Raw dog food has become increasingly popular amongst dog owners in recent years. These days, you can find frozen or freeze-dried commercial raw dog food in almost every major pet store.
Proponents of raw dog food often point to the diet's higher protein and nutritional content and easier digestibility. Other advocates suggest we should take cues from dogs' ancestors, wolves. Created by Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst in 1933, the raw dog food diet—also called the species-appropriate diet, evolutionary diet, and natural diet—is based on Darwin’s theory of evolution. Because dogs descended from gray wolves more than 10,000 years ago, they have a natural desire to hunt and devour other animals. As unsavory as it may seem, wolves eat bones, meat, and organs. Billinghurst believes that is exactly what you should feed your dog.
What are the most common ingredients in raw dog food? Is a raw diet good for dogs? What are the pros and cons? Are there different types of raw dog food? Is raw food right for your dog? How do you safely handle raw dog food?
In this DJANGO Dog Blog article, we provide a comprehensive overview of raw dog food.
Raw dog food encompasses a range of ingredients, but it typically consists of raw animal protein (muscle meat and/or organ meats), raw eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables, and legumes. It can be homemade, store-bought freeze-dried, or store-bought frozen. We go into detail on these three types of raw dog food below.
Here is a full list of the most common ingredients found in raw dog food:
According to Dog Food Advisor, a canine ancestral raw diet typically consistent of 56% protein, 25-30% fat, and 14% carbohydrates. Compare this to modern dog dibble which is 46-74% carbohydrates, 18-32% protein, and 8-22% fat.
There are three different types of raw dog food: frozen, freeze-dried, and homemade.
Few large-scale studies have been conducted on the raw dog food diet. As the American College of Veterinary Nutritionists (ACVN) states, proof for raw dog food "benefits is currently restricted to testimonials, and no published peer-reviewed studies exist to support claims made by raw diet advocates. No studies have examined differences in animals fed raw animal products to those fed any other type of diet (kibble, canned, or home cooked) with the exception of looking at the effects on digestibility."
With this in mind, the raw dog food diet as been linked to these benefits:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration do not recommend feeding your dog raw meat. That is because it may be contaminated with parasites (i.e., Toxoplasma and tapeworms) and bacteria.
According to a 2019 study in the Journal of Small Animal Practice, 86% of raw dog food products have E. coli. Studies have also found that 62% of commercial raw dog food diets contain antibiotic-resistant Salmonella. In one study, 50% of dogs fed contaminated raw food had Salmonella in their poop for 7 days.
Salmonella and E. coli can cause your dog to have vomiting, watery/bloody diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, and a fever. Young children, elderly people, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals (e.g., chemotherapy, immune disease, etc.) are more likely to get infected if they handle raw dog food.
Some homemade and commercial raw dog foods may not be nutritionally balanced. Household, reputable dog food companies like The Farmer's Dog work with veterinary nutritionists to ensure each dog food recipe is designed to meet the Association of American Feed Control Officials' (AAFCO) nutritional standards for dogs. When preparing raw dog food at home for your four-legged family, it may not be easy (or even possible) to ensure a proper nutritional balance across ingredients, vitamins, and minerals. A 2011 study found that 60% of raw dog food products had too much calcium but not enough vitamin A, zinc, iodine, or copper.
In a 2009 study, an 8-month-old Shetland Sheepdog was also diagnosed with rickets and an overactive parathyroid after being fed a raw meat-based diet. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, calcium and phosphorus imbalances can also cause puppies to have bone deformities and growth problems.
The raw dog food diet can cause canine hypothyroidism. Dogs that are fed poultry necks can absorb plasma thyroxine (the thyroid hormone) from the still-attached thyroid gland or other pieces of active thyroid tissue.
According to a 2012 study, 12 dogs on the raw food diet had overactive thyroid. Half showed clinical signs (e.g., weight loss, aggressiveness, restlessness, and panting) while 50% had no symptoms. After being switched to dry dog kibble or fresh dog food, 66% of the dogs had normal thyroid hormone levels and their symptoms disappeared.
Raw meaty bones can splinter and get stuck in your dog’s mouth, throat, or chest. They can damage the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, or colon. They may also chip or break his teeth.
As we outlined above, the evidence of raw dog food health benefits are largely limited to testimonials at this time. At this same time, there are many risks associated with a raw dog food diet including bacterial contamination and unbalanced nutrition, to name a few.
Before switching your dog to raw food, please consult your veterinarian. Your veterinarian knows your dog and his unique health condition best and is the most appropriate person to speak to before making dietary changes.
If you decide to put your dog on a raw food diet, the following tips will help keep you, your loved ones, and your pets safe.
If you want to share your experience with the raw dog food diet or want to recommend a raw dog food brand, please leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you!
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