The Pros and Cons of a Raw Food Diet for Your Dog
Should You Feed a Raw Food Diet to Your Dog?
Are you thinking of feeding a raw food diet to your dog? It's an increasingly popular choice among pet owners and even some vets now recommend it. But it's not a decision to take lightly. This article discusses the arguments for and against, to help you make up your mind.
Raw food diets for humans fall in and out of fashion all the time, but at least people can choose if they want to eat only uncooked foods and can change their minds if it doesn't suit them. Raw food diets for dogs are more controversial as the dogs themselves don't have a say in the decision. But what are the facts? Is it good for a dog to eat only uncooked meat, vegetables, and fruit?
While many working dogs and greyhounds bred for the race track are often fed such diets, is it the right thing for the family pooch? Those in favor of the approach claim it's a more natural feeding regime than canned or dry commercial pet foods. They say it's a diet closer to the food a domestic dog's wild ancestors would have eaten.
Those against feeding only uncooked food to dogs, which includes many vets and the Food and Drug Administration Federal Agency, claim scientific studies show the health risks associated with raw meat and vegetable diets for dogs are too high. The main risks are bacterial infection, poor nutrition, and injury from splintered bones.
Essential Nutrition for Dogs
All dogs need water, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Too much or too little of any of these nutrients can harm your dog.
High-quality prepared dog food contains all the essential nutrients your dog needs in proportions appropriate to his breed, age, and size. Feeding a raw diet makes it hard for you to know exactly what nutrient balance your dog gets.
If you are determined to feed your dog only uncooked foods, then consider getting advice from an expert animal nutritionist or buying commercially prepared meals recommended by your vet. Most vets and pet nutritionists can provide ready-made recipes for you to use. But as food preparation is expensive and time-consuming, you might want to keep a supply of pre-made food just in case.
What Does a Raw Food Diet for Dogs Include?
While raw food dog feeding regimes vary, most include some or all of the following ingredients:
- meat on the bone
- marrow bones
- internal organs such as kidneys
- liver, brains, and heart
Many raw food diet enthusiasts prepare their dogs' meals fresh from scratch. Others use commercially prepared dog foods based on uncooked ingredients.
The Paleo Diet for Dogs
A well-balanced raw food diet for dogs most closely resembles a popular human dietary regime known as the "Paleo Diet". The name derives from the idea that the diet closely resembles that which our Stone Age (or Palaeolithic) ancestors may have consumed. The underlying concept is that such a "natural" diet must be better for us than processed, pre-packaged food. People who favor raw food diets for dogs make similar arguments.
There's a lot of sense in much of the underlying thinking and research has shown that, if done right in order to maintain full nutrition, the Paleo Diet can be healthy, balanced and make a positive contribution to well-being. The key is to do it right. You must understand what full nutrition involves and how to get it from any diet regime you follow.
The same applies to dogs. If you want to follow a raw food diet for your dog at all costs, a range of foods and recipes based on the same principles as the Paleo Diet may be the best way to ensure your dog gets everything he needs.
Typical Raw Food Dog Diet Ingredients
Meat: raw beef, pork, lamb, and poultry
Carrots, turnips, potatoes, broccoli
Milk and yogurt
Apples, pears, berries
Changing Your Dog from a Commercial Diet to Raw Food
If your dog is used to a commercially prepared diet it may be a good idea to move slowly on making the transition to a raw food diet. This is partly to give his digestive system time to adjust, and partly to make sure he'd happy to eat everything you offer and doesn't go hungry.
The best approach may be to add a little of his new food to what he regularly eats each day. Over time, decrease his old foodstuff and increase his new foodstuff until the transition is complete. If there's anything he won't eat, don't try and force him. Let him decide.
The Scientific Evidence
Studies published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (2001)1 and The Veterinary Nurse (2015)2 concluded that all five of the homemade raw food dog diets studied led to nutritional deficiencies which posed a risk to health. They also suggest homemade, raw diets may not contain enough calcium and phosphorus to keep bones strong and healthy. If fed to puppies, this can lead to bone deformities as the animals grow.
Advice published by the Food and Drug Administration3 suggests that over half of commercially prepared raw food diets may contain harmful bacteria including salmonella and E. coli. These bacteria pass into the feces and may also harm humans who come into contact with them.
Benefit Claims and Risks
Healthier gums and teeth
Choking, broken teeth
A more natural diet
Unbalanced, poor nutrition
Healthier, more energetic dog
Risk of life-threatening bacterial infections from raw meat
To Feed or Not to Feed Raw
Feeding a safe and nutritionally balanced raw food diet to your dog can be time-consuming and expensive. Vets recommend dog owners wishing to avoid feeding commercially produced food can prepare homemade dog food if they follow a recipe planned by a certified animal nutritionist. However, most vets agree that a commercially prepared dog food certified by the Association of American Feed Controls is the safest and healthiest choice for your pet.
- Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association November 1, 2001, Vol. 219, No. 9, Pages 1222-1225 https://doi.org/10.2460/javma.2001.219.1222
- Chan, Daniel & Lumbis, Rachel. (2015). The Raw Deal: Clarifying the nutritional and public health issues regarding raw-meat based diets. The Veterinary Nurse. 6. 336-341. 10.12968/vetn.2015.6.6.336.
FDA's Advice: Know the Risks of Feeding Raw Foods to Your Pets. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/ucm403350.htm.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2018 Amanda Littlejohn