Can Dogs Eat Raw Meat?
Dogs are distantly related to wolves, and wolves thrive on animal prey. In this case, can dogs eat raw meat and thrive, too? A quick answer to this question is yes and no. A raw meat diet for dogs continues to be a controversial subject for debate among experts. Some dogs have been on a raw meat diet without developing any problems, but some develop serious food-borne illnesses and can even pose human health risks. Knowing the pros and cons can help pet owners make educated and well-informed decisions for their pet’s health and well-being. Keep reading to learn more!
Why Pet Owners Are Switching Their Dogs to Raw Meat Diets
One of the driving factors that has caused many pet owners to start exploring raw meat diets for dogs are the pet food recalls that never seem to stop. They’re also concerned about the occurrence of diet-associated illnesses, such as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs that have been linked to the consumption of grain-free diets.
The availability of commercial raw meat-based diets has provided an easy avenue for pet owners to seamlessly switch their pets to a raw diet. Unfortunately, many of these pet owners have switched their pet’s diet from commercial to raw meat diets without consulting veterinarians or pet nutritionists.
Additionally, as more people make drastic changes in their diet in favor of natural and organic products, a parallel movement is also taking place for dogs. Many pet owners have turned away from conventional commercial diets and started their dogs on raw food diets that they consider are more natural.
Another reason is that while nutrition is important in food choices, there are social and cultural aspects to food selection and feeding practices. Unlike veterinarians and researchers, most pet owners approach feeding their pets much like they approach feeding their families, and pets are considered part of that family.
What is the BARF diet?
The idea of feeding a raw diet to dogs became more popular when an Australian veterinarian, Dr. Ian Billinghurt proposed the BARF diet.
BARF stands for “Bones and Raw Food” or “Biologically Appropriate Raw Food”. The BARF diet principle is based on the idea that adult dogs can thrive on a diet that their ancestors had eaten before they became domesticated. This evolutionary diet included raw meat and bones as well as vegetable scraps. Billinghurst further contended that grain-based commercial pet foods were harmful to dogs.
But many veterinarians disagree with the BARF diet. This sentiment is also shared by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is a fact that the risks and effects of raw diets in dogs have been documented in several scientific studies.
What are the possible benefits of raw meat for dogs?
For raw diet advocates, a raw meat diet aligns with the domestic dog’s wild ancestors, the wolf. Before domestication, the diet of wolves consisted mostly of raw meat. The nutrients that are available in a raw diet meet the biological needs of dogs adequately. Eating raw meat is considered to be more natural.
Raw meat advocates also argue that the digestive system of canines is designed for the efficient digestion and utilization of raw meat. Fresh food contains digestive enzymes that enhance biological activity. Cooking and other processes that commercial dog food and homemade diets are subjected to can destroy these enzymes and therefore significantly reduce the quality of dog food.
Advocates of raw food diets also cite these benefits: shinier coats, healthier skin, improved dental health, increased energy, and smaller stools.
Risks Associated with Raw Meat Diets for Dogs
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) discourages the feeding of raw meat to cats and dogs that has not first been subjected to a process to eliminate pathogens because of the risk of illness to pets and humans. Even if raw meat is subjected to freezing, it won’t kill all the pathogens. The bacteria that survive can still be a source of infection for both dogs and humans. There is a lot of evidence of nutritional risks associated with feeding raw meat to dogs.
Raw Meat Poses a Health Risk to Dogs and People
Regardless of the benefits that raw meat diet advocates believe in, an important issue that hounds experts is whether placing dogs on raw diets can pose a risk to dogs and their owners. Raw meat is an important source of bacterial pathogens, such as Salmonella, which can cause gastrointestinal problems in dogs and humans. Some vets warn that raw diets are not appropriate for dogs who share their homes with young children or people with compromised immune systems.
Consuming raw meat that is contaminated with bacteria can cause subclinical infections in dogs. This means that even if the dog is harboring these pathogens, no symptoms develop. But the dog sheds the pathogens in their feces. This can act as a source of infection to other pets and humans, particularly where proper hygiene protocols are not practiced.
Imbalance of Nutrients in Raw Meat Diets
Another issue with raw meat diets is the significant difference in the nutrients that are present and their specific quantities. Nutritional analysis of raw food diets - both commercially produced and homemade diets - found that these diets could be low in calcium and phosphorus, while some contain high vitamin D levels. Some raw meat diets were deficient in magnesium, potassium, and zinc. This is contrary to the claim of raw diet supporters that it will lessen the risk of nutritional imbalance.
Raw Meat Can Play a Worrisome Role in Antibiotic Resistance
Some experts also believe that a raw meat diet may also act as a vehicle for transmission of antibiotic resistance, especially for the young, elderly, or immune-suppressed. Antibiotic resistance is an issue that has become a growing concern in both human and veterinary medicine. When pets or humans harbor antibiotic-resistant bacteria that cause an infection, antibiotic treatment may not be effective.
In a recent study, dogs that were fed diets that contain raw meat were more likely to be carriers of Salmonella and antibiotic-resistant E. coli. This included E. coli that were resistant to multiple types of antibiotics, including those critically important to human health.
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