Now that National Raw Feeding Week 2020 has come to a close, the team at The Woof Club thought it would be useful to provide a raw feeding guide and a summary of the pros and cons of raw feeding, which can sometimes be seen as a controversial topic.
Dogs, like any living being, need the right set of nutrients to support their physical and mental wellbeing. Without these, they can suffer from a variety of problems ranging from poor coat condition and poor physical development to behavioural problems and even in extreme cases, death.
Manufactured dog foods must, meet specific standards with respect to nutritional content and must pass regulated feeding trials to make sure that these foods provide at least the minimum level of the nutrients dogs need.
So if you want to create a raw diet for your dog, then all their nutritional requirements need to be taken into consideration in any meals that you plan. It is not necessary to provide every single component of the balanced diet in each meal, but over a relatively short time period, the balance needs to be achieved across the selection of meals provided. If a well-balanced diet cannot be achieved, the results will be seen in the physical and mental health of the dog.
A dog’s health depends primarily on the health of their digestive system. The digestive tract is essentially an unsterile tube from the mouth to the anus. It is the largest immune reactive surface in a dog’s body and it is exposed to pathogens, viruses, bacteria and food particles on a daily basis.
A canine’s immune system, including the stomach, colon and intestines, is vital and is responsible for reducing food into nutritive molecules comprising of carbohydrates, fats and sugars, which are all necessary to keep a dog as fit and healthy as possible.
Dogs are physiologically designed to process mainly meat with some plant matter and it stands to reason that the dog’s gut bacteria should be optimal on such a diet. The addition of a good probiotic, such as natural yoghurt can additionally help to optimise the environment of the gut.
What Is Raw Feeding Or A Raw Diet?
Raw feeding dogs has become increasingly popular since being proposed in 1993 by an Australian vet, Ian Billinghurst. He called his suggested diet the Bones And Raw Food or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (BARF) diet.
Billinghurst suggested that adult dogs would thrive on BARF feeding, which is an evolutionary diet based on what canines ate before they became domesticated: raw, meaty bones and vegetable scraps. He also believed that grain-based commercial pet foods were harmful to a dog’s health.
A raw dog food diet typically consists of:
- Muscle meat, often still on the bone
- Whole or ground bones, either whole or ground
- Organ meats, such as livers and kidneys
- Raw eggs
- Vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach and celery
- Apples or other fruit
- Some dairy, such as yoghurt
The Benefits Of Raw Feeding
There are many benefits of raw diets or DIY raw feeding for dogs, some of which are outlined below:
The most obvious advantage of providing your dog with a raw food diet is that you know exactly what your dog is eating, unless, of course, they scavenge in the bin or compost heap! There are also no hidden additives or preservatives that may be doing your dog more harm than good.
If your dog is ever sick, you will not have to agonise over a long list of ingredients trying to work out what they are and whether they may be the cause. When you are trying to find the right foods for your dog, you will also spend less time trying to find products that agree with your dog.
With a raw food diet, what you see is what you get and as long as the food is safely stored and prepared it is unlikely that your dog will experience any health-related issues once the transition period has passed.
One of the most pleasing benefits of raw feeding is that a dog’s coat looks much healthier and shinier. A correct raw food diet should have the right balance between fresh protein and fat to encourage a silky coat.
Research has shown that 40% of a dog’s total protein consumption is used to optimise the condition of their skin and coat and so, not surprisingly, itching and allergies tend to be significantly reduced on this diet too since the dog is not ingesting the typical additives and preservatives present in commercial food.
Better Poo Consistency
Another noted benefit of a raw diet for dogs is that their poo is much less smelly and more compact. This is because it consists largely of powdered bone from their raw diet, which has very little odour. There also tends to be less poo produced due to the greater uptake of water and nutrients. The overall “dog” smell is also said to be significantly reduced on this type of diet.
When a dog eats a high grain carbohydrate-rich commercial meal, it alters the pH of the stomach. A dog fed on a raw diet typically has a high acidity level in their stomach, which means that their digestion is more complete, thus maximising nutrient absorption. Dogs fed on a commercial diet have a lower acidity in the stomach making digestion more difficult. Raw feeding means that food will pass much more quickly through the gut, thus nutrient absorption is reduced.
Improved Dental Hygiene
Another quoted benefit of feeding a raw diet is an improvement in dental hygiene and a reduction of bad breath. This is due to the inclusion of bones in their raw diet and as a dog chews the bone, the teeth are cleaned and the gums are strengthened.
