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Raw Dog Food for Beginners: How Much Raw Food Should I Feed My Dog?

by Scott Marshall March 21, 2024 17 min read

Raw Dog Food for Beginners: How Much Raw Food Should I Feed My Dog?

Transitioning your dog to a raw food diet involves more than just serving them uncooked meals; it's about embracing a diet that closely aligns with their natural eating habits and physiological needs. This guide is crafted to navigate dog owners through the initial phase of raw feeding, from understanding the fundamentals of portion sizing based on your dog's weight and activity levels to selecting the appropriate raw food diet that ensures nutritional balance and vitality. Whether you're contemplating the Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (BARF) model, the prey model, or commercial raw diets, this resource provides a detailed roadmap. It addresses common queries and concerns, ensuring you're well-equipped to make informed decisions for your dog's health. Let's explore the key steps to successfully integrate raw feeding into your dog's routine, ensuring they benefit from the improved health, vitality, and longevity that comes with a natural, raw diet.


When transitioning a dog to a raw food diet, the amount to feed is based on the dog's weight, age, and activity level, with general guidelines suggesting 2-3% of body weight for adults and 2-4% for puppies. Raw diets should include a mix of uncooked meat, bones, and vegetables, and may offer health benefits such as improved digestion and dental health. Transitioning should be gradual to prevent digestive upset, and portion sizes may need to be adjusted regularly. It's important to practice safe handling to minimize bacterial risks and to consult with a vet for a balanced diet plan. There are different types of raw diets, including homemade (BARF or prey model) and commercial options, each with varying costs and convenience. Regular health checks and monitoring are essential to ensure the diet meets all nutritional needs. Resources such as books, online communities, and expert advice can help beginners navigate raw feeding.

Table of Contents

What is raw dog food?

Raw dog food is a diet that emphasizes uncooked meat, bones, fruits, and vegetables. It's designed to mirror the eating habits of wild canines, providing biologically appropriate nutrition. This diet can be prepared at home or purchased as commercial products, available in both freeze-dried or frozen forms, catering to convenience without compromising on nutritional value.

The core aim of a raw diet is to supply dogs with meals that are devoid of artificial preservatives, colors, and flavors, which are often prevalent in commercial pet foods. By opting for a raw diet, owners are committing to a feeding regimen that promotes a more natural and healthful lifestyle for their dogs, ensuring they receive a balanced mix of proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. This approach not only aligns with the dog's natural dietary needs but also supports their overall health and well-being.

Why feed dogs raw food?

Choosing to feed dogs raw food stems from the desire to provide a diet that mirrors what their ancestors ate in the wild, believing it to lead to superior health benefits. Key among these benefits is the enhancement of health and digestion. Raw diets are packed with easily digestible nutrients that can lead to better energy levels, healthier skin, and shinier coats. Another significant advantage is the improvement in dental health; the act of chewing and tearing raw food naturally cleans teeth and reduces tartar buildup.

This feeding approach is not just about meeting the basic nutritional needs of dogs but is aimed at promoting a holistic improvement in their well-being. By adopting a raw food diet, dog owners are investing in their pets' long-term health, contributing to a more energetic, vibrant, and disease-resistant companion.

Benefits for health and digestion

Feeding your dog a raw food diet significantly boosts their digestive health and overall well-being. This diet is rich in natural enzymes and probiotics that are crucial for efficient digestion and optimal nutrient absorption, elements often lost during the cooking process. Dogs on a raw diet typically exhibit higher energy levels, alongside healthier skin and a shinier coat, thanks to the premium, easily digestible proteins and fats they're consuming. This approach not only nourishes them but also minimizes common gastrointestinal issues like bloating and constipation.

Improved dental health

The transition to a raw diet can have a profound impact on a dog's dental health. The act of gnawing on raw, meaty bones and tearing through tough pieces of meat serves as a natural tooth-cleaning mechanism. This process effectively removes plaque and prevents the accumulation of tartar, leading to fresher breath and a lower risk of dental diseases. Beyond merely maintaining clean teeth, this diet promotes healthy gums and strengthens the jaw, contributing significantly to the dog's overall health and longevity.

How to start feeding your dog raw food?

Embarking on the journey of feeding your dog a raw food diet involves a gradual and mindful transition. It's essential to start by slowly transitioning from commercial to raw food over several weeks. This methodical approach helps mitigate any digestive upset, allowing your dog's system to adapt to the new diet comfortably.

