Raw food diet for dogs has always been a controversial subject within the dog lover's community. Historically, racing greyhounds and sledge dogs were fed on raw dog food diets! Yet, back in 1993, an Australian veterinarian called Ian Billinghurst introduced the idea of using raw dog food for the family pet. He called this the BARF diet, an acronym that stands for Bones and Raw Food, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. Billinghurst suggested that adult dogs would prosper on a diet based on what canines ate before they became domesticated meaning raw, meaty bones and vegetable leftovers. He sustains that grain-based commercial pet foods are harmful to a dog’s health.
What is raw dog food?
Raw diet for dogs is very similar to what wolves eat since this is what their bodies are best adapted for.
A raw dog food diet consists of:
- Raw meat for dogs, often still on the bone
- Organ meats (livers and kidneys)
- Raw eggs
- Vegetables (broccoli and spinach)
- Fruits like apple
- Dairy such as yoghurt
Dog owners who feed their dogs with raw diets usually claim that their dogs are much healthier than before.
Risks and benefits of raw dog food
Among the potential benefits of the raw dog food diet you can find:
- Shinier coats
- Cleaner teeth
- Healthier skin
- Higher energy levels
Critical risks include:
- Threats to human and dog health due to bacteria in raw meat
- An unbalanced diet that could damage the health of dogs if eaten for an extended period of time
- Bone fragments your dog can choke on, break his teeth or cause an internal puncture
What does research show about a raw diet for dogs?
Dr Lisa M. Freeman carried out an evaluation of raw dog food diets published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association in 2001. She cautions pet owners against feeding this to pets. She claims that pet parents are choosing raw diets based on “(…) online myths and scare tactics about commercial pet food”.
Furthermore, studies have proven the likelihood of bacterial contamination.
This not only affects dogs because most of these bacteria can be shed in the faeces, making them a potential source of human exposure and infection.
There are some veterinarians in favour of it. For example, Dr Doug Knueven said “For most animals, it’s more beneficial than processed foods. The whole concern about bad bacteria is overblown. When people are feeding a raw diet they know it’s not sterile, and they’re more careful about washing their hands. Feeding a raw meat diet is no different than cooking chicken for the family ... you have to clean up the counter and your knife”. Plus, he argues that the benefits far surpass the possible risks.
How to prepare a raw dog food diet?
If you want to start feeding your dog this type of diet, then you can compose it yourself. It is generally recommended that you include all of the following:
Raw meat for dogs
Feeding bones are great to provide calcium. When feeding a raw diet, give your pet meats with the bones still in them. Make sure that the bones are edible and digestible. Excellent options are chicken wings and backs, turkey tails, beef ribs and pork necks. Remember that these raw meats with bones should only comprise about half of your dog's diet.
Fish is a good source of essential fatty acids. You should feed your dog whole raw fish about twice a week. More than that can cause mercury poisoning. It is advisable to freeze the fish before feeding it to kill any parasites.
You should feed your dog raw eggs (include the shells) at least twice a week. These are perfect sources of calcium and phosphorous. Also, the yolks have essential vitamins and minerals.
Organ meat is crucial because it has essential vitamins and minerals. Feed your dog liver or kidney about twice a week.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamins and minerals. Choose green vegetables which dogs feel more prone to eating. When it comes to fruits, dogs don’t have much of particular taste!
As you now know, this is the basic framework for a raw food diet. You can make alterations! For example, some owners choose not to feed bones if their dogs have trouble digesting them. Some give their dogs calcium supplements instead. Others will even cook the meats before feeding them to their dogs to avoid any risk of contamination. At the end of the day, what makes the raw dog food diet excellent is what it is made of. So do not leave any important ingredient out.
When switching your dog to a raw diet, always pay close attention to how your dog responds to it. It is normal if your dog gets diarrhoea for a few days as he is adjusting to a higher fat content. If after some days he is not normal, a raw diet might not be a good option for your dog. Take all of this into consideration before feeding your dog this special type of diet!