Feeding your dog a raw diet – my interview with a vet and breeder

The following is my interview with Dr. Laurie Coger, a veterinarian and Australian shepherd breeder.

I believe a raw diet is the healthiest option for most dogs, and Coger has fed her dogs a raw diet for over 20 years. She even makes sure to place her puppies into homes that will continue feeding them raw.

If you are interested in learning more about natural dog food, Coger shares some of the reasons why she chooses to feed her dogs raw below:

That Mutt: What made you decide to begin feeding your dogs a raw diet?

Dr. Laurie Coger: Like most people, my move to a natural diet resulted from a dog’s health crisis—in my case, autoimmune hemolytic anemia.

Thanks to a mentor and friend, I was introduced to the Volhard diet, one of the first raw feeding plans. And my dog did extremely well on it, living years beyond his prognosis.

Australian shepherd gets fed a raw dog food diet - chicken

From there, I learned more about other feeding plans and natural dog health. I’ve never looked back, rather continue to learn more and strive to feed my dogs in accordance with their biology.

TM: What are some of your dogs’ favorite ‘meals’ or favorite foods?

LC: They love pretty much everything!

What gets grabbed first from the bowl is usually organ meats. And I have found the green tripe that is the “caviar” of green tripe from Darwin’s Raw Foods—they absolutely love it!

TM: As a veterinarian, how do you encourage your clients to feed their dogs a healthier diet?

LC: Many clients seek me out as the only veterinarian in my region that knows about raw diets, or is not going to tell them they are killing their dog with raw foods!

Because I see a lot of clients who are seeking alternative care for their dog, diet changes are one of their expectations, so I have little convincing to do.

For conventional clients, I often mention how getting off inappropriate foods, such as kibble, will help many of the ear infections, skin problems and GI issues they are seeking vet care for.

Not to mention all the other health benefits. For example, they can feed their dog a natural diet, or shell out $600 for dental cleaning and potential extractions every year or so.

TM: How old are your puppies when you begin introducing them to raw food?

LC: My Aussies are usually wanting food around 3 to 3.5 weeks of age. They start with a finely ground meat and bone mix, along with some goats’ milk. They get their first chicken necks around six weeks of age.

TM: Is there a certain type of meat you typically start them out with?

LC: I use a finely ground meat and bone mix—typically ground chicken necks, as that’s what I have easily available. I might also add some ground meat—turkey, beef, etc.

Raw fed Aussie puppy gets a taste of raw food!

After they’ve been eating a bit, I’ll slip in a touch of the tripe, maybe some ground organ meat mix or an egg. I introduce variety early on, but gradually.

TM: You said you only place puppies into homes that will continue feeding them raw food. Why?

LC: Simply put, I believe the healthiest way to feed an animal is to do so in accordance with their biology, not what is convenient for us or uses up by-products from the human food industry.

In my opinion, the human equivalent to commercial dog food is a box of macaroni and cheese and hot dogs. Even if you added a vitamin mineral supplement, as is sprayed on kibble near the end of production, could you be healthy eating that every day, every meal?

Aussie puppy eating raw dog food

Yes, you might survive, but could you thrive? And what health conditions might you develop as you consume far more starches and carbohydrates than your body needs, along with substandard, chemically treated proteins?

The investment I have made in a puppy is huge, in terms of time, money, education and more. A puppy may represent many generations of my dogs, and that puppy exists because of my choices.

I cannot in good conscience let them go to homes that will not continue to provide the level of care I believe is vital for optimal health. This is in the forefront of my mind at the moment, as I am planning a litter likely to be born in early October.

TM: Is there anything else you would like people to know about raw dog food?

LC: There are many ways to feed a raw diet, and I will be sharing my exact feeding plan in an upcoming book and online content.

The most important point to make is that it’s not that difficult! Despite what dog food companies may tell you, you do not need a Ph.D. in animal nutrition to feed your dog! You do not need a veterinary specialist to design your dog’s meals.

Did your parents consult such a specialist for your meals as a child? Do you plan and calculate the nutritional value of each meal before you prepare and eat it? Of course not.

Instead, you choose a variety of foods, which include the necessary nutrients. The body can store and convert many nutrients, allowing for varying intake. The same is true for dogs and other species, allowing for each species’ unique biological aspects.

TM: Thank you, Laurie, for sharing your expertise!

Do any of you currently feed your dog’s raw food?

Let us know in the comments.

