dachshund waiting to eat a steak

Raw Food Diet For Dogs - 
A Diet Plan Breakdown

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Pet parents around the world want to feed the best dog food for their pooches. Those that are considering a raw food diet for dogs are usually doing it because they want their canine companions to have the best possible treatment.

Many who have tried have noticed a positive change in the overall health of their dogs, and, after all, a raw diet lets you control exactly what your dog eats.

Today, we’ll discuss the advantages and drawbacks that come with feeding raw food to dogs followed by a quick guide on how exactly to create a raw meal plan for your dog.

pug and boston terrier waiting patiently for a raw steak

Raw Diet for Dogs: Benefits and Risks

Is raw meat good for dogs?

This question has caused a lot of controversy in recent years. Some pet parents believe it is the best possible option and that it has benefited their dogs greatly, while others caution against it.

There are a couple of reasons for this disagreement.

First of all, there is the question of whether dogs are carnivores or omnivores. Dogs have sometimes been classified as omnivores due to certain characteristics they have developed through millennia of living with humans, although the right term is actually domesticated carnivores (1). The point is, dogs were originally carnivores - before domestication. Their closest relatives are wolves, which are definitely carnivores, but dogs have been domesticated for millennia and they don’t live in the wild anymore.

As such, they got used to eating a mixed diet that must include meat, but not only. Still, many pet parents believe that feeding a diet closest to what they would eat in the wild is best for dogs, and no one has managed to provide a strong argument against that.

So is a raw food diet the right way to go? Well, for a start, there is definitely no harm in raw meat for dogs. Many pet parents do feed raw diets, and their dogs are completely happy and healthy. In addition to this, there are many testimonials from dog owners who manage to solve their pet’s health issues by switching to a raw diet - although there is no scientific proof for that.

The potential benefits of a raw diet include:

  • More energy
  • Better overall health
  • Healthier, shiny coat
  • Better oral health
  • Smaller stool

All of this sounds good, so what exactly is the problem with feeding a raw diet? Many veterinarians and some papers that have been published in veterinary journals warn that raw diets can often lead to a nutritional imbalance. However, this is not actually caused by the food being raw. The same problem can arise with any other kind of food, and the solution is obviously being careful and ensuring that your dog gets all the nutrients she needs.

“The only place I’ve seen a problem with this diet is puppies. If you don’t get the calcium and phosphorus ratio right, you can have bone deformities and growth issues”, says Doug Knueven, DVM, in an interview for FETCH.

Additionally, the risk of disease caused by bacteria in raw meat is often mentioned as the primary downside of feeding raw. The bacteria that cause concern are primarily E. Coli and salmonella. When it comes to E. Coli, there is actually not too much risk involved for dogs, except in the case of very young puppies that are still feeding on mother's milk. For that reason, raw food should be fed only with extreme caution to lactating bitches, but otherwise it should be fine (2). Salmonella is a bit more dangerous to dogs, but still it doesn’t cause disease as easily as in humans due to the dog’s strong digestive system (3).

What many are worried about, though, is the danger of these bacteria to humans who are in contact with the food and the dog. However, while caution should be exercised, following basic hygienic measures should prevent this.

Additionally, you should be cautious about feeding a raw diet to dogs with specific health conditions. Dogs who suffer from kidney or liver failure, for example, will not take a high-protein diet well. Dogs suffering from cancer should not eat raw food due to increased risk of infection. Finally, if your dog has digestive issues you can try to introduce a raw diet, but do it slowly and carefully (x)


Raw Diet vs Dry Dog Food

Poodle dog choosing between raw and dry dog food

So, is raw feeding dogs better than feeding dry food? There is no simple answer. Many pet parents claim that their dogs have been much happier after switching to raw food. And that makes sense. If you prepare the raw food for dogs yourself, you get to know exactly what goes inside. And besides, even commercial raw formulas are usually much higher quality and contain less mystery ingredients than dry kibble. In addition, the dog gets to enjoy eating something that resembles their natural diet.

One plus point for dry dog food is definitely convenience. Dry food has a much longer shelf life, you don’t need to store it in the fridge, and you simply need to measure the amount of food your dog should eat each day. If you buy quality kibble, you can also be sure the mix is well-balanced and your dog will get all the necessary nutrients. This can be especially convenient for dogs with specific dietary needs - if you find the right specialized formula, you don’t need to worry about supplements and adding the right nutrients, it’s all right in there.

Interestingly, better dental health is often mentioned as an advantage of both dry kibble and raw food. When eating raw meat and appropriate bones, dogs get to chew intensively which is what they were naturally meant to do and some say this leads to cleaner and healthier teeth. On the other hand, some dry kibble manufacturers claim that the shape and consistency of the kibble will actually lead to cleaner teeth. So, who is right? The best thing to do is try some options, and if you see something is working well, stick to it.

The truth is, if done right a raw diet will usually contain better quality food. Raw food contains real meat and not meat meals which can be suspicious. In the end, the form of the food is not that important, it’s the quality and the ratio of ingredients. However, it is experience that shows that raw food does work well for dogs. So, if you are thinking about it, definitely try it! If, after a couple of weeks, your dog doesn’t seem to agree with it - you can always switch back.


