Ever since Give Your Dog a Bone was first published in 1993, the raw dog food diet has had its enthusiastic supporters. However the bones and raw food diet for dogs is controversial over concerns about the risk of foodborne pathogens, dental damage and obstructions in a dog's stomach. If you're thinking about changing how you feed your dog, you will want to know the raw dog food pros and cons thoroughly before making a decision.
Pros of the Raw Dog Food Diet
According to supporters of the raw diet for dogs, there are many benefits to feeding your dog this way.
It's Healthier Than Kibble
Raw dog food advocates say that commercially prepared kibble contains preservatives and other chemicals that are not natural for a dog's digestive system. Ingredients also are full of animal byproducts and other items that are low quality and lack nutritional value. It's also cooked which can remove important nutrients from the food. Supporters of the diet say they have anecdotally reported improvements in their dogs as far as:
- Healthier skin and coat
- Cleaner teeth and gums
- Better-smelling breath
- Better weight control and less obesity
- Increased energy
- Stronger immune system with less incidence of disease and allergies
- Longer lifespan
It's Less Expensive
While feeding a raw diet can be pricey as far as finding the ingredients, proponents of the diet say it's less expensive overall than feeding commercial kibble. The reason they assert is that your dog will be healthier on the diet and will need less veterinary visits. They believe dogs on the raw food diet experience severe illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and thyroid disorders less than dogs who eat kibble.
Clean Up After Your Dog Is Easier
An interesting side effect of feeding the raw dog food diet is that your dog's feces will be smaller and he may even have less frequent bowel movements. The resulting feces will also smell less, or not at all, and look chalky and white, somewhat resembling reptile feces.
Cons of the Raw Dog Food Diet
There are many detractors to the raw dog food diet craze, particularly in the veterinary and public health communities.
There's a Serious Risk of Foodborne Illness
The Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American College of Veterinary Nutritionists and the American Animal Hospital Association have all come out against feeding a raw dog food diet. One of their key concerns is the risk of foodborne pathogens like Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes and e. Coli. These bacterias can be found in raw food and lead to serious illness and in some cases even death.
Dogs are Not The Only Ones at Risk
In addition to the increased chances for your dog to get ill from foodborne pathogens, humans who prepare the food are also at risk. Handling food that contains bacterias like Salmonella without using proper food handling procedures can make humans sick. It becomes even more of a concern if someone in your home has a suppressed immune system, such as very young children, seniors, or anyone with an immune disorder.
Raw Diets are Nutritionally Imbalanced
Although raw food advocates claim that a raw food diet meets a dog's nutritional needs better than kibble, researchers and veterinarians disagree. Several studies involving testing of home cooked and commercially prepared raw food diets have found them to be seriously imbalanced. There are 37 nutrients that are essential for a dog's good health, and it's difficult for the average dog owner to know what is the right mix of these nutrients when making home-cooked food. Without the assistance of a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, they may very easily end up feeding their dog meals that put them at risk of serious diseases and health conditions like joint and skeletal disorders. This is especially a concern with young puppies on a raw diet who may not get the calcium and other nutrients they need in the correct amounts for the rapid bone growth they need to work through in the first few months of life.
Raw Bones Can Be Dangerous
Eating raw meaty bones is a big part of the raw food diet and veterinarians warn owners about the dangers involved. Even uncooked bones can be dangerous for dogs and can lead to fractures in a dog's teeth, as well as obstructions and tears in their gastrointestinal system. This can lead to a dog needing emergency, expensive surgery and even in some cases there's a potential an obstruction could become fatal.
It's a Time and Financial Commitment
If you've decided you want to do the raw dog food diet despite the warnings, you should also know that it will take more time than just feeding a bowl of kibble twice a day. You will need to carefully prepare meals following safe meal practices to prevent the chance of illness. Many raw food diet feeders make their dog's meals in bulk for easier feeding during the week when they are busy. This means you'll need to find a source where you can buy your meat, bones, fruits and vegetables in bulk and often owners have a separate freezer to keep just their dog's food in, so you'll need to add in the expense of the additional appliance, as well as electricity. If you decide to make life easier and buy pre-packaged commercially prepared raw dog food, you may also find you still need the extra freezer space, and these products can be much more expensive than regular kibble.
Tips to Start Feeding a Raw Diet for Dogs
If you've decided that you understand the risks and still want to feed your dog a raw diet, there are a few tips you can follow to get started.
- Speak with others who already feed the diet to get tips on food storage, preparation, recipes and more. If there's no one local to you, there are groups on Facebook and Reddit dedicated to the raw dog food diet.
- They can also give advice on where to source the best ingredients, which can sometimes be a challenge if you don't have access to a good butcher.
- Working with a board certified veterinary nutritionist can also help you to determine the right nutrient mix for your dog. PetDiets.com is a good resource for getting veterinary-approved recipes to make at home for your dog.
- Realistically look at your budget and your time during the week. If you have enough funds but time is short, consider feeding one of the commercially prepared raw dog food diets, which are either frozen, refrigerated or freeze dried. They can contain the same proposed nutritional benefits as homemade meals with much less demands on your time.
Making the Choice to Feed a Raw Diet for Dogs
Moving your dog to a raw food diet should not be a quick and easy decision. Even if you're 100% committed to the purported benefits, you still need to come up with a plan on where you will be purchasing your ingredients, how you will be preparing the food, where you will be storing it, how you'll practice safe food handling and what steps you'll need to take to ensure your dog is getting a complete and balanced meal each time. Do your research, talk to other raw dog feeders and speak with your veterinarian first to make sure you're ready to make this serious change in your dog's lifestyle.