Raw Brains for Dogs: How Safe Are They?
That’s what one of my blog readers, Kathy, recently asked me after she read my blog post on raw lamb. In it, I feature raw lamb brains as one of the cuts of lamb meat that can be fed to your dog. Since I had planned a blog post on sourcing brains for raw dog food anyway, here it is today!
But first, here’s Kathy’s concern:
Every time I see the suggestion of feeding brains, it makes me wonder about prions and the suspicion that raw brain causes Jacob-K disease (Mad Cow). Cooking or heating does not kill this vector so it still presents the infection if present. No one has ever answered this question.
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Dogs and Prions
Prions are abnormal forms of certain proteins that occur (predominantly) in the brain. These prions cause neurodegeneration and death, such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), more commonly known as Mad Cow disease.
The easy answer is that “Dogs are resistant to prion infection, due to the presence of aspartic or glutamic acid at position 163 of their prion protein…providing definitive experimental evidence that dogs are resistant to prion disease” (takes you to the research article).
So there’s no problem feeding your dog raw brains.
Types of Raw Brains Dogs Can Eat
Technically speaking, dogs can eat all sorts of animal brains, essentially the ones they’d eat in the wild as well. However, the ones commonly found for sale are the following:
- Rabbit (Heads)
- Duck (Heads)
- Fish (Heads or whole Fish)
- Small Whole Prey [Rabbit (pinkeys), mice & chicks]
What Makes Brains So Nutritious?
Brains are very rich in the following:
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Vitamins A, C, D, E and K
- B Vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, B12)
- Electrolytes (Calcium, Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium)
That’s what makes them super nutritious and particularly beneficial for brain, joint and neurological health (following the glandular therapy approach of “like cures like”).
How to Feed Brains in Raw Dog Food
Brains are not just any organ meat, they fall into the secreting organ category along with liver, spleen, kidney, pancreas and a few others.
They’re fed alongside liver (fed as 5% itself) and make up the other 5% secreting organ allowance of your adult dog’s daily raw dog food (10% total in secreting organs). The rest is covered by 70% muscle meat, 10% raw meaty bones and 10% plant matter.
That said, it’s OK to achieve balance over the course of a week, so don’t stress out about feeding 100% balanced raw dog food for every meal every single day. You don’t do that for yourself or your kids either, right? Use a common sense, practical approach to raw feeding and your pup will be just fine.
Feed smarter, not harder
For example, when I feed rabbit heads, their bone content is enough to last Wally for 2-3 days, depending on the weight of the head. Since Wally gets two daily meals, I’ll include a rabbit head in meal one of day one, followed by only muscle meat, secreting organs and vegg/fruit in meal two of day one and both meals of day two.
An easy way to remember which containers contain the rabbit head is to label them.
If you’re feeling extra fancy, you can also label each single container with the specific day you plan on feeding it. Obviously, this makes most sense if you’re doing a small meal prep for just one week worth of meals, which was the case in the particular batch you see below.
But I digress.
Here’s an example of how much brain a 40lb dog can have in a day (again, it’s fine to feed a little more or less).
On average, moderately active adult dogs are fed at a maintenance percentage of 2.5%. That means that they eat 2.5% of their target body weight in raw dog food per day.
To do the math, divide your dog’s target body weight by 100, then multiply the result with the maintenance percentage of 2.5:
40/100 = 0.4 x 2.5 = 1lb = 16 oz of daily raw dog food
Those 16 oz are split up as follows:
- 70% muscle meat (11.2oz)
- 10% raw meaty bone (1.6oz)
- 10% plant matter (1.6oz)
- 5% liver (0.8oz)
- 5% other secreting organ such as brains (0.8oz)
So, your 40lb adult dog can eat 0.8oz of raw brains per day.
Puppies, working dogs, pregnant dogs or doggie athletes need considerably more energy which means they’re fed at a much higher maintenance percentage, up to 4.5%.
It’s important to rotate the cuts of meat and the animals from which the meat is sourced as much as possible. So don’t just feed brains, but also feed spleen, kidneys, pancreas, thymus glands, eyes and testicles – always alongside liver, that one doesn’t change.
