Episode 143 – Savannah Welna

Savannah Welna

Savannah Welna

Savannah Welna is a companion animal nutritionist and the founder of Raw Fed & Nerdy, an organization that provides science-based nutrition help for dog and cat owners.  She also is the owner of Feed Thy Dog where she does private consultations for sick and healthy animals- extending much of her help to animal rescue organizations for foster dogs who have sensitive nutritional needs. Her passion for health, nutrition, learning, and teaching is the foundation of Feed Thy Dog.

Feed Thy Dog Website: https://feedthydog.com/

Raw Fed & Nerdy Website: https://rawfedandnerdy.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/feedthydog/

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Hey, Savannah. Thanks for coming on the program. Hi. Thanks for having me. I’m really excited to have you and I’m really excited to learn more about what you do. So give us your story. Give us your journey. Kind of tell us how you got to this point. So I started almost four years ago at this point, but I’ve known a little bit about homemade diets for dogs since I was a kid just because of my dad. He had mentioned it a couple of times. I think, similar to other people’s experience. I began working on my own health and still am, but I wanted to extend that to my own dog. I adopted him when he was seven, so he’s 11 years old now. And he was diagnosed with arthritis when I first got him, as a foster dog and we started working on, you know, homemade diet, and it made a huge, huge difference. And just along the way, I just had a lot of questions, like about more specific questions about micronutrients, as opposed to, you know, what should be in a diet. So most people say meat, bones and organs. But I was like but how do I know if everything’s there?So that ‘s where it all started. What kind of meat? What kind of bones? Does it make a difference? What about fish? Do I need fish? Vitamin E, where does that come from?

 So that was when I started at the Companion Animal Sciences Institute and I started Raw Fed and Nerdy, which is kind of a free learning resource. It’s a website, but also a Facebook group. We’re basically, we just have a really big discussion. And we make a lot of content that helps people understand how to use nutrient requirements when formulating dog food and cat food though I work with just dogs. And so it’s just kind of unique is we work with both the ingredients but also the actual specific nutrients. So that’s kind of where I started, and it definitely has not slowed down at all by any means. So four years ago, you weren’t really the expert. You weren’t really a nutritionist in this. You just kind of decided you want to learn more and then you decided, Hey, I’m going to get a degree in this. Yeah, I just kind of started it like, you know, when I did the Facebook group, I was like, Well, get like a couple 100 people. You know, we’ll just have a little small discussion, and then now today we have, like, 17,000 and now I’m in school, and so four years ago looks a lot different than it does now. 

That’s tremendous growth. So now this started as a Facebook group. And then, as you mentioned, it’s now a website. So what’s your goal with Raw Fed and Nerdy? I mean, now it’s just to take the more complex aspects of nutrition science and then break it down in a way that is usable for the average pet owner and then also make tools and resources to implement those aspects. So we have, like a really cool, formulating spreadsheet that somebody’s made and the more people that get involved, the more content videos, we’re bringing in a bunch of content and just kind of making it more available to the average pet owner, so that homemade diets are safer, especially when it comes to making sure that at least all the essential nutrients are there. 

So I don’t know a lot about dog nutrition. We’ve got a dog and we feed him grain-free. That’s about the most that I know. So tell me a little bit more about the raw fed and kind of the science, I guess it goes into this. I know it’s called Raw Fed and Nerdy, but you can also learn about cooked diets, just in case anybody’s curious. Since we’re doing nutrition science, we can apply it to raw diets and also cook diets. So, just generally speaking, when somebody might choose to do a homemade diet, there’s some pros and cons to it. So obviously, the first downside to it is that you have to know the nutrient needs of your dog, which is different from the nutrient needs of a human, especially for nutrients like calcium. Like dogs, relative to us, they need a lot more calcium and, you know, a couple of other nutrients that are considered essential for them, but maybe not essential for us. The other downside obviously, can be price and time, but there’s a lot of benefits to it. So just to take a basic commercial kibble, which a lot of people are familiar with when you think about how it’s formulated and this is just there’s no other way to formulate it. So I understand why it’s formulated this way, by all means, but it’s formulated to have a certain amount of calories per gram, and we’ll call that energy density. And within that, there has to be a certain amount of nutrients that the kibble needs to provide, to feed the dog. 

