Raw food diet is controversial—whether it is for humans or dogs. Is it better to eat what our dogs and dogs’ ancestors ate? Is raw food harmful to the health of all dogs and humans because of all the bacteria from the slaughtered animal?
To help you understand this polarizing diet a little better, here is the history, benefits and risks, and examples of raw foods.
Dog raw food diet
A raw food diet is all about eating uncooked ingredients such as baking, frying, or steaming. For dogs, such a diet involves raw foods such as meat, entrails, bones, vegetables, fruits, eggs, and dairy.
Some owners were already feeding their dogs raw meat in the past. However, it was only in 1993 when the raw food diet for dogs was officially proposed.
Dr. Ian Billinghurst, an Australian pet nutritionist, is regarded the father of a raw food diet when he launched his book “Give Your Dog a Bone” in 1993. The book presented his proposal for the BARF (Bones and Raw Food or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) diet. He noted that there is too much grain in commercial dog foods, which is detrimental to the health of a dog. BARF imitates the type of food that was eaten by ancient dogs: bones, meat, offal, vegetables, fruits and eggs.
The BARF diet became the basis for other raw food recipes. There are even raw foods now sold commercially. Most of these products are freeze-dried raw meats and other ingredients.
2. Benefits and risks of a raw food diet for dog
Those who support raw food diets believe that dogs get the following benefits from uncooked food:
- High energy level. Since raw food is mostly protein, dogs are said to be more energetic when they are given this type of diet.
- Clean teeth. Aren’t dogs usually illustrated gnawing on big bones? Many people recommend raw bones so dogs can clean their teeth while gnawing.
- Shiny coats and healthy skin. The high-fat content of certain meats leads to shiny coats. Vitamins and minerals, especially from raw vegetables and fruits, contribute to healthier skin.
Some vets also point out that raw food has more advantages for dogs than commercial dog foods that have been processed, some of which have been recalled because they contain harmful bacteria.
On the other hand, those who do not support the raw food diet believe that it has the following risks:
- Bacterial infection. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) approved in 2012 a policy against giving cats and dogs uncooked or undercooked protein from animals. This covers any meat from farm or wild animals, and raw or unpasteurized eggs and milk.
Also, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend raw meat diets because owners could risk infections like salmonellosis, which could affect both pets and humans.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA-CVM) has issued a similar statement. The organization acknowledged, however, that some owners want to feed their animals with raw food. Because of health hazards, owners are cautioned to handle raw meat properly.
- Unbalanced diet. Commercial dog foods are supposed to be balanced diet, to give dogs the maximum nutrients. Raw food diet is mostly protein and usually lacks calcium and phosphorus. The FDA-CVM stresses the importance of making sure dogs are given enough calcium and phosphorus, otherwise they could develop dental problems and weak bones.
- Potential hazards. Dogs could choke on a bone. Some bones also splinter, which could puncture their mouth, throat, or internal organs.
- It is not for all dogs. Dogs with illnesses like kidney problems or cancer and very young puppies should not be given raw food due to the unbalanced nutrients.
Best dog raw foods
If you believe that the benefits outweigh the risks and that you can handle raw food properly, here are some of the best raw foods you can choose from:
- Raw meat. Preferably on the bone, but ground portions are also okay; recommended meats are the lean portions of beef, rabbit, bison, duck, turkey, lamb, pork, or chicken; fish can be given once a week for some omega-3.
- Bones. Preferably whole but ground bone is also okay, especially if you are concerned about splinters.
- Animal organs or offal. You have a wide choice from livers, hearts, kidneys, spleens, sweetbreads, brains, or lungs.
- Raw eggs. Whole raw eggs are okay; if you want to ground the shells and mix it in your dog’s meal as an additional source of calcium, make sure that the eggs are not sprayed with toxins.
- Raw vegetables. Preferably green ones like spinach, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or green beans; but you can also give pumpkins or carrots.
- Raw fruits. You can give the usual apples and bananas. Berries like blueberries, or cranberries are good sources of antioxidants. Watermelons and cantaloupes could be additional sources of water and vitamins. Be careful of the seeds.
On the other hand, grapes have been known to cause kidney failure in some dogs, so do not feed these to your dog.
- Dairy. Low-fat and low-salt dairy like yoghurt, goat’s milk, or cheese.
Commercial dog raw food brands
If you are uneasy about handling raw food, you could buy one of the commercially-prepared raw foods.
