Raw food for dogs is said to have a positive impact on overall health and wellbeing, and is becoming more and more popular throughout the UK. However, raw feeding has also had its critics. There are a lot of arguments on both sides and it can be hard to know whether a raw food diet is right for your dog.
Otherwise known as a BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) diet, it is based on the principle of feeding dogs what they naturally evolved to eat in the wild – a raw diet of unprepared raw meat, fruits and vegetables.
What Are the Benefits of Raw Food for Dogs?
A raw food diet for dogs is seen by many as a more natural way to feed as it usually means your dog’s food is less processed than traditional commercial pet foods. Owners who switch to raw feeding report seeing a whole range of health benefits for their dogs:
- Leaner build, better condition
- More energy
- Fresher breath and cleaner teeth
- Healthier ears and eyes
- Glossy coat
- Healthier bowels and stools
- A reduction in allergy symptoms
- Heart health is also said to be improved.
However, there have been no official studies carried out as yet comparing the benefits of raw food for dogs with traditional commercial dog food.
What Are the Problems with Raw Feeding Dogs?
When feeding your dog a homemade raw diet it is important to make sure you are using a variety of ingredients so you don’t miss out vital nutrients from the diet. Follow raw recipes that are properly prepared for dogs if you can to make sure they aren’t missing vitamins and minerals. A multivitamin and mineral supplement like Raw Aid for Cats & Dogs can also help to give you peace of mind when it comes to giving your dog what they need.
There are also potential risks surrounding food hygiene when it comes to raw feeding your pets. Raw food can carry the risk of disease from bacteria and pathogens just like when you are preparing food for yourself. Raw meat should be handled and stored with care to prevent food poisoning for you and your dog.
And of course preparing meals for your dog from home is going to be more time-consuming than offering a commercially prepared food.
Do Vets Recommend a Raw Food Diet for Dogs?
Because of the risks associated with preparing your dog’s raw food from scratch, a lot of vets advise owners to stick to commercial dog foods, raw or otherwise. On the whole these will have been designed with your dog’s needs in mind, be nutritionally balanced and prepared to strict hygiene standards.
However, there are also many vets who advise that done correctly raw feeding can be a healthy lifestyle change for your dog, whether you choose a commercial raw dog food supplier offering complete meals or you do it yourself at home.
How Do I Feed My Dog a Raw Food Diet?
There are some important things to remember around nutrition and hygiene, to ensure that a raw food diet is as safe and healthy for your dog as possible:
- Do your research – there are lots of ways to go about feeding your dog a raw diet including making it yourself from scratch or choosing one of the complete foods now available.
- If you decide to do it yourself, take some time to find out what the important nutrients are and find some recipes that will give your dog a balanced diet.
- Think about the practicalities of your new diet. You may need extra fridge and freezer space and of course the time to prepare meals for your dog is important.
- As with any dietary change, introduce the new food slowly. It will take time for your dog’s digestion to get used to a new diet – for puppies this could be over a few days as their digestive systems should be generally be healthy and robust but for older dogs this should be a slower process.
- Some canine nutritionists advise fasting your dog for half a day or so before the first raw meal to make sure they have worked up an appetite. Offer a small amount to start with.
- Make sure you practice the same good hygiene as you would when preparing raw meat for your own meals. Wash your hands before and after preparation, and after touching the dog’s bowl.
- Keep your utensils and containers for handling and storing raw meat separate. Don’t forget to wash the bowls frequently.
- Meat should be thawed slowly in the fridge and in a sealed container to keep it away from your own food.
- If you notice your dog having loose stools after starting on a raw diet wait until things go back to normal before resuming the changes.
- Consider adding some nutritional supplements to make sure your dog is getting all the nutrients he needs. A raw dog food supplement like Raw Aid for Cats & Dogs will provide certain essential daily vitamins & minerals to help make sure your dog's diet is properly balanced.
- Make any abrupt changes to your dog’s diet.
- Leave your dog unsupervised with bones and always avoid cooked bones, especially bird bones. On average the bone content in raw food is around 10% and it is the main source of calcium in a raw diet. Cooked bones are more likely to splinter, however, and can be very dangerous. Once a bone is small enough to fit inside the dog’s mouth it should be removed and thrown away. If you are making homemade raw food from meat that does not have a bone content, look for a safe way to break raw bones into small pieces, such as wrapping them in clingfilm and a tea towel and beating with a rolling pin until the size of crumbled egg shells. For dental hygiene there are many natural alternatives to bones, such a deer antler, which is naturally shed by the deer and regrows each year.
- Keep defrosted raw meat in the fridge for more than 24 hours.
- Refreeze raw meat that has been defrosted.
- Feed the same raw food every day. With just one source of nutrients your dog’s diet will be unbalanced.
Is a Raw Food Diet Right for My Dog?
Many owners are now switching to a raw food diet for their dogs and cats, but whether you choose raw feeding will depend on your own preferences and other lifestyle factors. It’s worth taking the time to do some research into what’s required and what other pet owners’ experiences are before deciding whether to make the switch for your dog.
The Pet Food Manufacturers' Association also provide some useful information on how to safely handle raw pet food. Here's their education factsheet for some easy to remember tips.