So there’s kind of an issue with that where a lot of dogs have more specific nutrient needs and they might do well on certain kibbles. But they don’t need as much energy as the kibbles giving them. So maybe the owner takes that, and starts feeding that kibble and decreases the amount of food that they’re feeding to decrease the calories they’re feeding well. Now there, eating, let’s say, below the feeding guidelines, let’s say it says, like two cups for a 50 lbs dog, and they decrease that to 1.5 cups. Kibble is meant to deliver a certain amount of nutrients per energy. So you’re actually reducing the energy. But you’re also reducing all the essential nutrients, all the amino acids. And so homemade formulations are really unique where we can look at every single nutrient. Whether you know, we’re talking about specific breeds, like northern breeds and zinc, and we can also add in, you know, play with the essential fatty acids, and we could make sure the dog is getting all the nutrients, within the amount of calories they can eat. You can control the amount of fiber, the amount of fat, the amount of protein, where the food is coming from. And there’s also lots of nonessential nutrients that are in homemade food, even though they’re not essential. There’s still beneficials of things like  or vital nutrients from plants, which is just a lot harder to get from commercial food. Interesting and sounds like you’ve obviously learned a lot down in the last four years, and it’s just a continual journey to learn even more. Yeah, I will probably never stop. I mean, as far as formal education goes, I hope there’s an end to that because it’s expensive. But there are always going to be the courses I’m taking. There’s always gonna be something to learn, especially nutrition science. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about dogs or humans because it is relatively new compared to other fields. And so there’s so much to learn. 

So what about somebody like me that’s new, right? So if I come now, now that I know that Raw Fed and Nerdy exists and I come out there, where do I begin? It seems to me like it would be very overwhelming for somebody that’s new. Yeah, so on the front page, there is a click to start button, and that will just take you through basic rules, if you’re in the Facebook group, so we do have some rules and how we expect members to conduct themselves. But there’s also a free course on the website, which I have made. I’m still adding content to it. I think it’s been up there for like two years now, and I continue to add lessons to it and videos to it. And you can kind of just slowly work through that course. And when you get overwhelmed, they tell people just, you know, take a step back, it’s OK and then come back to it when you feel like learning more and you could just move through just like you would any other online course. And you can ask questions, either to me through email or if you participate in the Facebook group, you can ask there. But we’ve had a lot of people go through this course and then make really nice or really well-formulated homemade diets, you know, using NRC nutrient guidelines. There’s a full course and then there’s also a quick guide. If there’s, you know, people who are familiar with homemade diets, but they want to get more in touch with the specific nutrient needs of their dog. Yeah, interesting. I’m just kind of scrolling through and thinking that there’s a lot of people that are contributing different recipes and ideas, and it sounds like you’ve really built a vibrant community of people that want to help. Yeah, so speaking of recipes, because there’s a lot of issues online where you could search for a recipe, especially cooked recipes where it’s just, you know, food that looks good and they’re high-quality ingredients. But maybe the calcium isn’t there. The vitamin D isn’t there. So that’s also something we’re working on is like on-demand handcrafted recipes from the professionals in our community. So if people want something they can feed now and they have a healthy adult dog, they can just grab something from there while they work through the courses. So, yeah, there’s a lot of new content that’s coming because the community is expanding so much, and we have just a lot of passionate members, especially in the Facebook group.

