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Updated: Apr 25, 2022

Updated 4/25/2022

Many new raw feeders may notice when switching to a species appropriate raw diet that their companions are showing signs of illness. This can be quite intimidating or even scary if you are being told that a raw diet will make your companion ill or worse that you may kill them! Rest assured in most cases your companion is simply going through a period of detoxification, a completely natural and very healing process. Detoxing is a process in which the body removes toxins from within (1). It is not a process that occurs occasionally, provoked by expensive supplements or induced by fasting. It is also not a quick fix type of process, it is something that owners need to be mindful of on a regular basis. Detoxification is a process that occurs around the clock even when the body is at rest or sleeping.

The detoxification pathways include many body systems including the liver, kidneys, lymphatic system, digestive tract, skin and the lungs (2). We will focus on the systems primarily involved in what you may see when detoxing during a transition to a species appropriate raw diet.

The liver processes many things that have entered the body from its

environment. This includes viruses, bacteria, hormones, external toxins like heavy metals, chemicals, pharmaceutical drugs as well colorings, flavors, preservatives and other food additives that are consumed. The liver's role is to prepare these products for processing in the kidneys. To learn more about how the liver works check out our article on Liver Disease.

The kidneys, like the liver, filter by products out of the body through a million little filters. The kidneys primarily filter the blood but are also responsible for maintaining balance in the body regulating pH, blood pressure and fluid balance among other functions (3,4). The by-products are released via urine; this is why the best way for the kidneys to function is to supply them with plenty of water and keep your companions hydrated (5). To learn more about how the kidneys work, check out our article on Kidney Disease.

The digestive tract is responsible for removing larger particles from the body through fecal matter.

Special cells protect the gut against chemicals while special enzymes metabolize foreign substances (6). Maintaining a healthy gut flora and microbiome are essential for the microorganisms to process and remove these toxins from the body. To learn more about the microbiome of our carnivore companions check out our article on the topic.

A unique and complex network made up of the spleen (7), thymus (8), adenoids and tonsils form the lymphatic system. This network is connected by a fluid that collects toxins through the lymph nodes, capillaries and vessels to bring it to the blood and other detoxification organs for elimination (8).It all aids in moving white blood cells around the body to defend it against infections and foreign toxins (9).

The skin is the body’s largest organ and biggest defense again outside toxins as well as what

internal organs were unable to detox out (10). The body releases toxins through sweat and secretion of odors (11). We can also see this via rashes, skin allergies and other skin reactions.

There are many signs of detox that may even look like illness or disease. Common signs and symptoms of detox can include one or several of the following:

  • Excessive shedding

  • Diarrhea

  • Mucous in stool

  • Very firm stool

  • Expulsion of parasites

  • Dry skin

  • Runny eyes

  • Lethargy

  • Vomiting

  • Itching

  • Hotspots

  • Smelly ears or ear problems

The reason these symptoms occur often is due to an accumulation of toxins that are released from

the body when switching to a natural diet. Toxins can come from chemical flea and tick medications (12, 13), worming medications (14), vaccinations, steroids, antibiotics, chemicals (15) encountered in the environment from the air, lawn treatments and cleaners and even your very own pet food. Over time these toxins build up and are stored in the body (16). When eating a raw species appropriate diet, the body is now being fed something that is allowing it to function at a high ability, versus just working hard to process the unnatural diet it was being fueled with.

When the body enters a period of detox, all these stored up toxins are expelled. The skin is the most common exit point but the mouth, anus, eyes and ears can also be exit points. This process is natural and the body is equipped to handle this natural cleanse. It isn’t helpful to “aid” the process with medications to treat these symptoms, this will only set the detox back and further contribute to the toxic load. We instead want to support the body during this time. These symptoms will pass. While some companions never go through a detox, often it can take a week or two for other but it could be months. It heavily depends on how much toxicity has accumulated, how often your companion has been exposed to these various toxic sources and how old your companions are. There are some more “modern” toxins like phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) that can take even years to be flushed from the body due to their accumulation in fat and the blood. It should be noted that there is no magical supplement, pill or procedure that truly can detox the body of toxins other than the body’s own ability to detox the way it's naturally meant to. In order to do so you must fuel the body so it can function as designed. When we feed junk the body works in overdrive to get THAT food stuff out of the body which can occupy its time leaving your companion more open to illness and disease. The junk food is like the decoy in a special mission as the real intruders come charging in. Toxic overloads create other issues such as changes in energy levels, skin conditions and problems with digestion that we didn’t really know were and issue.

