We all want the best for our dogs. Because our pets don’t really get a say in what they eat, they’re trusting us to provide them with food that’s both tasty and healthy.
Raw diets are a controversial topic among dog owners—some prefer to stick with grain-based commercial pet foods. Regardless of the controversy, though, raw diets for dogs are growing in popularity.
Feeding raw diets to dogs was originally proposed by Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst in 1993 (although sled dogs and racing docs such as greyhounds have been eating raw diets for much longer). He called it the BARF diet: Bones and Raw Food, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food.
The raw diet is based on the idea that adult canines could thrive on what their ancestors ate before they became domesticated house pets… because whether you have a Chihuahua or a Rottweiler, your furry friend still has the genetic makeup of a gray wolf.
What Foods Make Up a Raw Diet?
A raw diet consists of fresh, uncooked meats and vegetables that your pup’s ancestors would have eaten in the wild.
Key ingredients of a raw diet include:
- Muscle meat, often still on the bone
- Whole or ground bones, which are a good source of minerals
- Organ meats, such as livers and kidneys
- Raw eggs
- Dog-safe fruits and vegetables
- Some dairy (such as plain yogurt)
Your dog’s energy requirements come from three sources: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Protein and fat are far more crucial to your dog’s diet than carbs—an unsteady supply of protein and fat can be harmful to your dog, but he can be just fine without carbs (though they are a good source of energy). This means that a dog’s raw diet should consist of 10 to 20 percent fat, and the remaining portion should consist of protein.
When feeding your dog a raw diet, it must be balanced appropriately to avoid otherwise preventable health issues. Before switching to a raw diet, consult with a veterinary nutritionist to ensure that the ratios and recipes are appropriate for your dog.
Benefits and Risks
Feeding your dog fresh, natural ingredients can be incredibly beneficial to his overall health. With a raw diet, you may begin to see improvements such as a shinier coat, healthier skin, cleaner teeth, increased energy levels, improved digestion/smaller stools, and a leaner, more muscular build.
However, a raw diet may not be appropriate for all dogs. Dogs with pancreatitis, cancer, or other diseases may need their food to be cooked, as do puppies.
A raw diet may also not be appropriate for all households, since it requires raw food to be handled and prepared. Those who have young children or are immunocompromised may prefer for their dogs to stick with a standard kibble diet in order to avoid the risk of exposure to bacteria in raw meat.
Is a Raw Diet Right for My Dog?
Changing your dog’s diet is not a decision that should be taken lightly, so make sure it’s an educated, carefully thought-out decision. Of course, you should always consult your vet or a veterinary nutritionist before changing or introducing foods when it comes to your dog’s health. You’ll want to be sure that your pup is getting all of the nutrients he needs for a healthy, balanced diet.
Raw diet or not, Pet Honesty’s 10-for-1 Multivitamin provides a blend of vitamins and supplements to support your dog’s overall health.
What’s best for one dog may not be the right choice for another. Factors to take into consideration include your dog’s health, activity level, age and size, food allergies, and taste preferences.
Consider your own lifestyle as well. Do you have the time and resources to prioritize shopping and cooking for your dog, or would you prefer store-bought, frozen raw dog food?
Getting Started on a Raw Diet
If you’ve consulted with your vet and made the decision to switch your pooch over to a raw diet, make sure to be intentional in the way you go about the transition. Dogs are creatures of habit, and especially picky eaters may not like sudden changes when it comes to their food.
Start slowly, as you would with any dietary change. Keep in mind that younger dogs will likely adapt more quickly than older dogs. To start out, don’t feed your dog for a half day (even a full day depending on his size) to make sure he has a good appetite before dinner. Start with a small amount of dog food to see how he handles it. Over time, you can gradually replace more of the original food with the raw food until your dog is on a fully raw diet.
During the transition process, monitor your pet closely for any signs of concern, such as loose stools or food allergies. Contact your vet if you notice any unexpected changes in your dog’s demeanor.
What About Kibble?
Some dog owners prefer to stick with dry dog food, or kibble—and there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as it meets your dog’s unique dietary needs. Kibble ingredients vary by brand, but do meet the nutritional USDA requirements.
When choosing kibble for your pooch, read the label. Look for food where protein is listed as the first ingredient, instead of grain. Single sources of protein are ideal, such as lamb or chicken. If your dog has sensitivities to wheat, corn, or soybeans, be selective about the choice of grain contained in the food.
Ultimately, choosing the right canine diet comes down to figuring out what’s right for your dog. After all, you know him better than anyone else does.