How to Transition to a Raw Diet
Click the Arrow to Access the Table of Contents Links
The easiest way to get a typical adult dog transitioned over to raw is by using (temporarily for caloric feeders) ratio feeding math at 2%-2.5% of their total body weight. Once they are transitioned; then you decide if you are going to be a ratio feeder or a calorie feeder.
About halfway down this page is a step by step guide about how to transition your typical adult dog over to a fully raw diet over the course of one week. It’s important to read all of the information on the page to make transitioning as easy on your dog and yourself as possible. It is also important to note that not all dogs need a transition and some need a second or even a third week.
Feeder Statistics from the December 2019 Transition Poll
82% of raw feeders said they cold turkey switched their typical adult dog to a raw diet. • 16% said they transitioned their typical adult dog to a raw diet in one week. • 2% of raw feeders said they transitioned their typical adult dog to a raw diet in two weeks.
How To Know How Much To Feed for the Transition
Depending on your dog’s breed, its life stage + activity level and also considering its metabolism; you may need to feed more or less during transition. The PMR Foundation Ratios Calculator will give you the ratios for your specific dog. You can click/press the link here or visit the calculators section on the menu. You can use the information the calculator gives you to build your dog’s transition diet with.
SCRFD doesn’t recommend a strict PMR stand alone diet for typical adult canines beyond the initial transition meals.
PMR is the foundation we build from whether its feeding via ratios or via calories, the PMR foods are the base we want to build with, not the totality of the meal.
When transitioning an adult dog to a raw diet, it is best to start by feeding individual foods one at a time. By introducing foods this way, you will be able to more accurately determine what items your dog may or may not do well on.
SoCal Raw Fed Dogs doesn’t recommend using pre-made blends when transitioning a typical adult dog to a raw food diet; as you will be unable to judge what items your dog does or does not do well on.
This does not apply to puppies as we do not transition pups. They are swiftly moved from dry to raw and the new raw diet must be properly balanced for their age; with gut support provided.
You can learn about raw feeding puppies in a few places on the site, starting here. If you are a large breed puppy owner then you should definitely read the article Appropriate Nutrient Levels for Skeletal Development in Large & Giant Breed Puppies.
While the end goal is to provide a fully balanced diet, you don’t want to rush straight into a broadly varying diet. It is imperative to allow your dog to become accustomed to the new foods they are being fed one at a time.
Important Note: Again, this does not hold true for puppies as they need a balanced diet from the start to ensure proper health and growth.
Which Protein to Start With
While some feeders prefer to start with chicken, SoCal Raw Fed Dogs suggests starting with turkey because chicken is a protein that is commonly problematic for dogs. Since transitioning to any new food can be stressful, it’s best to set a dog up for success and avoid the potential complications of a common protein intolerance in the first days of transition. It is a good idea to introduce chicken after your dog has three established base proteins that they tolerate well. One of which is a red meat, such as beef. Other base proteins besides turkey are rabbit and pheasant.
*Note: Duck is a red meat but it is an often well-tolerated red meat, so if your dog is doing well you can incorporate duck fairly early in the transition, removing all of the excess fat before feeding.
For the first few meals of the transition period, you will want to stick with one protein source. This gives your dog’s stomach time to adjust and gives you ample time to see how they tolerate said protein.
Step by Step Guide
If a transition is needed, some dogs move through swiftly and are transitioned to raw in a week. Other dogs need a second or sometimes a third week.
Use the following as a guide and make adjustments as needed.
Remember each dog is an individual and while one dog may do great on a food another may not.
It’s best to start with boneless white meat not a calcium free meal. White meats are easy for dogs to digest. You’ll feed your dog calcium but you won’t give it in the form of raw bones. If the dog is coming off of kibble, then make dinner the last kibble meal and for breakfast the following day, feed a boneless white meat with gut support that includes a digestive support gruel (shown below), probiotics, and also calcium in the form of eggshell powder or calcium carbonate.
People often ask which eggshell powder or which brand of calcium carbonate to use if they don’t have the time or desire to make it themselves. This is the eggshell powder I like: Pet’s Friend Eggshellent Calcium. If you opt for a calcium carbonate, then NOW Pure Calcium Carbonate Powder is a lab tested and proven brand that many dogs do well with.