In short you don’t need to extensively fast your companion, simply ensure your companion is drinking plenty of water and providing a whole food, species appropriate diet. Furthermore, be aware of the toxins you put in, on or around your companion to help the body function at its best!

There are several product types that tend to be go-to remedies for digestive upset, however many of these are not appropriate for our carnivore companions and no longer are the natural remedies they used to be back in the day.

YOGURT Yogurt is one of them. This fermented dairy product used to be full of gut healthy probiotics but

nowadays it is very high in histamines. Histamines are part of the immune response that create symptoms like those of allergies (sneezing, itching etc.) to alert us that something is wrong inside and it needs to get out. When these histamine levels are too high it puts our companions at risk for some very serious and chronic, lifelong health issues.

Most yogurts are also very high in sugars and many brands contain dyes, flavors and other ingredients especially if not plain yogurt. This is more for marketing purposes and human consumption. Finally, while yogurt used to contain billions of beneficial microbes and many different strains this is not the case. Most popular brands contain on average 3 strains with mainly only containing 1. Most brands don't even list the live culture count. This means you would have to feed your companions buckets full of yogurt to really have any effect but because of the amount of sugar and histamines you may be causing other problems including diabetic shock. PUMPKIN

Pumpkin is usually a quick go to for many when it comes to digestive upset but aside from not being even close to species appropriate considering it is plant matter, it actually isn’t the best remedy for your carnivore companion. There are several types of fiber that influence the motility of the digestive tract, but two that are notable concerning pumpkin. This includes soluble fiber which helps absorb water to reduce loose stool. Insoluble fiber on the other hand draws out water from the gastrointestinal tract to soften hard stool to relieve constipation (17). Many believe the fiber in pumpkin is what makes it the perfect remedy however pumpkin primarily is 91.6% water and only 0.5% fiber (18, 19). It does not even make it into the top foods high in soluble (20) or insoluble fiber (21).

While there is no magic pill or process to detox, there are some natural remedies and whole foods that can ease the process as well as aid future bodily upset while the body keeps doing its job. SLIPPERY ELM

Scientifically known as Ulmus rubra, the inner bark of this eastern North American native tree, has a slippery feel giving it, its common name Slippery Elm (22) . It is best known for being a demulcent, latin for “caress” (23). Often when mixed with a fluid it provides relief of pain and inflammation by creating a protective film on the inside linings of the gut and other organs (24). The dose for slippery elm is ¼ teaspoon per 10 lbs of body weight twice a day given with water or food (25).

ADDITIONAL EXERCISE Exercise is well known for keeping our companions fit and trim as well as keeping them enriched and free from boredom but there are even more benefits. Research shows that exercise actually benefits the health of the microbiome and microorganisms in the gut (26). Exercise can actually change the bacteria in the gut regardless of diet (27). It also increases blood flow to the muscles in the digestive system helping to keep digestion going. This means it can help prevent or relieve constipation as well (28).

It’s important to note that this exercise should be gentle and low impact.


Water is very essential to our companions' hydration and wellbeing. It is even more important if your companion is suffering from loose stool. It is important to keep your companion hydrated during any period where they could be losing fluids in large amounts (such as vomiting or diarrhea). Water is also essential for your companion's body to eliminate toxins from within. The kidneys especially depend on water intake to perform its job properly.

To learn more about water check out our article on the topic. PROBIOTICS Probiotics are little microorganisms inside the body that fight off and overpower bad bacteria. Many source their probiotics, not from whole foods but manufacturers who produce them. Unfortunately these probiotics are often those that not only know how to grow but are easy to grow and mass produce. This means particular strains are selected for and isolated. Most products do not contain a large variety of strains of probiotics that are required in order to provide a benefit to our companions. In addition there is nowhere near as many beneficial bacteria in these products. Our companions have tens of trillions of various bacteria, these products only contain 100 million to a few billion. This sounds a lot but in the big scheme of things only packs a trivial punch (29, 30, 31). A few things should be noted about probiotics. Every strain and every gut microbiome is different. While one strain of a mixture may work for one dog, it doesn't mean the same could be the same for another. Due to the nature and regulations of supplements, while companies can make general health claims, probiotics can not claim to prevent or treat any illnesses or disease.

