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Raw Dog Food Diet: Benefits & Risks?

Updated: Apr 29

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Thinking about moving your dog to a raw diet ?

Raw dog food diets are controversial, but the popularity of these diets, which focus on raw meat, bones, fruits, and vegetables is rising.

Having tried and tested dry, wet, fresh and raw dog diets, we investigate the potential benefits and possible risks associated with feeding your dog a raw dog food diet.

Tintin and Snowy with a raw dog bone

Until relatively recently for most of us, our only dog food choices were dry kibble or wet food from the supermarket shelves.

But the popularity of dog diets that emphasise raw meat & bones is rising, with companies appearing online offering alternatives to traditional dog food.

Raw dog food is not only available as an option but is widely held amongst advocates to be the superior alternative to dry or wet dog food.

It's fair to say that the raw dog food debate has a polarising effect on the dog loving community with advocates for both camps providing plenty of opinions about why it is or isn’t the right choice for you and your four-legged friend.

This article aims to cut through the hype and analyse the facts to help you decide whether a raw diet is right for you and your dog.

Raw dog food in a bowl with packaging


dog paw graphic

Raw Dog Food : Benefits & Risks

1. Why Choose a Raw Dog Food?

When is a dog not a dog?.............When it’s a wolf.

The principle reason for considering a raw dog food diet is embracing the evolution of the domesticated dog.

Their nearest ancestors (before we took them into our homes, groomed and cuddled them and gave them cute names) are wolves.

Wolf in wooded area

In fact, the human bond with our canine companions date back centuries, to when nomadic hunters first interacted with wolves and I’m pretty sure their diet didn’t include kibble (grain free or not).

Fundamentally a raw dog diet is believed to be the closest thing to a wolves diet in the wild. It is therefore considered to be ‘natural’ or biologically appropriate feeding.

Very logically these types of diet are often referred to as Biologically Appropriate Raw Food or BARF.

dog paw graphic

2. What is BARF ?

The BARF diet consists of varying amounts of the following basic foodstuffs:-

  •  Muscle meat

  •  Organ meat (liver & kidney)

  •  Bone whole/ground

  •  Raw eggs

  •  Vegetables

  •  Dairy e.g. Yoghurt

High-quality dog foods are increasingly adding natural ‘functional foods' to the basic ingredients which can improve your dog’s quality of life as they mature.

raw dog food ingredients

These added ingredients are chosen for their high nutritional value - berries, seaweed, mussels, pumpkin, broccoli & hemp etc.

You can produce a homemade raw dog food diet in your own home from these ingredients. However, long term, the nutrients need to be carefully considered to ensure that your dog is getting a balanced diet.

Raw meat for dog food

With research and consultation with your vet this is possible, however there is some concern amongst vets that even a well-considered homemade raw diet for dogs may not include all the right nutrients in the right proportions.

It’s not as simple as following the online recipes, you need to take into account your dogs breed, age, weight, activity and overall physiology.

In one study, 95 samples of raw food rations were analysed; 60% of the rations were found to have significant dietary imbalances and the remaining 40% were reported to have minor imbalances or were found to be balanced.

Frequency and extent of nutritional imbalances in “bone and raw food” (barf) rations.

Dillitzer, Becker, Kienzle ( Research Gate)

Cute puppy asleep

In the absence of a veterinary degree, providing a homemade raw dog diet could be quite a challenge for most of us. But don't give up, there is another option.

Several companies take all the guesswork out and provide either a complementary or complete raw diet for your dog. There is a fundamental difference between these two, so it’s worth doing some research.

In the case of the 'Complete' diet, companies meet all the nutritional requirements of your dog by adding in supplements to create a balanced diet.

The online companies we researched and tested were all happy to offer help and asked for details about your dogs age, weight, activity levels and health before advising on their product range.

Paleo Ridge raw dog food in a freezer

In most cases the raw food is delivered frozen to your home and you simply store it, thawing a portion as required. This removes all the nutritional guesswork.

Companies offering food labelled as 'Complementary' on the other hand, must be fed in conjunction with other foods or supplements.

dog paw graphic

3. What are the Benefits of Raw Dog Food ?

There appears to be very little published research on the specific benefits of Biologically Appropriate Diets for Dogs (BARF). The lack of long-term research means that many of the benefits publicised by advocates appear anecdotal.

