Gemma Gaitskell
Dr Gemma Gaitskell (BVetMed MSc MRCVS, Royal Veterinary College, London)
 
Raw diet consisting of raw meat and vegetables

Raw diets, often called ‘Raw Meaty Bones’ (RMB) for dogs are when, as the name suggests, dogs are fed raw foods, in particular meat and bones. From a practical point of view, this diet option requires a higher level of organisation, preparation and forward thinking than feeding a commercial diet.

In addition to this, there are no scientific studies to date that prove that this diet option is in fact better than a commercially formulated dog food. However, many owners who opt for a raw diet claim that their dogs are healthier.

The Thinking Behind Raw Diets

Believers of feeding raw diets claim that dogs would naturally only eat raw food and therefore cooking is unnatural. They also believe that cooking reduces the nutritional value of ingredients. A popular argument which has been used to back up the feeding of raw diets is that dogs are genetically identical to wolves and therefore a diet similar to that which a wolf would eat in the wild is more appropriate for dogs.

However, scientific studies have shown this to be untrue, and there is in fact a difference between the genetic make up of dogs and wolves. Studies have shown that dogs have a greater ability to digest starch and carbohydrate when compared to wolves, which disproves this theory when it comes to a reason for feeding grain-free diets.

Different Types of Raw Diet

Jack Russell chewing on raw meat bone

There are two different principal types or models for raw diets, which vary in the amounts and types of meat they contain.

Prey Model

The Prey Model diet promotes the feeding of ideally ‘whole prey’ to recreate what would supposedly be in an dogs diet in the wild. The types of prey fed can include whole chickens, turkeys, game birds and rabbits and it encourages feeding of as wide a variety of meats as possible. The prey diet is normally formed from 80% meat, 10% bone (which should be of an appropriate size for the dog in question) and 10% organs, where half of these should be liver. In addition, small amount of vegetables can be added as well occasionally additional supplements, such as fish oils, which help increase the levels of fatty acids in the diet.

Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (BARF)

The BARF diet was originally thought up by Dr. Ian Billinghurst and is commonly made up from between 60-80% raw meat and bones (50% meat with bones) and the remaining 20-40% is made up from fruit and vegetables, offal, eggs or dairy foods and may also contain some fish. There are some pre-prepared versions of the BARF diet available commercially.

Risks of Feeding Raw Diets to Dogs

Sick dog

The feeding of raw diets has become increasingly popular in dogs over recent years, however, there are some points to consider, in addition to the lack of scientific evidence to back up their benefits, before opting to feed this diet option to your dog.

Most veterinary organisations do not support the feeding of raw diets due to the risks that feeding them can entail. The following points detail the risks and inconveniences of feeding raw diets to dogs:

  • Feeding a raw diet brings with it the risk of a dog suffering from nutritional imbalances and deficiencies, including excesses of vitamin D, vitamin A, an imbalance of calcium to phosphorus and a lack of calcium, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium and potassium.
  • It is common for raw diets to contain micro organisms that can cause illness and bacteria, such as Salmonella and E. coli, which are responsible for food poisoning. If there are young children or members of the family who are immunocompromised in a household, then this is an important point to consider. These organisms can infect humans, either when handling the food, or if they are shed in dog’s faeces.
  • Sharp bones or bones which become splintered after the dog has chewed them can rupture the intestine or become stuck and block the intestine. Both of these situations are life threatening and require surgery.
  • There is a high risk of dental fractures when feeding bones.
  • Not all dogs are able to tolerate a raw diet, particularly if they are older, have poor dentition or suffer from any diseases which affect their ability to digest certain nutrients.
  • Raw diets can cause hyperthyroidism.
  • If a dog is prone to food guarding feeding a raw diet, particularly bones can exacerbate the problem and increase the level of social aggression which the dog shows.
  • Last but not least, raw diets can be messy, which is definitely something to consider if a dog lives in a small flat or is fed inside.

