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Raw Dog Food: Dietary Concerns, Benefits, and Risks by Jordan Walker

Jordan Walker’s passion for animals is unrivaled. He writes regularly for Coops And Cages and other blogs where he spends his boundless enthusiasm educating pet parents on various pet issues. In this post, he sorts out the pros and cons of adopting a raw food diet for dogs.

Feeding a raw food diet to dogs is a hot issue among pet experts. Racing greyhounds and sled dogs have been fed raw diets for years, but when the subject came to feeding raw to household pets, numerous objections ensued. Australian vet Ian Billinghurst was the first to propose the idea in 1993 in a book he wrote called “Give Your Dog a Bone.” Since then, the issue of whether it is appropriate or even safe for dogs to live off uncooked meals has been a topic of intense discussion. Is a raw diet really bad for dogs

Species-appropriate diet

To begin addressing the question, dog owners need to understand how dogs can achieve good nutrition and, thus, good health. No one can argue that for optimal health to occur, an animal must eat what it was designed to eat. For example plant-eating animals obtain the nutrients they need through plants, while meat-eating animals meet their requirements through meat. This means there is a diet that is appropriate for every animal.

Carnivorous ancestors

Since dogs are descended from wolves, true-blue meat-eaters, their diet should naturally consist of the same foods that their ancestors had eaten in the wild. A dog owner can see this reflected, for one, in a dog’s teeth. Dogs have pointed teeth designed for ripping flesh and gulping it down – definitely not for chewing like cows or humans would their food.

For another, dogs have short digestive tracts designed like those of other carnivores, which consume food sources that may contain lots of pathogens. A shorter digestive system allows carnivores to get foods in and back out quickly. This prevents the pathogens that may have been ingested from staying too long in the body. From the time they first evolved from wolves until today, dogs have retained these physical traits.

Ideal dog food

Unfortunately, the “perfect” dog food does not exist yet, or nobody would have proposed all the different dog food designs out there. However, the history of the dog’s time on earth should provide an idea of what foods have been beneficial to it for the thousands of years it has been around. The dog’s ancestral pedigree, which can be traced back to wolves, confirms that fresh, raw meat is on the dog’s ancestral menu. However, since dogs have lived with man for thousands of years, as well, they have adapted to survive on table scraps and leftovers from man’s kitchen. Clearly, dogs have subsisted for a long, long time on a diverse diet, which technically makes them omnivores (both meat- and plant-eating) with a heavy bias on meat. In any case, dogs will need good-quality proteins, fats, and a small amount of vegetables and fruits to attain good health.

The raw diet concept

The raw food diet aims to provide dogs with a close copy of the diet they would have thrived on thousands of years ago, the meal that they have been designed to eat to be healthy. Although breeding for various purposes has resulted in the many faces of dogs known today, dogs have largely retained a body that is equipped to handle a meat-based diet, even uncooked meat. Since wolves tend to consume their prey whole, a dog’s body can also process all other unpalatable parts of a prey carcass, such as internal organs. Indeed, along with raw, lean meat, a raw diet can also include nutrient-rich organs like the heart and liver.

Benefits of feeding raw food

Raw food, being natural and fresh (as opposed to processed), has its benefits. The primary benefit seen in dogs eating raw food is in the general improvement of its health. With a raw diet, dogs get to enjoy fresh, unprocessed fare, which retains the nutrients that can be derived from such a meal. Dog owners who put their dogs on a raw diet reported shinier coats on their pets, as well as increased energy, healthier skin, and fewer allergies. Allowing dogs to chew on raw bones also improves their dental health by having cleaner teeth, healthier gums, and fresher breath. However, most reports on the benefits of a raw diet to dogs have mostly been anecdotal. Few scientific studies have been conducted to support the claims of feeding a raw diet to dogs. Then again, pet parents can lay to rest their worry on whether the food they feed to their dogs are safe or made from wholesome ingredients. With raw food, owners get to pick where they source their meats and veggies, as well as remove preservatives, useless fillers, and chemical additives from their dogs’ rations. A raw diet is also low in carbohydrates since it excludes grains, which can cause certain allergies.

Risks of a raw diet

However, a raw diet has its risks. Perhaps the most important is the risk posed to dogs from pathogens and parasites. Raw meat is a known carrier of the eggs of various parasitic worms. In addition, raw meat can harbor large loads of bacteria known to cause disease in humans, including E. coli, Salmonella, and protozoans. Yet, while parasitic worms are mostly external and come from infected hosts, bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella naturally reside in the dog and even in the human gut. Regardless of the kind of food that a dog eats, it will naturally shed these bacteria in its feces. Nevertheless, commercial, processed dog food has been contaminated by these bacteria, as previous reports would say.

A note on going raw

When deciding to feed a raw diet, owners should practice strict sanitation and hygiene to avoid contamination. Furthermore, owners should take care to achieve nutritional balance. Raw meals can be deficient in calcium and phosphorus, but can provide too much vitamin A, especially if meals are high in liver. Furthermore, a raw diet may not be appropriate for dogs with certain health problems and digestive issues. Puppies are also not recommended to feed on a raw diet to avoid health issues like bone deformities, but may do well with homemade meals.

Guest Author: Jordan Walker
Jordan is the lead content curator for Coops And Cages, as well as a couple of other pet related blogs. His passion for animals is only matched by his love for ‘attempting’ to play the guitar. If you would like to catch him, you can via Google+ or Twitter: @CoopsAndCages.

DWB Editors note: Here at DWB we recommend commercially available raw diets as a quality option for most dogs. Building your own BARF (bones and raw food) diet is complex and as stated by the author, can easily be deficient in important areas. If you would like to feed your own BARF diet it’s recommend that you consult with the many BARF communities online for nutritional guidelines.

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