A critical step in this process is determining the right portion size for your dog, which should be calculated based on their weight and activity level. Proper portioning ensures your dog receives the necessary nutrients without the risk of overfeeding. Throughout the transition, closely monitor your dog's health and behavior, making adjustments to their diet as needed. This attentive and tailored approach paves the way for a successful shift to a raw food diet, fostering your dog's health and well-being.

Transitioning from commercial to raw food

Initiating the shift from a commercial diet to raw food necessitates a careful and gradual process. Begin this transition by blending a modest amount of raw food with their usual commercial meals. For example, start with a mix of 75% commercial food and 25% raw food in the first week. Over several weeks, progressively increase the raw food portion while decreasing the commercial food until the transition is fully achieved. Suitable raw food items to start with include:

  • Raw ground beef or chicken
  • Small raw chicken wings or necks (for bone content)
  • Finely chopped vegetables (e.g., carrots, spinach)

This approach ensures a gentle adjustment for your dog's digestive system.

Gradual introduction over weeks

The key to a successful diet change lies in a gradual introduction of raw food over a period of weeks. This methodical increase in raw food portions helps mitigate potential digestive issues and allows your dog to become accustomed to the new diet's textures and flavors, fostering a positive adaptation.

Monitoring for digestive upset

It's imperative to closely monitor your dog for any signs of digestive upset, such as diarrhea, vomiting, or constipation, during the transition. These signs may indicate that the transition pace needs to be adjusted or that certain raw food items aren't suitable for your dog. Immediate steps to take if signs of digestive upset are observed include:

  • Reverting to the previous diet ratio and slowing the transition pace
  • Introducing a probiotic supplement to aid digestion
  • Consulting with a veterinarian if symptoms persist

Tailoring the transition to your dog's specific needs is crucial for their comfort and health.

Determining the right portion size

Correct portion sizing is essential for maintaining your dog's health. The portion size should be tailored to your dog's weight, age, and activity level, with a general guideline being to feed adult dogs about 2-3% of their body weight in raw food daily. This ensures they receive adequate nutrition without the risk of overfeeding.

Calculating based on dog's weight and activity

The calculation of daily food portions should reflect both the dog's weight and activity level. More active or working dogs might need up to 4% of their body weight in food, whereas less active dogs require less. Regular assessments of your dog's condition and adjustments to their diet are necessary to maintain optimal health and prevent any nutritional imbalances.

How much raw food to feed your dog?

Determining the appropriate amount of raw food for your dog is pivotal and depends on a blend of factors: their weight, age, and activity level. As a general rule, adult dogs benefit from consuming about 2-3% of their body weight in raw food daily. Puppies, with their higher growth demands, may require a bit more, ranging from 2-4% of their body weight.

However, these percentages are starting points. Active and working dogs might need an increased intake, up to 4% of their body weight, to support their energy needs. Conversely, less active or sedentary dogs may require less to prevent unnecessary weight gain. It's essential to regularly monitor your dog's health and adjust their food portions accordingly, ensuring they remain at an optimal weight and enjoy the full health benefits of a raw diet.

Based on weight

Determining the right amount of raw food for your dog starts with considering their weight. This crucial metric guides the calculation to ensure a balanced intake of nutrients.

2-3% of body weight for adults

For adult dogs, it's recommended to feed approximately 2-3% of their body weight in raw food each day. This range is designed to meet their nutritional needs without contributing to weight gain.

2-4% of body weight for puppies

Given their growth requirements and higher energy levels, puppies may need 2-4% of their body weight in raw food. This supports their development while accommodating their active lifestyle.

Adjusting for activity level

The activity level of your dog significantly influences their dietary needs. Adjusting food volume based on how active your dog is ensures their diet is in harmony with their energy usage.

More for active and working dogs

Active and working dogs, due to their higher energy expenditure, may require up to 4% of their body weight in raw food. This adjustment supports their increased nutritional demands.

Less for sedentary dogs

For sedentary dogs, a slight reduction in food volume is advisable to prevent weight gain. Feeding them slightly less than the standard percentage helps maintain a healthy weight while meeting their nutritional needs.

Types of raw food diets

Exploring raw food diets for dogs reveals a variety of approaches, each designed to align with the natural eating habits of their wild counterparts. Here's a detailed comparison:

Diet Type

Main Components

Sample Meal Plan/Products

Best For

BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food)

Raw meat, bones, fruits, and vegetables

Sample Meal Plan: Morning - Raw chicken wings, spinach; Evening - Ground beef, apples, carrots

Dogs requiring a varied diet mirroring wild canines

Prey model

Meat, bones, and organs

Commonly Used: Whole rabbits, chicken (including organs like liver and kidneys)

Dogs with higher protein needs and minimal grain tolerance

Commercial raw diets

Freeze-dried or frozen raw food

Recommended Brands: Primal Freeze-Dried Formula, Stella & Chewy's Frozen Patties

Busy pet owners seeking convenience without sacrificing nutrition

BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food)

The BARF diet, short for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food, emphasizes a comprehensive mix of raw meat, bones, fruits, and vegetables. This approach is designed to replicate a natural and varied diet, aiming to optimize health by mirroring the nutritional habits dogs would have in the wild.

