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Raw Diet for Dogs: What You Need to Know
By Emily Gantt
Published: 03/03/2021, edited: 11/16/2021
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In the wild, wolves get 100% of their nutrients from raw meat, so it makes sense that dogs would do well on the raw diet, too, right? Well, the jury is still out. The veterinary community is divided on raw diets, with some being staunch proponents and others warning it can be dangerous. We'll weigh the pros and cons of raw diets vs. kibble and give you the facts you need to know before making the switch.
What do raw diets consist of?
Raw diets are human-grade meats and organs fed either whole or ground for dogs to consume. Many owners make their own raw food blends, but there are plenty of premade fresh and freeze-dried products on the market. Some pet parents do meat-only meals, but veterinarians don't recommend this since raw meat isn't enough to satisfy a dog's nutrition requirements. Dogs need the addition of dog-safe fruits and veggies, dairy, and supplements to get the vitamins and minerals they need.
What meats are in raw dog food diets?
Some of the meats dogs can consume on this diet include:
Parents of raw dieters typically use a mix of muscle and bone (like bone-in chicken breast), organ meat (like gizzards, hearts, and liver), and fat.
Some pet parents grind up the bones, especially if their dog is small or has bad teeth. It's important that you only feed dogs raw bones, not cooked. The cooking process makes bones brittle, which can cause internal punctures and intestinal obstructions — both of which can be deadly if not treated.
What do the American Veterinary Medical Association and the FDA have to say about raw diets?
The American Veterinary Medical Association advises against unprocessed raw foods for dogs since they can contain bacteria that can cause pets to get sick. The FDA warns that preparing raw meat diets for dogs can pose a risk to humans and may cause sickness due to cross-contamination.
Others argue that preparing raw meat for dogs is no different than preparing it for humans, and there are no risks if you use proper meat-handling protocols like frequent hand-washing and clean utensils.
It's worth mentioning that any meat has bacteria regardless of the quality. However, cooking kills this bacteria, making it harmless to humans and animals. Since raw diets aren't cooked, vets worry that the meat's bacteria can make canines sick.
Variations of the raw diet for dogs
Here are the 3 main types of raw diets for dogs:
Biologically appropriate raw food (BARF) diet
The biologically appropriate raw food diet is another name for the standard raw food diet. BARF involves feeding dogs a variety of raw meats and dog-appropriate fruits and veggies. While the acronym doesn't sound appealing, many dogs enjoy this diet and have positive results like a shinier coat and clearer skin.
This diet model focuses on providing dogs with meals similar to what wolves eat. The main difference between this diet and the BARF diet is that there are no fruits, veggies, grains, or dairy in the prey model. This model recommends feeding small animals (like rabbits, quail, and ducks) that your dog's ancestors might've consumed. Some pet parents who opt for the prey model diet feed the animal as-is — feathers, fur, and all.
The prey model has strict percentages for the amount and type of meat dogs should eat. Here's a total breakdown of the prey model diet nutrient percentages.
According to the prey model diet, a dog's diet should include:
80% muscle meat
5% miscellaneous organs
Ketogenic raw diet
A ketogenic raw diet is a bit more restrictive than the other two. This diet focuses on putting dogs into a state of ketosis by denying them carbs. This diet essentially tricks the body into burning fat rather than carbohydrates for fuel. The ketogenic diet uses the same meats as a traditional raw diet, though you won't find any sweet potatoes, legumes, or rice here. Instead, the diet focuses on lower-carb fruits and veggies like green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, and blueberries.
Benefits and risks of feeding a raw diet for dogs
So what are the benefits to feeding a raw diet? Parents of pets on raw diets claim their pets have a brighter coat, healthier teeth, and more "get up and go" than when on kibble. Raw diets have the added benefit of being appealing to picky eaters. There is anecdotal evidence that raw diets can help combat serious illness, but there is no concrete research data to support this conclusion.
There are some risks to consider when thinking of switching to a raw diet. Raw meat may contain E. coli and salmonella, though these pathogens have been found in commercial kibble too. Due to the potential for contamination, this diet is not for dogs with compromised immune systems, like those taking chemotherapy or those with organ failure.
Some veterinarians worry that dogs on raw diets may receive too little calcium and phosphorus and too much vitamin A — because of this, many pet parents who feed raw add supplements to their dog's diet. A little extra vitamin A is rarely a problem for healthy dogs, though pups with liver or kidney problems may not be able to process high levels of this vitamin.
Lastly, bones left intact can damage a canine's teeth or cause gastric obstructions. These serious conditions can be avoided by grinding the bones with a meat grinder. However, some pup parents prefer feeding their dogs whole bones since they can help remove plaque from teeth when chewing.
Talk to your vet before making any changes to your dog's diet. Sudden changes in diet can cause vomiting, bloat, diarrhea, and other unpleasant side effects. Are you still thinking of putting your dog on a raw diet? Check out this article on the good and the bad of the BARF raw food diet.