Have you heard of the raw dog food diet? It offers more benefits than most dog-owners realize, but it also presents some challenges to consider before deciding if a raw diet is the right option for your furry friend. Below is a review of kibble vs. raw food and some pros and cons of a raw food diet you should keep in mind.
It is also important to do your own research. You can find a number of books and websites that support the raw dog food diet. You might also benefit from talking to a knowledgeable holistic veterinarian to see if it is the best option for your dog.
What is a raw dog food diet? This diet is composed of bones and uncooked meat, organs, eggs (often with shells), and whole or ground fruits and vegetables. It consists primarily of raw meats, with small portions of vegetables and supplemental ingredients such as fish oil mixed in. You can find numerous recipes for balanced raw food diets that are both “good to” and “good for” your dog. Raw food diets typically exclude additives, fillers, grains, and other low-value carbohydrates found in kibble. The theory behind a raw diet is that it is more natural for dogs than the processed kibble commonly found at supermarkets and pet stores.
Why would you feed your dog a raw food diet? Providing a complete and wholesome diet for dogs is the most common reason why puppy parents turn to a raw food diet. They can be super selective over what goes in their dog’s bowl. Most dogs would benefit from a raw diet, but it is especially beneficial for dogs with arthritis, chronic pain, and/or allergies to ingredients found in kibble. (In fact, allergic reactions are a main reason why grain-free kibble is so popular.)
Most commercial kibble is cheaply produced and full of low-nutrient fillers. And with its high amounts of added sugar, cheap carbs, and meat byproducts, it is designed to be appealing to your dog—much like low-nutrition junk food is for humans.
Pros of a Raw Food Diet for Your Dog
- More natural ingredients
- Selective ingredients
- No preservatives or selective additives
- Healthier skin and coat
- Healthier teeth
- Healthier digestive system
More natural ingredients. Commercial dog food typically contains synthetic vitamins, artificial preservatives, flavorings, and colorings that many pet owners consider unhealthy. A raw dog food diet, however, should have nothing but meat, bones, organs, select supplements, fruits, and veggies. Yes, fresh fruits and veggies. Contrary to popular belief, dogs are omnivore opportunists and will eat just about anything. However, be sure to avoid fruits and vegetables that are harmful to dogs.
Selective ingredients. When you make your own dog food, you choose the ingredients. You can mix raw meat, organs, bones, fruit, and vegetables to suit your dog’s taste buds. The best part is that you know what’s going into your puppy’s tummy, giving you peace of mind that your pup is getting the proper nutrients.
No preservatives or selective additives. One of the main benefits of a raw food diet for your dog is that it’s more nutritious than commercial dog food. It does not contain preservatives, colorings, and artificial flavorings found in commercial dog foods. And with a raw food diet, you can ensure that your dog gets a balanced intake of macronutrients.
Healthier skin and coat. Raw dog foods are rich in naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats that are essential for hydrated, healthy skin and a shiny, supple coat.
Healthier teeth. Dry kibble is just okay at cleaning your dog’s teeth. But how many of us feed our dogs kibble and give them a greenie or dental stick to help keep their teeth clean? The bone chewing involved with eating a raw diet can help scrape away plaque and tartar build up on your pet’s teeth.
Healthier digestive system. Raw foods are easier for your dog to digest because they do not contain added ingredients such as thickeners and stabilizers found in commercial kibble. Most dogs on a balanced raw food diet show physical evidence of a healthy digestive system. (In other words, perfect, easy-to-clean poops.)
Cons of a Raw Dog Food Diet
- Virus, bacteria, and parasitic contamination
- Choking hazard presented by large bones
- Time consuming
- Balancing macronutrients
- It’s costly
Virus, bacteria, and parasitic contamination. (Oh, my!) Raw meat, the principal ingredient of a raw dog food diet, is more susceptible to contaminates such as salmonella and other bacteria that can cause food-borne illnesses in dogs (as well as humans who handle the raw meat). Raw meat and bones may also contain parasites like trichinella spiralis, which causes trichinosis.
Pro tip: Practice safe food handling and only provide human-grade protein and vegetables to your dog. This ensures that you won’t contaminate your home and reduces the risk to you and your family.
Choking hazard presented by large bones. Large bones can be difficult for dogs to swallow and may cause internal injury. It’s also possible for bones to get stuck in the throat and cause choking. Bones, particularly when cooked, can splinter and damage the esophagus, stomach, or intestines. If swallowed, pieces of bone can become lodged in the small intestine, and removing them can require surgery. Sometimes a dog will vomit after eating bones, and you may find small pieces of raw bone in the vomit. This is not a danger. Dogs are usually good about throwing up stuff that isn’t digesting well.
Pro tip: Keep an eye on how your dog consumes the boney bits of a raw diet. Do not serve dogs any cooked bones as these are more likely to shatter into damaging bits. All bones present a choking hazard, so you should never leave your dog unsupervised when they have a bone.
Time consuming. Kibble is quick and easy, and it has a long shelf life. But a raw food diet requires time to source and shop for the ingredients, prepare the meals, and clean up afterwards.
Some companies sell packaged raw food for dogs, but do your research before purchasing their products. To save money, some cut corners and hide subgrade ingredients behind fancy packaging.
Pro tip: To save time, try meal prepping by packing your dog’s meals for the week in appropriate food-safe containers. You need to commit to a regular time a couple of times a week because these are raw ingredients with a short shelf life and a high risk of cross-contamination. Even with pre-prep, you must always clean your dog’s bowl and feeding area after each meal.
Balancing macronutrients. One of the keys to having a healthy pet for life is to give them a balanced diet. A raw food diet may be more nutrient-dense than kibble, but you still need to add supplements to the raw ingredients. Not only that, you must also make sure to give your dog balanced macronutrients. Failure to balance your dog’s nutritional needs can lead to acute and long-term health risks. In comparison, some dogs may need supplements with their kibble, but this is even more imperative when feeding your dog raw food.
Pro tip: Consult your veterinarian, preferably a holistic vet, as well as a nutritionist, before starting your dog on a raw food diet.
It’s costly. On average, a raw dog food diet is anywhere from 100–800 percent more costly than kibble. With a 50-pound bag of kibble, the average cost of feeding your dog is $1 per day. On the other hand, raw food diet can cost $2 to $8 per day, depending on the size of your dog. The cost increase is due in part to the inclusion of fresh, raw ingredients. But there is another hidden cost: food spoilage.
Regardless of how prepared you are, raw foods have a significantly shorter shelf life than their processed counterparts. You are going to lose food and money to spoilage because you cannot feed your dog putrid meat—no matter how much they wag their tail for it. One option to reduce spoilage is to vacuum seal the food for refrigeration and for freezing. Zwilling has a great home system.
More and more pet owners are putting their dogs on a raw diet. We covered a handful of the benefits and drawbacks, but it is essential to do your research, consult a vet, and come up with a plan before you decide to switch over to a raw food diet. Asking intelligent questions helps you become a better-informed pet owner. Your vet may favor a raw diet, or they may warn you about potential health risks. You can discuss all of the pros and cons together before deciding if it’s the right choice for your pet.
We hope this article has explained some of the benefits and hurdles of a raw diet, and with this information you can come to an informed decision about what is most suitable for your dog and why.