 Now, how hard is this? If I’m doing this? Is that like a weekly thing? You’re making all the meals for the week and then you’ll need to do it once. So just making the food, the first couple times you go through it, I think, is a little bit more difficult cause you’re just kind of getting the hang of how you want to do things in your own kitchen. But I can get a whole month’s worth of food for my 65 lbs dog, just one time, two hours on a Sunday. Whoa, that’s really fast. Yeah, it depends on the needs of the dog, too. So, I mean, if your dog has, like, a condition like chronic kidney disease and like, your recipe might be a little bit, you know, take a little bit longer to put together. But no, there’s definitely ways of speeding things up. And what have you noticed now with your dog since you started doing this? I mean, do you notice anything different? Is he healthier? Is he more vibrant? Well, I got him when he was seven. He’s a boxer. And so the first thing was the arthritis, which he was diagnosed with that while I was still fostering him. And we kind of worked on that with the vet, and we still do, but now, he doesn’t really have any symptoms.

 So what we did with the diet was obviously just moving towards a homemade fresh food diet. I mean, he’s obviously getting plenty of protein, plenty of fat. But I also adjusted, you know, Omega threes, and Omega six’s in the diet, and we kind of just said Okay, how much Omega three does he actually do best with? So maybe I’ll increase it by a gram one month and see how he does or decrease it. So I played with a little bit of, you know, some of the nutrients. He has the softest coat, and he has a ton of energy for being almost an 11, 11 year old boxer. And he hasn’t had, I don’t want to, you know, take all the credit for it, but he hasn’t really had any health issues so. No, that’s great. Well, obviously he’s not cooking his own meals, so you get to take some of the credit for it. Yeah, he is not. He does a taste test, though. You know, he’s good for that. I can imagine them in the kitchen saying, All right, Mom, I’m ready to help. You know you just tell me, I’m here to help.

 So now one of the things I really love about you Savannah, is that wasn’t enough, right? So then you decided, Hey, I’m gonna start something else. So tell me more about Feed Thy Dog? So I understand that Raw Fed and Nerdy, whether you’re feeding raw or cooked, there’s a lot to it. There is a lot to learn, even if you are taking it step by step. I understand that not everybody is going to want to do that. So Feed Thy Dog is where you go, Hey, here’s my dog. We learn all about the dog. We learn all about the owner too. So when I’m formulating something, I keep in mind, you know, the owner’s lifestyle, how busy are they? And I basically just do all of the formulating and I come up with the recipes and I give you the grocery shopping list and how to prep. And I have videos there. And so that’s basically just a for hire, do everything for me, type of approach. And that’s also where vets will reach out to me and I’ll help formulate for them as well. Yeah, I love that. So you’ve turned this into a consulting business, right? So based on the knowledge and things that you’ve learned and obviously running Raw Fed and Nerdy, now you’ve said, you know, for people that need me to do it for them, right, that don’t have time to learn all these other things, I could make a business out of this. Yeah, I honestly, really like having both avenues, right? Like I like being able to offer as much stuff for free so that anybody has access to the information. But I also like being able to offer that paid for service because I know a lot of people really appreciate it, and they are already feeding an at-home diet, but they’re always stressed about whether they’re providing all of the nutrients. So yeah, Feed Thy Dog came after Raw Fed and Nerdy, but I love both. I love working for both, whether it’s content for Raw Fed and Nerdy or working directly with the clients for Feed Thy Dog.

 So what does an average week look like for you? Because you got to be a pretty busy lady. Well, it’s weird right now, obviously with the now Coronavirus, but normally so I have school at home and college that’s in person. I’m still taking an additional course at the Companion Animal Sciences Institute. So I have several hours every day of school, and I also probably work with 4 to 5 clients every day. So I’m probably working 8 to 10 hours and then several hours of school on top of that. And then on the weekends, that’s when I tried to get the content out for Raw Fed and Nerdy. Whether it’s, you know, making more lessons for the course that’s on the website and then each day I try to put aside an hour or two to actually be present in the Raw Fed and Nerdy Facebook group. Because that’s where people are submitting their recipes that they made. And they’re asking for feedback like, How does the mineral balance look here? What is, you know, is the fiber level okay? So I’m there as well. But I have a really good admin team, so I’m really grateful for them as well. Wow, it sounds like you probably don’t get to sleep much at all. Yeah, I think I do sleep most times. Yeah, it’s definitely some late-night sometimes, that’s for sure. Sure.

