If you are a dog lover, you have likely heard of a raw food diet for dogs. A raw food diet emphasizes feeding raw meat to your dog, in addition to bones, fruits and vegetables. Public interest on the topic is on the rise. However, the subject is controversial, with both sides giving good reasons of why a raw food diet is good, and why it could be considered bad. The question is, can dogs eat raw meat? What are the advantages and disadvantages?

Origin of Dogs Eating Raw Meat

Both sled dogs and racing greyhounds have followed a raw food diet for a long time. However, a raw food diet that is intended for every dog is a relatively new idea. In 1993, the Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst introduced the idea that a raw food diet is appropriate for all domestic dogs. He called this idea the BARF diet, which stands for Bones and Raw Food, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. The BARF diet is based on the idea that dogs will thrive on raw meat because that is what canines ate before they became domesticated. He explains that raw, meaty bones and vegetable scraps are better suited for feeding a dog than commercial dog foods are. He says that commercial, grain-based dog foods are harmful to a dog’s health.

The Possible Benefits of a Raw Food Diet

There are possible benefits of feeding a raw food diet to your dog, which include:
  • A Shinier Coat
  • Improvement in Skin Health
  • Cleaner Teeth
  • Improved Energy Levels
  • Smaller Stools
In addition to this, processed foods often contain added preservatives, which are of no benefit to a dog. Preparing your dog’s food yourself also allows you to tailor to any specific dietary needs your dog may have. For example, if your dog has a specific food allergy, you can just leave it out of his diet. Bones that the dog chews on are considered to be good for his or her dental hygiene. Modern Dog Magazine says that feeding a raw food diet to your dog also provides the dog with a natural outlet for its chewing tendencies, which may improve their overall behavior.

The Downside

Bacterial Dangers The FDA warns against the dangers of feeding your dog raw meat. In a 2-year study they conducted, they screened over 1,000 samples of raw meat to see which bacteria were present. They compared the levels of dangerous bacteria in commercial pet foods, versus raw pet food. What they found was that “raw pet food was more likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria.” Apparently, both dogs and dog owners who feed their dog a raw food diet are more likely to become infected with Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes. Choking Risk It is risky for a dog to chew on whole bones. The dog may choke on the bones, or the bones may break and splinter. A splintered bone fragment can cause damage to a dog’s digestive tract when it is swallowed. Chipped or broken teeth are also a possibility. Cost and Convenience As you might expect, feeding your dog a raw food diet is more costly than feeding your dog commercial food. However, the cost does vary according to what ingredients are used and the manner in which it is prepared. Here is an example of a cost comparison for a 30-pound dog. In this case, a one-day supply of a frozen, commercially-available raw chicken diet costs about $2.50. If beef is given instead, this averages to about $5 a day. However, the cost of standard, commercial pet food costs about $1 a day. In regards to convenience, logically it is easier to open up a bag of dog chow, then to have to plan a balanced fresh meal for your dog.

A Raw Food Diet Alternative

Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD evaluated raw dog food diets and published her findings in the Journal of American Veterinary Association in 2001. She did caution pet owners against them. However, she presented an alternative for those who wish to avoid commercial pet food. It is a cooked homemade diet, designed by a nutritionist that is certified by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.