One of the biggest trends in the pet food industry is the rise of raw dog food. Although many owners believe it’s beneficial for their furry friends, there’s no denying that this diet has caused a lot of controversies and divided professional and owner opinions.
To help clear the air, we’ve investigated raw dog food and sniffed out a few answers. In this guide we’re going to explore what raw dog food is, whether raw dog food is good for dogs, and why this diet has divided opinions.
What is raw dog food?
Raw dog food is created using natural, uncooked ingredients. Everything in this diet is raw and it’s usually made up of uncooked meat, organs, bones, vegetables, fruits, and eggs.
Raw feeding has recently rocketed in popularity yet it’s a relatively recent movement, popularised in the 1990s and early 2000s by Dr Ian Billinghurst when he invented the “BARF” diet.
The types of raw dog food
Raw dog food is typically divided into homemade and pre-prepared varieties.
Pre-prepared or commercially available raw dog foods are available in shops, and as long as they’re marked “complete” they have all the nutrients your dog needs.
Home-prepared raw diets offer owners the ability to control what goes into their dog’s dinner, but it’s often difficult to ensure the food is nutritionally balanced without the guidance of a vet.
Can dogs eat raw dog food?
Dogs are omnivorous scavengers by nature, and they’ve evolved to eat almost anything and everything. Because they have evolved in parallel to humans, what they eat is influenced by our own diets.
This is no different for raw feeding, which has risen in tandem with human dietary trends for natural and organic food.
Although dogs tend to eat what we do, their digestive system is slightly different to our own. These differences include a shorter digestive tract and a more acidic stomach, making them capable of eating and digesting raw meat.
However, being able to eat and digest something doesn’t mean it’s good for you. After all, we humans eat and digest loads of unhealthy and highly-processed foods that we know aren’t good for us. So, we know that dogs can eat raw food, but it doesn’t strictly mean that they should.
Is raw dog food good for dogs?
So far, there’s next to no scientific evidence that a raw diet is better than any other for your dog’s health.
There was a very small study that suggested raw food might benefit a dog’s gut microbiome compared to kibble, but there are limits to this research. Not least because there was no comparison for other diets such as fresh, only kibble (and we know kibble isn’t all that good for dogs!), very few dogs were studied, and there was no evidence of long-term benefits.
Anecdotal evidence is also split. Many owners say their dogs are healthier, some say they will never try raw again, and others with horror stories of pets needing emergency care or sadly dying as a result of eating raw dog food.
Is raw dog food good for dogs?
For owners who believe raw dog food is the best food for dogs, it’s because they see it as food in its most natural form, like what a wild dog or wolf would eat.
But this doesn’t take into account the fact that dogs have been genetically separate from wolves for tens of thousands of years, and that they have co-evolved with humans.
Over this expanse of time dog’s physiology has changed, including the ability to digest foods like grain. That means dogs aren’t built to digest raw wild foods as well as wolves, but have become good at eating whatever we humans have handy.
The main benefit of raw dog food is that it’s natural, containing only natural ingredients without the harsh processing that kibble biscuits are subject to. It’s true that processes like extrusion used to make kibble destroys nutrients like amino acids and can cause harmful chemical reactions.
A healthier diet for humans and hounds alike includes more natural ingredients and less processed food. But food doesn’t have to be raw to provide these benefits.
Natural doesn’t equal raw
If raw dog food is good for dogs, it’s because the food is made using natural ingredients, with no artificial additives, and without harsh processing.
However, food doesn’t have to be raw to be natural.
Healthy, real food diets, like Pure Pet Food, are also natural and avoid harsh processing.
The difference is that Pure is carefully prepared by putting real ingredients under a gentle heat, removing the moisture, naturally preserving the food and killing harmful pathogens. It’s never subjected to harmful processes like extruded kibble, and it never even reaches temperatures as high as you’d use to cook your own food.
Our dogs don’t need the meat to be raw to get the nutrition they need. What matters most is that high quality, real meat, which is easier to digest, more nutritious, and isn’t highly processed.
Do vets think raw dog food is good for dogs?
Vets all over the world advise owners against raw dog food. This is because vets see first-hand the cases where dogs do get sick.
Most veterinary bodies including the American Veterinary Medical Association and UK veterinary charity PDSA do not advocate raw food diets due to the dangers of contamination and the likelihood of making your dog or another family member sick.
