Puppy staring at dog bowl filled with raw steak

Thinking About a Raw Food Diet for Your Dog? Pros, Cons, and Warnings

You may be thinking about a raw food diet for your dog as this is currently a very popular trend. Proponents maintain that raw food is what your dog’s ancestors ate in the wild thousands of years ago. Additionally, it is thought that raw food is higher in protein and lower in carbs as well as nutrient-rich. And, many owners say their dogs love it.

However, feeding your dog a raw food diet can be very complicated. It involves a lot more than just throwing meat into your dog’s dish. Meat alone is not sufficient and other foods must be included. Additionally, safe handling is a huge concern when dealing with raw meat, poultry, or fish.

Therefore, I would urge you to think very carefully about giving your dog a raw food diet and understand the risks involved. A raw food diet is not to be taken lightly and will require more preparation and knowledge than feeding your dog home-cooked meals or kibble.

What is a Raw Food Diet?

A raw food diet consists primarily of uncooked meat, raw eggs, raw whole or ground bones. It often includes organ meats and small amounts of uncooked vegetables ground up in a food processor. Also, the raw food diet does not usually contain grains. Advocates believe that feeding raw foods reduces your dog’s allergies and promotes healthier coats, skin, and nails. A raw diet also provides a higher ratio of protein and less moisture and filler. The argument is that a high protein and low carb diet of raw foods will help a dog to stay lean and fit.

Proponents of raw food diets point out that dogs have large incisor teeth that are made to tear meat rather than grind or chew food like humans. They also point out that cooking reduces some of the enzymes needed for digestion and dogs’ systems do not have all of those enzymes contained in raw meat.

Most veterinarians will agree with some of the health benefit claims but are concerned that the risks greatly outweigh the benefits. Bacterial contamination is the number one risk as well as a meal that is not nutritionally balanced. Furthermore, bones can break teeth or crack and cause injury to the digestive tract. See this post from VCA Hospitals, Dogs and Raw Food Diets for more information about bacterial concerns.

Recent Scientific Studies About Canine Ancestral History

 ” . . . dogs are different from wolves and don’t need a wolflike diet. They have coevolved with humans and their diet.”

Robert Wayne, Evolutionary Biologist at Los Angeles Universtiy of California

A new scientific study was done a few years ago which studied the differences between dogs and wolves regarding how and what they eat. Although dogs evolved from wolves over 11,000 years ago in Eurasia, they are now different than wolves regarding what they can eat. Like humans, dogs’ digestive systems and DNA have changed to incorporate a broader diet that also includes grains and vegetables as well as meat.

In a post on science.com, Diet Shaped Dog Domestication, published on January 23, 2013, author Elizabeth Pennisi summarizes the findings of this study. According to the study, dogs now have many genes that process starch. This means that dogs are 5 times more able to digest starch than their ancestors, the wolf family. She adds that Robert Wayne, an evolutionary biologist from the University of California, Las Angeles who was not involved in the study supported its findings. ” He says he gets contacted often by pet owners wondering if dogs, like wolves, should eat primarily meat. ‘This [study] suggests no, dogs are different from wolves and don’t need a wolflike diet,” he says. ‘They have coevolved with humans and their diet.‘ “

Therefore, the theory that today’s dogs need to eat like their ancestors, seems to be inaccurate according to this study.

This seems like a similar argument that today’s modern humans should eat the same paleo diet as the cavemen. Both comparisons seem to fall flat. Like our canine pals, we have evolved and can now eat a wide variety of food including starch. A recent study referred to on ScienceDaily.com found that cavemen actually did eat a lot of plants which included whole grains. They ate raw food only because they had not yet discovered fire.

Simply put, humans have evolved a great deal since the introduction of farming thousands of years ago, and so have dogs!

Pros and Cons of Feeding Raw Food

Even though dogs are not wolves, there may be some reasons for feeding a raw diet:

ProsCons
Dogs like raw meatCan be nutritionally unbalanced
Fewer carbs, more proteinBacterial contamination risk
May improve coat, nails, and skinCan be dangerous for both dogs and humans
Potential to reduce allergies and improve healthNo scientific studies to prove raw food is healthier
Raw bones help to reduce tartar on teethMore complicated to prepare
Possibly less inflammatoryFrowned upon by most veterinarians & FDA
Raw diets are usually grain-freeBroken bones can cause injury
Pros and Cons of Feeding Your Dog a Raw Food Diet

It is important to note that there have been no scientific studies to support the benefits of giving a dog raw food. The evidence of improvements reported by owners are largely anecdotal.

Most veterinarians are opposed to raw diets due to the risks of an imbalance of nutrients and bacterial contamination. Additionally, feeding a grain-free diet is also controversial. According to The Atlantic, studies have found that grain-free canine diets can lead to serious heart problems. The research continues, but for now, vets and most nutritionists are opposed to completely excluding grains.

Some people give their dogs a raw food diet due to health problems. Ironically, however, people who switch their dogs to a raw diet due to serious illnesses such as cancer may unwittingly do more harm than good. A dog who is undergoing cancer treatments will have a compromised immune system. Therefore, introducing a raw diet with potential bacterial contamination could prove more deadly than healthy. See this post by the FDA for more information.

A dog who is not immuno-compromised however may benefit from the higher ratio of protein to carbs as well as the fats. Many brands are also available of frozen, pre-prepared raw diets that are nutritionally balanced. But whether you buy a commercial brand or make it yourself, safe handling of these foods is still a key issue. Handwashing and disinfecting countertops and bowls are very important.

What is Involved in Preparing a Raw Food Meal for Your Dog

If you do decide to feed your dog raw food see the safe handling steps below:

  1. First, I recommend that you get a recipe or brand recommendation from a certified canine nutritionist or vet
  2. Next, If you buy large qualities of meat, freeze it and only defrost what you need for a day or two
  3. Cut the meat into small, bite-size pieces
  4. Add a small portion of raw vegetables chopped up in a food processor
  5. Add a canine vitamin/mineral supplement
  6. Feed immediately
  7. Wash your hands well and disinfect countertops and dog dishes after each meal

See this extensive article about all aspects of a raw food diet and possible benefits at Homesaliva.com. for more information.

Final Thoughts

Raw diets may be warranted in some cases when done properly. You can also purchase nutritionally balanced, ready-made frozen raw meals from dog food stores.

However, raw food diets are not for the faint of heart! And, they can actually be deadly if not prepared properly.

Due to my own concerns about the risks as well as the complexity of preparation, I do not feed my dogs a raw food diet. But I do like to cook for my dogs periodically and you can see more about that in my post, When You Should Cook for Your Dog, and When It is a Bad Idea.

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