There are few topics that divide the opinions of dog owners than the raw food diet movement. In one corner, there are those who claim that the diet does wonders for canine health. In the other corner, there are dog owners and vets who say that raw food is simply too dangerous to be consumed by canines. So, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of feeding your dog a raw food diet.
Where did the raw food movement come from?
Working dogs, such as sled dogs and racing grey hounds, have been fed raw foods for several years. However, feeding a raw food diet to pet dogs is a relatively modern idea. It was first put forward by Australian veterinarian, Ian Billinghurst, in 1993.
There are two types of raw diets: commercial raw food diets and raw diets prepared at home. Commercial raw foods are sold either fresh or frozen, normally in the form of meat patties. A raw diet prepared at home will usually consist of both organ and muscle meat, bones, vegetables, grains and supplements.
Raw food diets are meant to imitate the dog’s ancestral diet. Dogs are descended from the wolf, an animal that’s well known for eating every part of its prey. However, dogs have been bred and crossbred for centuries so very few dogs genetically resemble the wolf anymore. So, can a raw diet really benefit a domestic dog? As with just about anything, there are both pros and cons.
The Benefits of Raw Food to Your Dog’s Health
Advocates of the raw food diet claim that it offers lots of benefits to dogs and dog owners. Some of these advantages include:
Food Safety: Within the past couple of years, there have been several recalls of commercial grain-based kibble. When you prepare your dog’s meal at home, you know what you’re putting into it and where the ingredients were sourced. You can prepare it to exclude foods that your dog is allergic to. The same can’t be said for commercial dog food. It’s true that even commercial based raw dog foods get recalled and it’s almost always for salmonella, which is far more dangerous to humans than dogs. In either case, creating a raw meal at home for your dog will get around many recall concerns.
Kibble often has chemicals added to it to extend its shelf life which undermines its nutritional value. On the other hand, commercial raw dog food is frozen and therefore has no need for chemical preservatives. Raw dog food prepared at home is usually fresh and therefore ideal for growing dogs.
Better Health: People who have successfully switched their dog from a commercial food diet to raw food have said that their dogs have developed shinier coats, increased energy levels and smaller stools. But it isn’t just dog owners that are singing the praises of a raw food diet, even veterinarians and dog nutritionists are now beginning to realize the benefits of a raw food diet for dogs, as seen in this video from Dr. Karen Becker below:
The Potential Disadvantages of the Raw Food Diet
With all of these health benefits in mind, it would seem that feeding your dog raw food would be a no-brainer. However, there are those who maintain that the raw food diet is risky for the following reasons:
Bacteria in Raw Meat: Raw dog food has been found to contain salmonella and E. coli. Both of these pathogens are known to cause damage to both humans and dogs, but of the danger to humans is much greater. Several commercially produced raw dog foods have been recalled over the past few years due to E. coli. and more prevalently, salmonella. The bacteria is shed in the canine’s stool and can be transferred to humans. Both E. coli and salmonella bacteria can be especially dangerous to people with auto-immune diseases, the elderly and, small children. You MUST use proper sanitization techniques if plan to feed a raw diet to your dog.
Unbalanced Diet: When switching to a raw food diet, lots of people are tempted to feed their dog meat only. But a dog needs more than a high protein diet. The meat needs to be balanced with nutrients from grains and vegetables. When dogs in the wild consume their pray, they don’t only eat the meat. They also consume undigested stomach contents which frequently includes various fruits and vegetables. Dogs are also scavengers by nature, so in the wild they will frequently eat non-meat based foods. While fruits, vegetables, and grains aren’t especially nutritious for your dog, they do act as “fillers” to help make your dog feel more full and do provide some nutritional benefits.
Choking hazard from eating whole bones: Dogs can choke on bones. If swallowed, sharp bones can also cause lacerations and obstructions in the intestinal system. While there are some risks to feeding meat containing bones, there are also many benefits such as improving oral health and calcium intake.
Gastrointestinal problems: Changing the diet too suddenly can cause diarrhea and other intestinal issues. If your pet has a longstanding digestive condition, it could be exacerbated by the sudden introduction of raw foods to the diet. Most dogs who switch to a raw food diet tend to experience diarrhea and even vomiting for a few days during the transition.
Mixing equal amounts of raw food with commercial kibble is also dangerous. A dog’s digestive system processes raw meat as a protein and grain-based kibble as a starch. Combining proteins and starches can confuse the body and cause your dog to develop digestive issues. To prevent this, introduce the raw food as a treat first and then monitor the stool to see how your dog is reacting. If he reacts favorably to the raw treat, then increase the amount of raw food in the diet gradually.
If you do decide to stop buying commercial dog food, you should first consult a veterinarian to ensure that your dog does not have any pre-existing conditions that may make him vulnerable to some of the drawbacks of raw food.
Making a drastic change to dog’s diet is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Be sure that you truly understand the pros and cons before you make the switch.
Here are a couple additional videos to help you in your transition to a raw food diet for your dog.
Did you switch your dog over to a raw food diet? Let us know about your experiences in the comment section below!