Raw Diet for Dogs: Is It Worth the Hype?
Raw food for dogs has suddenly become popular. If you’re curious about its benefits, drawbacks, and what it entails, here’s everything you should know.
10/22/2022 | Sniff & Bark
If you own a dog and love surfing the internet, you’ve probably noticed a controversial new diet that entails giving your pet raw food like fresh meat, bones, and organ meat. Among its many benefits, raw food for dogs is believed to improve dogs’ overall health and longevity.
While it’s a pretty radical concept, it seems that many pet lovers have been willing to give the uncooked diet a try. A US survey revealed that 3% of dog owners bought raw food for their pets in 2016. By 2021, the raw pet food market was worth over $130 billion. This is expected to grow by 50%, reaching $195 billion by 2029.
As a caring fur parent, you may be curious about the dog raw food diet or you may even be thinking of letting your canine give it a try.
But before you do, you need to have a background on what it is, its benefits, and its disadvantages.
Is raw diet food for dogs as beneficial as it seems? Are there any dangers to it? How feasible is it to feed your pet raw dog food every day?
Strap yourselves in because we’re answering all this and more in this article!
What Is the Raw Food Diet for Dogs?
The raw food diet for dogs is exactly what it sounds like — serving your dog uncooked food that’s typically made up of fresh animal meat, muscles, innards, and whole or ground bones. Fruit, vegetables, dairy, and raw eggs are other common ingredients.
The idea behind raw meat for dogs is rooted in the fact that dogs’ diets primarily consisted of raw food before they became our loyal domestic companions. For thousands of years, wild dogs hunted and ingested whatever prey was available to them. Less able-bodied animals would scavenge carcasses and eat vegetation as well as eggs.
Since they were left to their own devices and were subject to seasonal changes, dogs would consume these food items raw and would even sometimes go hungry. Supporters of the raw food movement believe that raw meat for dogs allows their pets to return to a diet that is more in line with their biological carnivorous instincts as evidenced by their teeth, digestive systems, and how they’re designed to process food.
Two Types of Raw Diets for Canines
The raw food diet may have only recently gained popularity but it’s been around for a lot longer. The idea was originally suggested in 1993 by Ian Billinghurst, a veterinarian from Australia.
Before Billinghurst, sled dogs and racing greyhounds were already known to consume a raw food diet, however, he was the first to suggest that it be adopted for domestic pets as well.
BARF or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food
Billinghurst was the original proponent for a type of raw diet called BARF (yes, you read that right), otherwise known as Biologically Appropriate Raw Food or Bones and Raw Food.
Under a BARF diet, 60% to 80% of a dog’s diet is made up of raw bony and meaty parts of animals such as chicken wings and necks while the remaining 40% to 20% consists of dairy, eggs, meat, vegetables, fruits, and supplements.
PMR or Prey Model Raw
The prey model raw (PMR) diet takes the raw food concept a step further by more closely mimicking how dogs would eat in the wild. Unlike the BARF diet which incorporates fruits, veggies, dairy, and eggs, PMR entails serving your pet only animal parts.
The PMR diet recommends serving 80% muscle, 5% organ meat, 5% liver, and 10% meat with bones (or bone content).
What it aims to do is avoid processed food and the side effects of plant-based consumption.
However, because it only has animal parts, it is an incomplete diet that may lead to nutritional deficiencies. When a dog is placed on a PMR diet, it may not receive essential minerals and vitamins such as manganese, thiamin, zinc, iodine, copper, omega 3, and vitamins E and D3.
Raw Food for Dogs Benefits
Advocates of the raw meat diet for dogs maintain that it leads to better health and a longer life span. Some believe that it can extend a dog’s life by up to 32 months or almost three years.
Here are other compelling benefits associated with raw diet food for dogs:
- Customization. Owners have greater control over the ingredients and nutritional content of their dogs’ diets. They can leave out ingredients that their pets have allergic reactions to or add necessary supplements.
- Leaner pets. Raw food has fewer fatty ingredients, allowing animals to have leaner builds and fewer weight-related problems.
- Healthier coats. Good raw food for dogs leads to less oil on their coats which makes them smoother, shinier, and softer. This also reduces dandruff and shedding which is a big plus for fur parents with allergies.
- Less dog odor. A raw food diet also lessens the smell of dogs so you can give them baths less often.
- Less bad breath, whiter teeth, and fewer dental problems. Raw food doesn’t have rice, potatoes, barley, wheat, extra sugar, and processed grain — all ingredients that are common in dry kibble which can lead to bad breath. Raw food is also good for their teeth since there are fewer instances of plaque and tartar buildup.
- Makes dogs calmer. Chewing promotes the production of dopamine (a feel-good chemical) in dogs. Since raw food requires dogs to chomp down more on their food to grind it, this type of diet can put them in calmer, more relaxed states.
- Greater mobility. Fresh animal protein is easier for dogs to process compared to processed foods. This helps them burn fat faster, leading to better stamina and metabolism, more muscle, and greater mobility even as canines age.
Raw Food for Dogs Drawbacks
With so many compelling advantages, it isn’t a big surprise to see so many pet owners jumping on the raw food bandwagon. Unfortunately, most sources claim that there has been no scientific evidence to back these benefits up. They are mostly reported from firsthand accounts of owners who’ve subjectively noticed improvements based on their own experience.