Now that all being said, while there are many benefits of probiotics, it is not something that should be used as a preventative or on a daily basis. There is no evidence that shows companions with a healthy gut get much benefit from probiotics. Once again generally the body when cared for properly is able to operate optimally and do the jobs it meant to.


Kefir is a natural source of probiotics (32). It is made by regularly mixing kefir grains and milk (33). Kefir grains are not actually grain despite its name but a mutually beneficial grouping of bacteria and yeast living in a protein and fat material. The kefir grains ferment the lactose (sugar) in milk quickly (typically as quick as less than 24 hours) (34). This sours the milk, creating a slightly alcoholic and carbonated drink similar to thick yogurt.

Kefir works by overpopulating foreign bacteria and other material. It also breaks down fiber creating Vitamin K and B-12 that all help to more easily digest food stuff (35).

Kefir contains an amazing and diverse source of probiotics including (but not limited to) Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus, Lactobacillus helveticus, Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens, Lactococcus lactis, and Leuconostoc species (36, 37, 38). The species and amounts of each vary from batch to batch influenced by numerous factors like temperature. Kefir also contains lactose consuming yeast including (but not limited to ) Kluyveromyces marxianus, Kluyveromyces lactis, and Saccharomyces fragilis, yeast that do not metabolize lactose, including Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Torulaspora delbrueckii, and Kazachstania unispora.

Of course, you can’t expect something to improve your health just because it contains probiotic bacteria. It all comes down to the amounts of probiotic bacteria in the product, the variety of strains, whether they survive passage through your companion’s acdic stomach, how ‘live’ the bacteria are, and many other factors. PREBIOTICS

Prebiotic on the other hand feed probiotics and help them grow to overpopulate bad bacteria (39). Prebiotics tend to be carbohydrate based meaning they are often found in fiber sources, typically plant matter. Some of these carbohydrates remain undigested until they reach the colon where they ferment and feed the microbiome (40). From there they feed the probiotics or they change the operations in the intestines to firm the stool. They also aid in soothing the gut by producing butyrate, propionate, and acetate that not only give the body energy but help create a protective barrier in the intestines. For the carnivore companion however the only species appropriate source of fiber are those from the digestive contents and theoretically in the fur and feathers, a natural fiber source of whole prey.

APPLE CIDER VINEGAR Many believe Apple cider vinegar is a good source of prebiotics because the product is a fermentation of apples and contains pectin which is known for its beneficial effects on digestion. Unfortunately there isn’t enough research to back this statement. The main issue is whether or not the bacteria can remain intact through the digestive tract.

That being said, it can be considered a probiotic food because it contains healthy bacteria. It's important to make sure if you use ACV that it is cold pressed and not pasteurized otherwise you risk killing off the important mechanisms. You also want the product to include the “Mother”. In a bottle of ACV this will appear as a cloudy particle substance. The Mother contains sugars and is made up of vitamins, minerals, acetic and citric acid as well as micronutrients from the fermentation process. ACV can slow the progress of digestion which in carnivores can lead to gas, bloating and other digestive upset.


Activated charcoal is an all natural product often from a plant base like coconut shells or wood. When it is heated a sponge like material is created and absorbs chemicals. Because the activated charcoal isn’t absorbed by the body or changes while going through the digestion process, it can help remove toxins from the body. It is perfect for treating drug overdose, food poisoning and other digestive upset.

While it is an important first aid item to have on hand it is intended primarily for short term use and can have side effects:

  • Black stools

  • Constipation

  • Dehydration

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

It is important to be aware of other pharmaceutical drugs your companion is on to avoid drug interactions. It is recommended to dose with activated charcoal away from medications by at least two hours before or after dosing. While our companions have anatomical and physiological characteristics designed specifically to keep the body in tip top share and free of toxins, illness and disease, as our companions caregivers it is our job to provide them with the proper fuel for their bodies to function as such as well as be aware of what we put on, in and around our companions. While their bodies are capable of removing toxins from the body, it can seem like a scary experience and there are many natural options for helping to support the body during these periods.

The key things to remember about detoxification:

  • This is a time of healing and regeneration.

  • All the stored waste and toxins are being flushed out through multiple avenues.

  • Stick with a species appropriate diet

  • The detox period will end

  • Watch in amazement as your pet becomes healthier than you could ever imagine.


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