Learning more about the pros and cons of a raw diet for dogs is important so dog owners can make an informed decision before starting a dog on a raw diet. The raw diet for dogs still remains subject of controversy and it's helpful to know both the good sides and the not so good ones. Many dog owners fail to fully understand how these diet works and any mistakes made can lead to nutritional deficiencies and even some serious health issues. For more information on the pros and cons of a raw diet for dogs we asked a vet's option. Here's veterinarian Dr. Anna Cherry's guide on the pros and cons of a raw diet for dogs.
Introducing The Raw Diet for Dogs
Over the last few years, we have seen an increase in the number of dog owners choosing to feed their dogs a ‘raw diet’. In fact, in the UK, it is the fastest growing sector of the pet food market. This has been attributed to the growing desire to feed dogs as they would have done ‘in the wild’, as well as due to rising concerns over the quality of the ingredients used in some commercial pet foods.
However, despite its growing popularity among the dog-owning community, those in the veterinary profession appear to have mixed feelings about raw feeding. This is due to concerns over the increased risk of pathogens, nutritional imbalances and the health problems associated with feeding raw bones. It is fair to say, that in the past, this has been something of a ‘taboo’ subject for many veterinarians.
A raw diet for dogs involves feeding raw meat, vegetables, fruits and raw bones (depending on owner preference). There are two ways that you can do this, either by preparing it from fresh yourself at home, or you can buy commercial varieties of raw food that are available as pre-prepared frozen nuggets. Following are some pros and cons of a raw diet in dogs.
Commercial & Home-made Raw Diets for Dogs
Before delving into the pros and cons of a raw diet for dogs, taking a closer look the types of raw diets is important. There are two forms of raw diets for dogs: commercially prepared raw diets and home-prepared raw diets.
Commercial raw foods are made by simply mincing raw meat and mixing it with other raw ingredients (e.g. fruits, carbohydrates, vegetables and herbs) to form nuggets, which are then frozen.
This is the easiest and most convenient way of feeding a raw diet to your dog that is also nutritionally complete and balanced.
Using a commercial raw food helps to minimize the amount of preparation and handling of raw meat that is involved for the owner. However, the meat used is still raw and could still contain pathogenic bacteria and parasites, which can be harmful to you and your dog. Therefore, careful preparation and good hygiene are still needed.
Depending on the country that your raw food diet is manufactured in, commercial raw foods are subject to regular testing for potential pathogens. The freezing-protocol is also designed to reduce the chances of any pathogens surviving.
Home-prepared raw diets are not for the faint-hearted, as not only do they require a lot of dedication and preparation, but it's also be difficult to ensure that they're complete and balanced and will meet all your dog’s nutritional needs.
Even if you follow a carefully prepared recipe from a board-certified nutritionist, the temptation to substitute ingredients is high (especially if there are availability problems), this can lead to the recipe becoming unbalanced. Giving additional supplements is often recommended
Pros of a Raw Diet for Dogs
As pet owners, we are becoming more aware of the variability in the quality of the ingredients that are sometimes used in commercial pet foods. By feeding your dog on a raw diet, you can overcome this - especially if you prepare it yourself.
Raw foods are highly palatable, due to the high meat content and retention of natural fats. The majority of dogs will be only too happy to woof down their raw food dinner, which can be particularly helpful if you have a picky eater.
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Raw food is also believed to be easier to digest and can be beneficial for dogs that have digestive issues (e.g. IBS).
Because there is minimal processing involved in both commercial and home-prepared diets (i.e. just freezing), important enzymes and nutrients such as fats, vitamins and minerals (that can be damaged by the high heats used in the processing of dry and wet foods), remain intact. Therefore, there is no need to add artificial sources of minerals and vitamins etc.
Cons of a Raw Diet for Dogs
The biggest disadvantage of feeding a raw diet is the concern over pathogen contamination, such as bacteria (e.g. Salmonella, Campylobacter) and parasites (e.g. tapeworm and roundworms). These pathogens can not only make your dog seriously unwell but could also be harmful to you too! Normally, these would be eradicated by the high heats that are used in the processing of wet and dry commercial diets.
Therefore, when feeding a raw meat diet, careful preparation and good hygiene practices need to be in place (the same as you would when preparing meat for use in your own dinner!). It is also advisable to regularly worm your dog.
Special consideration should also be given to the elderly, young, pregnant and those who are immune suppressed (e.g. undergoing chemotherapy), as they are more at risk and should take extra precautions or avoid feeding this type of food.
In terms of convenience, if you want to go on holiday with your pet, feeding a raw diet can be impractical. The temptation is for many owners is to change their dog back onto a more portable dry or wet food for the holiday period. However, this could lead to digestive issues, especially if they do not carefully transition them onto the new food type, as the gut bacteria will not have had a chance to adapt.
"Dogs and cats fed contaminated raw meat diets shed viable organisms in their feces. The presence of Salmonella spp. was isolated from 80% of the “BARF” diet samples and in 30% of the stool samples from dogs consuming those diets. (Cusack et al 2002)"~Source DVM360
Feeding Dogs Raw Bones
The feeding of raw bones to your dog is often advocated as part of the raw food diet. However, although your dog may be delighted at the prospect of chewing on a meaty bone, from a veterinary perspective it just spells trouble. This is because we know that bones can damage the digestive tract as they pass through and are associated with inducing constipation and life-threatening conditions such as bowel obstructions or bowel perforations.
Although feeding raw (uncooked) bones is slightly better than cooked bones, as they contain more moisture and are more flexible, the risks listed above all still apply.
It is also important to bear in mind that sourcing bones from your butcher is a gamble, as you don’t know how they have been stored and the risk of contamination with pathogens is greater compared to a commercially prepared bone (which undergo freezing to kill any pathogens).
The other popular belief is that feeding bones has dental benefits, this is true, as the physically can help to remove plaque producing bacteria and tartar. However, they can also increase the risk of slab-fractures, which can be very uncomfortable for your dog and may lead to them needing dental treatment.
Pros and Cons of a Raw Diet for Dogs: a Vet's Opinion
As seen, there are several pros and cons of a raw diet for dogs. From my perspective, as a vet, I consider the risk of health problems caused by potential pathogens, bones or dietary imbalances, which can arise from feeding a raw diet, far outweigh the perceived benefits.
Raw feeding is not something that is suitable for every dog (or owner) and the decision to feed a raw food diet should be given careful consideration in every case.
About the Author
Dr. Anna Cherry BSc Hons BVSc MRCVS
Since graduating from Liverpool Vet School in 2006, Anna has worked in small animal practice and has setup and run her own mobile veterinary service.
She has a special interest in canine nutrition and internal medicine and recently completed a certificate in Canine and Feline nutrition.
Away from the world of veterinary, she loves spending time with her Golden Retriever Chester, who likes to keeps her one toes with all his various ailments.