Raw Dog Food – Is It Better For Your Dog?
Raw Dog Food – Is It Better For Your Dog?
Recently, I did a lot of research into dry dog foods and what goes into them to make a complete diet. It helped me compile a market review of ‘best dry dog foods’, which we feel covers a cross section of the market from budget to premium complete dry dog foods available today.
Along the way, I frequently came across information and advertising relating to ‘Raw’ dog food, and wanted to know more about whether there was any specific benefit to this, as it has really gained popularity in recent times.
What is Raw Dog Food?
Raw dog food is also known as BARF – Bones and Raw Feeding OR Biologically Appropriate Raw Feeding. This essentially sums up what Raw dog food contains/sets out to achieve, as it is a diet that consists of raw meat/bones and other ingredients such as vegetables, raw eggs and dairy like yoghurt, and its aim is to give the dog a diet that he was designed to digest.
Essentially the theory behind Raw food is that dogs are descended from wolves. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to most of us, and hence if we look at our canine descendants we can see that in fact their diet is primarily based on raw meat that they have hunted for, plus a little bit of the vegetation that their herbivorous prey would have eaten. The digestive tract of a dog remains similar to a wolves, in that it has a short intestine and jaw/teeth designed for meat eating. Therefore, proponents of raw dog food argue that it is better for dogs to eat food that is more suited to their wolf-like physiology, than the carbohydrate based and cooked meat based commercial dog foods available today.
Why Has Raw Dog Food Gained Momentum?
Raw food diets are not new to some sectors of the canine world – for example sled dogs and racing greyhounds. However it has become more popular for feeding to our companion dog friends in recent years.
An Australian Vet, Dr Ian Billinghurst, published a book on canine nutrition in 1993. It laid out his principles on Raw and evolutionary nutrition and has been influential worldwide ever since. He has spoken at events about his theories all over the world, and started producing Raw food himself, based upon his principles.
From this, has stemmed a Raw food evolution that has gained popularity, but which is at times seen as controversial.
What are the Benefits of Raw Dog Food?
The benefits of raw dog food as noted by Dr Billinghurst and supporters, include:
- Shinier coats
- Healthier skin
- Cleaner teeth
- Higher energy levels
- Smaller stools
Other potential benefits of raw dog food are that it is safer than commercial dog foods, in that there have been several dog food recalls over the years, and that by preparing food yourself you know exactly what your pet is getting in his diet. This in itself though is at times conflicting because of potential safety concern with raw food itself, which I cover below.
What are the Risks of Raw Dog Food?
- Risks to human and dog health due to bacteria contained in raw meat. These include salmonella and E.coli, amongst others, and may be shed in the dogs faeces and put humans at risk.
- Risk to the dog from choking, breaking a tooth or intestinal perforation from ingesting raw bones.
- Nutritional deficiencies – a higher possibility in a raw food diet than a commercial produced complete diet. For example they may not contain enough calcium and phosphorus for bone health, and too much vitamin A (by eating liver) causing toxicity. If you are thinking of putting your dog on a raw food diet, consult with a veterinary nutritionist first. It is plain to see that dogs these days, although perhaps all descended from wolves, can be vastly different from one another.
Interestingly, the American Veterinary Medical Association have made their opposition to raw dog food clear due to safety concerns over under-cooked meat products.
These safety concerns are the same worldwide, as an article published in the Guardian reported. It included studies which had even looked into commercially produced frozen raw dog food, and found evidence of harmful pathogens putting both pet and humans at risk.
There is no doubt that evidence for and against raw dog food is variable and conflicting. There is little in the way of robust scientific evidence surrounding raw food, and coming to a conclusion about its safety and health benefits is difficult. Different types of raw dog food are available, and looking at the options may help you decide whether raw food is for you.
What Types of Raw Dog Food are Available?
Raw dog food does not necessarily mean dog food that you prepare yourself, although recipes are available to help you create a balanced meal should you wish to.
These days, there are commercially produced raw foods on the market which have been either freeze dried or frozen.
The advantage of commercially produced raw foods for example here in the UK is that there is now guidance produced by the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) in conjunction with bodies such as DEFRA, PHE and the FSA. They have recognised growing interest in raw pet foods and therefore provided best practise guidelines on its production.
They have also produced a raw feeding factsheet, and from this I feel reassured by the quote “as with all commercially prepared pet foods, commercially prepared raw foods are subject to stringent legislation and require various tests to ensure they are safe. This, therefore, minimises the risk of food-borne contamination to both the owner and the pet.”
There is no doubt that there are pros and cons to feeding a raw food diet to your dog. In summary having done my own research, I’m still undecided. For starters the overall cost of feeding raw food may be prohibitive to some, and the safety aspects concern me, in a home with small children around. But on the plus side, many advocates strongly believe in the health benefits to our beloved pooches and perhaps that cannot be wholly ignored.
I’m under no illusion having seen it myself, that dogs are suffering with all sorts of allergies and intolerance these days, and that perhaps going back to basics and looking at what they are ingesting is certainly important in uncovering the reasons for this. It’s great that there is such a wide amount of choice out there, and hopefully a dog food that will suit each and every one of our canine friends.