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Is Raw Food Safe for Dogs? | Pupford

September 30th, 2023

Filed under Health + Wellness

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Kibble, fresh food, raw food, oh my! When it comes to feeding our dogs, there are so many options!

You want to feed your dog the best possible diet to optimize their health, which raises a lot of questions. Recently we’ve been getting the most questions about raw food diets.

There’s a lot of chatter about raw food for dogs lately – some in praise and some in criticism. So what’s the deal here?

We’ve done the research and chatted with the experts to gather the raw truth about raw food diets. And since we don’t believe in gatekeeping when it comes to what’s best for our pups, we’re happy to share it with you ;)

IMPORTANT NOTE: Before starting your dog on a new diet, especially a raw food diet, consult with your veterinarian.


a raw food diet for dogs what is it

Raw food diets are pretty much what they sound like. The focus is on feeding your dog food that is not cooked in a traditional sense.

Raw food can be homemade or store-bought, fresh or freeze-dried. While there’s some variation within raw food diets, they mostly consist of similar ingredients:

  • Muscle meats
  • Whole or ground bones
  • Organ meats such as livers and kidneys
  • Raw eggs
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Dairy such as yogurt

Raw food diets have been around for a really long time for racing and sled dogs. It was then introduced as a concept for family dogs in 1993 by Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst.

His thought process was that all adult dogs would thrive on a diet based more on what they ate before domestication rather than commercial dog food.

Fun fact: Billinghurst first referred to this diet as the BARF diet (Bones and Raw Food or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) – but this nickname didn’t quite stick because of its ~less than appealing~ nature.


the benefits of raw food diets for dogs

Raw food diets are increasing in popularity alongside a shift in less processed food for humans too.

“For most animals, it’s more beneficial than processed foods,” comments Doug Knueven, DVM, of the Beaver Animal Clinic in Pennsylvania.

When raw dog food is prepared correctly, there can be benefits, like:

  • Stronger bones and joints – The bones included in a raw food diet contain collagen, marrow, glucosamine, and calcium which support bone and joint health.
  • Cleaner teeth – A highly processed, high-carbohydrate diet can contribute to poor dental health in some dogs. Plus, chewing on bones can help your dog remove plaque and buildup from teeth.
  • Softer, shinier coats – Many raw diets contain food rich in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, seeds, etc.) which support healthy skin and soft, shiny coats.
  • Reduced stool volume – The ingredients of a raw food diet are typically more digestible and contain no fillers, so to put it bluntly, there’s less extra stuff for your dog to poop out.
  • Higher energy levels – A diet rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals and low in fillers can help your dog use energy more efficiently.

If a raw food diet has all these benefits, why are some people not on board?

More on that now.


the cons of raw food diets for dogs

While there are benefits to a raw food diet, there are also risks to be aware of.

The biggest risks of a raw food diet include:

  • The possibility of bacteria in raw meat that could make your dog (and the human serving them) sick
  • The potential for an unbalanced diet that may lead to nutritional deficiencies over a long period of time
  • The risk of bones casing broken teeth, internal punctures, or choking

The biggest concern experts have is around the potential for bacteria. According to the American Kennel Club, The American Veterinarian Medical Association opposes the unregulated feeding of raw foods that have not gone through proper processes to eliminate pathogens.

The risk of food-borne illness increases significantly when raw food diets are prepared from unregulated or unknown sources without proper health and handling guidelines.

So if you’re preparing your own raw food diet or purchasing from an unregulated source, you and your dog may be at higher risk.

Some veterinarians also warn that raw diets can be potentially harmful to dogs who share their homes with young children or immunocompromised people – or if the dogs themselves are young puppies or have conditions like pancreatitis, cancer, or other diseases affecting the immune system.

To summarize: the biggest concern about a raw food diet is the potential for contamination and food-borne illness for the dogs and people in your house. Young children, puppies, and dogs/people with immune-compromising conditions are at an increased risk.


things to consider before starting your dog on a raw food diet

Now that you know the benefits and risks, you can consider whether a raw food diet is right for your dog.

But with something as important as your dog’s diet, you’ll want to make sure you take all factors into consideration.

Here are some other things to consider before starting a raw food diet for your dog:

  • Your dog’s specific health needs. As we mentioned earlier, a raw food diet may not be appropriate for dogs with liver issues, pancreatitis, digestive issues, cancer, or autoimmune issues. Make sure to consult your vet before making any changes to your dog’s diet, especially if they have any of these conditions.
  • Your dog’s age. Young puppies are more at risk for issues associated with raw food, so it should only be introduced to older dogs.
  • Make sure your veterinarian is familiar with your dog’s health baseline that way you can more easily spot any changes or issues that arise because of diet changes.
  • Proper handling and cleaning requirements are non-negotiable. You need to be 100% sure your dog’s food was handled properly and safely before feeding it to them.

So what’s the final word on raw food? Is it safe for dogs? Is it a good choice?

It certainly can be. But it takes a lot of research, careful planning, and close monitoring to make sure the benefits outweigh the risks.

If that sounds manageable for your family, then it may be the right choice. Otherwise, there are high-quality dog foods available that do not contain raw food.

We hope this helped you figure out if raw food is right for your dog, but if not – what other questions do you have?

Additional Reading: We break down a comparison of kibble vs dehydrated vs raw dog food here.


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