In recent years raw dog food diets have increased in popularity. Raw pet food sales have grown since 2017, in both frozen and dehydrated or freeze-dried forms. Is this just a passing trend or are there health benefits to feeding raw food to dogs? Do raw dog food diets pose any dangers to your pet or household? While there is no conclusive evidence that a raw food diet is better than traditional packaged dry foods, it is important to do research when deciding what to feed your dog.
What is a raw dog food diet?
The concept of a raw food diet for dogs is to mimic a dog’s natural ancestral menu. The idea is that as descendants of wolves, dogs aren’t biologically designed to eat the high percentages of carbohydrates found in dry packaged kibble. Most dry dog foods are made up of around 50% carbohydrates, this number can vary depending on type and brand.
A dog’s ancestral diet was made up of primarily proteins and fats, with a lower carbohydrate intake of less than 15%. Raw dog food diets emphasize uncooked meat, whole or crushed bones, fruits, vegetables, and some dairy.
Historically, raw dog food was first fed to racing greyhounds and sled dogs, the idea being that feeding dogs what they ate prior to being domesticated would promote a stronger physique and more energy. Since the 1990s, people have started feeding raw food to household dogs for similar benefits.
What are the benefits of a raw food diet?
There are many claimed benefits to feeding your dog a raw food diet. Overall, it is believed to be better for your dog’s health and lifespan. Benefits of raw food can include:
- Healthier teeth and gums
Raw food diets include bones, which will clean your dog’s teeth and stimulate their gums as they chew. If the bones are ground up in the food, the crunching of small bones scrapes teeth and gums. Bones are also a good source of calcium and collagen, among other nutrients. Canned and dry dog foods are highly processed and can have added preservatives, which cause plaque build-up.
(All-natural beef bully sticks are also great for cleaning teeth and scraping away plaque and tartar build-up.)
- Strengthen muscles
The high percentage of protein in raw dog food is good for building muscles. The raw dog diet lifestyle also often includes increased athletic activity, which promotes cardiovascular health and strength.
- Improve digestion and stool quality
The idea of a raw food diet is that it is what dogs are biologically designed to eat. Therefore, it should be easier for your dog to digest than traditional dry or canned foods. Without added preservatives and fillers, raw dog food should be better for your dog’s digestive system. Stool production in dogs on the raw diet is smaller and firmer, which should improve your dog’s nutrient absorption.
- Lower the risk of cancer
Dry dog foods can sometimes be contaminated with a naturally occurring toxin called aflatoxin. Aflatoxin is highly carcinogenic and can cause cancer of the liver. Smaller amounts of aflatoxins are considered non-toxic in the grains used for dog foods. Fresh green vegetables contain chlorophyll, which can offset the effects of aflatoxins. Raw dog food diets include green vegetables, preventing liver cancer and promoting overall health.
Does a raw dog food diet pose any health risks?
Despite the claimed benefits, many vets and the FDA advise against feeding your dog a raw food diet. Raw, uncooked meat can be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria such as Salmonella and Listeria. In fact, raw dog foods are more likely to be contaminated with bacteria than any other type of dog food.
Dogs that ingest the Salmonella bacteria can develop salmonellosis, and experience stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. Listeria bacteria can cause listeriosis, another foodborne illness. Though much less common than salmonellosis, listeriosis is a very serious illness, with a mortality rate of 20-30%.
Contaminated dog food can not only cause your pet to get sick but you or other members of your household as well. After eating, dogs can spread bacteria by licking people and surfaces. If you do feed your dog a raw diet, avoid contact with them immediately after they’ve eaten and wash your hands if they lick or “kiss” you.
Should you feed your dog a raw food diet?
What you feed your dog is up to you and your vet and should be decided based upon your dog’s individual needs, age, breed, activity level, and more. There have been no studies to provide substantial evidence that a raw diet is superior to traditional dry food. Dry and other packaged foods can also carry a risk of contamination and have experienced recalls, so it is important to do research on the products you’re buying before feeding them to your dog.
Speak with your veterinarian to decide what kind of diet is best for your dog. If you do decide to feed them raw food, make sure to slowly introduce their bodies to raw food over the course of a few days. Make sure to follow guidelines and recipes exactly to avoid contamination or getting your dog sick. Schedule check-ups with your vet a few times a year for health evaluation.