Raw Dog Food Recipe with Lamb Brains
Here’s a raw dog food recipe with lamb brains that I’ve fed my pup Wally:
- Ground beaver with bone (from My Pet Carnivore)
- Duck hearts (from My Pet Carnivore)
- Goat liver (from Raw Feeding Miami)
- Lamb brains (from Raw Feeding Miami; Update 2023: unfortunately, they no longer carry lamb brains, but now they carry pork brains)
- Freshly crushed garlic (homemade, YES, garlic is not only safe but HEALTHY to feed – read more about garlic for dogs here)
Where to Buy Brains for Dogs
I’m aware of two raw dog food specific online retailers in the US that carry raw brains for dogs, as well as four online retailers that carry raw brain for human consumption. Both can be fed to dogs!
Personally, I have only ordered lamb brains (+ rabbit & duck heads with brains) from Raw Feeding Miami who are located in Miami, Florida.
Update 2023: Unfortunately, they no longer carry lamb brains, but they do carry pork brains now.
If you’re concerned about feeding raw pork to your dog(s), don’t be! Check out my blog post Pork Raw Dog Food: Yay or Nay? to learn why it’s safe to feed & more.
I stopped by there a few months ago when I was in Miami for work, and GOSH, I do miss ordering from that place!! They have the most amazing selection of odd cuts of meat for meal prep. Highly recommend them.
Anyways, for this blog post, I wanted to find alternatives for people who don’t live in Florida or at least near by-ish (I used to live in NC and shipping was around $25).
Raw Feeding Miami (Florida)
Intact Rabbit Heads (include brain, albeit very little)
Intact Duck Heads (include brain, albeit very little)
Tip: Use my referral link to get 10% OFF your first order.
Here’s just HOW little brain you’ll find in a rabbit head: less than 1oz!! I cut open a rabbit head to measure the amount of brains it contained.
It was so little that my digital scale didn’t even pick it up. So my guess is that it’s around 0.5oz.
Raw Pet Food Delivery Market (Tennessee)
Shepherd Song Farm (Wisconsin)
Whole Lamb Head (lamb cranium case containing brain)
Shepherd Song Farm is a sheep and goat farm I virtually stumbled over on my search of places that sell lamb brains in the US. They raise grass-fed, pastured sheep and goats in Downing, Wisconsin.
Owner Alan Bergo is also the founder of Forager Chef. Check out his Moroccan Lamb Brains and Eggs recipe here – yep, that one’s for humans! As a matter of fact, lamb brains are known as a human delicacy in many cultures – however, it’s one that I personally have still to try!
Exotic Meat Markets (Nevada)
Lamb Brains (3 pieces)
Alpaca Brain (1 piece)
Goat Brain (1 piece)
I mention Exotic Meat Markets in one of my e-books, 10 Hypoallergenic DIY Raw Dog Food Recipes.
It’s a great resource for odd cuts of meat from animals that aren’t your typical chicken or beef. Alpaca, Camel, Emu, Beaver, Ostrich, Yak, anyone?
That said, they’re a bit more on the expensive side of things but ship nationwide within the US. The good thing is that dogs don’t need a lot of brain and your brain order will last quite a while.
Saadi Farm (Texas)
Madinah Market (Illinois)
Raw Brains for Dogs: Bottom Line
Even though dogs need very little raw brains in their daily raw dog food allowance, it’s highly nutritious and worth adding to your pup’s raw meals.
They’re safe to feed because dogs are resistant to prion infection as we’ve seen in the research article I linked to at the beginning of this blog post.
There are a decent amount of online shops in the US that sell brains, either by themselves or as part of a whole animal head. It’s also worth contacting local:
- Wildlife processors
to see if they’d be willing to part with their odd cuts of meat instead of throwing them out.
Thanks for reading! Let’s all help each other out – if you’re aware of online retailers that sell raw brains, please leave a comment below this blog post and mention it as a resource for other readers – regardless of whether it’s in the US, Canada, the UK, New Zealand, Australia or elsewhere in the word!
You can also send me a message with your resource to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll go ahead and add it to this blog post.
Thanks to reader Jake for this brain sourcing tip:
- Rodent Pro offers whole prey rabbits, chickens and quail (as well as various rodents) in various sizes and the shipping is free after $100 is reached. They’re located in Evansville, Indiana.
- Liver for Dogs: All Your Questions Answered
- Spleen for Dogs: All You Need to Know
- Why are Raw Rabbit Heads Good for Dogs?
- Raw Duck Heads for Dogs: How to Feed & Where to Buy
- Salmon Heads for Dogs: Can They Really Eat Them?