Should your dog go raw?

by Nancy Boland

Raw dog food diets are controversial. But the popularity of the diets — which emphasize raw meat, bones, fruits, and vegetables — is rising.

Racing greyhounds and sled dogs have long eaten raw food diets. Extending those feeding practices to the family pet is a more recent idea, proposed in 1993 by Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst. He called his feeding suggestions the BARF diet, an acronym that stands for Bones and Raw Food, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food.

Billinghurst suggested that adult dogs would thrive on an evolutionary diet based on what canines ate before they became domesticated: Raw, meaty bones and vegetable scraps. Grain-based commercial pet foods, he contended, were harmful to a dog’s health.

Potential benefits of the raw dog food that supports believe:

  • Shinier coats
  • Healthier skin
  • Cleaner teeth
  • Higher energy levels
  • Smaller stools

Potential risks include:

  • Threats to human and dog health from bacteria in raw meat
  • An unbalanced diet that may damage the health of dogs if given for an extended period
  • Potential for whole bones to choke an animal, break teeth or cause an internal puncture

What is a raw food diet?

A raw dog food diet typically consists of:

  • Muscle meat, often still on the bone
  • Bones, either whole or ground
  • Organ meats such as livers and kidneys
  • Raw eggs
  • Vegetables like broccoli, spinach, and celery
  • Apples or other fruit
  • Some dairy, such as yogurt



 People who support the idea of feeding a raw food diet and moving away from commercially produced dog foods often doubt the quality of pre-packed foods, and claim that the content and standard of the meat and other products that make up dog food can be of a poor standard.


Fans of the raw food diet feel that feeding dry food or processed tinned meat is greatly removed from the natural feeding style of dogs in the wild, and that a diet of this type is not as beneficial to dogs.


The raw food diet can also be tailored to suit the needs of dogs with specific allergies or other special dietary considerations. The raw food diet does not require any of the preservatives or additives that usually accompany pre-packaged foods, and gnawing on bones and fibre-rich vegetable tissue can be beneficial for the teeth and gums.

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One of the main potential issues that accompany feeding a raw food diet is the health aspect of providing and preparing raw meat; raw diets may contain a range of potentially harmful bacteria, including Salmonella and E-coli which can affect both dogs and people. Not only is there a heightened risk involved for the person preparing and handling raw meat and meat products on a regular basis, but also possibly for the dog involved too.


There is also the additional risk posed by feeding bones to dogs; while gnawing on a bone can be beneficial to dental health, there is always the potential of chipping or damaging the teeth on a bone, or ingesting bone fragments that can then cause choking or internal perforations.
Getting the nutritional balance of dog food right can be a very delicate balancing act, and one that the food scientists and nutritionists employed by pet food companies spend a lot of time and effort working on. It is much more challenging for the layperson dog owner to produce a 100% balanced and nutritionally complete diet. Couple this with the high expense of maintaining this diet makes it financially out of reach for many dog owners.


Is the raw food diet suitable for my dog?


While a lot is said both for and against the raw food diet for dogs, no long-term studies have been conducted into its efficacy or major risks. There is little scientific information or data available to definitively make a decision either for or against the raw food diet for dogs, and each dog owner must weigh up the pros and cons and potential risks and benefits in order to reach their own decision.


Just like with human diets, there is no one choice that is right for everyone, and certainly no one definition for health. Some dogs thrive off of a raw food diet, noticing immediate benefits like shinier coat and more energy. Others may react negatively to the change, especially older dogs with sensitive stomachs that may be at a greater risk of colitis.

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