As pet owners, we only have our pet’s best interests at heart – this includes doing anything and everything in our power to ensure that they are healthy and happy. And the key to health and happiness is your pet’s diet. While quite controversial, there has been a significant rise in the popularity of the raw dog food diet.
According to a study carried out in 2017, dogs that had a diet of raw foods proved to have a more balanced gut microbiome and significantly healthier gut functions as compared to those who had processed food diets. Although a “natural” diet is considered to be more beneficial for humans, it might not be the same for dogs. How your dog’s body reacts to the raw food that you give them depends on the type of food you’re feeding them, as well as their age.
A recent Finnish study by Hemida et al, found that puppies vet a raw food diet from the late stages of suckling to 8 weeks of age and beyond, were less likely to go on to develop IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) in later life.
While raw dog food has been a suggested diet for dogs, there hasn’t been any proper scientific research or studies that prove its long-term health benefits. If you’re considering feeding your dog a raw food diet, you need to factor in its risks along with its benefits, as well as draft out a proper diet plan that is most suitable for your dog according to its health and age.
Should You Feed Your Dog Raw Food?
Although packaged commercial dog food is nutritional, affordable, and easily accessible, some owners might still prefer to feed their dogs a raw food diet. These owners usually believe that their dogs should opt for a more natural diet, as their ancestors also had a similar diet in the wild. Some pet owners might feed their dogs raw food due to sensitive allergies that prevent them from consuming commercially prepared kibble or dog food.
Pet Food Industry Regulations
Furthermore, the dog food industry is unregulated meaning commercial dog food companies put dead, diseased, dying and disabled animals into dog food. Many of these animals are pumped with chemicals in an owner’s last attempt to fix a problem.
Whether it be a racing horse that is pumped with anti-inflammatories or a sick cow that has had antibiotics administered in an attempt to clear an infection. These animals and the drugs they contain, end up in commercial dog food. An overwhelming lack of regulation in this industry means you simply cannot trust what pet food manufacturers put in their foods.
With a natural food diet, you need to consult a veterinary nutritionist to ensure that your dog gets all the nutrients they require from this diet.
The Risks and Benefits of Raw Dog Food
There are certain pros and cons of raw dog food recipes. One of the main concerns of a raw food diet is the number of bacteria that is present in it, which opens gates to infection and poisoning. Raw meat such as chicken is known to have bacteria such as salmonella and e. coli, along with microscopic parasites.
These various pathogens are known for causing infections in both humans and animals. Not only that, but it can also be quite expensive to maintain a raw food diet, as compared to processed kibble or dog food.
A study investigating the microorganisms in commercial dog food found bacterial contamination and emphasised that this was likely due to the lack of standards and insufficient quality control of commercial dog food manufacturing.
To avoid potentially harmful bacteria, feeders of raw dog food will obtain human-grade sources of animal proteins. The added benefit of feeding human-grade sources of meat and bones is that they don’t contain any nasty preservatives like commercially produced dog food does. Preservatives are a common allergen for many dogs and poodle mixes such as cavoodles are particularly prone to allergies and yeast infections.
Are raw bones safe?
Natural food that includes bones can also potentially cause tooth injuries to your dog and you may have to spend more time and money to take your pet to the vet.
However, there are also a few benefits that come from a raw dog food diet. Feeding your dog raw meaty bones will keep their teeth clean and their breath fresh. Vets charge hundreds of dollars to perform dental surgery on a dog’s teeth.
Since all ingredients are natural, pet owners can choose exactly what they need to feed their dogs. They also have the leverage of adding certain foods to the diet for an additional source of vitamins and protein without the processed food items.
How to Switch Over To A Raw Foods Diet
If your dog is already used to eating commercially prepared diets, you can introduce it to a raw food diet in a slow manner. This will give your dog’s digestive system time to adjust to this new diet. It’s important to use a slow feed bowl for a raw food diet, as this will significantly reduce the bloating issue that most dogs have. However, the items you use in a raw food diet will depend on your dog’s age.
Raw Foods Diet for Puppies
Feeding your puppy homemade raw food is not recommended at all. Since these dogs are still in their growing stage, they require lots and lots of nutrients to grow up healthy. Feeding these young pets raw food will rob them of the nutrients they need for strong muscles and bones.
Scarily, a study analysing commercial dog food found that several products contained concentrations of calcium that were too high for puppies.
This is one of the arguments for feeding growing puppies raw meaty bones; if 50-60% of a puppy’s diet is raw meaty bones, they are not at risk of receiving excessive calcium. Bones always contain the ideal ratio of calcium to phosphorus, we just need to feed enough raw meaty bones (50-60%) to meet our pups’ nutritional needs.
