Diets fed to dogs that include raw food products are becoming increasingly popular.
Advocates of these diets claim that it more closely resembles what a dog would eat in the wild leading to a healthier coat, skin, and teeth, and more energy. However, there has been little scientific research done regarding these diets.
What Are Raw Food Diets?
These diets can include meat, poultry, eggs, organs, seafood, whole or ground bones, and vegetables/fruit. There are three main types of raw food diets: commercially available complete raw food diets, homemade raw food diets, and combination diets. Commercially available raw food diets are intended to be the sole source of nutrition and come in several forms including fresh raw food, frozen raw food that the owner thaws before serving, or freeze-dried raw food that can be rehydrated with water upon serving. Homemade raw food diets are those made using recipes found in books, articles, and on the internet. These are not intended to be complete and balanced diets. Instead, they are intended to be used as part of a rotation of products called the "balance over time approach" which means the owner is expected to balance the diet out in the long term as the individual meals are not balanced. Finally, combination diets are those where a supplement mix is purchased and then combined with raw meat to make a more balanced diet.
Proposed Benefits of Raw Food Diets:
Supporters of raw food diets claim many health benefits associated with this approach to feeding including superior oral health associated with eating bones, resolution of GI disease, and resolution of skin infections and itching associated with food allergies. Many also believe that prepared commercial diets are harmful for a variety of reasons and raw diets are safer and more nutritious because they have not been processed.
Disadvantages of Raw Food Diets:
Potential disadvantages will vary with individual raw diets but there are three main areas of concern. The first is nutritional adequacy. Unlike most commercially available processed diets, very few commercially available raw food diets have undergone animal feeding tests for nutritional adequacy and most have not been formulated to be complete and balanced. Homemade diets are also often not balanced and in one study nearly 70% of home-prepared diets were found to be deficient or unbalanced in key nutrients. Certain essential minerals, including calcium, zinc, and choline where found to be below nutritional recommendations. These diets also tend to be high in fat which can increase obesity risk in some dogs. Another major concern with raw diets that include whole bones is the risk of fractured teeth and gastrointestinal obstruction. The final concern with these diets is the risk of contamination with bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter. Studies have shown the presence of these types of bacteria in both commercially available raw food diets as well as meat intended for human consumption. Our pets can become ill from ingesting this type of bacteria and even those that do not become sick can shed the bacteria in their feces which causes a risk to humans. One study showed that dogs fed meat contaminated with salmonella shed the bacteria in their feces for up to two weeks. Additionally, contamination of feeding bowls and the environment surrounding where the food is prepared can pose a risk to humans if not cleaned properly.
In conclusion, when feeding raw food diets, it is important to consider all of the risks versus the benefits.