A raw dog food diet, also known as BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food or Bones And Raw Food), has become an increasingly popular way to feed dogs in recent years. Proponents claim raw diets are more species-appropriate and healthier than traditional commercial kibble. However, critics argue there are risks to raw feeding that pet owners should consider. This comprehensive guide examines the potential benefits and concerns around raw dog food diets to help you make an informed decision.
An Overview of Raw Dog Food Diets
A raw dog food diet aims to mimic the ancestral wolf diet of raw, whole prey items. This means feeding dogs raw meat, bones, organs and vegetables to provide complete and balanced nutrition. Common proteins include muscle meat, organ meats like liver and kidneys, raw meaty bones like chicken necks and wings, and eggs. Vegetables like broccoli, spinach and celery are often incorporated as well. Most raw diets are entirely fresh or frozen foods, avoiding any processed kibbles, canned foods or treats. There are many different types and brands of commercial raw dog foods available today too.
Potential Benefits of a Raw Dog Food Diet
There are several proposed advantages to feeding dogs a raw food diet. Here are some of the main benefits that proponents point to:
More Nutritionally Complete
Raw diets are designed to provide a nutritionally complete balance of proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals to match the biological needs of dogs. This includes nutrients that may be lacking in some overly processed kibbles. Raw foods also provide natural enzymatic activity and high digestibility.
The natural enzymes in raw foods may be easier to digest than highly processed commercial kibbles. This could lead to reduced incidence of gastrointestinal issues like inflammatory bowel disease. Raw bones act as a natural teeth cleaner as well. The abrasion helps control plaque and tartar.
Healthier Skin and Coat
Anecdotal evidence suggests raw fed dogs have improved skin and coat health compared to kibble fed dogs. The natural oils and nutrients in raw foods may nourish the skin and coat better.
Increases Energy Levels
Raw fed dogs are reported to have higher activity levels and more vitality. The natural nutritional profile of raw foods may help dogs thrive.
Mimics Ancestral Diet
Raw diets are designed to mimic the ancestral diet of wild wolves. Since dogs evolved from wolves, a raw diet may be species-appropriate and optimal for dogs today. This is a central argument made by raw diet advocates.
Reduced Risk of Obesity
Kibble fed dogs have high rates of obesity. Raw foods are low calorie and nutrient dense, which may help prevent or reduce obesity.
No Harmful Preservatives
Raw foods avoid potentially harmful chemical preservatives sometimes used in commercial kibbles to extend shelf life. This includes preservatives like BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin.
Raw ingredients are minimally processed compared to extruded commercial kibbles. This preserves more nutrients and natural components.
Potential Concerns Around Raw Dog Food Diets
While the benefits seem attractive, there are also several important concerns to consider with raw dog food diets:
Increased Risk of Bacteria
Raw meats carry a higher risk of pathogens like salmonella and E. coli compared to cooked foods. Dogs ingesting contaminated raw foods can potentially become ill and spread bacteria to humans. Proper food handling is crucial to reduce this risk.
Creating a complete and balanced raw diet requires careful formulation and variety. Nutritional deficiencies could develop over time if diets aren’t properly designed due to owner error or lack of nutritional knowledge. This is especially concerning for puppies who have higher nutritional needs. Most experts recommend working with a veterinary nutritionist to formulate homemade raw diets, but this is an added expense.
Raw bones can potentially splinter and pose a choking risk or perforate the gastrointestinal tract. Bones must be appropriately sized for the dog. Weight bearing bones of larger animals require more caution.
Prepared raw dog foods or home formulations with high quality ingredients are typically more expensive than standard commercial kibble. The cost can be prohibitive for some owners.
Pathogen Shedding in Feces
Dogs fed raw foods may shed increased levels of bacteria like E. coli in their feces. This could potentially impact other pets and humans, especially the immunocompromised. Stricter sanitation protocols are advised.
No Official Oversight
There are no official regulations or oversight governing the production and nutritional adequacy of raw dog foods like there is for conventional kibble and canned foods. Manufacturing protocols can vary greatly between raw food brands.
Sourcing ingredients, formulating balanced recipes, preparing and safely handling raw foods is very time consuming for owners making their own raw diets. This is a major obstacle for many.
Limited Vet Support
While growing, the raw food trend still has limited veterinary support. Most vets are trained exclusively in conventional pet nutrition and may not be supportive or helpful with raw diet questions.
Negative Environmental Impact
Raw diets have a larger carbon footprint than kibble due to factors like commercial freezing and food waste from bones. However, some brands use more sustainable ingredients and practices.
As you can see, there are compelling arguments on both sides of this debate. Feeding any diet has risks and benefits that must be weighed individually.
Six Key Considerations Before Feeding a Raw Dog Food Diet
Switching your dog to a raw food diet should not be done lightly. Here are six important things all dog owners should consider beforehand:
1. Consult with your vet
Discuss your interest in raw diets with your veterinarian to get their insight and input on your specific dog’s needs. A vet can help assess any health conditions that could be impacted or require monitoring. Some vets are very against raw diets, so be prepared to potentially get negative feedback or resistance. At a minimum, annual exams and stool testing for parasites are recommended when raw feeding.
