What You Need to Know About Feeding Your Dog a Raw Diet
Raw diets are an increasingly popular alternative to commercial dry dog food. But they are also highly controversial. The American Veterinary Medical Association has taken the official stance of discouraging the feeding of raw or undercooked animal proteins because they may contain potentially deadly pathogens that can make your pet sick and be transmitted to humans. So how do you know if a raw diet is the right choice for your dog?
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History of the BARF Diet
A raw diet is made up of uncooked organ and muscle meat, whole or crushed bones, fruits, vegetables, raw eggs, and some dairy. In 1993, an Australian veterinarian suggested that dogs would benefit from a raw diet because this is how they ate before being domesticated. He called this the BARF diet, which stands for Bones and Raw Food or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. Since then, several other types of raw food diets have emerged, including commercially processed raw diets that are frozen or freeze-dried.
Benefits of Raw Diets
Proponents of raw diets claim that the benefits include a shiny coat, healthy skin, cleaner teeth, increased energy, and improved digestion. Raw diets allow the owner complete control over the quality of their dog’s food. They avoid commercial dog food recalls and know all the ingredients that their dog is ingesting.
Risk of Bacterial Contamination
The most obvious risk with a raw diet involves the uncooked meat. Although some dogs can ingest a small amount of bacteria safely, pathogens in uncooked food can cause vomiting and serious illnesses. Dogs that eat a raw diet are also more likely to spread contagious bacteria in their feces, which can be transmitted to humans even after the stool is picked up. The harmful bacteria that remain in the environment could affect people who are vulnerable to infection, including children, the elderly, and those with a weak immune system. A 2006 study of 20 commercially available raw diets found that 59.6% contained E. coli and 7.1% contained Salmonella.
Risk of Injury from Bones
Bones are a very controversial part of the raw food debate because of the concern for choking, broken teeth, or intestinal punctures. Most of the health issues seen in veterinary medicine involve cooked bones, although when seen, they are frequently life-threatening.
Risk of Health Complications
A raw food diet is unlikely to be complete and balanced unless the dog owner is a nutrition expert or has consulted with a veterinary nutritionist. Too little fat, for example, can lead to a bad haircoat, while too much fat and not enough protein can cause mild anemia. Homemade raw diets may also lack enough calcium and phosphorus, leading to broken bones and teeth. A 2001 evaluation of raw food diets was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association. It looked at five raw diets, three homemade and two commercially available. All five had nutritional deficiencies or excesses that could cause serious health problems when fed long term.
Time and Money
Giving your dog a raw food diet is likely to be more time-consuming than feeding a commercial dry dog food because meticulous care is required in the handling, preparation, and sanitation of the raw ingredients. Also, a raw food diet is typically more expensive than a commercial diet. The cost varies with the ingredients used, but a commercially available raw chicken diet costs $2.50/day, while premium commercial dry dog food costs about $1/day.
You should always discuss your dog’s diet with your veterinarian. They will be familiar with your dog’s nutritional needs based on health, lifestyle, and exercise level. Even veterinarians who support raw diets say that they’re not appropriate for all dogs.
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