There is plenty research in humans showing the superiority of fresh, unprocessed foods over heavily processed ready meals. It doesn’t take a rocket scientists to know that eating a salad is healthier than eating a cheeseburger… But science doesn’t seem to show the same to be true for dogs. In fact, majority of the research comparing commercially prepared and “raw” diets indicates that the latter group is more at risk of nutritional imbalances (e.g. ). Most vets when consulted about feeding raw will warn of the risks relating to gastro-intestinal perforations with bone fragments (e.g. ). Further, there is a growing body of research articles pointing to the risks of bacterial infections from feeding dogs raw meat products (e.g. [3,4]).
For further peer-reviewed information on the current state of the knowledge regarding to raw feeding in dogs and cats, see these two reviews – [5,6].
So, why even do it? Proponents of raw feeding usually give quite vague and rather naïve reasons. For example, from I. Billinghurst’s book:
“You will see escalating energy levels!
Many dental problems will disappear!
Infected ears become healthy again!
Expect orthopaedic condtions in young dogs to disappear!”
And many more.. One would think that feeding his way cures dogs of all ailments!
I do not believe this to be so simple. The outcome of the diet MUST depend on the diet formulation, and how well it is adjusted to the needs of a particular dog. I do believe that there are some dogs which do better on well formulated raw diet – Yarpen is one of them. He’s suffered from IBD throughout his life, having been on a range of premium and super-premium diets. He would poop at least 4/day, with frequent bouts of diarrhoea and vomiting, usually leading to vet visits and antibiotic treatments. The only commercially available diet which worked for him was a prescription IBD diet – until he decided he wouldn’t eat it anymore. I will not say that raw was a hit from the get go. We have attempted it twice before, with rather poor effect. But this time I think I finally “cracked him” – he is super excited about his food, eats pretty much everything, poops approx. once a day – a small and perfectly formed stool. I believe this is due to the water content and to a certain degree, the bioavailability of nutrients, in raw food.
For Falka – she is unfortunately suffering from quite severe food allergies. I decided to do an elimination diet when her allergies first became obvious, and DIY seemed like the most definite way. And it appears it was a good call, as now her food allergies are under control and recent research shows that commercial single-protein diets are less than perfect in their labelling honesty .
So, why feeding raw to our animals is so much more difficult than feeding ourselves? First of all, dogs are carnivorous (or at least far closer to carnivores than omnivores). We humans, as omnivores, have evolved to assimilate nutrients from a variety of different products. In dogs, and even more so in cats, majority/all of the nutrients come from animal products. The animal products we can obtain for our animals are neither complete (e.g. vast majority of us have no access to brains or eyes, very rich in certain nutrients), nor do they necessarily reflect a wild prey equivalent (e.g. Omega3 content in pasture raised and intensively bred beef).
Further, not many people have access and/or funds to the actual muscle meat for their dogs. Having visited a LARGE number of shops selling raw products for dogs, both in person and on-line, I have found very few which sell pure muscle meat. In most cases, “meat” is actually consisting of trimmings, fat and connective tissue.
I do not want to post pictures of products sold by different shops, however, have a look at the photo below showing lean beef muscle meat, and compare this to the beef chunks sold in shops selling raw food for dogs.
An additional risk with feeding offcuts sold in shops devoted to raw food for dogs is that sometimes they may contain undisclosed organ bits, which – fed in large quantities, can indeed lead to problems. I have found thyroid glands attached to lamb tracheas, they are also commonly found in chicken necks – one of the most commonly used raw meaty bone ingredient. Thyroid gland is very rich in hormones which actually affect the thyroid function in the dog. Thus, it’s not surprising that reckless feeding of larger quantities of these products has been found to cause dietary hyperthyroidism .
