Raw food diets for dogs are both popular and controversial. While some pet parents consider it a natural and healthy way of feeding dogs, others argue about its safety and nutritional adequacy.
In this article, we’ll help you understand both sides of the debate by exploring the potential benefits and risks of feeding a raw food diet to a dog. This comprehensive analysis will allow you to make an informed decision about what’s best for your furry friend.
What Counts as a Raw Diet for Dogs?
Typically, a raw food diet consists of uncooked or minimally processed ingredients, such as raw meat, whole or ground bones, raw eggs, organs, fruits, and vegetables.
The two popular types of raw dog diets include:
- BARF: the Biologically Appropriate Raw Food diet, more commonly known as the BARF diet, is commonly composed of 70% raw meat, 10% bones, 10% organs (half of which is liver), and 10% fruits and vegetables.
- Prey Model Diet: it’s designed to mimic the diet of dogs' wild ancestors, and it typically consists of 80% meat, 10% bone, and 10% organs (half of which is the liver). It traditionally doesn’t include any fruits or vegetables.
Pet parents who choose to feed a raw food diet to their dogs have the option to either prepare a meal at home from scratch with raw ingredients like meat, organs, eggs, bones, fruits, and vegetables or buy commercially available frozen raw food, which usually requires thawing prior to feeding.
Both these options include certain benefits and health risks for a dog. Let’s discuss these in more detail.
Benefits of Raw Diet for Dogs
There has been some anecdotal evidence that suggests the health benefits of feeding a raw food diet to a dog. However, we still need more studies, research, and scientific evidence to support these claims and determine the true benefits of a raw food diet for dogs.
To give you an overview, below we have discussed the 4 most commonly claimed health benefits of raw foods for a dog:
1. Improves the Coat & Skin Health
A raw diet can be beneficial for a dog’s skin and coat as it contains a high amount of protein, which provides the essential amino acids required for building and repairing hair and skin cells. Additionally, the high amount of fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals in raw dog food also plays a role in promoting skin and coat health.
2. Increases Energy Levels
The high level of protein and fat in raw dog food can also result in increased energy levels. The protein helps regulate blood sugar levels, which prevents sudden drops in energy levels, and the fat content provides a concentrated source of energy, which further contributes to an active lifestyle.
3. Prevents Allergic Reactions
Raw dog food might prevent allergic reactions in some dogs as it doesn’t contain common allergens like wheat, corn, and soy, which can be found in some commercial dog foods. By avoiding these common allergens, pet owners also claim that a raw diet can help prevent skin irritation, fur loss, and other allergic symptoms in their dogs.
4. Helps Produce Smaller Stool
Pet parents claim that a raw dog food diet can lead to smaller stool which is an indicator of better digestion and nutrient absorption. It’s believed that this happens mainly because raw food doesn’t contain any fillers that might be hard to digest for a dog. Plus, raw food ingredients contain live, natural enzymes and more moisture that help improve digestion and produce smaller and firmer stools.
Risks of Raw Diet for Dogs
Below we have discussed the various risks involved with feeding raw food to dogs.
1. Bacterial Contamination
Raw food, including frozen raw food, can contain harmful bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella, which pose a risk to both dogs and humans. If your dog ingests contaminated raw food, they can fall sick and develop symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and lethargy. In severe cases, exposure to these harmful bacteria can even lead to dehydration and organ failure in dogs.
The bacteria can have similar effects on humans, especially children and those with compromised immune systems. A dog’s food bowl is always placed on or near the ground, which makes it accessible to children who could inadvertently come into contact with harmful bacteria. Even your hands, after handling the food, can further facilitate the spread of pathogens.
In fact, the risk of bacterial contamination is the biggest reason why theCenters for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), theU.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and theAmerican Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) have discouraged feeding raw meat to a dog.
2. Unbalanced Diet
Creating a complete and balanced diet for your dog requires a thorough understanding of their nutritional needs as well as the nutritional content of various raw food ingredients. You’ll have to balance protein, fats, fiber, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals in the correct proportions to ensure your dog maintains good health.
If you aren’t able to provide a well-balanced diet, your dog will probably suffer from nutritional deficiencies, which can lead to various health issues. For example, if your dog’s diet is deficient in calcium, they will experience muscle tremors, twitching, joint problems, and weakness. Similarly, if they’re eating too much vitamin D, they can develop vitamin D toxicity, which can lead to a range of health problems.
3. Choking Hazard
Raw food typically includes bones that can pose a choking hazard, cause damage to a dog’s teeth, or lead to internal damage. These bones can even splinter or break into sharp pieces, which can puncture their digestive system and cause internal bleeding.
Preparing a raw diet for your dog takes time as it involves careful planning regarding the sourcing of ingredients, preparation to handle those raw ingredients, and storage requirements to prevent bacterial growth and spoilage. It is a big commitment that demands a lot of time and effort.
