There are several approaches to feeding dogs. The three main considerations are cost, time, and suitability of the food.
Historically, dogs in the wild were carnivorous animals – that is, they mainly eat meat and bone. They would catch small to medium-sized animals (often omnivores and herbivores, rabbits, possums, and similar) and eat all parts of them.
This meant, eating the intestines of the animals they caught, full of half-digested grass and leaves as well as the meat and bones. Over time, dogs evolved to become dependant on this mix of meat, bones and vegetable matter to be healthy.
Emulating this diet in current times is well-proven to be ideal for the long term health of your dog. Our dogs are fed the “BARF Diet” originated by Dr Ian Billinghurst (https://www.drianbillinghurst.com/), a renowned vet from NSW. His book, ‘The Barf Diet’ describes the approach to this diet in detail, but is summarised below. BARF stands for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food.
BARF is not a “fad” diet, it’s well tested and proven to be healthy for dogs based on sound scientific principles.
We’re careful to not anthropomorphise our dogs (treat them like humans): they are different, and should be treated differently. Dogs do not need, expect, or particularly appreciate variety in their diet – they are quite happy eating the same meals for their entire life. They will not “appreciate” the work you go to to lovingly cook a meal for them (and in fact, the cooking that humans require to be able to digest some foods actually removes nutrients dogs need to survive!).
Never give cooked bones – they can splinter and lodge in the dog’s throat.
Approach 1: Homemade raw food
Homemade biologically appropriate raw food best for your dog, and is cheapest for you. However, it takes time to buy ingredients, prepare and store than the alternatives, and can be a little messy to prepare.
Below, we nominate percentages – this is the percent of the dog’s total intake of food in a day. The total amount changes a little as the dog grows, and weight is best managed using the simple ribs-visible-when-trotting method.
If choosing to feed the home-made BARF diet, all of these components are required;
- 60% raw meaty bones, with bones the dog can completely eat
- No preparation is necessary, other than buying, dividing into packs and freezing
- We use chicken wings (cheap, easily available), but lamb ribs are fine as well
- Chicken necks are not ideal (too much gristle), but can be used
- 15%-20% raw leafy green and yellow vegetables, pureed using a blender
- Spinach, lettuce, kale, broccoli, cabbage, bok choi, carrots, pumpkin, garlic, etc
- Some fruit, apples (no pips), bananas, etc
- No onions, no grapes
- Best to make in batches and freeze
- 10%-15% offal, liver (“lambs fry” from a butcher)
- One lambs fry per week, spread across two meals
- 5%-10% Extras
- Up to one egg a day (raw yolk and cooked white ideally, but you can just lightly cook an extra whole egg when you are cooking yours);
- Wheat germ, yogurt (plain), oils (flaxseed and fish) 1-2 tsp a day, seaweed meal 1-2 tsp a day, Vitamin C (500mg tablets as for humans), Vitamin E (capsules, or oil)
- A tin of sardines a week
- Once or twice a week, bigger “recreational bones”
- NEVER GIVE COOKED BONES! They can splinter, and get lodged in their throat, a terrible way to die.
- Bones can be bought in bulk and frozen
- Cow leg bones are ideal (cheap, plentiful, and delicious for a dog), ask the butcher to cut them four ways (so the dog can access the marrow in the bones)
- Roughly 500g to 750g per bone (250g to 500g if under four months)
- One bone will keep the dog amused for several hours (ideal if all humans are leaving the dog for a few hours) – they’ll eat 99% of it, and chew on the remaining slivers for several days.
Note that no grain in any form is fed – includes bread, pasta and rice – as they do not suit the canine digestive system.
Most efficient is to make this in bulk – get 10kg of chicken wings and assemble all the other ingredients, and make 30 “meal packs” to freeze in plastic containers. A chest freezer is likely necessary to store them. Feed one meal pack in the morning, and one in the evening, and on each feed, pull another one out of the freezer to start thawing (or if you forget, give a frozen pack a quick blitz in the microwave).
Approach 2: Pre-packaged raw food
Pre-packaged raw food – we recommend Dr B’s BARF by Dr Billinghurst (more info on other similar “BARF” style food – be careful) – is similar to homemade raw food described above, with none of the effort… but more cost.
The food comes in “patties” (kind of like hamburger patties), that come in boxes of twelve 227-gram sealed chunks, and contains a generous mix of meat, shredded bones, leafy green vegetables, and extra minerals.
Available at the PetBarn chain of stores, and some independent pet food stores. It comes frozen, and must be kept frozen until serving – some Ridgeback owners invest in a chest freezer to store BARF, chicken wings, and bones, as the family freezer is not big enough. We typically buy 10 boxes when it’s cheapest.
A box of BARF costs between AU$25 and AU$30 (it’s often on-special), and comes in a range of flavours (beef, chicken, kangaroo, etc).
While BARF can be fed exclusively, it’s best to alternate it like so (assuming an adult dog; growing puppies need up to 50% more):
- 1.5 BARF patties
- One hard-boiled egg (uncooked egg white can interfere with the absorption of vitamin B, so always hard-boil it)
- 3-4 raw chicken wings
- Several times a week
- A raw meaty bone, ~500g
Note again that no grain in any form is fed – includes bread, pasta and rice – as they do not suit the canine digestive system.
It’s essential to get the genuine Dr B’s BARF or Big Dog BARF – there are several cheaper knock-offs, that bulk-out the patties with cheaper grain (rice, wheat) which is not recommended (more info). If you’re considering an an alternative to Dr B’s BARF, please send us a photo of the packaging (where the ingredients are described), so we can provide some feedback on its suitability.
Approach 3: Dried food (kibble)
Despite being sold by many vets, dried food is not ideal (vet surgeries get kickbacks for selling it, and ultimately, they’re a business).
However, the more expensive brands (eg, Hill’s Science, Advance) are acceptable. Home-brand and supermarket brands are not acceptable. They are often packed out with grain.
Ideally mixed in with homemade or pre-packaged BARF, for example, dried food in the morning, and raw meat / BARF in the evenings.
The importance of raw meaty bones (~500g) three times a week increases if feeding dried food.
Canned wet food
Not recommended, even the expensive ones (Hills Science, and similar).