Secondly, finding the right education in this respect is not easy. There are some common methods of feeding raw, most of which can be traced back to the two earliest popular books on raw feeding [8,9]. Perhaps the most common “golden rule” nowadays is to follow 80:10:10 ratio, where we feed 80% meat, 10% bone and 10% offal. This however is a very broad rule and can mean completely different nutrient profiles in different diet compositions. Take tongue and heart as an example – in some raw-feeding schools they are treated as offal, in others, due to the fact they are in-fact muscle tissues, they are treated as meat. Thus, diets following the same 80:10:10 ratios can have hugely different nutrient contents.
Understanding the nutrient contents of particular foods and constructing diets is not easy. There are multiple macro- and micro-nutrients which need to be balanced. As such, it is easy to fall for “ready-made” raw mixes. Unfortunately, as far as I know, there are no commercially available mixes in the UK, which follow detailed nutritional guidelines for dogs outlined e.g. in Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats – the most comprehensive book listing all requirements at all life stages. At least I couldn’t find any reference to those on the websites of the major suppliers. (If you know of one, please give me a shout!) I would also imagine that the “complete mixes” are composed from the same individual ingredients a given producer sells. So, the same trimmings/connective tissue which are sold as muscle meat contribute to 80% of the complete mix…
Unfortunately, I don’t believe that feeding variety of foods in the 80:10:10 ratios is a safe recommendation. In fact, I don’t believe that you can construct the diet properly, without learning about nutrition yourself. I have had a painful lesson in this respect with my last, now deleted blog post on Omega 3s. I have followed a book which I believed to be a reputable and reviewed resource. Luckily for my dogs, the dosages recommended did not sit well with me, so I started digging deeper and now know that in fact the book was wrong. Unfortunately, there is no control over what raw feeders say or write on the subject. There is plenty of misinformation there, with people frequently sharing information of unknown origin and value. Question “Where does this information come from?” most often is met with “I dunno, found it on the internet”.
In the next weeks I will be posting some blog entries on particular foods and nutrient contents. I will be doing research into those for my own use, and as I discuss the details with some of my friends, having it on the blog is a convenient way to store that information. I will be using peer-reviewed and scientific sources, and will ensure the information to be critically assessed to the best of my ability. However, I hope that these articles will encourage the reader to actually start researching the subject themselves to tailor their dogs’ diet, rather than follow what I write without critical thinking.
- Dillitzer N, Becker N, Kienzle E. Intake of minerals, trace elements and vitamins in bone and raw food rations in adult dogs. Br J Nutr. 2011;106:S53–6.
- Thompson H. C., Cortes, Y., Gannon, K., Bailey, D., Freer, S. Esophageal foreign bodies in dogs: 34 cases (2004–2009). J Vet Emerg Crit Care. 2012;22:253–61.
- Finley R, Ribble C, Aramini J, Vandermeer M, Popa M, Litman M, et al. The risk of salmonellae shedding by dogs fed Salmonella-contaminated commercial raw food diets. Can Vet J. 2007;48:69–75.
- Joffe DJ, Schlesinger DP. Preliminary assessment of the risk of Salmonella infection in dogs fed raw chicken diets. Can Vet J. 2002;43:441–2.
- Freeman LM, Chandler ML, Hamper BA, Weeth LP. Current knowledge about the risks and benefits of raw meat–based diets for dogs and cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2013;243:1549–58.
- Schlesinger DP, Joffe DJ. Raw food diets in companion animals: A critical review. Can Vet J. 2011;52:50–4.
- Ricci R, Conficoni D, Morelli G, Losasso C, Alberghini L, Giaccone V, et al. Undeclared animal species in dry and wet novel and hydrolyzed protein diets for dogs and cats detected by microarray analysis. BMC Vet Res [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2018 Oct 13];14. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6020431/
- Lonsdale T. Raw Meaty Bones. Dogwise Publishing; 2001.
- Billinghurst I. Give Your Dog a Bone. Dogwise Publishing; 1993.
- Köhler B, Stengel C, Neiger R. Dietary hyperthyroidism in dogs. J Small Anim Pract. 2012;53:182–4.
- National Research Council, Division on Earth and Life Studies, Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources, Committee on Animal Nutrition, Subcommittee on Dog and Cat Nutrition. Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats. National Academies Press; 2006.