 So where do you see this going? What’s the future like for Raw Fed and Nerdy? So if you’re not familiar too much with feeding raw, there’s a lot of ideas about how to do it that don’t necessarily use nutrient requirements. And we’re trying to find a way to maybe make an in between. So we have Raw Fed and Nerdy, which is pretty technical. And then we have Feed Thy Dog, which is just where I do all of it. So we’re trying to make content now. We’re not sure we’re gonna do it as like a separate entity, but it’s more like a software type tool, where we do more of the thinking automatically for people. So they would, for example, plug in the recipe that they have, and we can automatically say, Hey, these minerals are out of balance but here’s how you could potentially fix it. So that wouldn’t replace the help of, you know, an in person professional. But we’re trying to make more content like that, so maybe people can get a little bit used to it and then jump more into the technical work of Raw Fed and Nerdy.

 And then I am working on a book, so that’s gonna be really exciting. Nothing that’s like formally published, but more ways to deliver content. I know that some people like videos. Some people like podcasts. Some people like reading. Some people like a lot more pictures. So just taking care of the different ways that people learn. Yeah, I love that because, as you mentioned, I  mean, some people are on Facebook, some people are on YouTube.I listen to lots of podcasts and listen to books. I don’t read many books anymore. So repurpose the content in various ways so that people can get it in the way that works best for them. Yeah, and there’s actually several people that are translating some of the stuff I’ve written, so I think that’s really cool, too. That’s really cool to think that four years ago nobody was translating the stuff you were writing. And now look at you. Yeah, well, in the fact that there’s more than five people in the group is, you know, I just every single year the group size just about doubles, so every year I’m still surprised when it does. 

So now you want to run into software like you said, and make it easier for people to, as you mentioned, get feedback on their own recipes, get other ideas. I mean, really, to train and automate a lot of this knowledge that has been accrued in the group over the years. Well, I guess ultimately, you know, back to your question about what the goal is for Raw Fed and Nerdy. Ultimately, I think I want to give homemade diets a better name just because a lot of people do have concerns with them, that are perfectly reasonable because a lot of diets can be unbalanced. So any content that I could make, any tools that we can make, that can make homemade diets more beautiful just because they have been enormously beneficial to dogs and cats, that would be the goal. No. 

And you mentioned that your focus is dogs. But you also mentioned that there is some cat stuff that goes on in Raw Fed and Nerdy as well. Yeah, so I do have a couple of the admins and some of my colleagues do work just with cats or dogs and cats, but I definitely I’m very involved with dogs, and I’m more than happy to refer out to some of the people that email me and ask if I do cats. But there’s a lot of really great professionals in the group that works with cats. And we are slowly adding more and more cat content. But fortunately with nutrition science, if you understand, kind of, the fundamentals, you can easily pick up how things apply to different species. No, and I love that. I love the fact that you’re recognizing what you’re good at and what your passion is, and then you’re finding other people that have similar passions. But they’re focused on cats, which, like, hey, great! I’m guessing, pretty soon you’ll have rabbits and horses and lizards and who knows? Oh, and there is some of that still in Raw Fed and Nerdy, obviously not a lot. But we do get some posts every now and again, and I really enjoyed that. I mean, I have nothing to add to the comments, other than, this is really cool. But there are people that are using nutrient guidelines for, you know, beyond cats and dogs. And so we do see some of that and that’ll be cool to see how that grows.

