5 min read
Raw Diet for Dogs: What You Need to Know
By Emily Gantt
Published: 03/03/2021, edited: 04/18/2023
Reviewed by a licensed veterinary professional: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS
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Raw dog food diets have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years, but are these diets really as healthy as some claim? After all, wolves get 100% of their nutrients from raw meat, so it makes sense that dogs would do well on a raw diet, too — right?
Well, the jury is still out. The veterinary community is divided on raw diets, with some vets advocating for the practice and others taking a staunch stance against it. If you’re considering a raw diet for your woofer, read on. 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 pet parents prepare their raw food from scratch, but there are plenty of ready-to-eat fresh and freeze-dried raw dog foods on the market.
Some pet parents do meat-only meals, but veterinarians don't recommend this since meat alone isn't enough to satisfy a dog's complex dietary requirements. Dogs need the addition of dog-safe fruits, veggies and supplements to meet their nutritional needs. Ingredients like fish, grains, root vegetables and legumes can also provide nutritional benefits.
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 short ribs), organ meat (like gizzards, hearts, and liver), and fat.
Some parents chose to grind the bones for their dogs, particularly for small breeds or those with dental problems. It's important that you never serve cooked bones to your dog — ground or otherwise. The cooking process makes bones brittle, which can cause dogs to develop internal punctures or intestinal obstructions — both of which can be deadly if untreated.
What do the experts have to say about raw diets?
The American Veterinary Medical Association advises against feeding dogs unprocessed, raw foods since they can contain bacteria that can make pets (and people) sick. The FDA warns that preparing raw meat diets for dogs can pose a health risk to humans due to the potential for cross-contamination.
Our very own veterinary consultant, Dr. Linda Simon MVB MRCVS, also advises against raw diets for dogs. Here's her take:
"I'm not personally a raw diet advocate. They put dogs and pet parents at increased risk of food poisoning, and the health benefits are not proven when compared to a complete, cooked diet."
Others argue that preparing raw meat for dogs is no different than
preparing it for cooking, and there are no risks if you use proper
meat-handling protocols like washing your hands and sanitizing your
The issue with this argument is that it is not just the preparing that poses the risk. Once the dog eats the raw food, they can then spread the bacteria as they drool on and lick things in the home.
All raw meat contains bacteria. However, cooking kills most bacteria, making it harmless to humans and animals. Since raw diets aren't cooked, vets worry about dogs consuming some of the more harmful bacteria strains, which can contaminate raw meat and make pets sick.
Types of raw diets for dogs
Below are the 3 main types of raw diets for dogs.
Biologically appropriate raw food (BARF) diet
The biologically appropriate raw food diet (sometimes known as the 'Bones and Raw Food diet) is what typically comes to mind when most people think of a 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.
Ketogenic raw diet
A ketogenic raw diet is a bit more restrictive than BARF diet. 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 low-carb fruits and veggies, like green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, and blueberries.
The prey-model diet 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 the meat of small animals that the dog's ancestors might've consumed (like rabbit, quail, and duck). 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. According to the prey model diet, a dog's meals should include:
- 80% muscle meat
- 10% bones
- 5% liver
- 5% miscellaneous organs
Pros of raw feeding for dogs
What are the health benefits of a raw dog food diet? Let's take a look.
Parents of pets on these diets claim their pets have a brighter coat, healthier teeth, and more "get up and go" than when on kibble. However, according to Dr. Simon, these health benefits are "not proven".
Good for picky eaters
Raw diets have the added benefit of being appealing to picky eaters. Many dogs "pawsitively" love organ meat, which is chock full of protein and other essential nutrients. Dogs with dental problems might also have an easier time eating raw meat than dry kibble.
More transparency on what goes into your dog's food
In addition to the alleged health benefits, one of the main reasons people feed raw diets is because they know exactly what's going into their dog's food. Many commercial kibbles contain fillers, meat by-products, and low-quality ingredients. Not to mention that dog food labels can be hard for the average pet parent to decipher.
Cons of raw feeding for dogs
Despite the potential benefits, there are significant risks to
consider before switching your dog to a raw diet.
Health risks for pets and humans
Raw meat may contain a range of bacteria including E. coli and salmonella.
A study from the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine found that 7% of
home-prepared raw diets for dogs were contaminated with salmonella and
16% contained listeria. 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.
Potential for nutritional deficiencies and imbalances
The main concern among veterinary experts is that many dogs won't receive all the essential nutrients they need from a raw diet, particularly home-cooked diets.
A 2019 study found that 42% of pet parents feeding their dogs a raw meat diet either followed online advice from other pet parents, or followed no guidance whatsoever.
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.
Obstruction and choking risk
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, uncooked bones since they can help remove plaque.
Should I feed my dog a raw diet? Recap
Many experts, including the AVMA and FDA, strongly advise against feeding your dog a home-prepared raw diet.
Feeding dogs a raw diet comes with significant health risks for humans and dogs, from bacterial infections to choking risks.
Without proper knowledge of canine nutrition, home-prepared raw diets increase a dog's risk of nutritional imbalances and deficiencies.
Commercially available raw dog foods that contain all the nutrients your dog needs may be a safer option.
Got questions about your dog's diet? Chat virtually with a veterinary professional 24/7 with Wag! Vet Chat!