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As consumers become more focused on their own health and nutrition, a natural outgrowth of this trend is putting the same microscope on what people feed their dogs. After all, owners want their best friends to live the longest, healthiest and happiest lives that they can! One of these trends has been the rise of the movement to feed raw food to dogs which comes with its own set of controversies, opinions and research data.
The raw food diet for dogs which is also known as BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) was created back in 1993 by an Australian veterinarian. Dr. Ian Billinghurst, author of the book Give Your Dog a Bone, believed that people should feed our dogs a diet based on what their wild ancestors would have eaten, specifically raw meaty bones. This would also include vegetable matter derived from eating the stomachs of their prey, which were often ungulates like deer, who lived on a diet of grains, grasses, fruit and nuts. The doctor and his supporters strongly believe that commercially prepared kibble harms dogs by not providing them the kinds of nutrients and biological support that they need to truly thrive.
Adherents of the diet say it gives their dog a much healthier skin and coat and the bones keep a dog's teeth cleaner. The diet can also reduce stool size and the resulting feces is often drier and less odorous. Dogs on the diet are also said to have fewer health problems, at least based on owner reports.
Of course, as the diet became more popular, there has been controversy over the use of the diet. Many veterinarians and scientists believe the diet is not safe for dogs and there is a risk of foodborne illness from raw meat for not only the dogs but also the humans handling it. They also believe that it's difficult for the average person to balance properly all the necessary nutrients in a dog's diet by making it at home. There's also a real concern about the risk of stomach obstructions and tears from eating raw bones, as well as damage to a dog's teeth.
Another drawback to the raw dog food diet is that doing it on your own is a lot of work. It may be difficult for the average person to not only create a good balanced recipe but also regularly source the ingredients and store them which can require a separate freezer depending on the number and size of your dogs. One way owners have dealt with this is to use commercially prepared raw diets that come either freeze-dried or frozen. While these can be expensive, they make it much easier for a busy person to feed their dog the raw diet without a lot of food preparation and sourcing time. As the diet has become more popular, there are many brands on the market that are available for you to try, but often it's hard to know which is the right one when you're a neophyte to the world of raw dog food.
If you have the time and love to cook, there are many options you can try to make your own raw dog food. It does require some know-how at the beginning and some preparation. You may need to get a good freezer to store food you make ahead, as well as stash your raw meaty bones which can usually be purchased at better prices in bulk. You'll also need to know what constitutes a balanced meal and how to make a recipe that really meets your dog's needs and your veterinarian is comfortable with.
Any change in your dog's diet, particularly one as drastic as going to raw food, should be taken with some research and consideration. Even though dog owners who use the raw food diet for dogs swear by it, it's still wise to discuss with your veterinarian and find out all the ins and outs. Even if you like the idea of the diet, realize it's a lot of work and can be expensive, so learn all you can first! You may decide that feeding commercially prepared food is easier, or a combination of commercial and homemade.