Note: The reason you can feed a calcium source at the beginning, contrary to what many Internet articles will tell you, is because vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that is stored in a dog’s body and by making the night before’s dinner the last meal of kibble, your dog has vitamin D stored in its body from the kibble that will work with the calcium source you are providing. #caninenutritionscience
Work towards feeding a bone-in white meat or adding a bone component to your boneless meat such as duck feet after one to three meals of using the calcium powder source. Don’t feel pressured to rush your dog to eat bones at the first meal, it’s okay to move towards bones during the first few feedings. The above calcium sources are pure calcium and will be bioavailable to your dog for use.
If your dog is doing well on the single protein/bone sources you have introduced so far and is having good bowel movements, it is time to start feeding a red meat to your dog.
Red meats are rich in essential amino acids, vitamins, and nutrients that our dogs need to thrive. Duck, pork, beef, lamb, and goat are all great red meat options to choose from. You want to introduce the next protein source in small amounts over the period of a few days.
Transitioning Tip: Goat is a hot protein so if your dog tends to run warm, this would not be a good fit for your dog.
As your dog proves to handle their new foods well, you can continue to introduce new protein/bone sources. Remember, it is vital to slowly introduce each new protein and keep an eye on your dog’s bowel movements to help judge how they handle each one. Don’t rush. You can introduce two different red meats during the first part of week two. Chose one red meat and feed it for the first four meals of the week and then move to a second red meat and feed it the next four meals of the week. This means the fourth meal of protein two was fed at dinner on day four of week two.
Transitioning Note: Red meat will cause your dog’s stool to become darker, but as long as it is well-formed this is okay.
Take note if your dog becomes itchy, rashy, or gassy after eating a new protein. While your dog may not be allergic to these proteins they may be intolerant to them and it best to remove said protein from their diet. After your dog is eating three proteins to include one white and two red meats, you can continue on the organ phase of the transition.
On about meal three of the transition, if the first couple/few meals of the boneless white meat have gone fine, then it is a good idea to introduce a mildly oily fish that contains a good amount of vitamin D3.
Vitamin D is needed for optimal calcium and phosphorus absorption. Since you are giving a calcium source to your transitioning dog in the form of powder, it is important that you introduce vitamin D3 into the diet and do so by using a food that also offers other key nutrients that your dog needs. Like salmon and mackerel. Both of these are sources of D3 and omega 3.
Feeding a white meat only for a few meals does have your dog sitting at a higher omega 6 : omega 3 ratio so introducing salmon or mackerel brings in D3 for calcium phosphorus absorption and omega 3 for an omega balancer. Introduce a small amount of cooked salmon or raw mackerel, not to exceed 1 % to 1.5% of the first meal with it.
Salmon Note: Canned salmon is cooked so this can be easily used but consideration of the histamines found in canned foods can be a concern for histamine reactive dogs.
About Salmon & Why You Need to Deep Freeze it & Cook It
Salmon is an excellent choice of fish to offer dogs who can eat it. The caveat to feeding salmon is, that some salmon ought to be cooked. The salmon is a fish that is prone to infection of a parasite called Nanophyetus salmincola. In particular, the Pacific Northwest salmon. It has been found that the parasite itself is not the issue for dogs but rather the Neorickettsia helminthoeca, which is a microorganism that causes salmon poisoning. The correct temperature range to freeze salmon to the point needed to effectively kill this, is -4°F to -20°F. This temperature range is considered a deep freeze. Most household freezers attached to refrigerators do not get that cold. Generally dedicated freezers can achieve this low temperature range if they have a deep freeze option but many raw feeders do not have dedicated freezers (or they don’t at first) and so therefore, it is a good idea to also cook the salmon to ensure that your dog is not at risk for salmon poisoning. I recommend to still lightly cook/bake your salmon even if you deep freeze it. Freezer time: 21-30 days.
Additional Note: Trout is also a fish known to have this issue.
Introducing Organs Into The Diet
5% Liver is Likely Too Much
On about meal four of the transition, if all has been going okay, it is time to introduce liver which is a main source of vitamin A in the diet. Make this a breakfast introduction to avoid any potential overnight stool explosions. Liver is a very rich source of essential nutrients and vitamins, giving too much too fast can cause a digestive upset. Liver is classified as a secreting organ. It is an organ that should ideally be in every bowl you serve your dog once your dog is eating fully raw.
Start with a small amount of liver and gradually increase the amount over a period of a few days until you reach their recommended amounts. The ratio feeding method calls for 5% of the diet to be liver but in most cases that is a high amount of vitamin A and sometimes copper coming into the dog’s diet. For this reason, this guide recommends to instead use 3% for transitioning and once the dog is fully transitioned, feed via the caloric method using the recommended nutrient guidelines for adult dogs.
