A raw food dog diet is designed to replicate to some degree what your dog might eat in the wild. Raw food diets will almost never include grains, as the guiding philosophy says that dogs are born carnivores, and that grains have no place in a dog's diet. Instead, the basis of a raw food dog diet is raw meat. These meats should include organ meats, skin, fat, and uncooked bones. Sometimes raw diets may include a small amount of pureed fruits and vegetables to mimic what a wild dog might find in the belly of its prey, which many wild dogs eat readily.
Types of Raw Food Diets for Dogs
There are dozens of independent purveyors of raw dog foods. Some raw dog foods are freeze dried, some frozen, and some dehydrated. Some must be reconstituted with water, or defrosted in the refrigerator, but none should be cooked, as that would defeat the purpose.
Three of the guiding raw food dog diet philosophies are:
The Prey Method
DIY, or “Do it Yourself”
BARF, despite its yucky connotations, stands for “Biologically Appropriate Raw Food” or “Bones and Raw Food.” Prepackaged BARF foods may be purchased from a BARF purveyor, but it’s also possible to create your own BARF diet. Dr. Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM cautions, “Feeding a raw diet without researching nutrition could be detrimental if basic needs aren't met.” Crosby recommends, “If considering this diet, please do thorough research, speak to your veterinarian as well as people who ‘BARF’ their pets for tips and resources to assist with the ‘to BARF or not to BARF?’ decision.”
The Prey Method involves essentially offering your pet a whole animal. Beef, chicken, turkey, and fish are affordable and accessible. Other options include fowl (like hens) or unusual protein like pig’s feet. Some raw cat food enthusiasts will drop a whole bird on the floor - claws, feathers, beak, and all. Not every dog can handle a whole raw animal. So take care when attempting to make a switch by slowly transitioning into raw food.
When taking the DIY approach, the recommended balance is at least 80% raw meat with 20% other ingredients like vegetables or carbohydrates. Of the 80%, less than 25% should be skin and fat, less than 25% should be organ meat, and the majority should be muscle meat. Some pet owners mash veggies and ground meat into a bowl. Some puree meat, veggies, and yogurt and then freeze portions in cupcake tins. Some include oats, sweet potatoes, rice, or other carbs. Research the options, and speak with your veterinarian before making any major changes to your pet’s diet.
Benefits of a Raw Food Diet
Not all raw food products are the same, but most guarantee a few basics. Commercially prepared raw foods tend to be free from steroids, hormones, and chemical preservatives. They also tend to offer USDA approved meats, fruits, and vegetables.
Many converts have reported that after switching from regular kibble to raw foods, their dog produced smaller, firmer, less stinky poo, perhaps because raw foods are more digestible. While this may not make one iota of difference to the pet, it’s definitely a happy result for the people charged with scooping it up off the sidewalk. Some pet owners also noticed fresher breath, shinier coat, and whiter teeth. Other ailments like sensitive stomachs, itching, allergies, and goopy eyes or ears have also diminished or disappeared after making the switch away from regular kibble, suggesting that this diet change was positive, particularly in the face of allergic diseases.
Regulations on Raw Dog Foods
Heat processing can destroy some vitamins and amino acids that occur naturally in raw foods. Some argue that heat also destroys digestive enzymes, but heating destroys just as many anti-digestive enzymes, making the issue moot. Because raw foods are not treated with heat, the FDA has stated that they do not advocate a raw food diet for dogs. However, the USDA has sanctioned a process called High Pressure Pasteurization (HPP) which most raw dog food brands utilize in their processing. HPP is a pasteurization process that utilizes no heat. Essentially it eliminates “bad” bacteria, without killing off “good” bacteria like probiotics.
Criticism of Raw Food for Dogs
Some critics of the raw food philosophy argue that mimicking what dogs would eat in the wild is silly. Dogs are, and have been, domesticated for eons. Wild dogs running in packs would have gotten more exercise and would have lived entirely differently than modern day house pets do. Critics argue that attempting to feed them an ancient diet for an ancient lifestyle doesn’t make sense.
The primary criticism surrounding raw food diets, however, surrounds concern of contamination from bacteria and foodborne illnesses. Practitioners of the raw food method rebut that salmonella and other foodborne illnesses are routinely found in processed kibble. However, studies have confirmed that raw fed dogs have a much higher risk of carrying zoonotic salmonella and E-coli than dogs being fed commercial dry or wet dog food.
Nonetheless, Dr. Crosby found through her research that many raw food enthusiasts had, “...not many worries here.” She continues, “People followed the same health standards and food handling techniques as they would for the human family's food,” and their dogs didn’t suffer any problems.
The Inclusion of Bones, Vegetables, and Other Ingredients
Bones in raw food diets are a hot topic. Many argue that doling out a whole raw, meaty bone is dangerous. When including bones in a dog’s diet, take care. Raw beef and pork bones with some meat on them are best, as they’re less likely to splinter than chicken bones. Bones that have been inside a dead animal for a long time (like, for example, inside a bird that’s been frozen, or even an animal still fresh, but dead a few days) may no longer be suitable for your dog. Ask your butcher for the freshest bone-in meats. Never give your dog a cooked bone, particularly cooked chicken bones, as these will splinter. Commercially prepared raw dog foods tend to have very finely ground bones, so the hazard of choking is nil.
Any vegetables should be chopped very, very small, or even pureed. Dr. Crosby explains, “Dog’s digestive systems are not equipped to process whole veggies.” You can also add eggs, even their shells for calcium, parsley for fresh breath, yogurt for extra probiotics.
There are many things to consider if you want to switch your dog to a raw food diet. Remember to do your research and talk to your vet to make sure that it’s the right decision for you and your dog.
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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.