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Health Benefits of Raw Food and Added Hydration for Dogs

Healthy Dogs |  November 8, 2018

Raw food offers many unique nutritional benefits that can not be met by other types of dog food. While some people decide that raw food won’t work for their household, there are other people who are willing to switch when they hear about the health benefits of raw food.

To find out more about the health benefits of raw food, we talked to Lacey Store Staff Member Max Hanckel. Max has been a Muddy for two years, but he’s spent a lot of that time helping people find the right food for their dog. With three dogs in his own family, he’s seen firsthand the impact that feeding raw can have on a dog’s health and overall happiness.

MB: What are the health advantages of raw food for dog?

MH: There are so many! It improves digestion because it’s much less processed. A healthy gut contributes to a stronger immune system. There are fewer indigestible carbohydrates, so there are smaller stools. Dogs typically have visibly healthier skin and coats after switching to raw food. There’s also a visible improvement in overall dental health; many people report that they see less tartar on their dogs’ teeth. The high moisture content of raw food prevents chronic dehydration and the health issues associated with dehydration.

I would also say increased energy levels is something that people notice when their dogs switch to raw food. By choosing raw food, you avoid a lot of unnecessary carbohydrates.

I’ve seen all these improvements and more in my own dog. I never thought that my dog had any joint issues, but when I put him on raw, I noticed him bouncing off the walls. He’s had fewer ear and skin infections and no daily (horrible) digestive upset. There was a definite improvement in his health.

MB: We talk a lot about the nutritional differences between raw food and kibble. But what are the biggest differences between raw food and wet food?

MH: Frozen raw and wet foods have similar moisture content, so they’re both good options if you want to keep your dog hydrated. There’s also a significant increase in high-quality protein in wet food when compared to kibble. You do want to check the label of any wet food you buy if you want to limit the carbohydrates because that varies.

But ultimately, wet food is a cooked product, and therefore more processed than raw. Cooking destroys some vital nutrients, which is why many wet foods need added vitamins to meet your dog’s nutritional requirements. With raw food, you’re getting what you need directly from the food. And with a raw product, you preserve the natural living enzymes in the food that are killed through the heating process. It’s those enzymes that increase digestive efficiency.

MB: Raw food may be too expensive for some households, especially if someone owns a large or extra-large dog. So, what are your recommendations for people who know that a 100-percent raw diet won’t work but they still want the health benefits?

MH: I like to tell people that 25-percent raw food is a great amount to feed your dog. It’s a large enough percentage of raw food that your dog gets a lot of the benefits without a significant cost increase. Some people find that buying a bag of small bite freeze-dried raw food works well because they can just add some raw food on top of the kibble when they feed their dogs. For small dogs, or any pet eating primarily wet food, it can be comparable in price to feed frozen raw, and you get all the added benefits of raw.

But for people who are willing to feed frozen raw, you get the intercellular moisture that’s not in dried raw food options. I find that people who use freeze-dried food don’t always mix it with water. They just top it off with freeze-dried food. Hydration is a major component of what makes frozen raw such a healthy option. Frozen raw is also the most cost-effective option.

If someone can’t feed their dog 25-percent raw food consistently, I recommend using freeze-dried dog treats as rewards, giving your dog raw bones to chew on and thinking about other ways to boost the amount of raw food they eat. There are also brands that make foods that are a mix of raw bits and kibble, which is a great way to add some raw into your dog’s diet.

MB: You brought up an interesting point: Although freeze-dried food can be fed as-is, it’s better for the dog when it’s rehydrated. What are your recommendations for that situation?

MH: It’s really simple because all you need is some warm—not boiling—water. When you buy freeze-dried raw food, there should be instructions on the bag, but most instructions are very similar. Add enough warm water to cover the food and wait for five to ten minutes before giving it to your dog. And don’t microwave the water and freeze-dried food together or use hot water. Both of those steps cook the food, which destroys the enzymes and nutrients, thus defeating the purpose of feeding raw food.

Although you could, theoretically, use cold water to rehydrate, warm water helps make the smell of raw food more apparent. The smell makes it more appealing to dogs. There are also some picky dogs who don’t like raw food right out of the bag but love it rehydrated with some warm water or bone broth.

Also play around with how much warm water to add. Some dogs only like a little bit of warm water added, while others like their food soupier. It’s important to remember that enzymes need moisture to activate. From a nutritional standpoint, if they’re eating all the food and broth, you can’t add too much water. If you look on the package of your food, there’s a usually recommended amount of water to use.

I also really love rehydrating freeze-dried food with bone broth for my own dogs because of the additional health benefits involved. Bone broth supports good digestion and healthy joints.

MB: Do you have any preparation tips for people who feed raw frozen food to their dogs?

MH: It’s really easy to thaw three day’s worth in the fridge ahead of time, or quickly thaw it by placing it in a sealed plastic bag and placing the plastic bag in warm water. Again, microwaving the raw food will cook the food, and your dog will miss out on unique raw food benefits. I’ve also seen some people add some warm water or some warm bone broth to frozen food. It heats it up a little, adds some extra moisture, and is quicker than other heating methods. Just avoid using hot water.

MB: Dogs tend to accept new foods easily, but some dogs are a bit pickier when it comes to food changes. What do you recommend if you’re unsure if your dog will eat raw food?

MH: I think choosing the protein that your dog already enjoys is the easiest way to encourage an easy transition. If your dog loves beef wet food, try the beef raw food. The other thing is warming the raw food, again by either by adding warm liquid directly to the food or placing the food in a bag in warm water. It’s also good to add new food slowly to prevent pickiness.

It can help to transition a kibble-fed dog to a canned food diet first, and then slowly incorporating raw.

Also, if your dog has a sensitive stomach, I highly recommend chicken as the protein. The chicken seems to be easier on a lot of dogs’ stomachs. And following a transition schedule that starts with small amounts of raw food and takes two to four weeks for a complete switch, will also protect your dog’s digestive system. ***

Cat gazing at a panting black and white dog

Two-year Muddy Max Hanckel is a Lacey store staff member. He’s always happy to help customers find the food that meets all of their dogs’ and households’ needs, so come say hello. If you don’t see him at the store, he’s probably spending time with one of his three dogs.

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