The domesticated dog of today typically enjoys a longer lifespan than its genetic wild ancestors, due in part to access to a more balanced diet. Protein, fat, vitamins and minerals are all on the ingredients list of most commercially prepared dry dog foods available on the market today. Popular brands and formulas combine lean proteins and fats with grains, fruits and vegetables to offer these nutrients for animal health. Besides balance, it is important to think about is the quality of the food.
The leading dog food brand, based on sales, includes a long list of confusing ingredients that don’t even sound like food. Maybe we can do better by providing higher quality diet alternatives for our pets? Some foods offer higher protein with less fillers, are grain-free, include pre and probiotics or are even formulated for the needs of specific breeds. One diet that is gaining popularity is the Raw Food Diet, or the BARF Diet (Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods). The thinking behind this is that the animal would be eating more similarly to its wild counterpart and that has to be better than eating over-processed food. How do you know if a raw diet is right for your pup? What can they even eat on a raw diet? Let’s go through the common myths and talk a bit about going raw for your pet.
MYTHS ABOUT RAW FOOD DIET FOR DOGS
Myth #1: Raw Diets Aren’t Balanced - First of all, it is important to define what a raw diet includes. A large portion of a raw dog food diet is meat. Lean muscle meat provides protein, organ meats in moderation provide vitamins and minerals, dairy such as yogurt and bones (use caution) can provide calcium and animal fats in moderation keep skin and coat healthy. In addition, many raw diets include some fruits and vegetables, which provide additional vitamins and antioxidants. While there is some flexibility with the ingredients of this diet, it is important to follow it as closely as possible to achieve and maintain long-term health. When compared to dry dog food, a raw diet can be just as balanced.
Myth #2: Raw Diets Aren’t Safe - Unfortunately, this myth may have some truth. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), raw and undercooked meat can contain various bacteria and pathogens that could pose risks to dogs. Safe food handling practices are a must with raw diets and the risk must be considered when you are thinking about starting this type of diet. You should also decide whether or not you’ll be using commercially available raw food products or preparing your own. It can be difficult to maintain food safety in raw prepared products, so please be aware of the recall history when choosing a brand.
Aside from contamination fears, you are also probably wondering if giving raw meat (that can include some bones) to a dog is safe for digestion? For this, there are a few important rules to follow. Fresh lean meat, including beef, lamb and chicken, is best to minimize bacterial concerns. Questionable or spoiled meat isn’t safe for humans and it isn’t safe for dogs either. Portions should be cut into small pieces to aid in digestion. Bones are potentially dangerous to dogs. While raw bones can be softer than cooked bones they can still break teeth, splinter, puncture the digestive tract and are a choking hazard. Also, remember that certain foods can be harmful to pets. Most people know about the danger of giving dogs chocolate, but other common foods such as grapes, raisins, garlic, onions, nuts and anything containing the artificial sweetener Xylitol can cause harm. As long as you are feeding foods from an approved ingredient list, such as broccoli, celery, apples or spinach, safely feeding fruits and veggies should be easy. You may wish to consult your vet for a list of acceptable foods.
Myth #3: Raw Diets Take Too Much Prep Time and Cost Too Much - Again, there may be some truths to this myth as well. Preparing a dog’s raw meal is very similar to preparing a meal for yourself. Chopping and portioning will take more time than scooping from bag to bowl, but it may be worth it for the dog’s health. Pre-made raw meals can help speed up the process if you decide to go that route. Depending on the size of your pet, buying quality ingredients can prove more costly even when compared to the already high cost of dry dog food. You may wish to consider your budget when deciding to go to a raw diet.
Now that you have more information on feeding your pet a raw food diet, it is important to further discuss this option with your veterinarian before beginning to make sure it is right for you and your furry friend.