Focus on raw meat, bones, fruits, and vegetables

At the heart of the BARF model is a commitment to a diverse and balanced diet. Incorporating a wide range of ingredients ensures dogs benefit from a holistic intake of essential nutrients, fostering digestive health, improved dental hygiene, and enhanced overall vitality.

Prey model

Adopting a more streamlined approach, the prey model diet is designed to closely mimic the diet of wild canines. It primarily consists of meat, bones, and organs, focusing on replicating the nutritional essence of whole prey.

Mimics the diet of wild canines

This model is built on the premise of providing a diet that aligns with the natural eating behaviors and nutritional needs of dogs, promoting a healthy and species-appropriate feeding regime.

Primarily meat, bones, and organs

Focusing predominantly on animal-based components, the prey model champions a diet rich in proteins and essential nutrients derived directly from meat, bones, and organs, offering a straightforward path to balanced nutrition.

Commercial raw diets

Commercial raw diets present a convenient alternative for those looking to provide the benefits of raw feeding without the preparation time. Available in freeze-dried or frozen forms, these diets make raw feeding practical for dog owners, regardless of their schedule.

Freeze-dried or frozen options

Offering the advantages of raw nutrition with the ease of extended shelf life and simple storage, freeze-dried and frozen raw diets cater to the modern dog owner's lifestyle without sacrificing dietary quality.

Convenience with balanced nutrition

Designed with convenience in mind, commercial raw diets ensure a balanced nutritional profile. They provide all the necessary vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients in an easy-to-serve format, making them an appealing choice for busy dog owners seeking the best for their pets.

Balancing the diet

Achieving a balanced diet is paramount in the realm of raw feeding for dogs. This entails a strategic inclusion of a variety of meats and organs to secure a comprehensive nutrient profile, emulating the diverse dietary intake dogs would encounter in a natural setting. By integrating a range of protein sources—such as chicken, beef, lamb, and fish—alongside vital organs like the liver and kidneys, dogs are furnished with essential vitamins and minerals for their well-being.

In addition to these primary components, it's crucial to supplement the diet to address any potential nutritional deficiencies. Supplements should focus on vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and probiotics to support overall health, from bone density to immune function.

Regular consultations with a veterinarian or a nutritional expert are advisable to customize the diet to your dog's unique needs, ensuring they not only maintain but thrive on their raw food regimen. This holistic approach to diet balancing is key to fostering optimal health and vitality in your canine companion.


Importance of variety

The importance of variety in a raw dog food diet cannot be overstated. Offering a wide range of foods ensures dogs receive a broad spectrum of nutrients, closely resembling the diverse intake found in a natural, wild diet. This diversity is essential for maintaining optimal health and avoiding nutritional deficiencies.

Different meats and organs for nutrient diversity

Incorporating a variety of meats and organs is critical for achieving nutrient diversity. Each type provides a unique blend of vitamins and minerals, supporting various bodily functions from muscle development to organ health. This approach ensures a balanced and comprehensive nutritional profile.

Supplements and nutrients

Despite a varied diet, supplements may be necessary to address any potential nutritional gaps. They play a vital role in ensuring dogs receive a fully balanced diet, particularly in areas that raw foods might not completely cover.

When to add vitamins and minerals

Adding vitamins and minerals to your dog's diet becomes crucial when their regular meals may fall short of meeting all their nutritional requirements. This supplementation is especially important for dogs with specific health issues or those on limited diets, ensuring they receive a well-rounded array of nutrients.

Essential fatty acids and probiotics

Essential fatty acids and probiotics are pivotal for a dog's health, aiding in skin and coat maintenance and promoting digestive wellness, respectively. Whether included in the diet naturally or through supplements, these nutrients significantly enhance the benefits of a raw feeding regimen, contributing to a dog's overall vitality and well-being.