One benefit of purchasing raw food prepared is that all you need to do is thaw the prepared packs and serve your dog’s meal. You also don’t have to worry about calculating the serving size or nutrition value since each pack is already formulated for maximum nutrition for your dog based on her age or size.
Here are some companies that sell such products.
1. Primal Pet Foods
Primal Pet Foods state that the meat they are using is organic and has no antibiotics, hormones or steroids. Each formula also includes ground bone for calcium and other ingredients for balanced nutrition for your dog.
Their Nuggets come in freeze-dried chicken, lamb, beef, turkey and sardine, pork, rabbit formulas.
2. BARF World
BARF World‘s president shares on the company’s website that after eating raw food, her dog underwent a remarkable change. So she reached out to Dr. Billinghurst to start the company.
The company offers freeze-dried products in chicken, beef, lamb, and combo (chicken, beef, lamb, and pork) flavors.
3. Cali Raw Nutrition
This company sells raw meat and vegetable formulas based on guidelines from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and the BARF diet. The formulas take into account the age of dogs.
The products comprise ingredients such as freeze-dried meat, offal, bone, vegetables, and salmon oil. Since the company prides itself in making complete meals, all you need to do is thaw the food, and serve to your dog.
If you want additional instructions on feeding raw food to your dog, Cali Raw Nutrition’s website has feeding guidelines and handling tips you can easily follow.
4. Vital Essentials
Like other companies, Vital Essentials offers freeze-dried products. Their patties do not need to be thawed, though. Just add warm water, and it’s ready to be served. Flavor options are: duck, chicken, turkey, and treats like beef tripe, chicken hearts, rabbit bites.
5. Steve’s Real Food
Each recipe from Steve’s Real Food contains meat, bones, animal organs, vegetables, dairy, and additional ingredients like flaxseed and salmon oil. Each recipe also has AAFCO nutrient profiles. You can choose from frozen patties or freeze-dried nuggets in beef, chicken, turkey, “turducken,” and pork flavors.
They also offer raw supplements to enhance meals.
Tips on feeding your dog raw food
- 1. As always, talk to your vet before you change your dog’s diet. Your dog could have a pre-existing condition that you will have to consider before switching her to a raw food diet.
Because many raw food diets are nutritionally unbalanced, you can also consult your veterinarian about each food’s correct quantity and servings. Remember that not only protein but calcium, phosphorus, antioxidants, other vitamins and minerals will be needed for your dog. You’ll also need to consider the size, age, and weight of your dog.
- 2. If you will prepare your dog’s food yourself, learn the proper way to handle raw meat or fish. Follow the guidelines properly so you will not contaminate the food or expose your whole family to bacterial infection.
- 3. The transition of your dog to her new raw diet should come very slowly. Changing your dog’s diet too quickly can lead to diarrhea or gastrointestinal issues.
Try to start by introducing about 15% to 20% of raw food into your dog’s current food. Wait a few days to see how its body will react. Gradually increase the raw food servings and decrease the current food. If your dog reacts negatively, cut back the meals.
Also, during this transition period, your dog’s poop will most likely alter. It may become small and hard, or it may have mucus. Observe closely to see that it does not contain green or red, which are usually the indications that your dog has certain gastrointestinal problems.
- 4. As stated above, be sure that your raw food contains calcium and phosphorus. The best way to do this is to give your dog bones, whether it is whole bones (beef tail bones, chicken necks, lamb ribs, whole fish, etc.) or ground bones. If you are worried about splinters, it might be better to ground the bones in a blender and mix this in your dog’s meal.
- 5. Animal organs are essential for vitamins. Be careful of the liver and heart, though, because these are very high in vitamin A. Too much of this vitamin could lead to diarrhea in some dogs.
- 6. Meat is the foundation of raw food diets. Try to vary what kind of meat or recipe you give your dog every day. Each type of meat contains different proteins and nutrients.
Also, make sure that the meat you give your dog is fresh. Spoiled meat will increase the chances of bacteria contaminating your dog’s meal.
- 7. Make sure that you trim the fat from the meat. Retain just the right amount to add flavor and nutrients to your dog’s meal. Too much or too little fat will not be good for your dog.
Each dog is unique. Some dogs may do well with high-quality kibble. Some dogs may become healthier with wet dog food. Some may flourish when given raw food. If you feel that your dog is the latter, then go ahead and switch its food to a raw food diet. But take care to follow the rules, especially those on hygiene.