Raw diets for dogs are increasing in popularity. And dogs like to eat raw meat like their carnivore ancestors wolves. These diets include feeding dogs raw meat, bones, organs, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. But is feeding your dog raw meat and bones beneficial for your dog, or is it dangerous?
Feeding a raw diet for dogs can have many health benefits, and if done right, your dog should not have any problems with a raw diet. However, you will need to follow all the guidelines to ensure your pet is getting proper nutrition because failure to meet your pet’s nutritional needs can lead to long-term health problems. A raw diet is not for every dog, but most dogs can benefit from a raw diet.
Why Choose Raw?
Domesticated dogs descended from wolves who lived on a diet of mainly raw meat. Sled dogs and racing greyhounds have long been fed raw diets, so why do we feed our pets differently? In 1993 Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst introduced the idea that most adult dogs could benefit from a raw diet similar to that of their ancestors.
Billinghurst claimed that commercial grain-based dog foods are harmful to dogs’ health. Although many veterinarians and the FDA disagree, dog owners who feed raw diets claim that they see improvement in their dogs’ coats, energy levels, and overall health.
Raw Diets Done the Right Way
Raw diets remain a somewhat controversial choice in some circles, with continuing research on the benefits and risks. However, many pet lovers swear by the raw food benefits. The charity Guide Dogs Queensland switched its colony of over 200 dogs to a raw diet in 2009 and now sells their food blend commercially.
It’s also widely accepted that heavily processed foods do a fair amount of harm with additives and fillers that diminish the nutritional value. Dogs need whole nutrients as much as humans, and that often means raw fruits, veggies, and meat like their ancestors ate.
Aside from making sure your dog gets the right amount of nutrients, you have to be mindful with the raw foods. Choose a variety of dog-friendly foods with plenty of protein.
For example, follow the guidelines set forth by Billinghurst’s popular BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Feeding or Bones and Raw Feeding) diet. Its benefits likely outweigh the risks for healthy adult dogs. That said, every dog is different, so you may need to make some adjustments along the way.
Benefits of Raw Feeding
Veterinarians and dog owners in favor of raw diets swear by the health benefits that come from a diet of raw, natural ingredients and free of fillers. Fed in proper amounts, raw ingredients can result in many improvements to your dog’s health.
Healthier Skin and Shinier Coat
One of the first things many dog owners notice after switching their dog to a raw diet is a drastic improvement in the health of their skin and coat. Many ingredients in a raw diet contribute to overall skin and coat health.
Since canine raw diets typically feature a lot of meat and fish, dogs get a healthy dose of fatty acids they need. The most important fatty acids for dogs are omega-3s and omega-6s. Focus on poultry for omega-6 fatty acids and fish for omega-3s.
Not only are omega-3s great for skin and coat health, but they are anti-inflammatory as well. Anti-inflammatory elements are outstanding for dogs with allergies or other skin problems.
Cleaner Teeth and Fresher Breath
Commercial dog foods are usually heavily processed, and they generally contain high amounts of carbohydrates. These two factors can contribute to poor dental health. Raw diets remove all processed ingredients and are very low in carbohydrates.
Raw diets often include feeding your dog whole raw bones, which are an excellent way to clean your dog’s teeth. Chewing on raw bones helps remove plaque, even in places that are hard to reach.
Feeding natural ingredients can also help your dog’s breath smell better. You can add ingredients like celery and peppermint to your dog’s diet to give him fresher breath.
Higher Energy Level
Many owners who switch their dogs to a raw diet note that their dogs have increased energy, even in older dogs. Processed kibble takes a lot more energy for your dog to digest it and can stay in their system for most of the day.
Conversely, raw diets feature whole ingredients that are faster and easier for dogs to digest. Plus, raw foods are pure with no fillers or junk diluting the nutrients. Dogs can process raw foods in as little as an hour!
Better Joint and Bone Health
Eating bones supports your dog’s bones and joints. Raw bones contain many essential nutrients: calcium, phosphorus, glucosamine, chondroitin, collagen, and marrow, which all contribute to your dog’s bone and joint health.
Strengthened Immune System
Raw diets provide balanced nutrition from natural ingredients that are highly digestible for your dog. The nutrients found in raw ingredients contribute to improved immune health for dogs that eat a raw diet.
Meat, which comprises the bulk of raw diets for dogs, is full of easily digestible protein, essential for a healthy immune system. Raw meat is even more beneficial for dogs because it hasn’t been diluted during the cooking process. The essential fats, vitamins, and minerals remain intact.
Fruits and vegetables contain many vitamins and minerals that contribute to a healthy immune system. Vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K are a few vitamins prevalent in a raw diet for dogs. These nutrients are not damaged by cooking.
You can incorporate superfoods like wheatgrass, kelp, and garlic into a raw diet for dogs. These foods contain many amino acids, enzymes, and vitamins that aid in immunity.
When your dog’s diet is free of the fillers of commercial dog food, more of his food can be absorbed during digestion, leading to less coming out the other end. Dogs’ bodies absorb as many nutrients as possible, so when all of the ingredients fed are highly digestible, your dog will have smaller stools.
