This article was created in partnership with Instinct as part of A Better Way.
Editor’s Note: This is the story of Courtney Durepo, a dog owner and event planner living in California, as told to Greatist. The opinions presented in this article are her personal views and should not be treated as veterinary advice.
Driving to pick up my puppy, Moose, I felt like a kid on Christmas (x10). The anticipation and excitement was oozing out of me, to the point where it was difficult to talk about anything else (I mean, look at her). After going through phone interviews, filing adoption papers, watching training videos, chatting with vets, visiting dog parks, and liking every single Instagram photo and video posted by her foster mom, it was starting to feel like we’d been waiting for her for years instead of weeks.
So it goes without saying when we finally brought her home, I had a pantry full of top-rated food for her to choose from. Determined to feed her the best grub possible, I spent weeks researching different diets and brands. With so many options, I thought it would be easy to find something she liked.
At first, like any growing puppy, Moose loved to eat. But I noticed that despite the quality of kibble or canned food I fed her, she eventually would lose interest, and overall it never quite agreed with her. She was constantly scratching herself (especially her ears), and her bathroom breaks were… unpleasant. With each new symptom or lack of interest, I’d transition her to another brand or diet. We went grain-free. We cut out chicken. I was starting to feel obsessive, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that her diet just wasn’t working.
Around the time Moose turned 1, a friend and fellow dog owner suggested I put her on a raw diet. My initial reaction was, uh, gross. I would never eat raw slabs of meat or turkey livers or uncooked egg. But remembering I am human and not canine, I did some research and decided to give it a shot.
The results? Not to sound like a raving infomercial, but it was a complete 180. Moose’s itching subsided. Her coat looked glossier. She had more energy—and not the hyper energy all puppies have but a vitality that hadn’t been there before. Best of all, at least for me, she loved mealtime. It sounds silly, but watching your dog go bananas over her dinner feels really good.
So what exactly is a raw diet and what makes it so different from other diets? If you’ve ever wanted to try it, here’s a handy guide to help you make the switch.
4 Things to Know About Transitioning to Raw Pet Food
1. First, understand what qualifies as raw.
Raw pet food typically means raw meats, organs, bones, and other undercooked ingredients (fruits, vegetables, eggs, supplements). The thinking is that a raw diet more closely resembles the diet of dogs and cats in the wild—more specifically (at least for dogs) the diet of gray wolves, the ancestor with whom domesticated dogs share 99 percent of their DNA. If you’ve ever tried Paleo, the goals are essentially the same: to eat natural, unprocessed foods similar to your ancestors.
Likewise, just as you might be wary of the chemicals lurking in a processed box of cereal, you probably don’t want your pet eating mystery substances either. Feeding him or her raw, whole ingredients means you may also be eliminating the chemicals, sprays, and processing found in some non-raw pet foods.
But just because a pet food claims to contain organic, human-grade, all-natural ingredients doesn’t mean it’s raw. Same goes for pet foods that are dehydrated or freeze-dried. You want to find a brand that doesn’t heat its ingredients so the nutrients stay intact.
2. Find what works for you.
When I first transitioned Moose, I went all out making her meals by hand—I would toss in some ground beef or crack an egg on the kibble she ate or go so far as making her meals completely from scratch and freezing them (talk about meal prep).
When I got a new job, this level of preparation became impractical, so I switched to Instinct Raw Bites, a premade frozen option you can buy at the store. It’s made with whole-food ingredients and doesn’t contain any artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. It not only saves me a ton of time, but Moose loved it right away. A couple minutes before mealtime, I pull her food out of the freezer, let it thaw, then toss it in her bowl.
If refrigerated and frozen still feels like too much work, there are freeze-dried raw options as well. Instinct Raw Boost is a special pre-mixed formula with freeze-dried raw pellets mixed in, so you get the best of both worlds without sacrificing fridge space.
3. Monitor the transition but don’t overthink it.
If you’ve ever switched your pet to a new brand of dry food, you’re probably familiar with the standard rule of transition: Over a period of seven to 10 days (two weeks for pets with sensitive stomachs), slowly increase the amount of new food until the old food is phased out.
But Amy Fiumarelli, owner of Amy’s Pet Nutrition Store in Wantage, NJ, and academic member of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, says raw rarely requires such a lengthy switch.
“In my experience, there are no adverse effects [from switching to raw], even going cold turkey,” she says. But as with any major diet switch, you should monitor your furry friend throughout and transition accordingly.
4. Reap the benefits.
I’m not the only one to see positive changes thanks to a raw diet. Corinne Wahl, a dog groomer and owner of Dogwood Days LLC, says switching to raw alleviated chronic cysts and infections in her lab Jazz.
“He was on high-dose antibiotics, medicated shampoos, but nothing worked,” she says. “I took him to a number of vets and specialists to get things under control. I even was going to an acupuncturist.”
After Jazz’s remarkable improvement (he lived to the ripe age of 15), Wahl has exclusively fed her cats and dogs a raw diet. She’s noticed shinier coats, fewer skin irritations and infections, and healthier stools.
Fiumarelli says it’s also common to see less shedding, cleaner ears and teeth, and a reduced risk for medical conditions caused by commercial food processing.
At the end of the day, you should feel good about what you’re feeding your pet, and she should feel good eating it. If you’re having trouble finding a food your furball thrives on, talk to your vet.