29 thoughts on “Feeding your dog a raw diet – my interview with a vet and breeder”

  1. This is a great interview, I don’t usually see any raw diet articles go into much depth, thank you for sharing. She brings up a lot of excellent points and there’s good evidence behind them. I don’t think the pet nutritionist industry will be very happy, they seem to be doing quite well lately with raw food consultations. It would be nice if more vets would get on board or at least educate themselves about raw food diets, instead of just trying to scare everyone away from them.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I can see where vets are coming from when they don’t go out of their way to recommend a raw diet. However, when someone like me asks them specifically about raw food, I expect them to at least be open to discussing it. Unfortunately, in my experience, most vets want to change the subject right away and recommend a standard dry food.

  2. I was wondering what you do for treats with a raw diet? I like having little training treats for my dog in my purse at all times, but it would be messy (and unsanitary) to have chunks of raw chicken or bloody beef hearts around.

    Is freeze dried liver or chicken considered “raw”?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yes, if treats are freeze-dried, they are considered raw since they have not been cooked.

      It’s all just preference. I think most raw feeders give their dogs cooked treats, especially for training purposes.

    2. I cook chicken, beef, cut up and freeze. Get a RX container you can put in your pocket or purse. I like K9 Magic from Green tripe also cut up and frozen. A little string cheese. And even some kibble! Natures logic is good and I use it in my Treat n Train. Variety!

  3. Thanks so much for this post. We’ve been considering a raw diet more and more. Hearing a vet and breeder endorse is so strongly is very convincing. Comparing kibble to KD and HD is scary. Would you be open to sharing some recipes?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Hi Julia. Laurie is coming out with a book soon with a feeding plan. I’ll have to notify my blog readers once it’s out.

      I also have an ebook which includes 10 of my basic raw recipes and a guide on how to get started because I know how overwhelming raw feeding is at first. You can get it here: http://www.thatmutt.com/ebooks/10-easy-raw-dog-food-recipes/

      But if you just want to browse around and get some ideas, I also have this post with some raw recipes & there are also tons of ideas from others in the comments section: http://www.thatmutt.com/2011/04/16/homemade-raw-dog-food-recipes/

  4. Thank you for sharing! Love the idea and will try it with our future puppy. So glad there are vets who are pro raw.
    I feed my foster dogs partly raw, like an egg here and there, a meaty bone for a snack. It looks like none of them had real food before. Chestnut spit out her first chicken neck looking totally lost. Funny to teach carnivores how to eat meat.
    I liked your post about improving your dog’s diet and your idea that you don’t have to do all or nothing.
    The latest adopters asked about our foster dog’s diet and I told them that the dog is used to all kinds of foods: grain-free kibble, home cooked, or raw, so they can go with whichever option. They seemed quite shocked after hearing “raw”.
    I wish all my fosters would go into homes that would choose healthier food for them, but to be honest, I’m just relieved that they found A home, kibble or not.

  5. For an after dinner treat, we give our girls a cube of frozen pumpkin. However, that won’t be good in your purse 🙂

  6. My dog Maddie is a patient of Dr Coger and she is who I learned how to feed traw from. I can attest that it is NOT hard and totally worth the benefits that come with it. Maddie is a happy, healthy and spry 9 year old dog. Her coat looks great(aside from shedding as she is an Aussie!) and I feel better knowing exactly what goes into her dish everyday. I cant recommend feeding raw enough to my friends and family. The only thing different with Maddie is she has a sensitive tummy so she gets mainly poultry of varying kinds and beef. Fish and pork dont seem to sit well with her. But these are things you figure out and work around. There are lots of options!

  7. After doing a lot of research (and a gentle nudge from a dog who really was tired of even high quality kibble), I switched my dogs to raw. The start up was a lot harder than the maintenance: figuring out what to feed the dogs, how much to feed them (the estimates I saw were horrifically wrong for my dogs), where to get the food without it costing too much $, and whose information I trusted about nutrition (there is a lot of “you’re doing it wrong!” know-it-all-ism to avoid online in the raw feeding world).

    I think a lot of people hesitate to start because beginning is harder than fine tuning it and keeping a good system going. I know I dragged my feet for a while, and part of what made going for it easier for me was having moved to an area where I could easily find wholesale/bulk raw food options to purchase. Once I had it worked out, I did purchase a freezer to be able to keep costs down moving forward. I was already feeding an expensive grain-free kibble, and I’m not really spending more per meal for my dogs than I did then.

    The key for me has been finding a supply of an affordable “staple” raw food – it’s a ground beef mix – that anyone can feed my dogs, that they are happy to eat, and that is nearly nutritionally complete (it is designed for pets so it already has a small percent of liver, organ & bone). Using kongs, I can slow down how fast the dogs eat it too. Then I can mix in other stuff: fish or fish oils, appropriate bone-in meats for chewing work out, alternate proteins for variety, eggs, etc. I’ll use canned products or freeze-dried if I can’t keep up with refrigeration (when travelling, for example).

