A while back I transitioned my rescue dog, Gotti, from kibble to a fresh raw diet. Then we hit a wall – diarrhea. Everywhere.
Here’s what I learned and how I helped him get through it:
The short answers
Why does your dog have diarrhea after eating raw food?
- Not enough calcium in their food
- Too much fiber in their food
- Allergic to the protein source (common with beef & chicken)
- Too many calories for their age, body-weight, and activity level
- Lacking proper enzymes for digestion
- PH imbalance in the gut
- Food poisoning from spoiled meat
Should you take your dog to the veterinarian if she/he has diarrhea switching to raw?
Unless your dog has uncontrollable diarrhea & vomiting in a short window of time (signs of food poisoning), blood in their stool/vomit, or a blocked airway, save yourself the trip to the vet. Try these first instead:
- Fast them for 12 to 24 hours
- Make sure 10 to 15% of their meal is raw digestible bone
- Reduce the plant-matter in their meal to less than 20%
- Switch to a stomach-friendly protein source (rabbit or turkey)
- Serve the correct amount of food (2 to 5% of their adult body-weight depending on age and activity level)
- Incorporate pancreatic derived enzyme supplements into their diet
How long should you expect diarrhea after switching to a raw dog food diet?
Assuming you followed the above tips, diarrhea usually clears within two weeks of starting your dog on a raw diet. There are two factors working against your dog’s digestive system during this time:
- They may not be able to synthesize the correct enzymes for digesting raw meat
- Their body is in detox-mode, pushing out any toxins from their prior diet – other symptoms include vomiting, mucus in stool, mucus in eyes & ears, excessive shedding, and lethargy
Why dogs have diarrhea the first couple of weeks into their raw diet
Let’s talk about dog poop for a minute.
The reason you may be switching (or considering) switching your dog to a raw diet is because you’ve heard about the wonderful poop.
And this isn’t an exaggeration – raw poop is what made me a believer. The first two dogs I switched to raw made the transition with few problems – minimal diarrhea and maybe one vomit scare.
The poops though…were magical – once large, smelly, and impossible to clean out of a rug – were small, odorless, and easy to clean.
So, when I transitioned Gotti, my rescue Pit Bull, from kibble to fresh raw food, I assumed it would be just as easy. What I didn’t understand was a) Gotti had been on a vegan kibble diet for years and b) he had sensitivities to certain proteins (hence the excuse for vegan kibble).
And, I didn’t make it any easier on him. I wrongly assumed because my other two dogs had no problem switching to raw food overnight, he would have no problems either.
Every dog enters the raw food journey at their own pace – your job is to figure out what your dog’s body is telling you and facilitate the right pace for switching him/her to raw.
Doggy Digestion 101
Dog’s are carnivores – if the sharp teeth aren’t a dead giveaway, then know their stomach is proportionally larger, more acidic, and their digestion tract is shorter – all so they can kill & push out the pathogens in raw meat.
The possible Salmonella or E. coli in raw meat that would kill us, humans – dogs consider probiotics.
But, when we stray away from a species-appropriate diet for dogs – and feed them toxic baked crap, like kibble – their enzymes, bacteria, and stomach acid adjust to tolerate a food source they were never meant to eat.
When a dog tries to digest the carbohydrates mixed into the standard commercial kibble (as much as 50%) – it’s similar to plunging a loaf of bread into your garbage disposal.
Because the food stays in their stomach longer, the PH level of their stomach acids decreases – resulting in a chain reaction of decreased enzyme production from their liver and pancreas.
So, once your dog switches from kibble to eating a biologically appropriate diet, the natural tools they’d normally use to digest raw meat have been severely dulled.
But, all hope isn’t lost – like working out a muscle, most dogs will self-correct their gastric PH and start producing the correct enzymes within a few weeks of switching to raw.
In the meantime, you may see a few side effects from their self-correcting digestion system – primarily diarrhea.
What to do to alleviate diarrhea for a dog new to raw food
So, now that you know WHY diarrhea may happen after starting a raw diet – here’s WHAT you can do to help your dog self-correct his/her gut
1 – Get the raw ratio right
The most common reason for diarrhea – regardless if your dog is new to it or not – is not incorporating enough calcium into their raw meal.
Calcium = Bone
Your dog should be eating 10 to 15% raw bone with their muscle meat. Serve the bone to them raw (DO NOT COOK OR MICROWAVE), and if you’re afraid they may choke, grind it up with a hammer before serving it.
Next, a raw dog diet usually consists of somewhere between 10 and 20% plant-matter low on the glycemic index, which aids in digestion and developing a diverse microbiome (gut bacteria).
However, if your dog is experiencing diarrhea in the first few weeks of eating raw, reduce the plant-matter down to 5% or less. At times like this, I like to use a stomach-friendly fiber, like unsweetened canned pumpkin.
Last, make sure you’re giving your dog the right amount of food for their body-weight, age, and activity level. Typically, it’s going to be somewhere between 2 and 5% of your dog’s body-weight.
But, there are other factors that may be contributing to your dog’s diarrhea – like, how many calories/grams your protein source contains. Stay tuned for an upcoming post dedicated to this topic.
2 – Figure out what’s right for YOUR dog
Every dog is unique – and will face unique challenges when transitioning to a raw food diet.
If getting the ratio right doesn’t alleviate diarrhea within a couple of days, fast your dog for 12 to 24-hours – skip a meal or two and let your dog’s immune system repair their own gut.
Your dog won’t die from not eating a couple of meals – read my post Why skipping a meal (or two) isn’t a big deal for more information.
After the period of fasting is over – switch your dog to a more allergy-friendly protein – like rabbit or turkey. Allergies to chicken and beef (or rather the antibiotics in chicken & beef) are fairly common.
One last note on food allergies (because I can hear the steam coming out of some people in the raw community) – your dog may not be allergic to beef or chicken, but may just have a hard time digesting the fattier types of meat. After the raw transition period is over, and your dog has self-corrected his/her digestive tools (1 to 3-months), reintroduce those proteins just to make sure.
3 – Get the right supplements
Next, if your dog is still experiencing diarrhea after a few days, your last option before the vet should be to supplement the necessary enzymes your dog needs.
I don’t believe you should spend money on supplements unless you absolutely need to. Your dog can absorb many of the proper enzymes from consuming the right percentage of organ meat in their food (10 to 15%).
However, your pup may need a helping hand at the beginning of his/her raw diet journey – so, if you purchase an enzyme supplement, make sure it’s a) appropriate for canine digestion and b) derived from the pancreas.
Last, if your dog’s diarrhea still doesn’t clear after a day or two (I’m so sorry for your carpet), switch her/him to a commercial wet food (with no BPA), and slowly transition him to raw over the course of a month.
In the long run, wet food is not nearly as nutritious as a fresh raw diet, but it’s still streets-ahead of dry kibble.
Anything but kibble.
When you should visit the veterinarian for a dog with diarrhea from raw food
I want to get the common sense items out of the way first.
If your dog a) vomits & has diarrhea multiple times within a short window of time, b) has blood in their vomit or stool, or can’t hold down water – stop reading this and take her/him to the vet immediately.
Luckily, my dog Gotti’s diarrhea cleared up as soon as we switched protein sources (turkey) – and now I’m slowly reintroducing beef.
However, at a certain point, shit may hit the fan (pun intended). If you’ve exhausted all the above options over the course of 4 to 6-weeks, you’ll need counsel from a professional holistic veterinarian with a background in canine nutrition.
For many reasons, mainstream veterinarians are for the most part anti-raw, sometimes dry-kibble salespeople. So, read my post How to find a veterinarian who supports raw feeding before booking the appointment.