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 coats, 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 died 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.
Raw Food Diet for a Shih Tzu
The Shih Tzu's coat needs Omega 3 and 6 oils for a healthy shine.
The Shih Tzu breed has a history as a household pet prized by Chinese royals for over a thousand years. Although the breed standard allows for a range of different sizes, an adult Shih Tzu ideally weighs between 9 and 16 pounds and has a solid, compact body. Proponents of the raw food diet believe that it helps to control weight, build lean muscle mass, improves the condition of the Shih Tzu's skin and coat, produces higher energy levels and smaller stools, and results in cleaner teeth, which helps counter dental problems.
The Shih Tzu’s nutritional needs include a healthy, balanced diet customized to avoid obesity and to provide the necessary vitamins and minerals for its lustrous, longhaired, double coat. Canine hip dysplasia is a concern among Shih Tzu enthusiasts, and the breed is predisposed to dental problems, so a suitable raw food diet should contain adequate quantities of calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and omega 3 and 6 oils. These ingredients will help the dog to develop strong bones and teeth, and the oils will maintain the condition of their coat.
The Shih Tzu needs a diet that contains 50 percent high-quality protein. This should come from muscle meat, organ meats including heart, liver, and kidneys, raw eggs, and some dairy products, such as cottage cheese and yogurt, if your dog can tolerate lactose. Use human quality beef, lamb, chicken, or oily fish such as salmon, minced or finely chopped, and avoid feeding more than 5 percent organ meats, as these are rich in saturated fats. When working with raw meat, wash your hands often to avoid bacteria such as salmonella, and use antibacterial soap or bleach to clean your chopping boards and utensils regularly. Check with a veterinarian if you have concerns about using raw meat, which may contain harmful bacteria, in your pet's diet.
Feed your dog muscle meat on the bone, which helps to keep the dog's teeth clean. The Shih Tzu is a brachycephalic breed, however, which means that the dog's muzzle and nose are flat, and misaligned teeth are common. If the dog has difficulty gnawing on whole bones because of this, grind the bones into a meal and mix it with the food.
Most canine diets contain some carbohydrates, but in a raw food diet, it’s difficult to include carbs that are uncooked. The Shih Tzu’s size and naturally high energy levels mean it is not essential to provide carbs, but if the dog is young and active and you feel they need fuel, then adding cooked brown rice, mashed sweet potato, or crumbled brown bread is an option. If you prefer to stick to raw foods only, then include small quantities of grated apples, carrots, or mashed bananas, which all contain a percentage of carbohydrate.
Fruit and Vegetables
A variety of fruit and vegetables are palatable raw and can give your Shih Tzu the nutrients they need. These should comprise approximately 30 percent of the diet if you feed the dog cooked carbohydrates, but if the diet includes only protein, fruits and vegetables then the latter should add up to 50 percent, to avoid a diet that is too high in protein. Include chopped green beans, cauliflower, broccoli, pumpkin, apples, bananas, and pears in various quantities, mixed in with the meat or bone meal. Avoid corn, which is difficult for some dogs to digest, and never give your dog avocados, raisins, grapes, or macadamia nuts as these can be harmful.
As a breed predisposed to hip problems, your Shih Tzu needs a diet that contains sufficient calcium. Supplement the calcium in their raw food diet by drying out eggshells in the oven, then crushing them in a coffee grinder and mixing small quantities into their food. Magnesium, zinc, iron, and phosphorous are important ingredients in a raw food diet, and an older Shih Tzu will benefit from added glucosamine and chondroitin for their joints. Vitamins C and E act as antioxidants and reduce inflammation, and can help memory problems in an elderly Shih Tzu. Ask your veterinarian for advice on the right combination of vitamins and mineral supplements for your dog’s age and state of health, as well as the quantities to feed for their activity and energy level.
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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.