Processed dog foods are softer and thus do not have such a marked effect, leaving plaque behind on the teeth, which ultimately leads to bad breath and bacterial infections, which can leak into the bloodstream, possibly causing heart disease.
In addition, a dog’s saliva does not contain an enzyme called ‘amylase’, which is needed to break down sugars that enter the mouth. As commercial dog foods often contain high levels of carbohydrate sugars, these stay in the mouth and encourage bacterial growth which leads to dental issues and bad breath.
Lower Incidence of Bloat
A raw diet has a higher water content which is known to reduce the risk of bloat.
Bloat occurs when the stomach fills with gas and then becomes twisted and this can be fatal and sometimes life-threatening for dogs. Although no firm correlation has been made between commercial dog food and bloat, there are many studies that seem to indicate that this could well be true.
Lower In Salt
High salt levels are also dangerous for dogs. A raw diet is lower in salt, a dog produces less urine and so the kidneys don’t need to work so hard, thus reducing the risk of disease in later life.
As well as the physiological benefits of raw feeding, there are also benefits in terms of mental and physical stimulation and behaviour. Ripping, shredding and tearing muscle meat as well as crushing bones works out and strengthens the jaw and neck muscles and expends energy just to eat the meal.
Furthermore, as they are engaging in a primal and instinctual activity, dogs tend to really enjoy their meals and the process of ripping apart their meat and chewing bones, which, in turn, releases endorphins, increasing their sense of wellbeing. Because they are actually being both mentally and physically stimulated at mealtimes, they are said to be more satisfied and less likely to engage in destructive and boredom-driven behaviours.
Potential Downfalls Of Raw Feeding
Despite Billinghurst’s enthusiasm for the BARF food diet, many mainstream veterinarians disagree as does the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Commercial Dog Food
Risks of feeding a raw diet have been documented in several studies published in veterinary journals. The mainstream vets point to the online hype for raw feeding and the bad publicity for commercial dog foods as being the drivers for the increase in the raw feeding trend.
One such vet and opponent of raw feeding for dogs is Lisa Freeman, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University Veterinary School. Her research suggests that the shinier coats attributed to raw feeding programs are a result of the higher fat content and that high-fat commercial dog foods would have the same effect, without the risks of an unbalanced diet. She also advocates the use of supplements added to cooked or commercial dog foods that are specifically designed to improve coat condition.
Prolonged Unbalanced Diet
One of the most common risks cited with raw feeding is that of a prolonged unbalanced diet. A recent study looked at five raw diets, three homemade and two commercially available foods. All of these had nutritional deficiencies or excesses that could potentially lead to health problems if fed on a long-term basis.
The report warned that too little fat may lead to a poor coat condition, but too much fat and not enough protein can also cause anaemia. It also warned that homemade raw diets may lack calcium and phosphorus leading to bone fractures and dental problems and even if present in adequate amounts, they may be difficult to digest.
One must add at this point that this research was mainly funded by a market-leading commercial dog food manufacturer and thus may not be as impartial as one would like!
Another real risk arising from a raw food diet for both humans and animals is that of bacterial contamination.
The FDA has repeatedly warned about the risks to owners of handling raw meat. A study of 20 commercially available raw meat diets found that 7.1% contained a strain of salmonella and E. Coli bacteria was found in 59.6% of raw meat diets.
This bacteria can also be shed in faeces, leading to a potential source for human exposure and infection. This is, however, not only confined to the raw diet, because commercially available wet and dried foods have also been found to contain the same bacteria and good hygiene in the home can mitigate the risks for both dogs and owners.
The raw diet is also not suitable for all dogs and if it is fed with insufficient research for a particular dog, it can lead to significant health risks, such as vitamin A poisoning if it is over-rich in liver or pancreatic problems in the case of an existing precondition. It is also not suitable for puppies since they need higher calcium levels to grow strong teeth and bones.
Dangers Of Feeding Bones
There is a potential risk when feeding bones to a dog, as bones can break or chip teeth or become lodged in the dog’s throat or puncture their internal organs if it splinters.
Finally, there may be a small risk of physical injury to the owner or family members from the dog. We have already mentioned the fact that eating bones and ripping up meat is a primal instinct for a dog and thus some may become very protective of their food or bones, even to the extent of harming an innocent bystander who tries to move the food bowl or passes too close to the bone as it is being eaten.
How Can The Woof Club Help You?
We hope that we’ve provided you with an informative guide on raw dog food for beginners and some food for thought when it comes to raw feeding and that it answers any questions you may have regarding the topic. This subject is a hot and controversial topic and we would love to hear your comments on both sides of the argument!