Raw Dog Food Diet: Is it Safe?
Updated: 4 days ago
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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.
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.
Table of Contents
WHY CONSIDER 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) were wolves. 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.
WHAT IS BARF ?
This type of diet consists of varying amounts of the following basic foodstuffs:-
Organ meat (liver & kidney)
Dairy e.g. Yoghurt
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.
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 dog’s 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)
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 expected details about your dog's age, weight, activity levels and health before advising on their product range.
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 away.
Companies offering food labelled as 'Complementary' on the other hand, must be fed in conjunction with other foods or supplements.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF A RAW DIET FOR DOGS ?
Over the past couple of years, there have been a number of pet food recalls due to potential risks and exceeded recommended levels of certain vitamins. If you introduce a homemade diet and prepare your dog’s food at home, you have total control over what is included and where you source your ingredients from.
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.
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, Tails.com
Colgate-Palmolive: Hills Science Plan, Hills Prescription Diets.
Spectrum Brands: Iams ( Europe)
The smaller independent companies in the raw dog food sector of the market 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
ARE THERE DRAWBACKS TO A RAW DIET ?
Essentially it is raw meat, so this brings its own food hygiene risks. Raw meat can be contaminated with harmful germs such as salmonella, campylobacter, listeria and E. coli so there is a potential risk through the direct handling of the dog food or indirectly for example from pet feeding bowls, utensils or contact with dog faeces. So clearly hands, utensils & bowls must be washed and disinfected.
Special care will need to be taken in homes with young children present as their developing immune system means they should not touch or eat raw dog food or treats.
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.
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 reviewed four of the best raw dog food companies in the UK.
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 – ProDog Raw, Natures Menu, Paleo Ridge and Bella & Duke 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 explored 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 Transition Your Dog to a Raw Diet
How to Choose the Best Dog Food It's a minefield ! We outline your options.
TOP 10 Toxic Foods for your Dog Take a look at our list of foods that are so toxic that they should have a big, fat warning label on them
Why is my Dog a Fussy Eater ? We offer 10 top tricks to encourage your fussy dog to eat.
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 on the Benefits and Risks of Raw Dog Food.