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Switching Your Dog to a Raw Diet – What to Expect

When I switched my dog Ace a raw diet in 2011 I had so many concerns about how it would go.

I knew a raw diet of fresh, real food made sense for a dog and I’d been researching it for a couple of years (years!). But still … all the negative talk from some vets and the myths out there had me worried.

Fast forward five years later when I introduced my second dog Remy to a raw diet.

I had zero concerns that time around. Zero.

I’ve learned a lot, so I thought I’d share the basics on some minor changes you might notice when switching your dog to a raw diet.

Switching your dog to a raw diet – what to expect

Switching your dog to a raw diet - what to expect
Switching your dog to a raw diet – what to expect

Nothing! Sorry to break it to you, but chances are good you won’t notice any dramatic differences.

I remember pretty much hovering over Ace as he ate his first couple of raw meals and then watching him pretty close afterwards. I was worried he would get sick from the raw meat. He didn’t.

With Ace, I mixed his commercial raw dog food with his dry food for about a week for a slow transition. This is what most raw dog food brands, including Darwin’s, will recommend.

Darwin's raw dog food

Benefits of feeding a dog a raw diet:

Over the long term, you might notice:

  • Your dog is a healthier weight
  • He has more defined muscles
  • His coat is healthier, less shedding, less dandruff
  • Fewer allergies, less itchy skin and fewer ear infections
  • Less poop! It’s true.
  • Increased excitement around meals!

Of course, switching a dog to a raw diet is no magic “cure” for all health issues. But feeding your dog a healthy, fresh diet of real food will obviously make most dogs healthier in general from the inside out.

That’s what’s most important, even if you can’t tell right away by looking at your dog.

*Get our three FREE raw dog food recipes now! Click Here

During the initial transition to raw food, you might notice some slight changes in your pet:

1. Picky eaters. Your pet won’t eat the raw food.

Most dogs practically inhale their raw food! Cats … they’re more likely to be difficult.

If you have a dog who is hesitant to try the raw food, definitely go with a slow transition, mixing her usual dry food or cooked food with the raw.

For picky cats, one tip from Balanced Blends is to start with canned food and then slowly add in small amounts of raw food. Also stop “free feeding” your cat and offer food at 2 or 3 specific mealtimes per day. (Pick up the food between meals.)

Note that my cats do not seem to have this problem. Little thieves!

2. Mild upset tummy.

Your dog could get an upset tummy during the transition. This is common for dogs that have not had a lot of variety in their diets and then suddenly you mix it up.

For them, a slow transition to the new food is probably best. (Same thing can happen when you switch from one dry dog food brand to another.)

If one of my dogs gets an upset stomach, I usually just fast them for a meal or two and then slowly introduce food again, starting with a smaller meal. I also feed them plain, canned pumpkin because it helps with diarrhea.

3. A detox period.

If your dog has eaten a kibble diet his whole life, he might go through a bit of a detox, especially if he’s an older dog. Some signs of this could include looser stools, “runny” eyes or even more shedding than usual. I noticed all of these things during my older dog Ace’s initial transition.

Feeding your cat a raw diet

4. Dog is throwing up/regurgitating when eating raw.

This is normal, and it shouldn’t happen often if you’re feeding a ground, commercial raw diet.

Your dog might throw up if he eats the food too fast, especially if he’s had a lot of water or if he’s running around shortly afterwards. It doesn’t mean he’s sick, just enthusiastic!

If you feed a homemade raw diet that includes raw bones or large chunks of meat, your dog might occasionally regurgitate those pieces, chomp them up a bit more and then re-eat them! This is normal. Gross, but normal.

It will probably only happen occasionally, if at all.

5. You’ll get surprised reactions from friends.

The idea of feeding a pet a raw diet is still new and surprising to the average person.

You might get a few reactions from friends and family along the lines of, “You feed him RAW meat?” But it makes sense to most people when they stop and actually think about it. Dogs and cats are meant to eat meat!