Fillers and carbohydrates in commercial dog food can also cause an especially foul odor in dog stools. While your dog’s raw diet stools won’t smell like roses, it’s typically less stinky.
Better Smelling Dog
While there have been no studies on this particular topic, dog owners who feed raw diets often report that their dogs have reduced body odor.
Risks of Raw Feeding
While there are many benefits of a raw diet for dogs, feeding raw does carry some inherent risks. Be sure you know all potential risks before deciding if a raw diet could have many benefits for your dog.
Bacteria in Raw Meat
Feeding raw meat poses a risk to both humans and dogs due to the possibility of contamination with harmful bacteria. Raw meat may contain Salmonella or Listeria monocytogenes. Dogs’ stomachs can process more bacteria than humans’ stomachs, so in most cases, these bacteria pose little risk for your dog. However, if you are preparing raw meat to feed your dog, you could easily infect yourself if you do not take the necessary precautions.
If you do choose to feed raw, wash your hands thoroughly after handling any raw meat. Clean and disinfect any surfaces and objects that have come in contact with the raw meat, including cutting boards, counters, kitchen utensils, and your dog’s dishes.
Does Not Always Meet Nutritional Requirements
Commercial dog foods must contain certain levels of essential nutrients like protein and fat. The FDA requires that dog food labels include a guaranteed analysis so that you can be sure your dog is receiving adequate amounts of the nutrients he needs.
When you feed raw, there are many variables to consider. It can be difficult to ensure that your pet is receiving the right amounts of all the essential nutrients. Feeding your dog too much or too little of certain nutrients can cause long-term health problems.
For example, a diet high in fat but without sufficient protein can cause anemia. A diet low in calcium and phosphorus can lead to weak bones and teeth. If you feed your dog a lot of liver, his diet could be too high in Vitamin A, which could lead to Vitamin A toxicity over time.
A well-balanced raw diet can likely meet your dog’s nutritional needs. However, there are some risks of not meeting your dog’s nutritional requirements. That uncertainty is enough for some pet owners to select commercial dog foods.
What Dogs Should Not Be Fed a Raw Diet?
While a raw diet can be beneficial for most healthy adult dogs, some dogs should not eat a raw diet. There are situations where you should avoid a raw diet for dogs due to the humans in the home.
Puppies and Dogs with Health Issues
Puppies should not eat a raw diet. Puppies require a specific ratio of calcium and phosphorus. If your puppy’s diet does not meet this need, they could suffer a range of issues. Common problems include bone deformities, cognitive delays, and other growth issues.
You should not feed dogs with late-stage kidney failure or severe liver failure a raw diet because of the high protein levels.
Dogs with cancer or other immunosuppressive diseases should not eat a raw diet.
Dogs with digestive issues should start with a cooked homemade food diet before switching to a raw diet. If the dog’s digestive issues resolve while on the cooked food diet, you may be able to transition him to a raw diet.
Dogs Living With Young Children or Immunocompromised People
If you have a baby or small child in your home, it is probably best to avoid a raw diet for your dog. Small children can get into the dog’s dishes before you have had a chance to wash them. This could lead to the spread of Salmonella or Listeria monocytogenes.
If you or anyone else in your household is immunocompromised, avoid a raw diet for your dog. Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes can be devastating for people with suppressed immune systems. Although the risk is small with proper precautions, it is probably best to eliminate the risk in this circumstance.
A Balanced Raw Diet For Dogs
The most common and popular raw diet for dogs is the BARF diet. If you follow the guidelines of this diet, the BARF diet should meet your dog’s nutritional needs. Every dog has slightly different nutritional needs, so start with the suggested ratios and adjust to meet your dog’s needs.
Here are the BARF guidelines for a raw diet for dogs:
- 70% Muscle Meat: Meat provides protein, amino acids, and water-soluble vitamins.
- 10% Raw Edible Bones: Raw bones provide essential nutrients.
- 5% Liver: The liver provides essential fat-soluble vitamin A and water-soluble vitamins.
- 5% Other Organs: Organ such as kidney provides essential minerals.
- 7% Vegetables: Vegetables provide essential nutrients and beneficial phytochemicals.
- 2% Seeds and Nuts: Raw seeds and nuts provide essential minerals and fatty acids.
- 1% Fruit: Fruit contains antioxidants and sugar, so small amounts are best.
Important Note: All raw seeds and nuts must be pre-soaked and ground before feeding. Seeds and nuts contain phytates, adversely affecting nutritional balance. Soaking reduces the phytates, and grinding seeds and nuts makes them more digestible.
Should I Feed My Dog a Raw Diet?
If you have a healthy adult dog, the benefits of a raw diet outweigh the risks. If you choose to feed your dog a raw diet, carefully monitor the nutritional content of his food. Your dog can thrive on a raw diet if his diet is balanced.
Help Your Dog Live His Best Life
It’s a good idea to talk to your veterinarian if you think a raw diet might work well for your dog. Some veterinarians support raw diets while others oppose them. Still, any veterinarian can tell you if your dog has any underlying health issues that might make a raw diet a lousy fit.
If your dog is healthy, you will likely have no problems switching to a raw diet. Enjoy your dog’s shiny coat, increased energy, and long, healthy life!
Also, take a look on our list of the best foods your dog can eat.