If you’ve read any of my books, or free starter guides, you know that I (as well as many other raw feeders), recommend starting your dog on a raw diet by feeding chicken.
Chicken is a mild meat and is easiest on your dog’s digestive system when starting a raw diet.
Starting your dog’s raw diet with a richer meat such as beef or pork, can result in what some people refer to as cannon butt (explosive diarrhea). Neither you or your dog want that.
In addition to being a good first meat, chicken is also extremely inexpensive. Its price point alone makes it a go-to for most people who feed their dogs a raw diet.
However, there is the concern that chicken isn’t a very healthy choice for raw fed dogs. After all, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. If a meat is that cheap, is there cause for concern?
I love the saying “You are what your eat eats.” Instead of “You are what you eat.” we’re learning more and more about the importance of how our food is grown and raised. If your food grew or was raised in poor conditions, it’s been proven that it’s nutritional properties will be greatly diminished.
If you are what your food eats, the nutritional value of the diet that’s fed to chickens (good or bad) is essentially what you’re feeding your dog.
This can include, corn, soy, dried bakery products (bread, cookies, cake, crackers and flour – which are waste from human food manufacturing), feather meal (chicken feathers), poultry by-product (yes, chickens are sometimes fed ground up 3D and 4D meats), etc.
Believe it or not, chickens shouldn’t be eating cereal, cookies, and feathers, even when they’re fortified with vitamins and minerals.
In addition to the above, chickens are often fed grain that contains antibiotics to prevent disease and promote growth. Some broilers are given an arsenic-containing compound, roxarsone, to control parasites, although producers are coming under pressure to stop that practice. Perdue and Tyson have discontinued roxarsone in recent years.
Most commercial chickens are the Cornish x White Rock breed. This cross reaches market weight in 6 to 7 weeks. According to the Humane Society of the United States, the leading cause of death (other than slaughter) of birds raised in standard commercial operations is from failure of internal organs that can’t keep pace with muscle growth.
In other words, these birds aren’t what you’d consider to be genetically superior. If they weren’t slaughtered when they reached market weight, they would likely die from one issue or another, once their bodies became too heavy for them to walk.
Additionally, because of the cramped housing of factory framed chickens, chickens inhale ammonia and bad bacteria from the environment they are raised in.
What does this do to chickens?
Everything that I’ve mentioned so far is concerning for many different reasons, but for the sake of keeping this post relatively short, let’s focus on one thing in particular: fatty acids.
Commercial chicken meat is high in omega-6s and low in omega-3s.
Omega-6 fatty acids produce hormones that increase inflammation. The hormones produced by omega-3 fatty acids work to decrease inflammation. So, a balance between these hormones, and the fatty acids that control them, plays a big role in your dog’s overall health.
While the natural foods chickens are supposed to eat contain more omega-3s than omega-6s, corn and soy contain ten times more omega-6s. This makes the chicken high in omega-6 fatty acids because the chicken is what it eats.
The same applies to your dog. If you feed your dog omega-6 rich chicken, he’ll get the exact same omega fatty acid imbalance the chicken had.
Nearly every chronic disease, from IBS and joint pain to diabetes and allergies, is caused by chronic inflammation, and chronic inflammation is caused by a diet high in omega-6s and low in omega-3s.
While all the other animals are reasonably balanced in their fatty acids, chicken is way out of whack. Compared to beef, chicken has nearly omega-6 levels nearly 7x higher!
Why is that?
Yes, beef is fed waste products too, but cattle are also fed hay. Because hay is a natural food for cattle, it helps keep their omega-6 levels at bay. Their omega-6 levels still exceed their omega-3, but for a raw feeder, it’s much easier to balance a beef-based meal (or lamb), than a chicken-based meal. You’re ultimate goal is a 1:1 balance, but to be fair, a healthy ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s can be no more than 5:1. So, if beef is twice as high in omega-6s vs omega-3s, that’s much easier to compensate for than chicken which is 7x higher in omega-6s than omega-3s.
Chicken is so high in omega-6 fatty acids that you can’t feed it and hope to get a reasonably healthy balance of fats. Even if you feed omega-3 rich fish (as half of your dog’s diet, for example) you’ll still end up with a dramatic imbalance of fatty acids.
To make matters worse, pork is just as bad as chicken. Commercially raised pigs have 24 times as much omega-6 than omega-3. But that’s a discussion for another time.
Now let’s quickly cover processing.
Commercial processing involves quite a few disinfectants including chlorine. Here’s information direct from the USDA on chlorine use:
“According to FDA, chlorine dioxide is a direct food additive permitted in food for human consumption 114 when it used in an amount not to exceed 3 ppm residual chlorine dioxide as an antimicrobial agent in 115 water used in poultry processing and to wash fruits and vegetables (21 CFR 173.300).”
To be clear, chlorine dioxide is a chemical compound with the formula ClO2. As one of several oxides of chlorine, it is a potent oxidizing agent used in water treatment and in bleaching.
This isn’t to say that you can’t feed chicken!
Chicken doesn’t have the be the enemy.
In an interview done by Mother Earth News, Mike Badger, the executive director and publisher of the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association (APPPA), said that in addition to higher concentrations of vitamins E and D, the “absolutely flooring result” of his organization’s 2013 study was that, compared with the USDA omega-6 to omega-3 reference ratio of 15-to-1, the meat from pastured birds fed industry-standard rations had, on average, an 8-to-1 fatty-acid ratio. Meat from birds fed no-soy rations was even better: 3-to-1.
Let me put that in bold for you: Meat birds fed no-soy rations had a 3:1 ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, compared to USDA study results of 15:1!
Again, chicken is not the enemy. How the chicken is raised makes ALL the difference.
Here’s what you need to look for:
Pastured – True free-range poultry and eggs come from chickens (hens) that roam freely outdoors on a pasture, where they can forage for their natural diet, which includes seeds, green plants, insects, and worms.
Organic – In Canada and the U.S., eggs labeled Organic are from birds who were fed organic feed and didn’t receive any type of antibiotic or vaccine. Also, organic eggs come from chickens never fed genetically engineered products.
“Certified Humane” – No cage, indoors, but much lower bird density and certified by certifiedhumane.org
Conventionally grown (even “cage free” and “free-range”) eggs and chicken meat comes from chickens most likely raised in tight cages, with little room to move. They may have been fed feed made with genetically modified crops, and may have received antibiotics or other types of vaccines.
What you want is a chicken product that qualifies as all three of the above (pastured, organic and certified humane).
So let’s not condemn chicken, but instead be mindful of the quality we feed our dogs.