The Ultimate Guide to Raw Food Diet for Dogs
The raw food diet for dogs is one of the most controversial topics in the pet care community today. We take a deep-dive into the subject of raw dog food, including what it is, how it’s made, and why it’s so controversial.
There’s no better way to show love for our loyal canine companions than by providing them with a happy, healthy lifestyle. And one of the best ways to do so is by feeding a nutritious, well-balanced diet. “You are what you eat,” as the saying goes; your dog’s overall health is a direct reflection of his diet.
There are so many options out there nowadays for enhanced canine nutrition, from veterinary-prescribed diets to home-cooked meals. But one of the most popular options in recent years is the raw food diet for dogs.
Raw food diets have become a popular trend for good reason, as many believe that the volume of vitamins and minerals included in a raw-based diet far outweigh those of more traditional dog foods. However, raw food diets are also one of the most controversial subjects in the pet care community because, if you’re not careful, raw food can have a harmful, lasting impact on your pup’s health.
Today, we’re going to take an in-depth look at raw food diets for dogs, from what exactly goes into a raw food diet to how it’s prepared. We’re also going to discuss some of the greatest benefits of a raw food diet, along with the accompanying drawbacks. We’ll also share some advice on how to decide if a raw food diet is best for your own pup while simultaneously answering some of the most frequently asked questions surrounding the topic, including “is a raw food diet good for dogs?”
What is a Raw Food Diet for Dogs?
The term “raw dog food” is used to describe a carefully prepared, uncooked meal for dogs. Typically, these meals consist of organic meats, bones, and fat combined with fresh fruits and vegetables and supplemental forms of essential vitamins and minerals. Some will also include uncooked dairy products in the preparation of the meal, such as whole eggs or yogurt.
There are a variety of ways that pet owners can purchase raw dog food, which we’ll discuss in more detail later on, but the most common include freeze-dried raw dog food, store-bought, homemade, and dehydrated.
Advocates of a raw food diet for dogs view this as a more natural, holistic approach to canine nutrition. In fact, according to Dr. Ian Billinghurst, pet nutritionist, author of “To Give Your Dog A Bone,” and acclaimed “father of the raw dog food diet,” a raw food diet is the only appropriate option for a healthy dog.
“Because our pets’ bodies evolved eating this diet, that is exactly what we should feed them,” says Dr. Billinghurst. “Anything less will fall short of what their bodies require for best health, longevity, and freedom from disease. And this is the basic philosophy of this way of feeding.”
Are Raw Food Diets Good for Dogs?
If you find yourself wondering, “is a raw food diet good for dogs?” you wouldn’t be alone. The topic of raw dog food is perhaps one of the single most controversial subjects among those in the pet care community - veterinarians, owners, and pet nutritionists alike. And as with most things in life, there exists a long list of pros and cons of a raw food diet for dogs.
The biggest reason that the raw food diet is so controversial is that there are many risks associated with both preparation and feeding. If not prepared with extreme caution, raw food can make a dog very ill and potentially cause harmful, long-term damage to the body. Not only that, but it also has the potential to cause harm to humans as well.
According to the VCA, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stand united in their position (based on very robust data) that feeding raw food to dogs is potentially dangerous to both the dog and to you.”
But what exactly is it about raw dog food that makes it so dangerous? Let’s take a closer look.
Drawbacks of Raw Food Diet for Dogs
The biggest health concern associated with a raw food diet for dogs is the existence of harmful bacteria. Concerns of this nature were solidified when an efficacy study performed between 2011 and 2012 revealed that nearly 25% of all applicable raw food samples tested positive for harmful bacteria, including Salmonella and E-Coli.
Another study performed at the same time sought to evaluate the efficacy of those raw food diets that were primarily chicken based. Was it just red meat causing problems? The results of this secondary study revealed that an astounding 80% of the chicken-based foods cultured were positive for Salmonella! In comparison, none of the commercial (dry) dog foods tested showed any trace of harmful bacteria.
Why should these results matter to humans? Because harmful bacteria such as Salmonella or E-Coli have the potential to cause grave illness and are easily spread between species.
Salmonella, for instance, is a dangerous food-borne pathogen that can make people very ill. It can cause extreme nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, and fever. In rare cases, it may even lead to death. And affected foods don’t have to be consumed to be harmful; people can contract Salmonella infections if they come into contact with the infected food products directly or indirectly, even with surfaces such as utensils or cutting boards.
