If you do any research on what to feed your dog, you’re probably already aware that there’s a lot of debate between dog lovers about what constitutes a healthy diet.
While many people are happy to give their dogs dried kibble or canned food, others swear by a raw diet. We all have our dog’s best interests at heart, so how do you choose? What are the raw dog food pros and cons?
Although raw dog food conjures up images of a bowl of raw meat, the reality is much more complicated.
Raw Food Diets
In fact, there is even debate within the raw feeding community as to the best way to give a dog raw food and ensure an optimum diet for your dog. As such raw feeding falls into three main categories;
- B.A.R.F. (Biologically appropriate raw food) or Bones and Raw Food
- Prey model diet
- Meat with bone diet
Each one of these raw diets claims to maximize your dog’s health, reduce allergies and illness and at the same time increase your dog’s teeth, coat, and skin condition. While they all support the inclusion of raw meat, they are different in subtle but important aspects.
An Australian vet called Ian Billinghurst championed the B.A.R.F. diet. In his book Give Your Dog a Bone published in 1993, Billinghurst recommends that dog owners should feed their dogs around sixty to eighty percent raw meaty bones (often ground) with the remaining twenty to forty percent made up of meat, offal, eggs, fruits, and vegetables or dairy products. The B.A.R.F. diet assumes that dogs are omnivores, allowing the inclusion of grains and supplements as part of the diet.
Meat with Bone Diet
The meat with bone diet advocated by veterinary surgeon Tom Lonsdale in his book Raw Meaty Bones Promote Health Is made up of raw bones (or carcasses if available) as the central part of the diet but also allows for the inclusion of table scraps both cooked and raw.
Prey Model Diet
The Prey Model Diet argues that dogs are true carnivores, so their diet should not include fruit, vegetables, table scraps, or dairy.
Unlike the B.A.R.F. diet, where bones are often ground up, the prey model diet suggests that whole prey is fed to your dog as is. The appropriate ‘prey’ includes chickens, game hens, turkeys, and whole rabbits.
The Prey model comprises eighty percent meat, including some organs, ten percent edible bone, and ten percent offal, half of which is liver.
Home-made or Commercial?
To make matters even more confusing, raw feeders need to decide whether you want to prepare your dog’s meals at home or buy prepared commercially available raw dog foods.
Preparing your dog’s dinner at home gives you complete control over what your dog eats. You may have to do a bit more research so that your dog receives all the nutrients they need, but it also means that you get to choose where the produce comes from, and it’s often more cost-effective than buying commercial dog food brands.
There are a variety of options when it comes to commercial raw foods. These include
- Patties – Generally B.A.R.F. products. These single-serve patties are available as refrigerated (fresh) or frozen.
- Rolls – Allow you to cut off the right portion for your dog. They are an excellent alternative to patties.
- Tubs – Tubs and bags of raw food are also available
- Fresh – Prey model meat is available fresh from your local butcher or in bags or tubs
- Frozen – As fresh meat has such a short shelf-life, frozen is a good alternative. Defrost before giving the meat to your dog
- Freeze-dried – Many freeze-dried options need rehydrating before feeding your dog
Buying commercially available products is convenient, mess-free, and, depending on the product, nutritionally balanced.
The Pros of Raw Feeding
If you’re thinking about feeding your dog a raw food diet, then the benefits of raw feeding may convince you to make the switch. Supporters of feeding raw are adamant about its numerous benefits.
So, let’s look at some of the benefits of a raw food diet for dogs
- You know exactly what your dog eats
- The nutritional value of raw ingredients is higher than processed foods (i.e., kibble)
- Free from artificial preservatives and additives
- It helps to maintain a healthy weight as there are no grains and ‘filler.’
- Improved oral health. Stronger teeth and fresher breath as raw bones are natural teeth cleaners.
- Healthier coat and skin condition and reduction in food-related allergies
- Increased energy and mobility from a high protein diet
- Improved digestive system. Expect smaller stools and less gas
- Better liver, pancreatic, and bowel health
The Cons of Raw Feeding
While that all sounds like a great reason to change to a raw diet, there are also some cons of a raw diet;
- Home-Made fresh food is challenging to get right. It needs to be nutritionally balanced and complete, so your dog gets all the vitamins and minerals they need.
- Buying pre-prepared raw food is no guarantee of nutritional balance either
- Raw meat contains risks harmful bacteria, including Salmonella, Campylobacter, E Coli O157: H7, Clostridium perfringens, Clostridium botulinum Staphylococcus aureus. These bacteria can not only affect your dog but human members of the house too
- The danger of choking on bones
- Intestinal blockages caused by chunks of undigested bone
- Feeding dogs raw bones may lead to broken teeth.
- At home, feeding a raw diet is time-consuming.
- Inconvenient, especially if you travel with your dog
The trouble with pros and cons
It’s easy to write a list of pros and cons but even easier to come up with an argument against each point. There really isn’t a full-proof case for or against feeding your pet a raw diet.
Our advice is to buy the best quality food you can afford for your dog. If you feed your dog kibble or canned food, ensure you read and understand the ingredient list. Stay away from products with unnecessary additives and those that are heavy on grains. Learning to read a dog food label ensures that you know what your dog’s eating.
If you opt for an at-home raw food diet, buy your meat from a reputable source and if you are buying pre-packaged raw food, research the ingredients and manufacturer thoroughly to ensure the quality of the products, and you are providing everything your dog needs to stay healthy.
What’s best for my dog?
The easy answer is that it depends on your dog.
While feeding raw is growing in popularity, a raw diet may not suit all dogs (or owners). For example, dogs with certain health conditions like kidney or liver problems are better on lower protein diets. What’s more, dogs with lowered immunity are more susceptible to bacteria, so that raw food may be inappropriate for them.
While it’s argued that raw feeding provides the most natural and healthiest way to feed your pet, it’s the quality of the food that counts. Despite the wide range of commercially prepared raw foods available, they are not all nutritionally balanced or from a quality source. Even a raw diet poses a problem if the ingredients are inferior.
Raw dog food pros and cons
The debate over whether to feed raw isn’t going to end anytime soon. Owners that are pro raw feeding are passionate about its benefits. Likewise, those that are against the raw dog food movement are convinced of its dangers.
If you do decide to transition your dog to a raw diet, there’s lots of online advice as to how to go about it, like this article from Darwins Vets, but it’s always worth getting your dog checked over by a vet before making significant changes to their diet.
Last update on 2021-05-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API