Raw Diets for Dogs

Many people believe that, for optimal health, their family dog should be given the
same foods he would eat if he were living in the wild.

Wolves are predators and eat a raw meat diet with bones and stomach contents.

Since domestic dogs are related to wolves, wouldn't they be healthier if they were
fed a raw diet rather than processed kibble? Not necessarily.

There are three main problems with feeding dogs a raw diet.

1. These diets can be unbalanced. There are some commercial raw foods that have been through feeding trials and these are certainly healthier than home made raw recipes. Too much of any particular nutrient is as dangerous as too little. Calcium is a good example. Excess calcium in the diet can lead to orthopedic disease, particularly in growing dogs. On the other hand, too little calcium causes weak bones and fractures.

The effects of an unhealthy diet aren't always that easy to see clinically. Dogs fed a raw diet may appear just fine on the outside. However, there can be differences in tissue nutrient levels, and enzyme activity in their bodies and they can have long term effects on their health.

2. Bones are dangerous. The Food and Drug Administration, supported by veterinary dentists, recommend that dogs aren't given bones. There is the risk of tooth fractures, intestinal obstructions and even perforations. Supporters of raw diets respond to this by pointing out that wolves eat raw bones. They do, but they also suffer from broken teeth and tooth root abscesses, and other health issues related to eating bones. They don't have veterinary care available to them, so they suffer or die.

3. Bacteria in raw meat can cause illness. Raw foods can transmit Toxoplasma, Sarcocystis, Salmonella and several species of tapeworm. Your healthy dog may not become unwell, but what about your family members who may have a weaker immune system, such as your elderly grandfather?

Science can tell us what our dog needs in terms of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. A good quality commercial diet is formulated to meet those needs. There is no guarantee that a home made raw food diet isn't causing more harm than good.

If dog owners still prefer to avoid processed foods and feed their dogs raw foods, then there are two options.

Firstly, they can choose a commercial raw diet that has undergone an American Association of Food Control Officials feeding trial. These diets have undergone high pressure pasteurization that should reduce the risk of disease from bacteria.

Secondly, they can have a raw diet formulated by a veterinary nutritionist, and pay close attention to hygiene when preparing their dog's meal. However there are still risks; dogs that are given food contaminated with Salmonella bacteria may shed these bacteria for up to 7 days after their meal. This is where the risk to your family's health can become a concern.

How to feed a dog properly is a controversial issue, with passionate and knowledgeable people on both sides of the raw food argument. Feeding a good quality commercially prepared kibble is often safer, cheaper and healthier for a dog than a home made raw food diet.