Things You Should Consider Before Changing Your Dog’s Diet
A raw diet has its benefits and risks, which should be carefully considered by every pet owner. And if you’re interested in switching your dog’s diet to incorporate raw foods, then we’ll recommend you first consult with your veterinarian. They will guide you in providing a healthy, safe, and well-balanced diet for your dog.
That being said, here’re some things you should consider before changing your dog’s diet:
Your dog’s health condition should play a critical role in deciding a diet. If your dog has some sort of health condition that might have weakened their immune system or caused damage to their kidneys or liver, then a raw diet could be potentially harmful to them. They won’t be able to digest the high amount of protein and fat from the raw diet, which would lead to further health complications.
Additionally, dogs with compromised immune systems are at a much higher risk of bacterial contamination from raw food. Therefore, it's always recommended to consult with an animal nutritionist or a veterinarian to determine the best diet plan for your dog based on their individual health conditions.
Different dog breeds have different caloric requirements based on their activity level. High-energy breeds like Siberian Huskies and Border Collies require more calories to support their active lifestyle than low-energy breeds like Pugs and Bulldogs.
It’s important to determine your dog’s caloric requirements and feed them an appropriate diet based on their activity level to prevent overfeeding or underfeeding and maintain a healthy weight.
The nutritional needs of a dog depend on various factors such as their age, weight, and breed. For example, a puppy needs more protein and fat to support their growing body, while a senior dog needs more fiber and antioxidants to support their joint health and immune system.
In order to feed them a well-balanced raw diet, you should not only understand your dog’s specific nutritional requirements but also figure out the nutritional value of each raw food ingredient. And do keep in mind that the nutritional value of raw food ingredients varies depending on the source and the quality of the product.
Without proper training, there is a risk of certain nutrients falling below or above the necessary requirements, potentially compromising your dog's health.
While most dogs love the taste or smell of raw meat and bones, some dogs are picky eaters who would turn up their noses to a new diet. If your dog is also a fussy eater, you might want to rethink changing their diet or gradually introduce them to a raw food diet in small amounts.
Preparing a raw food diet from scratch is time-consuming. Even if you choose to buy a frozen raw food diet, it still requires a lot of time and effort to thaw the food before feeding, ensure you handle the food properly, and maintain good hygiene. It's also worth noting that good-quality raw food ingredients will probably cost you more than commercially available dog food.
You should consider these factors before making a decision about your dog's diet. If you have a busy schedule and a limited budget, then choosing a raw food diet may not be a sustainable choice in the long run.
Summing Up: Is a Raw Diet Good for Dogs?
While many pet owners claim that they have seen significant improvements in their dog’s health after switching to a raw food diet, most veterinarians will suggest that the risks outweigh the benefits. Ultimately, we need more studies and scientific evidence to determine the true benefits of a raw food diet for dogs.
If you’re still considering a raw food diet for your pup, you should consider the potential health risks, including bacterial contamination, risk of choking, and nutritional deficiencies. We would recommend you do your due diligence and consult with your veterinarian before making any significant changes to your dog’s diet.
Let’s also answer some frequently asked questions about feeding a raw diet to dogs:
1. Is a raw diet safe for dogs?
A raw diet can be safe for dogs if you use high-quality raw ingredients that are free from contaminants and sourced from reputable suppliers. But continuously feeding a raw food diet without consulting a veterinarian can lead to other health problems like nutritional deficiencies.
2. How good is a raw diet for dogs?
Many pet parents claim that they have noticed health benefits ranging from improved skin and coat health to increased energy levels in their dogs after switching to a raw diet. However, most of these are anecdotal claims are not backed by proper scientific evidence.
There are, however, many health risks of feeding a raw diet to dogs. The biggest danger is that raw food may contain harmful bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella, which pose a risk to both dogs and humans. There’s also a possibility that a dog can suffer from nutritional deficiencies if you aren’t able to properly balance the protein, fat, fiber, carbohydrate, and other nutrients in their raw diet.
3. Is a raw diet good for dogs with allergies?
It’s believed that a raw food diet is good for dogs with allergies since it doesn’t contain common allergens like wheat, corn, and soy, which can be found in some commercial dog foods. But whether or not a raw diet will suit your dog depends on the specific allergens that are affecting them.
You shouldn’t consider a raw diet as a cure-all for allergies, as some dogs can still get an allergic reaction on a raw food diet. Thus the best course of action is to consult your veterinarian and identify the allergens that trigger allergic reactions in your dog. You should get their guidance to create a customized, well-balanced meal plan to prevent and manage your dog's allergies.
4. Is a raw food diet good for dogs with sensitive stomachs?
Pet parents who choose to feed a raw diet to their dogs claim that the raw ingredients have helped in improving their dog’s digestive health and alleviating the symptoms associated with sensitive stomachs. It’s possible due to the fact that raw food is unprocessed and easier to digest for dogs.
However, we need more studies and scientific evidence to support these claims. In the meantime, it’s recommended to consult with a veterinarian if your dog is suffering from sensitive stomach issues.