This means that if harmful bacteria do exist within your pup’s food, it’s likely to transfer into your environment as well. All this to say that while there are certain benefits to feeding a raw diet (which we’ll discuss in the next section), the risks should be carefully considered as well.
Benefits of Raw Food Diet for Dogs
Despite the controversy, there are many meaningful health benefits associated with giving your dog raw food, from improved digestion to better skin and coat condition. Many believe that raw food diets provide dogs with an abundant amount of proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, and fatty acids for their growth and development, more so than what may be found in more traditional dog foods.
Some of the most commonly-appreciated benefits of a raw food diet for dogs include:
- Softer, Shinier Coats
- Healthier Skin
- Improved Dental Health
- Smaller, Firmer Stools
- Increased Energy
- Improved Digestion
Raw Food Diet for Dogs with Allergies
Many advocates of the raw food diet also believe that raw food has the potential to lessen the severity of allergy responses in some dogs. This is because the majority of raw food diets do not contain the same preservatives, additives, and by-products found in commercial pet foods. While this particular benefit has not yet been validated, many owners who have made the switch have reported significant improvement in their dogs who would otherwise have uncontrollable allergy flares.
Raw Food Diet for Dogs with Sensitive Stomachs
Many believe that a raw food diet is a much healthier alternative to traditional dog food because it consists of the same (or similar) foods that animals eat in the wild. This means that, with a raw food diet, there are no processed foods involved. As opposed to most conventional dog foods, which are often high in processed ingredients, a raw food diet includes healthy proteins and other nutrients found in their natural state. This can help reduce digestive issues and improve gut health, which is key for dogs with delicate tummies. Additionally, the variety of vitamins included may boost your pet’s overall well-being and even support healthier skin and coats.
Choosing the Best Raw Food Diet for Dogs
There are four main types of raw food diets available for dogs: freeze-dried, homemade (using the BARF method), store-bought, and dehydrated. Each option has its own benefits and contraindications regarding safe handling, though all four are thought to provide balanced nutrition. Let’s take a look at each in more detail.
Freeze-Dried Raw Dog Food
Freeze-dried raw dog food is made from fresh meat and vegetables that are frozen at an extremely cold temperature before being dried in a vacuum chamber. This process removes all moisture from the ingredients while still preserving the vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and flavor. It is convenient because it doesn’t require any refrigeration; however, it can be quite expensive compared to other types of raw dog food.
Homemade Raw Dog Food
The BARF method, developed by Dr. Ian Billinghurst, is the most popular method for making homemade raw food meals. And if you have the time and knowledge necessary to prepare your own raw meals for your pup at home, then this option might be right for you.
The BARF method of feeding pets raw food is an alternative to commercially-prepared diets that has seen increasing popularity over the last few decades. This acronym stands for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food, and it involves owners preparing a blend of raw animal products and digestible plant matter to offer their cats or dogs balanced nutrition.
Nutritional veterinarians are often consulted to help calculate optimal quantities and combinations that will meet the unique needs of individual animals, though the most common ingredients include raw meat and bones, organic fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and eggs.
Store Bought Raw Dog Food
Store-bought raw dog food is perhaps the closest alternative to a commercial diet, as it is usually pre-packaged and readily available in most pet supply stores. These products come in cans or pouches, and they contain all of the necessary nutrients without needing any additional preparation or storage requirements on your part - simply open up the package and serve! Store-bought varieties tend to be less expensive than other options, but they may not always offer as much variety as homemade or freeze-dried foods.
Dehydrated Raw Dog Food
Dehydrated raw dog food is also made from fresh ingredients, but these are dried in an oven instead of in a vacuum chamber (as with freeze-dried raw food). This process removes some of the moisture from the ingredients, but not all. This means that dehydrated food will still need to be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Dehydrated foods tend to be more affordable than freeze-dried options and don’t require much preparation, making them a convenient option for the busy pet parent.
Recipes for Raw Food Diets
If you’re searching for the best raw food diet for dogs recipes, you’ve come to the right place! In this portion of the guide, we’ll take a look at the most popular ingredients of a balanced raw food diet, along with a couple of recipes that are sure to please even the pickiest pup’s palette.
When following the BARF home cooking method, any number of meats can be tossed into your pup’s food bowl. Some of the most popular include:
But meat isn’t the only important ingredient when it comes to a well-balanced raw food diet! All-natural fruits and veggies are just as important. Some of the commonly used include:
- Mixed Berries
In addition to meats, fruits, and veggies, a balanced raw food diet must also consist of ground bones, organ meats, and dairy (in moderation). It is also important to rotate protein sources and avoid feeding your dog the same type of meat each time, as different meats offer different nutritional values.