The BARF diet
Vet nutritionist Dr Ian Billinghurst, creator of the BARF diet has written a book titled “Grow your pups with bones”. This book outlines how to incorporate raw foods such as raw meaty bones, vegetables, offal, over-ripe fruit and supplements into edible patties that provide all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals growing pups require.
However, if you are planning to feed your puppy raw foods diet, make sure that they’re getting all the nutrients that they require, especially calcium. In the raw food, diet calcium is obtained through the feeding of raw meaty bones like chicken necks, carcasses, sardines, brisket bones etc.
Interestingly, many of the best breeders feed their dogs a biologically appropriate raw food diet. Similarly, research carried out at the University of Helsinki found:
“On the contrary, an ultra-processed carbohydrate based maternal diet (commercial dry kibble) during pregnancy and as the puppies’ first solid diet during the early postnatal period, increased atopy incidence in adult age.”
Many dog owners are all too familiar with the frustration of living and caring for a dog with skin allergies (atopy).
The results of this study are concerning for large-scale breeders like commercial puppy farms and backyard breeders who feed commercial kibble to their dogs due to its convenience and cheap price. Puppy buyers searching for quality puppies that are less prone to skin allergies might benefit from finding a boutique breeder who feeds and raises their puppies on a raw food diet. Dog breeds such as cavoodles, groodles, labradoodles, poodles, bulldogs, staffordshire bull terriers etc are known for having skin allergy-related health problems.
Raw Foods Diet for Adult Dogs
When it comes to adult dogs, a raw food diet can be quite beneficial for them. This diet can help eliminate any gastrointestinal issues they may have from eating commercially produced food, as well as boost and develop their immune system.
However, dog owners need to make sure that they don’t feed their dogs any toxic foods. This includes foods like chocolate, raisins, onions, mushrooms, nuts, and more. While these food items are generally safe to consume for humans, they can be dangerous and highly toxic for dogs.
You can keep a list of these toxic food items on your fridge as a reference to prevent you or anyone else from accidentally feeding these foods to your dog.
Raw Foods Diet for Senior Dogs
A raw food diet for a senior dog will depend on the dog’s overall condition. Generally, a raw food diet is not the best option for old dogs. However, if your senior dog is having trouble eating or digesting food, then raw food items will help improve any issues your dog faces. It is a proven fact that commercially prepared foods are harder to digest as compared to natural and raw foods.
We recommend you make your senior dog switch to a raw food diet if he’s used to eating it and his health is perfectly fine. The only time you should make your old dog switch to a raw food diet is when he’s facing nutritional problems.
Raw meaty bones
If your old dog eats a primarily commercial dry food diet, go to the butcher and get a beef leg marrow bone for them to chew on. Butchers will often cut it up into chunks which you can then freeze, making the bones suitable for a few sittings.
Feed one to your dog and freeze the rest to feed out over the coming weeks as a healthy treat that will keep your pup pleasurably occupied. There’s nothing more beneficial to the overall health and well-being of an ageing dog than a thorough dental clean.
Raw meaty bones can save you hundreds of dollars in any vet bills associated with a full dental clean for your dog. Furthermore, ageing dogs can be particularly sensitive to anaesthetics which are required for a dental clean carried out by a vet.
What is the best raw dog food?
The best raw dog food will be made from human-grade meat and will not contain harmful preservatives. Raw dog food should also contain various cuts of meat, bone and offal in the following approximate ratios:
- 70% muscle meat (beef, kangaroo, pork, chicken, turkey, lamb, duck mince and heart)
- 10% raw chewable bones (chicken necks, raw sardines, brisket bones etc)
- 5% liver
- 5% secreting organs (kidney, spleen, testicles, brain etc)
- 7% vegetables
- 2% seeds or nuts
- 1% fruit
Why do vets not recommend raw?
While research into the benefits of feeding raw foods is growing, it is still in its infancy. Most veterinarians don’t recommend feeding a raw food diet because encouraging clients to prepare homemade raw dog food without providing a recipe on ratios, guidelines on how to prepare, where to source meats etc is simply too difficult. The risk associated with this approach lies in a dog receiving a nutritionally incomplete diet or suffering an injury from consuming bones; leading to health problems.
Puppies are particularly vulnerable to receiving a diet deficient in calcium if the owner doesn’t include 50-60% edible bone in their raw food diet.
Conversely, a small proportion of veterinarians who specialise in nutrition do recommend feeding raw but they have the experience and expertise to recommend a raw food diet that is nutritionally complete. Dr Ian Billinghurst is one such vet/pet nutritionist, who advocates highly for the feeding of a Biologically Appropriate Raw Food Diet (BARF).
Why do vets push kibble?
Vets push kibble to their clients because it is a standardised product that is considered to be nutritionally complete. Similarly, evidence is lacking to prove that raw food diets are superior to commercial foods. However, a recent study looking at veterinary students’ perceptions, showed that less than half of the students felt confident offering nutritional advice to clients following the completion of their degree.