Perhaps the most concerning insight regarding the matter is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s warning: “The CDC does not recommend feeding raw diets to pets. Germs like Salmonella and Listeria bacteria have been found in raw pet foods, even packaged ones sold in stores. These germs can make your pets sick. Your family also can get sick by handling the raw food or by taking care of your pet.”
Other credible authorities such as the American Kennel Club and the American Veterinary Medical Association also caution against feeding pets raw food for the same reasons.
Here are other risks and factors you should be aware of:
- In addition to the human and animal health risks imposed by the parasites and bacteria in raw food, some of these pathogens may be resistant to antibiotics. If you or your pet become infected, the infection may not be treatable by medication.
- Raw diets include bones which can lead to broken teeth, blockage and damage to the digestive tract as well as choking.
- Raw diets aren’t always formulated with balanced nutrition. If your dog consumes it for a long time, it may suffer from a nutritional imbalance or deficiency. Very few commercially available raw food have been properly evaluated and it can be difficult to achieve the right mix on your own without the guidance of a pet nutritionist.
- Advocates of the raw food movement claim that the diet is more cost-effective in the long run since you’re pet won’t need as many vet visits and treatments. However, the diet itself is more expensive than other types of dog food.
To give you an idea of its associated costs, Integricare estimates that a 50-pound dog will cost you anywhere between $2 and $8 daily in raw food versus $1 a day for standard run-of-the-mill kibble. Though you can cut down on expenses by buying in bulk, you’ll need an extra large freezer for storage!
- Even if it’s raw, it still needs considerable preparation. In fact, it takes more time to research, source supplies, disinfect, and prepare the best raw diet for dogs than home-cooked food.
What Does a Raw Diet Entail?
The raw food diet has kindled the fascination of pet lovers everywhere — perhaps in part because of its rather extreme measures.
As a result, frozen raw food for dogs is becoming more widely available in pet stores, online, and on a subscription basis that can be delivered straight to your door. Since it hasn’t been commercially around as long as kibble, however, there are significantly fewer standards and monitoring agencies that keep an eye on the quality and nutritional content of the food being sold.
To ensure that they have the best raw food for dogs, many pet owners do their own research and later source and prepare their own dog food. Here’s what that would entail:
- Visit your vet to check if a raw food diet is ideal for your canine.
- Once you have clearance from your veterinarian, research the nutritional balance and raw food sources you’ll need for your dog’s age, weight, health condition, and activity level. Particular attention should be paid to the amount of protein, fat, bone content, and phosphorous to calcium ratio.
- You should also determine how much raw food to serve your dog each day in terms of weight. A rough estimate is to serve your dog raw food that’s equivalent to 15% of its body weight each week.
- Shop for raw food ingredients. Some options where you can get them are butchers, supermarkets, pet stores, discount stores, and wholesalers. Because you’ll be supplying your pet’s nutritional needs, there’s a lot that needs to be sourced and processed.
Here’s an example of ingredients and supplements you’ll need for a raw beef recipe:
- Beef liver
- Beef heart
- Lean ground beef
- Pureed vegetables
- Krill oil
- Ground hempseed
- Calcium carbonate
- Thorvin kelp for iodine
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin D
Before and after raw food preparation, all surfaces including your hands must be properly washed and disinfected to avoid contamination and food-borne bacteria.
In addition, you must be ready to:
- Freeze raw food that won’t be immediately eaten. You should also keep it away from your regular food in the freezer and fridge.
- Thaw raw food in the refrigerator, not on your countertop or in your sink.
- Dispose of raw food that your pet doesn’t consume immediately.
Raw Food Safety for Humans
The CDC advises owners who serve raw food to take the following precautionary measures to limit risks to themselves:
- Keep your pet from licking any open wounds.
- Wash any body part that your dog has licked after it has eaten.
- Do not allow your dog to lick your mouth or face after consuming raw food.
When a Raw Food Diet Is Ill-advised for Dogs
While all owners are advised to consult their vets before giving their pets a raw diet, there are instances when raw food is categorically ill-advised.
Doug Kneuven is a veterinarian from the Beaver Animal Clinic in Pennsylvania. Though he believes in the raw food diet, he advises against it if a dog has certain health conditions like severe kidney and liver failure. He also recommends that canines with digestive problems should resolve these issues first before switching to raw food.
In addition, immuno-compromised dogs, canines with cancer or pets receiving chemotherapy, and puppies should also stay away from raw food according to Kneuven.
If you’re sold on giving your dog a raw diet but your dog cannot take it, another option is freeze-dried raw food for dogs. The freeze-drying process eliminates moisture but keeps much of the nutrients intact. As always, however, you should consult your vet before introducing any significant changes to your dog’s diet.
Raw Food: Yay or Nay?
Whether raw food is good for dogs is a controversial topic. Deciding to switch your dog to a raw diet has many benefits based on accounts from fellow dog owners, however, they have yet to be scientifically backed.
Raw food carries with it the serious risk of food-borne pathogens that are dangerous to dogs and their human owners. To some dogs, they may even be lethal.
If you’re considering adopting a raw diet for your dog, it’s best to thoroughly read up on the topic and always ask your veterinarian before making any serious changes.
Though we’ve done our best to present a balanced analysis of the subject, this article is meant to provide you with information and is not intended as medical advice for dogs.
What do you think about the raw food movement for dogs? Are you in favor of it or against it? Tell us in the comments below.