*Remember, if you’re going to be a caloric feeder then your amount of liver will vary based on the rest of the recipe. For now, we are approaching it with a transitional ratio approach until your dog is fully transitioned. Ideal liver choices are beef, duck, & turkey.
If your dog experiences loose stool: Reduce the amount of organ you are giving temporarily and give the dog the digestive gruel discussed below about five minutes before you feed.
Once your dog is eating and handling a liver source well you can start to introduce other secreting organs (OSO).
Liver, kidneys, spleen, sweetbreads, brains, pancreas, and eyes are all to be fed secreting organs.
Organ Classification Note: While commonly confused with secreting organs, hearts, gizzards, stomachs, and lungs are to be fed as Muscle Meats. While yes, these are organs, they are part of the muscular system.
Organ Feeding Fact: A second organ isn’t always needed when feeding a correctly balanced nutrient focused diet.
Week Two (Some Dogs Need a Second or Third Week)
If your dog seems to need a slower transition than one week, it is fine to expand for a second week as long as you make sure that you are following the above week’s guidance and all components of the transition are being brought in.
After the base transition period, your dog should be eating at least 3 different protein sources, soft edible bones, liver and have been at least one other secreting organ.
From this point forward, you want to feed a balanced daily diet. See the helpful tips section below.
Don’t forget to to offer fiber and antioxidant sources in forms of vegetables, fruits, and other food grade sources.
It is important to remember to introduce any new foods one at a time and observe how your dog handles them.
Vitamins & Minerals + Gut Support
Be sure to bring in important vitamins, minerals, trace minerals and fatty acids through foods or whole food supplements.
Ensuring Vitamin E is in the diet in an appropriate amount is key
How much vitamin E? That all depends on your dog. A PMR diet tends to be deficient in vitamin E so it’s imperative it is put into the bowl either via bioavailable foods or via a food-grade supplement. See the fact soluble vitamins guide for information about feeding vitamin E.
Iodine in the diet needs to be at an optimal level
Kelp and green lipped mussels are two iodine rich sources you can feed your dog. Iodine is a nutrient that is important to not overfeed or underfeed. <— An excellent example of why ratio diets aren’t ideal.
Zinc is relatively low in a raw diet of just meat, bones, and organs so we need to bring the zinc level up to where it needs to be for the adult dog and also account for a dog’s particular breed needs. On paper, the recommended zinc level for adult dogs is 15 mg per 1,000 kcals. Please note, your breed may need a different amount so it is important to know your breed.
The above are a few examples of vital nutrient often low or missing from the diet
Provide your dog with gut support by feeding probiotics. You can do this in form of homemade kefir or via a commercial probiotic powder. There is a synergy between pre and pro biotics so feeding both to your dog is ideal.
If you opt for kefir, it is best to make it yourself to accurately control what it’s made from and it’s fermentation period. Homemade kefir offers more diverse bacteria than store bought because kefir sold in stores has to adhere to pasteurizing policies among other things and the kefir is impacted.
Kefir is a natural probiotic and bring many benefits to your dog’s bowl. Simplified: It is a natural gut soother and yeast fighter.
Note —> Not all dogs do well on kefir so a dog with histamine issues may or may not be impacted. That would depend on the kefir, how it was fermented, and the individual dog.
Calcium Powder Information
This information is not to be used as nutritionist provided direct advise. It is a general guideline. In order to calculate the precise amount of eggshell powder your dogs needs, a full look at that meal’s recipe is required.
You can wipe and clean the empty shells and allow them to dry; add them to a high powered blender such as a Vitamix and turn them to powder. Or you can bake them on 250-300 for about 5 mins and then turn them to powder. If you buy different color eggs, your powder will be different colors. A pure white powder doesn’t equate to a “better” calcium powder.
1/4 teaspoon of eggshell powder contains around 1800 mg calcium carbonate. Following this estimate you would use US measurements:
1/8 teaspoon per 4 oz of meat • 1/4 teaspoon per 8 oz of meat • 1/2 teaspoon per 16 oz of meat
Transitioning Tip: The egg is loaded with beneficial nutrients for your raw fed dog. Feed the raw egg and keep the shell for your calcium.
Digestive Support Gruel
If your dog experiences any gastrointestinal incidents you can make a herbal digestive gruel very easily and quickly using organic (of each herb) slippery elm bark, marshmallow root, and licorice root. Add 1 tsp of each herb to 1/2 cup of boiled water. The key is not to make it too thick. You can add water if it seems to be more of a paste than a gruel. Cool before serving.