Therefore when seeking advice about what to feed your dog from a veterinarian, consider finding a vet that is also a dog nutritionist.
Can I mix raw and kibble?
Raw dog food and kibble are commonly mixed together in owners’ attempts to combine the best of both worlds. However, when feeding a puppy a combination of raw meat and dry food, it’s important to factor in that the puppy will be relying solely on the kibble for calcium and to ensure they are receiving a sufficient ratio of kibble to provide this. Puppies will usually prefer to eat raw meat and might leave the kibble.
In this regard, it is better to feed more of the BARF or commercial food in appropriate amounts and ratios to ensure a balanced diet. There is a significant difference between simply feeding your dog raw meat and feeding an appropriately portioned biologically appropriate raw food diet that contains organs, muscle meat, edible bones, seeds, nuts, vegetables and fruit.
Is frozen raw food good for dogs?
Do dogs really need to eat kibble?
Dogs do not need to eat kibble if a balanced raw food diet is provided instead. This diet should consist of muscle meats, bones, offal, vegetables and fruit. Many owners find the process of preparing raw food meals daunting but there are many preservative free, pre-prepared options on the market today.
How much should I feed my dog on a raw diet?
Aim to feed your dog 2-5% of their bodyweight in raw dog food daily, depending on your dog’s energy and activity levels. This can be divided into 2-3 meals throughout the day; fed in food puzzles, training sessions, stuffed Kongs etc.
What dog food do most veterinarians recommend?
Most vets commonly recommend and sell Royal Canin or Hills Science Diet. Both contain grains which are of little use to the dog other than in providing fibre; increasing stool frequency and volume. These commercial foods are expensive and when fed alone, like any kibble, can compromise your dog’s dental health.
In contrast research has shown that including raw beef marrow bones in your dog’s feeding routine can reduce dental decay by 87.8% after 20 days.
Is it cruel to feed a dog once a day?
Dog’s require environmental enrichment in order to maintain their mental wellness. Dogs are naturally scavengers and their daily food allowance can be utilised to create opportunities for them to use their senses to search for the food.
Sniffing, searching, digging, rummaging, licking, chewing etc are all mentally stimulating and great decompression activities for dogs.
So feeding a dog once a day isn’t cruel but feeding them from a bowl and throwing away all those opportunities for environmental enrichment is.
What meat should dogs not eat?
Dogs should not be fed salty, fatty, or meats containing preservatives such as ham, bacon, and any other fatty offcuts. Small dogs such as cavoodles, poodles and poodle mix breeds, spoodles, cocker spaniels etc are particularly prone to pancreatitis when fed meats that are high in fat.
What is wrong with kibble?
During the manufacturing process kibble is exposed to high temperatures of up to 200 degrees Celsius. These high temperatures damage the proteins in the food, changing their structure and making them more likely to trigger allergies in some dogs.
The immune system no longer recognises the protein and instead identifies the denatured protein as an invader and starts attacking it; causing an allergy flare up in your dog.
Furthermore, these high temperatures reduce free radical fighting antioxidants which leads to DNA, protein and cell membrane damage. Similarly dog foods contain about 40% starch in the form of cereal grains. Dogs have not evolved to eat cereal grains and they can cause large spikes in blood sugar levels, increasing the risk of diabetes. The starch holds the kibble together, that’s why it contains so much of it.
Lastly, the dog food industry is unregulated and can source proteins from dead, diseased, dying and disabled animals. Feeding a raw food diet allows owners to shop for human-grade proteins from ethical sources.
Cost of raw food diet for dogs
Preparing your dog’s raw food meals will reduce the cost of feeding a raw food diet. Pre-prepared raw food that is available in patties at the pet store, often doesn’t contain human-grade meat sources.
Dog owners can buy human-grade meats and raw meaty bones from factory outlets such as Steggles Chicken. Steggles has a range of bones including turkey necks, turkey wings, chicken necks, carcasses, feet, hearts, liver, giblets etc. Some items cost as little as $2 per kilogram.
Every breed of dog is different and requires a different level of nutrition to keep them healthy. If you’re considering switching to raw dog food recipes, it’s always best to consult a veterinary nutritionist, as your dog’s health should be your top priority.
Homemade raw food diets for dogs have the added advantage of owners being able to source human-grade meats in bulk; thereby ensuring their dogs are not consuming dangerous preservatives and potentially lethal toxins.
Summarised perfectly in the words of pet nutritionist, Clare Kearney:
“This is why the government desperately needs to put in place mandatory, consistent, nation-wide regulations of pet food, that centre around the welfare of the animals eating their products, and not of the industry producing them.”
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