Generally speaking, most BARF recipes follow the same basic formula:
- 70% Muscle Meat (Lean Cuts Preferred)
- 10% Raw, Edible Bone
- 5% Liver
- 5% Other Organ Meat
- 10% Vegetables and Fruit
Knowing the correct formula for a well-balanced raw diet is essential for ensuring that your pup receives the proper nutrition he needs. Now, let’s take a look at two different vet-approved raw food recipes that you can try, for yourself, at home.
The first recipe we’ll feature here is courtesy of Walkerville Vets in Australia. According to the original recipe, this will make enough food to feed an 8kg (18lbs) dog for 3-4 days:
- 250g chopped beef or lamb, raw
- 1 cup chopped carrots, raw
- 1 cup chopped apple, raw
- ¼ cup frozen peas, defrosted
- 1½ cups chopped pumpkin or squash
- ⅔ cup brown or basmati rice (will cook to 3 cups)
- 4 teaspoons sunflower oil
- 4g fish oil
- Cook the rice and pumpkin together until soft, and allow to cool
- Mix in the raw ingredients
- Feed the required quantity per day, and refrigerate the remainder
- Can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for up to 2 weeks
The second recipe featured here is courtesy of Dr. Karen Becker, author of “Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats Cookbook.” According to Dr. Becker, this recipe makes approximately one pound of food:
- 14 oz of 90% lean ground beef
- 2 teaspoons of hempseed oil OR 3 tablespoons of ground hempseed
- ½ teaspoon of cod liver oil OR 2 oz of sardines
- ½ teaspoon of ground ginger
- ¼ - ½ teaspoon of kelp powder
- 1 egg with ½ of the shell
- 1 oz beef liver
- 1 oz broccoli
- 1 oz red bell pepper
- 1 oz spinach
Directions: Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl and serve. Refrigerate the remainder or freeze for up to 2 weeks.
FAQs About Raw Food Diets for Dogs
“Do dogs that eat raw meat live longer?”
While there are no relevant studies to prove that a raw diet extends a dog’s lifespan, Dr. Ian Billinghurst, founder of the BARF method and acclaimed “father of the raw food diet,” appears to believe it may. According to Dr. Billinghurst, “Aged pets, when switched to BARF, become young again.”
“Do vets recommend a raw diet for dogs?”
Not all veterinarians are open-minded about the concept of a raw food diet simply because there are so many potential risks involved. While we all have the best intentions for our furry friends at heart, most pet owners make the mistake of unknowingly giving them an unbalanced diet which can quickly end in disaster. Tossing together some meat and vegetables or even simple leftovers does not mean that you’ve created an adequately balanced meal for your pet.
If you are interested in feeding a raw food diet to your own dog, we recommend having an open and honest discussion with your veterinarian about the potential benefits, risks, and methods involved in greater detail. So long as you are willing to educate yourself and work alongside your veterinarian as a team, there should be no issues.
“Can dogs eat raw food every day?”
Many owners choose to feed their four-legged friends a primarily raw-based diet; however, it is important to exercise caution when doing so. If your dog is consuming the same type of protein on a daily basis, consider supplementing with different kinds of meat and plant sources in order to ensure that their dietary needs are met.
Talk to your veterinarian about the best way to include raw food into your pup’s routine, as there are a few factors to consider before making the switch, such as food allergies or dietary restrictions. Ultimately, raw food can be an excellent source of nutrition for dogs when done correctly and safely.
“Can I mix raw food ingredients with regular kibble?”
Absolutely! Though you may have a little anxiety about mixing dry foods with raw meat and other textured foods, be certain that it is safe to do and is actually encouraged by most raw dog food experts. In addition, mixing regular kibble with raw ingredients may be more cost-effective in the long run.
Raw food diets for dogs have become increasingly popular as pet owners are continuously looking for ways to improve their animals’ health and nutrition. However, it is important to remember that there are potential risks associated with this type of diet, so it is important to do research and consult with a veterinarian prior to feeding your dog a raw diet.
Furthermore, the best way to ensure the highest-quality nutrition for your pet is by feeding them a balanced, species-appropriate diet based on fresh whole foods. By taking these precautions and making sure you select nutrient-dense ingredients, you can help keep your pet healthy while also providing them with delicious meals that will keep their tails wagging!
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