Supplements and Nutrients Table



Indications for Use

Recommended Sources


Bone health, nerve function

Diets lacking in raw bones

Bone meal powder, eggshell powder

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Skin and coat health, anti-inflammatory

Dry skin, dull coat, joint issues

Fish oil, flaxseed oil


Digestive health, immune system support

Digestive upset, after antibiotic treatment

Probiotic supplements, fermented vegetables

Vitamin E

Antioxidant, skin and eye health

Low in homemade diets without supplementation

Vitamin E supplement, wheat germ oil

Vitamin D

Bone health, calcium absorption

Limited sun exposure, diets low in fish

Cod liver oil, vitamin D supplement

Monitoring your dog's health

Regular health monitoring is vital in ensuring the success of a raw feeding regimen for your dog. Key indicators such as changes in coat quality, energy levels, and stool consistency offer valuable insights into your dog's nutritional well-being and can signal the need for dietary adjustments. Establishing a routine of veterinary check-ups and nutritional consultations is crucial, as these professionals can provide expert guidance and identify any health issues that may not be immediately noticeable.

Incorporating periodic bloodwork into your dog's health care routine is also recommended. This can help uncover hidden health concerns, ensuring that your dog's diet continues to meet all their nutritional needs effectively. A proactive approach to health monitoring allows for early detection and intervention, promoting a long, healthy, and vibrant life for your dog. This commitment to ongoing health assessment is a cornerstone of responsible dog ownership, particularly when feeding a raw diet.

Signs of nutritional imbalance

Recognizing the signs of nutritional imbalance is a key aspect of ensuring the health and well-being of dogs on a raw diet. Indicators such as changes in coat quality, like dullness or excessive shedding, fluctuations in energy levels, and alterations in stool consistency, can signal that the diet may require fine-tuning to better suit your dog's nutritional needs.

Coat quality, energy levels, and stool consistency

Monitoring aspects like coat quality, energy levels, and stool consistency offers critical insights into your dog's health. A glossy coat, steady energy levels throughout the day, and consistent, firm stools are hallmarks of a balanced diet. Any deviation from these norms might indicate a need for dietary adjustments to address potential deficiencies or excesses.

Regular veterinary check-ups

Regular veterinary check-ups play a vital role in maintaining your dog's health, especially when feeding a raw diet. These check-ups allow for a thorough evaluation of your dog's health status and dietary adequacy, with veterinarians providing invaluable advice on any necessary adjustments to ensure the diet remains nutritionally complete.

Bloodwork and nutritional consultations

Incorporating bloodwork into routine health evaluations can reveal underlying issues not immediately apparent through observation alone. Moreover, nutritional consultations with veterinary nutritionists or experienced veterinarians can offer tailored dietary advice. This ensures that your dog's raw diet is perfectly aligned with their individual health requirements, promoting optimal nutrition and overall well-being.

Health Monitoring Table

Health Aspect

Signs of Imbalance

Recommended Action

Frequency of Veterinary Check-Ups

Coat Quality

Dullness, excessive shedding

Evaluate diet for essential fatty acids and protein quality

At least once a year, or as recommended

Energy Levels

Lethargy or hyperactivity

Assess caloric intake and balance of nutrients

Bi-annual check-ups

Stool Consistency

Diarrhea, constipation, or unusual color

Review diet composition, especially bone and fiber content

As needed, based on changes


Sudden gain or loss

Calculate portion size accurately, consider activity level adjustments

Every 6 months for a health assessment

Dental Health

Bad breath, plaque buildup

Ensure adequate raw bone or dental chew inclusion

Annual dental check-up


Not applicable (preventative measure)

Check for underlying health issues not visible externally

Annually, or as advised by your vet

Common concerns and misconceptions

Embarking on a raw feeding journey for dogs often brings to light several common concerns and misconceptions that may cause hesitation among pet owners. Here, we address two major areas: the risk of bacteria in raw food and the cost comparison with commercial diets, providing statistics, studies, and a detailed cost breakdown to offer perspective.

Risk of bacteria in raw food

A notable concern with raw feeding is the potential risk of bacteria presence in raw meats. Studies have shown that while raw diets can harbor pathogens like Salmonella and E. coli, proper handling and hygiene practices significantly reduce these risks. For instance, a study published in the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) found that only a small percentage of commercially prepared raw diets tested positive for Salmonella, suggesting that with careful selection and handling, the risk can be managed effectively.

Safe handling and storage practices

Adopting safe handling and storage practices is paramount in a raw feeding regimen. This includes maintaining raw food at proper refrigeration temperatures, using separate utensils for pet food preparation, and thorough cleaning of all surfaces and hands post-handling. These precautions are essential to minimize bacterial risks and protect both pets and their human companions.

