who routinely pan fries herself some brains for a Sunday breakfast and first introduced me to the wonders of the Asian Pacific Mall food court, scoffed at our paltry definitions of weird, and sent me this email –

Haggis isn’t weird, you twit. Casu Frazigu is weird. Balut is weird. For real weird, try to eat one of every item on this list, I dare you –

OK, well, no. No thank you. There’s dog meat on that list, and while I am an adventurous eater, I draw the line at foods I want to put on my lap and pet, and that includes at least a few people I know, and all of the dogs and cats. Umm, scratch the part about petting the people, but keep in the part about not eating them.

I think I’d probably try some Casu Frazigu, just so that I could say I’d done it. Here’s a description of this tasty Italian cheese, from an article in the Los Angeles Times –

[Canadian food scientist Massimo] Marcone is one of the world’s leading experts on foods that make most people go yuck! He recently wrote a book on the subject. One thing that really gets his glands salivating is casu frazigu cheese, which is packed with so many live maggots that it’s not only disgusting, the Italian government outlawed it.

“The rotten cheese has millions of live maggots in it, and it’s very highly prized all through Italy,” Marcone said. “It sells under the counter for about $100 a pound. As you’re carrying your bag with the cheese in it, you can actually hear the maggots hitting the side of the bag.

“People eat the cheese and maggots altogether. There’s nothing in there that can cause harm.”

Casu Frazigue cheeseYummy!

It’s two great tastes, that taste great together, with the added bonus of sound effects. I’m imagining it’s similar to the effect you get inside your head when you’re eating pop rocks.

The photo makes it look rather like a typical cream cheese, unless you look more closely. Actually, maybe looking more closely isn’t such a good idea.

At any rate, you don’t have to worry about bumping into Casu Frazigu (also known as Casu Marzu, in some areas) in your local dairy case, as it’s apparently now banned.

From Wikipedia –

Several food safety issues have been raised with casu marzu:

  • Anecdotal reports of allergic reactions.
  • A risk of the decomposition advancing to a toxic state. (Folk wisdom in Sardinia holds that the presence of still-living larvae are an assurance that this has not yet happened.)
  • Risk of enteric myiasis: intestinal larval infection. Piophila casei larvae can pass through the stomach alive (human stomach acids do not usually kill them) and take up residency for some period of time in the intestines, where they can cause serious lesions as they attempt to bore through the intestinal walls. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and bloody diarrhea.[2]

Because of these health threats, or simply because it is considered a contaminated product, casu marzu cannot be legally sold in Italy. Within Sardinia, enforcement of the ban is sporadic and the cheese is available as a black market item, selling for about three times any other type of pecorino‘s price.

After a night of surfing weird people food, I find comfort in the fact that the ingredients in the food I feed my dogs don’t get much weirder than canned Mackerel. The next time I’m mentally complaining about mixing up a big bowl full of fish, yogurt, vegetable mash, kidneys and cow heart, I’m going to remind myself that it could be worse – someone could publish an article telling us that Maggot cheese is good for dogs.

That would make the whole tripe incident look like a dream come true.

By the way, the single most disturbing sentence in the entire thread that started this blog entry came in the form of this description of Old Country Buffet –

Think of  Cracker Barrel with creamed  herring

I am now indelibly scarred for life, and will have to force myself to make an immediate dinner reservation at  Eigensinn Farm, simply to recover from the trauma.