2. Do your homework
Extensively research raw feeding best practices online or in books beforehand. Join raw feeding social media groups to learn from experienced raw feeders. Consider attending a raw feeding seminar. You need to understand how to balance nutrients, proper food handling, and safety precautions before attempting to prepare homemade raw meals. Making rounded bones safe requires skill.
3. Start slow
Begin with small amounts of raw meaty bones, probiotic rich kefir or yogurt, and pureed vegetables. Monitor stool and energy levels. Gradually transition over 2-4 weeks from commercial food as your dog adapts. Jumping straight into complete raw meals can upset digestion. Take it slow.
4. Feed balanced meals
Work with a canine nutritionist to formulate balanced recipes or feeds complete pre-made raw. Rotating through protein sources is key, along with providing the right calcium to phosphorus ratios and addition of oils. Lack of balance over time can cause major deficiencies.
5. Strict safety protocols are critical
Safely handling raw meat is extremely important. Use separate surfaces, utensils and dishes. Wash hands thoroughly before and after handling. Disinfect surfaces that have contacted raw meat. Freeze food until use. Carefully monitor children around raw foods. Protocols reduce the risk of bacteria.
6. Have a backup plan
Keep commercial kibble or canned food on hand during the transition period. This gives you a safety net if signs of nutritional deficiency pop up or if digestion seems off. You can mix kibble with raw foods temporarily or revert back fully to commercial foods at any time.
Making the switch to raw requires research, planning and vigilance. But many raw feeders feel the extra effort is worthwhile.
Answers to the Most Common Raw Feeding FAQs
If you’re considering a raw diet for your dog, you likely have many questions. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked raw feeding FAQs:
Is raw dog food safe?
Raw diets do carry an increased risk of pathogenic bacteria exposure compared to cooked foods. However, the risk is low if proper food safety protocols are practiced including: washing hands and surfaces, separating raw and cooked foods, immediately refrigerating unused portions, and freezing for at least 2 weeks to kill parasites. Healthy dogs have stomach acids that destroy most bacteria. Monitor dogs closely and see your vet at the first sign of illness. Avoid raw with immunocompromised pets. Overall, the risk is low and manageable for most dogs and owners.
How much does a raw dog food diet cost?
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The cost of raw dog food diets can vary tremendously based on the types of ingredients used. On average, most pet owners report spending $100-$300 per month to feed a medium to large size dog a pre-made raw diet. Homemade raw diets can cost $200-$500 monthly depending on the proteins used. In general, raw diets are more expensive than kibble but owners feel the benefits outweigh the costs. Finding sales and buying meat in bulk can help cut costs.
Is it OK to mix raw and kibble?
Many nutritionists actually recommend limiting kibble and raw being served close together in the same day. Kibbles require a more alkaline pH for digestion while raw foods need a more acidic pH environment. Combining the two can hamper digestion, especially in dogs sensitive to diet changes. If mixing, add a few hours in between feeding kibble and raw. Some owners alternate kibble and raw on different days which is an easier transition option.
How do I switch my dog from kibble to raw?
All diet switches should be done gradually over 2-4 weeks. Start by introducing raw meaty bones, kefir or yogurt for digestion, and pureed veggies while slowly decreasing kibble amounts. Watch for changes in energy, stool and behavior to ensure your dog is adapting well before progressing. Keep commercial food on hand to mix in or revert back to if issues arise. Taking it slow aids the transition. Consult your vet as well.
Is a homemade raw diet nutritionally balanced?
Formulating a complete and balanced homemade raw diet requires consulting with a canine nutritionist and strictly following recipes. It’s easy to miss key nutrients or minerals without bloodwork over time to confirm no deficiencies are developing. Most owners find sticking to commercially prepared raw diets easier for balanced nutrition. Homemade should only be attempted after thoroughly researching canine nutrition.
What are the best raw bones for dogs?
Raw meaty bones provide dental benefits and mental stimulation. Best choices are from chicken, turkey or game birds. Softer marrow bones are safest. Avoid weight bearing bones from large mammals like cows that can splinter and cause obstructions. All bones should be sized appropriately for your dog – too small poses a choking risk while too large is dangerous. Supervise dogs when chewing bones.
Final Thoughts on Raw Dog Food Diets
The raw dog food debate continues to have strong opinions on both sides within the dog community. While the ancestral and more natural aspects of raw feeding are appealing, the risks must also be carefully evaluated. There are also practical concerns like costs and preparation time. Raw diets likely require extra effort and diligence compared to convenient commercial foods. Working closely with your vet and canine nutrition experts is advisable before attempting homemade raw. Following best practices and food safety is crucial as well. Hopefully this comprehensive overview provides greater clarity on the pros and cons of raw feeding to help you make the best decision for your dog’s needs.