    Like a lot of raw feeders, all I can say is I wish I switched sooner!

  8. I absolutely love the part that puppies are only placed in a raw feeding home. If I were a breeder, I would really stress this as well. Based on my experience, I truly believe that a raw diet done right is the best way to go.

  9. I have been feeding my 2 yr old bully raw since he was approximately 9 months old! The transition was soooo easy and he absolutely loves it. He is a parvo survivor and had many issues afterwards with his skin and digestive etc. Switching him over to raw pretty much alleviated all his issues. He is now a very healthy 75 pounds of rolling thunder 🙂 I just wished i had done the same with my Rottie, maybe we wouldn’t have lost him to Hemangiosarcoma at the young age of 8 🙁 Miss that boy like crazy!

  10. I switched our dogs over to raw food around middle August, and they love it. I’m just worried about overfeeding, as our Labrador (9yrs-not active) is a glutton and will eat until he is full, where the other two, a German ShepherdX (6yrs – active) and a Jack Russell (8yrs-not so active) will stop as soon as they have had enough.

    I am currently feeding them bone with meat in the morning (beef, chicken, pork, organs, etc. but only one type at a time) and in the evening they get bonemeal (finely ground meat and bone) mixed with one of your recipe’s veg, oil, etc. mix. in the evening. Both I work out at 2-3% per dogs’ weight, and prepack for the week.
    I was just wondering whether I should give them bone-meat every day? The Jack Russell I definitely have to cut down to a little less than 2% of body weight as she has put on weight, and I might have to do the same for the Labrador.

    1. I think if you ask different raw feeders, you’ll get different responses for your question about bones. I tend to feed meat with bone every other day, and it’s usually a chicken quarter since that seems to be easiest.

      As far as over or under-feeding, I just look at the actual dog, like you are doing. If he seems to be gaining too much, I feed a little less. If he’s thin, I feed more. I’ve figured out that my dog needs about 24 ounces per day to maintain his ideal weight (68 pounds).

      1. I see our Lab is walking and running a lot easier. He has an old leg injury sustained at a previous owner, which our vet said he could do nothing about. This last two weeks however he has started chasing Hadedas and vervets from our property with the other two dogs, so he might stop gaining weight 🙂
        I found a reputable farmer who is willing to sell me cicken carcasses that they cut chicken fillets from, so lots of meat still left, which I could substitute the red meat bones with, as they eat the carcass whole, while the other bones lie everywhere in the garden.

  11. Hi, I just moved to Massachusets and I have been feeding my ESS raw chicken for 2 years. They have been with diarrhea for one month and my vet says it is salmonella in raw chicken. They had been tretad with metronidazole and while they are in treatment the stools are great but after a couple of days they have diarrhea again when I feed them with raw chicken. I really don’t want to give them kibble becuase they have been healthy and in good conditions but I am desperate and don’t know what to do now. Can someone give me some advice? Thanks

    1. You are getting bad chicken. Find a chicken bulk meat provider that has frozen chicken carcass. What happens is all stores buy this bulk frozen chicken, thaw it out, and let it sit. Thats ok if you cook it to 165 deg. but raw it is bad. All chicken does not have salmonella, it is improper handling of the meat that gives it that.

    2. Is the chicken enhanced with anything? I know if it has a lot of sodium or other “flavoring” it can give dogs an upset tummy. Did they have any issues prior to this? I assume you give them some bones with the meat for some meals?

  12. Hi! Thanks for your comments. I buy chicken tighs at costco with no antibiotics and no hormones. I will search in the internet for frozen carcass. Thanks.
    They never had such episodes and it has been a month since we moved here. I used to feed them raw chicken with the bone, sometimes thighs, necks and carcass. 2 times a week plain yoghurt, 2 times a week ricotta cheese and 2 times a week eggs. Added Berte’s greens , fish oil and vitamin E. They were in great shape. Until I find where to buy the chicken I will have to give them kibble…..thank you very much, I would have never thought that chicken was frozen twice before you bought it!!!

    1. I often buy chicken thighs from Costco (with bone in) as well and have never had a problem. I do usually freeze them at home for easy storage purposes. Maybe that makes a difference.

  13. That is exacly what I do. I freeze them. I have a friend that buys the same chicken and her dog is going through the same thing. I really don’t know what happens.

  14. My dog has Mega-Esophagus – which made it impossible to feed him dog food – for last 3 years – twice a day – he gets 15 raw meatballs nearly frozen – hard-boiled egg cut in half – whole potatoes cut from can – sliced bananas – and some peanut butter for desert – this diet has kept him alive and everyone comments on how beautiful his coat is – my other dog – she gets Acana kibble but I add raw meat, raw egg and potatoes…

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