One of the newest trends in pet nutrition is the raw food diet. The concept behind it seems logical enough—feed your dog the food he would eat if he were a wild dog. Proponents of the raw food diet note that wild wolves, from which today’s domesticated dogs are descendant, hunt and kill their prey and then devour the entire animal, including the meat, bones, skin, and organs. In the 1990s, an Australian veterinarian named Ian Billinghurst theorized that domesticated dogs will thrive on a diet that is more like that of wild wolves. He developed the Bones and Raw Food diet, or BARF. However, not everyone agreed that the BARF diet is optimal of today’s dogs. Many dog nutrition experts note that the domestication process of dogs means that dogs’ digestive system has evolved to accommodate a different diet than their ancestors ate. The raw food diet trend for dogs is, therefore, a controversial topic among vets. Before you just jump on the bandwagon, take a look at the Top 10 Things You Should Know About Feeding Your Dog a Raw Food Diet.
10. Prey Diet, One Step Further Than the BARF Diet
The BARF diet, despite what many of the plan’s detractor say, has been modified to modern dogs, who have evolved to be omnivores rather than strictly carnivores, like wolves. A well-balanced raw food diet for dogs includes fruits and vegetables, along with animal meat and bone. There are groups of dog lovers, pet nutrition experts, and veterinarians, however, who advocate for a true carnivore diet, sometimes called the Prey Diet. The Prey Diet differs from the BARF raw food diet in that it does not contain vegetable, fruits, grains, or other supplements. Instead, the entire prey animal is offered to the dog and the dog can eat all of it—meat, muscles, bone, fur, hide, connective tissue, organs, and feathers. In fact, advocates of the Prey Diet suggest that the entire prey animal be fed whole to the dog. Naturally, there are concerns about the Prey Diet and you should discuss all your questions with your veterinarian before settling on either a BARF diet or a Prey diet.
9. Dogs With Health Concerns
A raw food diet may not be ideal for dogs with health issues. A raw food diet is much higher in protein than what is found in commercial dog foods, therefore it can exacerbate kidney problems in dogs with severe kidney disease or that are in liver failure. Dogs that are battling cancer or that suffer from an immunosuppressive disease should not be fed a raw food diet, either. With a low immune system, the dog may not be able to fight off a bacterial infection that may result from a different strain of bacteria in the raw food. If your dog has a chronic condition, is pregnant, or frequently sick, then he may not be an ideal candidate for the raw food diet. Your veterinarian will be able to ascertain your dog’s level of health so you can determine if the raw food diet would be beneficial for your dog.
8. Transitioning to a Raw Food Diet
If you decide, through your research and discussions with your veterinarian, then the raw food diet is best for your dog, then you need to be careful about transitioning your dog from a diet of commercial dog food to a raw food diet. Although it’s true with any change in your dog’s food, going from commercial to raw heightens the chances of upsetting your dog’s digestive system. A sudden or abrupt change in his diet will upset his digestive system and make your dog feel unwell. Instead, slowing transition to the raw food diet. In fact, most dog nutrition experts suggest fasting your dog for a day—offering only water—before beginning the transition to the raw food diet as a way for your dog’s digestive tract to rest before the big change. After that, introduce the new raw food slowly over the course of a week or so. For example, on the first day or two of the diet, serve your dog a quarter of the raw food to three-quarters of the commercial dog food. If the dog seems to handle that well, then move to a fifty-fifty mix of the raw food with the regular food for a few days. Next, offer your dog mostly raw food with only about 25% of his normal food. After about a week or so, your dog should be eating only the raw food diet. If he seems to be having stomach issues at any point, however, slow down the transition process. Your dog’s health and well-being are more important than sticking to a timetable, so let him set the pace.
7. Raw Food Diet Serving Sizes
Because the nutritional makeup is different between commercial dog food and raw food, the quantity that the dog needs to eat is also different. As a rule of thumb, you should feed your dog 2-3% of his body weight per day, divided into two meals. Overweight dogs will need a little less, while very active dogs will need more.
6. Commercial Raw Food
Several dog food manufacturers have responded to the demand for raw diets by offering commercial raw dog food. Commercial raw dog food is typically found in the freezer section of your pet store. Available in chunks, patties, and smaller, bite-sized nuggets, the commercial dog food is formulated with crushed bone, vegetables, connective tissue, and meat, but it is intended to be mixed with fresh meat before being served to your dog.
5. The Raw Food Diet For Puppies
Most proponents of the raw food trend state that the diet is safe for young puppies as long as you follow strict handling and feeding protocol. Eating a raw food diet increases the chances for bacteria to get into the puppy’s system. You will need to purchase raw meat frequently—daily or every other day—to make sure it is fresh. It is also important that you have the serving size correct for a growing puppy. Your pup will need a raw diet that is at least 5% of his body weight per day, divided among three daily meals.
4. The Inconvenience of Raw Food
Even with the rise in commercial raw dog foods, feeding your pooch a raw food diet may not be easy. It requires more time, energy, and expense on your end to make sure that the raw food diet is as fresh and nutritious as possible. You will need to make regular trips to the grocery store or butcher shop to purchase high-quality, fresh meat. You cannot store fresh meat in your refrigerator for more than a few days before bacteria starts to sets in. Good, quality fresh meat is costly so you will need to be sure that your budget can handle the expense. Not all raw meat is the same—your dog’s health will suffer if you feed cheaper meat that is lower in quality. Lastly, you will need to prepare the fresh meat for your dog’s consumption. Cutting up raw meat is not pleasant and takes time out of your schedule every day. It can be messy and off-putting. Additionally, you need to take steps to ensure the continued cleanliness of your work surface, so you don’t risk the meat becoming contaminated with bacteria.
3. Potential Drawbacks of the Raw Diet
The cost and inconvenience to you as a dog owner are just a few of the drawbacks to feeding your dog a raw food diet. There are also some health concerns that could arise from the raw food. Unlike traditional, commercially-made dog foods, you will not know the exact nutrients that are in the raw meat. Even the most careful raw food follower could unintentionally feed their pooch a diet that is lacking in certain essential nutrients. It is also common for dogs to react to the raw food diet by having diarrhea or inflammation of the digestive tract. Bones are a key part of the raw food diet, but they can lead to some emergency health concerns, such as airway obstruction, intestinal perforation, or bowel obstructions. All these conditions require emergency veterinarian care.
2. Bacterial Concerns
One of the biggest concerns in feeding your dog a raw food diet is the chance of bacterial contamination. You will need to handle the raw meat with the same eye for safety and cleanliness that you would do when preparing meals for your family. Countertops, cutting boards, knives, and bowls need to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected after each use. It takes longer for your dog to digest raw meat than it does for him to digest traditional kibbles, therefore the meat stays in the pup’s system longer, increase the risk from bacteria.
1. Benefits of the Raw Food Diet
Supporters of the raw food diet trend for dogs point to several benefits to the nutritional routine. Dogs fed a raw food diet, they claim, have an increased level of energy, healthier digestive system, cleaner teeth, stronger bones, more elastic skin, and shinier fur. Dogs on a raw food diet may be less likely to become overweight.
Choosing to feed your dog a raw food diet is a decision that should only be made after your do considerable research, evaluate your lifestyle and budget, and have an open discussion with your veterinarian. The raw food trend certainly has some merits to it, but there are also concerns and drawbacks you need to weigh in. You will want to gather as much information as you can before you make the decision to switch to raw food. After all, you want to know how to best meet your dog’s nutritional needs for optimal health.