Pre-made raw food is so helpful when you’re first starting

When you’re first switching your dog or cat to a raw diet, I can’t stress enough how helpful it is to start out with a pre-made, commercial food like Darwin’s.

Darwin's raw dog food

It takes away so much stress because you don’t have to run around buying and mixing all sorts of ingredients. You can just trust the meals are nutritionally balanced, the food is safe and since it’s ground you don’t have to worry about feeding raw bones.

Then, you can always switch to a homemade diet later on when you’re more comfortable.

*Get our three FREE raw dog food recipes now! Click Here

Related articles:

Campfire Treats review

Where to buy organ meat for dog’s raw diet

Can dogs get sick from raw meat?

Lindsay Stordahl is the founder of That Mutt. She writes about dog training, dog exercise and feeding a healthy raw diet.


Wednesday 20th of June 2018

Thank you for this information. How long do you think the detox period lasted for your dog? My dogs went to 100% raw on June 14th and I have noticed some loose stool, excessive licking, and other symptoms of digestive upset, as well as runny eyes on one of them.

Lindsay Stordahl

Wednesday 20th of June 2018

I think a week or so but I didn't notice it until a few days in.

Lisa Ownbey

Sunday 25th of September 2016

My breeder friend weans her puppies on rabbit rib cages. She raises rabbits and chickens for dog and people food.


Saturday 24th of September 2016

@Colby, I can't answer for Lindsay but my dog is probably the same size as Ace, or close (she's a 75 lb GSD). I would estimate that we will spend around $1200 annually on her food (meat base and supplements). I do homemade raw. The price would go up if we did commercial. Sometimes you can get a special bulk price on commercial if you buy from them directly in a sufficiently large quantity. My breeder does this, and I would highly recommend that if you can make it work. I don't have the storage space to do it, but it would save you time if you only had to dump a pre-thawed portion into a dish. Between prep and cleanup (I also recommend Dawn Antibacterial and cleaning surfaces as you go), it takes me 10-15 minutes to feed a meal. Objectively not that much time, but it is certainly more time than just dumping a cup or two of kibble into a bowl.


Sunday 25th of September 2016

@KL, I looked at the commercial raw, but not in bulk. I'll have to see what the pricing is like for bulk. Thank you for your response!


Friday 23rd of September 2016

Changing my dogs to a raw diet has always been on the back of my mind. A couple of questions I'm pretty sure you've answered in the past: Approximately how much does it cost per dog (Ace's size) to feed raw diet? and how long does it take to prepare meals?

Lindsay Stordahl

Sunday 25th of September 2016

If I were to feed 100% commercial raw it would cost me $240+ per dog per month. That's more than I can afford. When I feed 100% homemade raw it's roughly $125 per month, and I don't go out of my way to buy in bulk or get great deals. Some people can get it down to $75 per month or so by stocking up, searching for deals, signing up for co-ops, etc.

Ace is about 68 pounds and eats 1.3 pounds of raw per day. He's actually on a dry diet right now though. Remy eats about the same. so same price for him.

With preparing the food, I usually just mix it up into Ziplocs or plastic containers when I get the food so it's portioned out. So I might spend 30 minutes doing that 3 times a month. Then it's just a matter of opening it and dumping it into the bowl at mealtime. And remembering to defrost a meal the night before.

Obviously commercial is the easiest, as the food is portioned out and ready to go.


Wednesday 21st of September 2016

Surprised reactions from friends and be prepared for negative reactions from your vet, particularly if you feed homemade raw. My girl has always been a notoriously picky eater who couldn't keep weight on. All of that went away when we switched to raw. We use a recipe and supplements, so the diet is a complete meal for dogs. Vets have given us major side eye for it (before grudgingly admitting that she looks great).

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 22nd of September 2016

I've had some poor experiences with vets as well. I've learned not to ask about their opinion on raw or they lecture me. It's unfortunate because then we can't have a normal conversation about it, which I would like to do sometimes! Not all vets are that way, of course.