Cost comparison with commercial diets

The cost comparison between raw and commercial diets is a common concern for pet owners. While raw feeding might initially appear more costly due to the price of premium ingredients, the long-term health benefits can potentially offset these costs by reducing future veterinary expenses.

Cost Breakdown Table

Cost Factor

Commercial Diet (Monthly)

Raw Diet (Monthly)

Food Cost

$60 (Based on a premium kibble for a 30lb dog)

$90 (Based on average raw food prices)


Included in commercial diet

$20 (For essential supplements not included in raw meat)

Veterinary Expenses

$30 (Average monthly cost for minor issues related to diet)

$10 (Reduced vet visits due to improved health)

Dental Care

$10 (Dental chews)

$5 (Raw bones for dental health)

Total Monthly Cost



While the raw diet appears more expensive at a glance, it's important to consider the potential reduction in veterinary expenses and dental care costs due to the health benefits of raw feeding. Additionally, the quality of life and potential for a longer lifespan can make the raw diet a worthwhile investment for your pet's well-being.

By dispelling these myths and understanding the factual basis of raw feeding, dog owners can make more informed decisions regarding their pets' nutrition, ensuring their companions thrive.


Resources for beginners

Embarking on the raw feeding journey can seem daunting for beginners, but a plethora of resources are available to facilitate a smooth transition and ensure your dog's diet is both balanced and nutritious. Books and guides from raw feeding experts provide a wealth of knowledge, covering essential topics such as nutritional needs, meal planning, and preparation techniques. These materials serve as an invaluable foundation for understanding the principles of raw feeding.

Furthermore, online communities and forums offer a dynamic platform for interaction and support, connecting beginners with experienced raw feeders. These online spaces are ideal for exchanging tips, addressing concerns, and sharing success stories, making them an essential resource for anyone new to raw feeding. Leveraging these resources empowers dog owners to confidently navigate the raw feeding process, ensuring their furry companions thrive on a diet that promotes optimal health and vitality.

Books and guides

Books and guides dedicated to raw feeding serve as essential resources for those embarking on this nutritional journey. They delve into the fundamentals of the diet, including nutritional requirements, meal planning, and safe handling practices, offering a comprehensive overview for beginners.

Recommended reading for raw feeding

Delving deeper into raw feeding, recommended reading lists, compiled by experts, direct newcomers to authoritative and insightful sources. These resources are invaluable for gaining a thorough understanding of raw feeding principles, enabling informed decisions about your dog's nutritional regimen.

Online communities and forums

Online communities and forums provide a vibrant platform for engagement with the raw feeding community. These digital spaces are where beginners can interact with experienced raw feeders, gaining insights, asking questions, and exchanging tips on how to navigate the raw feeding process successfully.

Support and advice from experienced raw feeders

The support and advice offered by experienced raw feeders within these communities can be a lifeline for newcomers. From troubleshooting dietary adjustments to sourcing high-quality ingredients, the shared knowledge and experiences found here can significantly ease the transition to raw feeding, fostering a supportive environment for both new and seasoned raw feeders alike.

Frequently Asked Questions

What factors determine the amount of raw food to feed a dog?

The quantity of raw food for a dog depends on the pet's weight, age, activity level, and health condition. Consultation with a veterinarian can provide a tailored feeding plan.

How do I transition my dog to a raw food diet safely?

Begin by mixing a small amount of raw food with the current diet, gradually increasing the raw portion over 7-10 days. Monitoring the dog's health and stool quality during this period is crucial.

Can puppies be fed a raw food diet, and how does their feeding differ from adult dogs?

Puppies can eat raw food but require more protein and fat for growth. Their meals should be divided into 3-4 servings daily, unlike adult dogs, which typically eat twice.

What are the risks associated with feeding dogs a raw food diet?

Risks include potential exposure to pathogens like salmonella, nutritional imbalances if not properly formulated, and choking hazards from bones. A well-planned diet and hygiene practices minimize these risks.

How can I ensure my dog's raw food diet is nutritionally balanced?

Ensuring balance involves including a variety of meats, bones, organ meats, and some vegetables. Consulting a veterinarian or a pet nutritionist to create a comprehensive diet plan is advisable.

Scott Marshall
Scott Marshall

Scott has been feeding a raw dog food diet for over 13 years. He lives in Utah with his wife Arianne, his 11.5 year old german shepherd Wolken, and his 2.5 year old labradoodle Montu. Scott has been teaching others about raw feeding since 2013, started Raw Feeding 101 in 2017, and has been solely focused on simplifying the process of pet parents meeting their dogs’ daily nutrient requirements since 2018.

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