Woman stroking her dog

Part of the problem could be that the vast majority of dry & wet dog foods are made by four main manufacturers and they have clearly cornered the dog food market:-

  • Mars: Eukanuba, James Wellbeloved, Pedigree, Royal Canin, Ceasar and Iams

  • Nestle: Bakers, Beta, ProPlan, Purina One, Purina Petcare

  • Colgate-Palmolive: Hills Science Plan, Hills Prescription Diets.

  • Spectrum Brands:  Iams ( Europe)

The smaller independent companies in the raw dog food sector have less in the way of available resources to fund research.

Even the benefits listed by manufacturers can differ from one website to the next. Bearing this in mind, the benefits of a raw dog food diet MAY include :-

✅ Shinier coat

✅ Healthier teeth and gums

✅ Healthier skin

✅ Manageable poo (less & firmer)

✅ Boosted immune system

✅ Improved digestion

✅ Balanced energy levels

✅ Help reaching optimal weight

During our raw dog food testing process, we found that fussy dogs flourish on raw dog food. Gone are the days of dog bowls being left in the corner of the kitchen full of untouched kibble.

If you find feeding your dog difficult and are constantly looking for the 'perfect' dog food, then we would recommend taking a closer look at raw dog food. It certainly takes the stress out of feeding your four-legged friend.

Wilsons range of raw dog food

In terms of nutritional value, all the raw dog foods we recommend rate extremely highly on All About Dog Food. If you haven't come across this website, it's wonderful dog food advice site listing the nutritional content and value of a wide range of UK dog foods.

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3. What are the Drawbacks of Raw Dog Food ?

Essentially it is raw meat, so this brings its own potential food hygiene risks.

Raw meat can be contaminated with harmful germs such as salmonella, listeria and E. coli so there is a potential risk through the direct handling of the dog food or indirectly for example from feeding bowls, utensils.

So clearly hands, utensils and dog bowls must be washed and disinfected. Simply handle raw dog food in exactly the same way you would handle raw chicken in the kitchen.

dog chewing a bone

One contentious issue is the possibility of bones damaging the dog’s mouth and digestive system.

Advocates of raw dog food diet argue that there is no data to back up this and vet’s bad experiences are from dealing with cooked bones. Experts agree that it's much safer to give your dog raw bones rather than cooked.

Cooking causes the bones to soften and increases the risk of bones splintering when chewed.

If the raw diet chosen includes bones, the advice is to ensure that you never leave your dog unattended with a bone, and ensure that the area of flooring is cleaned and disinfected thoroughly afterwards.

dog paw graphic

4. Where to Start with Raw Dog Food

Fancy giving raw dog food a try?

Bearing in mind all the points listed above, also consider your own needs and lifestyle as well as your dog’s when making this all-important decision about feeding. So where should you start?

Raw diets for dogs can often appear initially overwhelming, so we’ve independently tested rand reviewed four of the best raw dog food companies in the UK.

Dog with tongue out, enjoying raw dog food

They offer a complete raw dog diet alongside smart, informative websites and understanding customer service at the end of a telephone line (which we've tested). Why not take a look at our in-depth review of four of the best raw dog foods in the UK

All the companies featured in our article – Paleo Ridge, Naturaw, ProDog Raw and Wilsons, have DEFRA approved factories and source from the human food supply chain.

They offer a beautifully balanced and complete raw dog food which is approved by nutritionists so you don’t need to spend time trying to create a diet from scratch (they’ve done all the hard work so you don’t have to!)

We explore tried and tested transition plans to remove the strain out of making the move across to a raw dog food diet. We look at the pros and cons of each option in our article How to Switch to Raw Dog Food

Not convinced by raw dog food ? Have you considered the new trend for Insect-based dog food ? Check out our review of innovative dog food company Grub Club - Bugs for Brunch? Why Your Dog Might Love Grub Club Dog Food

dog paw graphic

Remember, there is no right way to feed your dog, as long as their nutritional needs are being met.

Thanks for stopping by and reading our article - Raw Dog Food Diet: Is it Safe?



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