Dogs should be provided with a healthy diet that is appropriate for their size, breed, and daily activities. We all want our dogs to be healthy and content and this results directly from the quality and quantity of what they are consuming.
But how do we know what food is best for our pooch? Raw food? Cooked food? Generally, we listen to advise from the veterinarian, ask other dog owners about their thoughts, or search the internet for guidance.
Of course, what our furry friends actually enjoy eating also has some influence on our decisions too, especially if they are particularly fussy!
So, what are the benefits and risks of raw dog food? More people are leaning towards the raw food diet for their dogs. The trend this way is strengthening and yet, is this really a healthy option? There is an ongoing debate as to if feeding raw food is safe for dogs.
On the surface it would seem this must be healthier – it is natural, right? With no preservatives, right? We all know that dogs need a balanced diet. Perhaps the raw dog food diet is not as great as perceived? Here we look at the pros and cons involved, what does the diet consist of, where did this raw food idea originate from?
Raw Dog Food – Benefits & Risks
Dogs are descended from wolves, so have a wild and carnivorous ancestry. It would seem obvious therefore feeding them raw food is only natural.
Over the last few thousand years, since dogs have been friends of man, we have developed many different breeds and have shaped dogs to live within the human lifestyle.
We have fed them anything from dead animals to bread, vegetables, lard, and grain. It was in the mid-1800s during the Industrial Revolution when the first manufactured dog food, in the form of kibble, become available.
This was convenient, cheap, and had a long shelf life. This was the future and therefore quickly became popular.
This new way of eating for dogs does not mean they have evolved or adapted to this variety in their diet. Their sharp pointed teeth are still those of the undomesticated carnivorous eater.
Today, just as we humans look at our own diets and the desire to be healthy and maintain a good weight, we are looking at our dogs in the same way. We are now turning to more natural and organic foods and hence the raw food diet.
We are looking at the ingredients in manufactured food and want less salt, fewer preservatives, and fewer carbohydrates.
What Is a Raw Dog Food Diet?
Raw dog food consists of offal (internal organs), muscle meat (chicken, beef, turkey, fish, lamb, etc), whole or ground bones, raw eggs, some dairy products, and raw vegetables.
Commercially these diets are available fresh, frozen, freeze-dried, or dehydrated and are intended to be nutritionally complete and balanced.
Home-made, these diets vary and are commonly based on opinion and have not been subjected to the same arduous reviews.
Manufactured dog food tends to be high in carbohydrates and although dogs do need these in their balanced diet, a lot of commercial dog food uses inexpensive carbohydrates as filler rather than fresh meat and vegetables.
Many dog-owners report the following benefits they have found after feeding their dogs the raw food diet:
- The dogs are generally happier within themselves
- Shinier coats
- Healthier skin
- Improved dental health and cleaner teeth
- Increased energy
- Smaller and firmer poop
- Stronger bones and muscles
- Easier to maintain a healthy weight
- Fewer digestive problems
- As you are putting together these meals yourself, it is easier to keep track of what exactly your dog is eating.
Like any diet, besides the positives, there are also negatives reported, as follows:
- Potential contamination (e.g. Salmonellae) of the uncooked meat causes health risks to not only the dog fed the diet, but other pets, human family members, and members of the public in contact with the dog
- Typically, these diets are high in protein, and nutrient deficient
- Unless prepared correctly, the diet can be unbalanced and may cause damage to your dog’s health if not rectified over time
- Can cause diarrhea
- Lack of high-quality data and nutritional information from comprehensive case-controlled studies
- Bones can be dangerous to dogs. They can cause broken teeth, can get stuck on the mouth or throat. Sharp bones can cause damage internally.
- Putting the raw food meals together can be time-consuming and more expensive than the bought manufactured food
Is Raw Food Healthier?
There have been few studies conducted on the health benefits of the raw food diet on dogs, and the real advantages have not as yet been confidently proven. On the contrary, some undesired consequences of feeding raw food to dogs have been well documented.
Reportedly, the majority of dog owners who deemed their dogs to be healthy were including a level of raw food in their pets’ diets.
Do Vets Recommend It?
From the point of view of a veterinarian, unless you are a specialist in pet nutrition then nobody should be preparing their dog’s food regardless if it’s raw or not. If a diet is unbalanced then your dog can become ill.
They also say that if you are going to prepare raw food, always choose commercially prepared food to safeguard against poor hygiene and disease.
The raw meat incorporated into these diets may originate from many sources. The risk of food-borne illnesses in dogs is a concern, but more importantly the public health risk due to possible zoonotic infections.
Also, dogs in contact with livestock, or livestock feeds, are at an added risk of spreading diseases in livestock populations.
It is a Veterinarian’s duty to recognize these risks and convey this information to their clients, so regardless of how healthy raw meat may be for dogs, they must portray this aspect also.
Evidence that shows raw dog food as healthy and beneficial has widely been dismissed, however, the justification against it is equally subjective.
It can be hard to know what is the right thing to do for your dog and we can see there are valid arguments on both sides for and against the feeding of raw food to our beloved pets. Commercially manufactured dog foods are supposed to be well-balanced and nutritious, but unfortunately, this is not always the reality.
As dog owners, we know our dogs the best and it is recommended that any change of diet should be discussed with a veterinarian or dog nutritional expert, and a close eye kept on the dog’s health and behavior following any change in diet.
An important factor here is if you are considering changing to the raw food diet, to ensure you are getting the raw meat from a safe and hygienic source, to prevent any risk of disease or infection.