Just like everything else in the world, fads regarding dog care and nutrition come and go. There’s one big fad that has gained a lot of popularity in the dog world in recent years, and that is the raw food diet.
I didn’t know much about a raw food diet for dogs until I met a few people at Roscoe’s favorite dog park. We were chit-chatting while our pups were playing and sniffing, and we got onto the topic of what we feed our dogs. Three of the people I was talking to said that they have their dogs on a raw food diet. I scratched my head because I was utterly perplexed. A raw food diet? For dogs? Like, raw meat? Is that safe?
I asked them a few questions and listened to the laundry list of benefits they spouted off, nodded, said “interesting” a few times, and then went home to dig a little deeper.
What is a raw food diet for dogs?
Some people believe that dogs have only been domesticated for some 15,000 years or so, which isn’t really long in the grand scheme of things. They are the descendants of wolves, carnivorous animals who hunt their prey and consume the meat, uncooked and unaltered, of course.
The idea of a raw food diet is connected to a dog’s ancestral diet. Though some dogs, such as sled dogs and greyhounds that have been used for racing, have been fed raw food diets for a long time, the idea of feeding family dogs this type of diet is fairly new. In 1993, Ian Billinghurst, an Australian veterinarian, suggested that a raw food diet was the best option for dogs; in particular his Bones and Raw Food or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (BARF) diet.
Basically, this veterinarian said that adult dogs attain optimal health if they were fed a diet that was based on their evolution; raw meat, bones, raw vegetables and fruits, etc.
The raw food diet has been controversial, to say the least. Advocates swear that their dogs are in much better health because of this diet, while the FDA and a lot of vets thing that it is unsafe.
So, is it healthy or unhealthy? You be the judge…
Benefits of a Raw Food Diet
Those who support the idea of a raw food diet say that it offers the following benefits:
- Healthier weight – Since these diets are high protein, it’s easier for dogs to maintain a healthier weight, and dogs that are a healthier weight live longer.
- Healthier mouth – Chewing on bones is said to remove plaque buildup from a dog’s teeth, which will lead to a healthier mouth. Also, the bones are supposedly a good source of calcium, which could lead to stronger teeth.
- Improved strength – Again, because these diets are high in protein, they can lead to better strength. Add to that the fact that dogs will use their muscles more when trying to tear through meat and bones and their strength supposedly increases.
- Improved digestion – Dogs tend to eat slower on a raw food diet, and their bellies can produce more gastric juices, which leads to better digestion.
On the flip side, there are a lot of people who are against a raw food diet for dogs, and they cite the following reasons as to why:
- No proven benefits; in fact, the benefits are anecdotal, which makes the a bit sketchy.
- Bacteria: There could be harmful bacteria lurking in raw meat, which could be devastating for a dog’s health, even deadly.
- Choking hazard: Those bones could fray and become dislodged, clogging a dog’s airways and causing him to choke.
- Intestinal problems: If uncooked bones are swallowed, they could potentially obstruct the bowels or cause a perforation in the intestines, which could be life-threatening at the worst or lead to surgery and an expensive vet bill at the least.
- It’s difficult to keep up with: A raw food diet is expensive and it can be hard to monitor dogs while they eat to ensure they don’t swallow any bones.
So, given the pros and cons, what do you think about feeding your dog a raw food diet? I know what I think: I DON’T! We stick to a well-balanced diet that is approved by our vet.