Supposed Benefits of Feeding Raw Diets to Dogs

Dog with clean teeth

Although not views shared by the majority of veterinarians or backed up by any substantial scientific research, the following are benefits that supporters of raw diets claim to see in dogs:

  • Healthier teeth and less smelly breath, due to the abrasive action of bones on teeth, which helps to reduce tartar accumulation.
  • Improved digestion and availability of nutrients for absorption as the enzymes in uncooked food can aid digestion and improve biological availability of nutrients.
  • A decreased risk of nutritional imbalances due to the feeding of a broad variety of foods.
  • Production of smaller amounts of faeces, which are less odorous.
  • Healthier skin and a shinier coat, in addition to more muscle development as reduced fat build-up.
  • Improvement of symptoms of certain diseases such as arthritis.
  • The increased time spent eating and chewing can provide increased distraction from boredom and mental stimulation.

Although not recommended by vets, it is important if you do elect to feed a raw diet that you ensure you choose a wide range high quality, fresh ingredients to try and provide the best nutritional balance possible.

In Conclusion

The decision to opt to feed a raw diet is one which should not be taken lightly by dog owners. Although supporters of this type of diet claim to see many benefits, there is, as of yet, no solid scientific evidence that really backs these up and, from a veterinary perspective, the cons definitely outweigh the pros.

References and Further Reading

  • BARF Diet: http://www.barfworld.com/html/barf_diet/BARF_benefits.php
  • Dr. Ian Billinghurst: http://www.barfworld.com/html/dr_billinghurst/meet.shtml
  • Fredriksson-Ahomaa, M., Korte, T., & Korkeala, H. (2001). Transmission of Yersinia enterocolitica 4/O:3 to pets via contaminated pork. Lett Appl Microbiol: 32 (6), 375–378.
  • Freeman, L.M. & Michel, K.E. (1991). Evaluation of raw food diets for dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc: 218 (5), 705–709.
  • Freeman, L.M. & Michel, K. (2001). Nutritional analysis of 5 types of “Raw Food Diets.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association: 218 (5), p. 705.
  • Joffe, D.J. & Schlesinger, D.P. (2002). Preliminary assessment of the risk of Salmonella infection in dogs fed raw chicken diets. Can Vet J: 43 (6), 441–442.
  • Johnson, W. & Sinning, C. (2001). Mr. Johnson and Dr. Sinning respond: Letter to the editor. J Am Vet Med Assoc: 219, p. 434.
  • Kawaguchi, K., Braga, I.S. III, Takahashi, A., Ochiai, K., & Itakura, C. (1993). Nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism occurring in a strain of German shepherd puppies. Jpn J Vet Res: 41, 89–96.
  • Laflamme, D.P., Abood, S.K., Fascetti, A.J., et al. (2008). Pet feeding practices of dog and cat owners in the United States and Australia. J Am Vet Med Assoc: 232, 687–694.
  • LeJeune, J.T. & Hancock, D.D. (2001). Public health concerns associated with feeding raw meat diets to dogs. J Am Vet Med. Assoc: 219 (9), 1222–1225.
  • O'Rourke, K. (2005). Raw meat diets spark concern. J Am Vet Med Assoc: 226 (2), p. 187.
  • Payne, V. & Ackerman, N. (2014). Points of view: Feeding. Veterinary Nursing Journal: 29, 298–301.
  • Polizopoulou, Z.S., Kazakos, G., Patsikas, M.N., & Roubies, N. (2005). Hypervitaminosis A in the cat: A case report and review of the literature. J Feline Med Surg: 7, 363–368.
  • Raw Meat Diets – Deciphering Fact from Fiction: http://vet.tufts.edu/wp-content/uploads/raw_meat_diets_memo.pdf
  • Raw Meaty Bones, Diet Guide: http://www.rawmeatybones.com/diet/exp-diet-guide.pdf
  • Sato, Y., Mori, T., Koyama, T., et al (2000). Salmonella virchow infection in an infant transmitted by household dogs. J Vet Med Sci: 62 (7), 767–769.
  • Stone, G.G. Chengappa, M.M, Oberst, R.D., et al (1993). Application of polymerase chain reaction for the correlation of Salmonella serovars recovered from Greyhound feces with their diet. J Vet Diag Invest: 5, 378–385.
  • Strauss, M. (2008). Now we’re cooking! home-prepared diets for those who eschew raw feeding. Whole Dog Journal: 16, p. 2007.
  • Strohmeyer, R.A., Morley, P.S. Hyatt, D.R., et al. (2006). Evaluation of bacterial and protozoal contamination of commercially available raw meat diets for dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc: 228 (4), 537-542.
  • The Natural Dog: http://rawfeddogs.org/rawguide.html

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