In response to my post on the history of pet food, Chris asked me what I feed Indy. The response is long enough to warrant its own post :)
Indy and the cats eat what is called a prey model diet, affectionately referred to as "frankenprey" because it's made up of many different animals to form one mythical prey animal. The idea is that in the wild, predators eat nearly the whole animal, so the healthiest and most natural diet for them is one that mimics a prey animal. The trouble is that most raw feeders have to rely on food from grocery stores and hunting to feed their pets. It would hardly do to toss Indy an entire cow or deer carcass. Besides what the neighbors would think of the crazy people with the dead deer in the backyard, it just wouldn't be very practical and more than a little bit digusting. I do have my standards :) Instead, I aim for feeding him a variety of meats, bones and organs. The preference of most prey model feeders is to serve up roughly 80% meat and connective tissue, 10% bone and 10% organs, about the ratio of most prey animals.
So, that's the theory behind the diet, now for what he actually eats...
Our big staple is chicken quarters (that's the entire thigh and leg and usually a tiny bit of the liver). I buy the ones packed in only water, no chemicals for us, Indy will turn his discriminating little nose up at chicken packed in a chemical broth, smart boy :) Chicken quarters are great for several reasons, first and foremost, they are dirt cheap! They're also readily available and they contain nearly the perfect ratio of meat, bone and usually organ. However, one part of one animal does not make a balanced diet, so he also gets beef, usually ground or what ever is on sale, same goes for pork, duck and turkey. When whole chickens go on a really good sale I buy a few and over the course of several meals he eats the whole thing including the heart, gizzard, neck and liver. If I have left over fish, he gets that too, but it does not constitute a large part of his diet. Eggs also add some variety and make a great well-rounded meal. When we're very lucky a hunter will share his left overs with us. We've gotten venison, antelope, boar and fish from some very nice people. We've also had small farmers who butcher their own chickens share the feet and other “trimmings” with us. Indy loves the feet (and they're a great source of glucosamine and chondroitin), the rest of it, he'd be happy to do without. As for organs, I used to buy them whole and cut them up and feed little bits with every other meal or so, but, being an incredibly lazy person, when my local pet store started carrying a high quality frozen ground beef organ mix, I immediately converted. It couldn't be easier, I just give him a good size scoop every couple of meals and he gets a wider variety than I was ever able to find in the grocery store. The same pet store also carries frozen ground green tripe (that's the cow's stomach with all the good yucky stuff left in tact) which is highly nutritious and has also become a staple. Fruits and veggies are not part of his diet, though he occasionally gets them as a treat. His favorites are carrots, bananas, apples and pineapple. Indy also takes fish body oil capsules and vitamin E to help with his allergies. And he gets a little yogurt here and there as a treat (it pretty much eliminated what little gas he used to get).
Now, you're probably thinking to yourself, “holy cow that's a lot of food!”. He sure doesn't eat it all in one day :) He eats about 2-2.5% of his body weight per day (that's a general rule of thumb for adult cats and dogs, but it's flexible since every animal is an individual with a different metabolism and activity level). By feeding chicken quarters that I buy for about 49 cents per pound I am able to then add variety to his diet with slightly more expensive meats and still feed him for about $1 per day (sometimes less, sometimes nothing at all if he's getting freezer clean outs; freezer burned meat, hunting leftovers etc.). I spent about the same amount, oftentimes more, when I fed him a premium kibble and store bought treats.
Just a few benefits of the raw diet:
*Better dental health, gnawing on raw bones is great for keeping teeth clean and gums healthy. Please note that raw bones are soft and highly digestible, cooked bones are NOT safe, they are prone to splintering and causing bowel obstructions.
*Easier weight control. Overwhelming anecdotal evidence suggests that dogs that are either chronically over or underweight on kibble (despite dietary control by the owner) seem to reach their ideal weight easily on a raw diet.
*Less poop! Because the raw diet is highly digestible, there's very little waste and no grain or veggies to add bulk and stink to the poop. A raw fed dog's poop also biodegrades very quickly, breaking down and disappearing into the soil within a couple of days (you'll notice when you're out hiking through the woods that wild animal poop does the same thing, when an animal eats what they were designed for, there's not much left over). All of this means that poop patrol is a much less difficult and disgusting chore when your pets are raw fed.
*Bright, clear eyes, less stink and a beautiful shiny coat. The raw diet isn't a miracle, but it sure seems that way to some pet owners. Pets who have struggled with dull flaky coats, goopy eyes, bad breath, body odor and a host of other pesky problems that no expensive diet or supplement seemed to fix, generally find that within 6 weeks of starting raw, their pet looks like a million dollars and doesn't smell like much of anything. This is basically chalked up to a natural species appropriate diet. When animals eat what they're supposed to, they generally look and smell the way they're supposed to.
*Improved digestion, pretty much everything I just said in the last point. Tons of cats and dogs suffer from IBS among other digestive ailments, most of them find relief on a raw diet.
I could go on, but really, I can't even begin to list all of the benefits of a raw diet for a carnivore. See the links in my post on the history of pet food and you'll have more than enough reading material to keep you busy for the next year :)