 Are you noticing any uptick in things, now that there’s more people working from home and probably spending more time online? I think right now, for me personally, things have been really crazy just because I have a lot of clients that are emailing me, saying they can’t get one ingredient or another ingredient, and maybe the dog has kidney disease. So we have to, you know, kind of quickly determine what we can use as a substitution. So that’s basically what I’ve been doing, you know, have really looked to even see if we have more people, you know, reading and doing more of the courses. I was just kind of curious because as people have more time now and they’re working from home or shelter in place type of a thing. Are they out there saying, You know what? I’m gonna finally get this a shot, right? I have time to actually cook or to just put together the meals on a weekly basis, so I was just kind of curious if that was happening more often. Well, I definitely heard his feedback that people want more reading material right now, so I’ve been really trying to work on the book, over the past two weeks. I would like to get it out pretty soon. And I think the first couple days when this all started happening, I think people were pretty shocked. And so we have, like, a human support group that branches off of our main Facebook groups. I think people just wanted to vent a little bit on and things they’re not picking up too, you know, going back to, Okay, can you audit my recipe? And Yeah, I’ve actually gotten quite a few emails, I just need to go through them now. Yeah. No, I love the fact that you call that a human support group. So it’s obviously separate from the animal support group or the animal recipes and things like that. Just people needing to blow off some steam and chat with like minded people. Yep. And that’s exactly what it’s for. And we also have a lot of people that learn about their own dog’s nutrition, and they’re like, Whoa, maybe I should track my own nutrients. So a lot of people are doing that now, too. So it’s kind of cool. Whenever I see a lot of people joke that they say their dog eats better than they do, and we kind of laugh about it. But at the same time, I want people eating just as well because we have to be helping to take care of our animals. So I like it when people are taking care of themselves.

 No, I mean, you started this, you know, four years ago. Is this how you thought things would turn out? No, definitely not. Not even close. I didn’t expect so many people to be interested in it, I guess, was the biggest thing. Maybe it was a little bit pessimistic. I think that I would have heard a lot of, I still hear, you know, this is too complicated. I don’t do this for my own diet, type of thing, but there’s definitely a ton of people that are really interested in learning kind of the nitty-gritty parts of homemade formulations. 

Interesting. What have you learned about yourself throughout this process? So originally I went to school, I was gonna be a Spanish teacher. Now I’m in school taking biochemistry, so that’s a lot different. I didn’t think I would ever be good at science and math, and I mean math, I still struggle with. So whenever somebody says, I can’t do this, I’m bad at math. I’m like, No, no. Trust me, trust me, you can do it. So I don’t know. I always thought that math and science were really cool and I was like, Man, I wish I you know, I could understand some of that stuff but I think now that I’ve found something that I’m interested in, I learned that just having the desire to learn more about something has really helped me, and I never would have thought it would have been in school taking the courses that I am. That’s really cool. It’s a far cry. It’s a long-distance from being a Spanish teacher, for sure. I still love Spanish. I still love teaching and, you know, obviously, chemistry is a lot different, but it’s interesting to know that those things they’re still useful. You know, a lot of organic chemistry is like learning how names come together. And actually Spanish was really useful for that. Because I could, I had a method already in place and how I would understand how words are put together. Yeah, very cool.

 Well, certainly we want people to check you out, both on the Web and on Facebook. So Feed Thy Dog is your kind of more consulting and Raw Fed and Nerdy for sure,  sounds like a very vibrant Facebook group, and I’m really glad you came on today, Savannah. Is there anything else you want to mention before we wrap things up? I think that’s it. Thank you so much for having me and, you know, having all the different people you have on, I think that’s awesome what you’re doing. Well, thank you. I appreciate it. And I enjoy learning more. And I’ve enjoyed just talking today and learning more about you know, what goes into this. I’m gonna have to, I’m gonna be one of those newbies that’s gonna dive into your Facebook group and probably watch some of the videos and courses and learn more about it, because it’s something that I never really thought about or really considered, until the conversation today. So I appreciate that. Yeah. I mean, if you have any questions, reach out. I’m online all day answering questions. So I love hearing that people are reading the content and having questions, so I think that’s really cool. Well, thanks Savannah for coming on today was great to talk to you. Thank you.

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