Because the spread of pathogens is also a big risk for humans, food regulatory organisations like the U.S Food and Drug Administration also advise against raw dog food.
However, it’s the owner’s choice and if raw feeding is carried out safely it can be a great option for some dogs and owners. It’s advised that owners purchase commercial dog food or create homemade diets alongside their veterinarian to avoid nutritional deficiencies and to be aware of the risks associated with raw.
The risks of raw dog food
The main risks of raw dog food are the spread of harmful pathogens and the potential for nutritional deficiencies.
The risk of illness is high
Many raw pet foods and even raw meat meant for human consumption can carry harmful pathogens like Campylobacter, Salmonella, or E. Coli. These can cause mild to serious illness and in some cases, the infection can be fatal. Some of these pathogens are also antibiotic-resistant, which is a cause for serious concern.
Additionally, some types of raw meat such as fish or pork can carry harmful parasites such as Trichinella or parasitic worms.
Pathogens don’t just make your dog sick, they can make humans and other pets ill too. That’s why raw food requires separate storage and preparation to prevent contamination of your own food. You also need to clean and disinfect the preparation area, utensils used, dog bowls, and their eating area.
But no matter how clean you are, you can still contract an infection from your dog themself.
Dogs fed raw diets shed pathogens like E. Coli, which means being licked by your dog or petting them without washing your hands afterwards can put you at risk of infection. Because of this, it’s advised dogs are never fed a raw diet if they live with an immunocompromised person.
It isn’t a small risk either. A study by the FDA found that while only 1 out of 860 samples of cooked or dried food was contaminated with one harmful bacteria, almost 1 in 4 raw dog foods were contaminated with one or more harmful bacteria.
Luckily, simply cooking dog food is enough to kill parasites and pathogens and prevent you or your dog from becoming infected. Pure’s preparation also renders these infections harmless, and is even gentler than cooking. It keeps the food preserved naturally while making sure all the nasties are destroyed. Safe, convenient and super healthy too!
Creating a homemade raw diet is difficult
It’s also difficult to create a raw diet for your dog without the assistance of a vet or canine nutritionist.
Dogs require 37 essential nutrients to survive and some of these require very small amounts and careful balancing to ensure they work together to support your dog’s health.
However, this can be easily avoided by feeding your dog a commercially prepared “complete” food, which will have all the nutrients your dog needs in the right amounts. (You still have to be aware of the risks of pathogens though).
Aside from this balancing act, buying and storing all that raw meat you need to make your dog’s dinners is inconvenient and expensive unless you’ve got a butcher buddy or a spare freezer.
Raw food doesn’t suit every dog
Finally, not every dog is able to eat raw dog food.
Puppies and senior dogs can’t eat raw dog food safely because they have underdeveloped and weakened immune systems, putting them at greater risk because they cannot fight off foodborne infections.
Additionally, every adult dog is an individual. While some dogs seem to thrive on raw, the opposite can be true for others. Some dogs’ digestion and stools might improve on a raw diet, but many pooches can develop sensitive stomachs and suffer from gastrointestinal issues like diarrhoea or gastroenteritis after eating raw dog food.
Some of these issues may be caused by bacterial contamination. However, it’s also because many foods are more difficult to digest when raw.
For example, carrots are easier to digest when cooked because it breaks down the tough cellulose, which also increases the nutritional value of carrots because it improves digestibility and enables the body to absorb more nutrients from it. Cooking can also improve the protein availability of certain foods, like pea protein, which is often used in dog foods.
How to enjoy the benefits of raw without the risk
If you want to see if raw food is good for your dog, try a commercially prepared diet under the guidance of your vet and follow strict hygiene practices.
Despite the potential benefits raw dog food could have, owners must be aware that it isn’t reliably safe and doesn’t suit every dog.
Meanwhile, a natural, real food diet like Pure Pet Food holds the same benefits as raw dog food because we use natural ingredients, nothing weird or nasty, and no harsh processing. And luckily, Pure doesn’t have the same risk of contamination, so you needn’t worry about your family or your dog becoming sick.
It’s also more convenient, in Pure’s case at least, because there’s no need for dedicated freezers and you don’t have to worry about the messy cleanup of your home.