Raw Diet for Beginners: How to Create a Meal Plan

Labrador chewing a large bone,

Raw feeding has been growing in popularity and there are a few companies in Australia that offer raw food formulas in frozen or freeze-dried form. However, if you have the time, choosing the ingredients that you’ll feed your dog can be rewarding both for you and your dog. It is not hard to learn, and it lets you control the quality and customize according to your dog’s needs. Below, you’ll find a guide to raw food for beginners.

PMR and BARF: What Is It All About?

If you are just getting interested in raw feeding, you might have encountered these acronyms. Although they might sound complicated, the philosophy behind them is actually quite simple.

The acronym BARF was popularised by a veterinarian from Australia, Ian Billinghurst, during the ‘90s. It stands for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (or Bones and Raw Food). Disappointed by the quality of commercial dog foods, he wanted to emphasize the option of feeding dogs with something closer to their natural diet.

The BARF diet consists mostly of meat, organs and raw bones, but it also includes fruits and vegetables and sometimes dairy and some supplements as well in order to provide the dog with all the necessary nutrients. If you look for guides on the BARF diet, you’ll often find various percentages, like 70% meat and bones, 20% organs, 10% fruits and vegetables. However, the exact proportions are not that important. The important thing is, it’s mostly meat; organs and bones are necessary for providing essential vitamins and minerals, and fruits and veggies to increase the nutritional value.

PMR stands for Prey Model Raw. It is a raw diet plan based on the extreme attitude that dogs should eat exactly what they would in the wild: prey. Or whole carcasses of animals, that is. If you think of the Paleo diet for humans, the philosophy is quite similar. The PMR diet sometimes includes feeding actual whole birds, for examples, but some parent feed what is popularly called “Frankenprey” - a mix of meat pieces, but with bones, organs, and all.

In reality, there are actually no hard rules. Do you measure your own food in exact percentages for every meal you eat? Most of us don’t but we try to eat a healthy and balanced diet overall. This holds true for dogs too.

Follow these simple guidelines and you should be able to assemble a perfectly good raw diet plan:

Meat

Meat should always be the number one ingredient of a raw diet. At least half of the meal should be actual meat, but there should also be organs and bones added on top of that. Feeding a lot of meat is good, but remember that feeding only pure muscle meat is not appropriate.

“Nutrient deficiencies and diseases can be caused by feeding a diet with too much muscle meat and not enough of the other “parts” that create nutritional balance”, says Amanda Ardente for PetMD.

Dogs also need fat in their diet, in reasonable amounts, so don’t be afraid to feed cuts of meat that contain lots of fat. Just don’t go overboard. It’s important to find a balance, but that’s something you’ll need to figure out on your own based on your dog’s activity levels and whether your pet tends to get overweight.

Bones

If you ever tried giving your dog a bone, you probably noticed they love gnawing on those. Bones are actually important for a dog’s diet, especially when it comes to dogs that are still growing. This is because bones are a great source of phosphorus and calcium (6).

But is it safe for dogs to chew on raw bones? If the bones are raw, it is generally considered safe, so that’s great for a raw diet. Keep in mind that cooked bones should not be fed to a dog - they become brittle after cooking and pose a choking hazard. This is actually kind of true for raw bones too. Sometimes, a dog can swallow a piece of a bone and this can get stuck somewhere. One solution to this is to always monitor your dog if you are feeding bones. Not just while they are eating, but in general. If you notice the dog becoming lethargic, coughing or attempting to vomit unsuccessfully, go to the vet immediately.

Another way to get those essential minerals into your dog’s diet is by feeding ground bone. Bone meal is a great way to feed bone to your dog without worrying about your pooch getting hurt. It’s especially a good idea when making raw food for puppies.

Organs

Although they don’t always look appetizing to us, organs are actually a must in any raw diet for dogs. Organs such as liver, kidney, spleen, and brain, all contain lots of necessary vitamins and minerals. As mentioned above, feeding only muscle meat is one of the most common mistakes. Although it provides the protein, protein only is simply not enough for dogs. Liver is the most nutrient-dense organ, but it is also very strong, so you should try to mix it up and offer as many different parts of the animal as possible.

Fruit and Vegetables

Sweet potato, carrots, blueberries, pumpkin, spinach, all kinds of beans... These can all be a great addition that completes the nutritional profile of your dog’s diet. Keep in mind, though, that dogs really don’t need that much fruits and veggies, so keeping it up to 10% altogether is the right measure. It doesn’t have to be the same fruits and veggies all the time either, you can use what is in season.

Just, if you do this, remember that some foods that are completely fine for us can be toxic to dogs. Onions, macadamia nuts, and certain types of walnuts are quite toxic for dogs (7). Finally, some dogs simply refuse to eat certain fruits and veggies, while they adore others for no apparent reason. That is something you’ll need to learn by trial and error.

Eggs & Dairy

It is not necessary to add eggs or dairy to a dog’s raw diet, but they are a nice addition (unless the dog is allergic, of course). Egg can be a nice addition to a dog’s meal, and dried and crushed eggshells make for a natural calcium supplement. When it comes to dairy, adding a bit of yoghurt, for example, can help calm a sensitive stomach.


Final Thoughts

Raw food is not only good for dogs, but, if you make it yourself, you get to learn a whole lot about your canine companion. Besides learning about the natural canine diet, you get to learn the ingredients your dog likes the best and see how they respond to certain things. Setting up a raw meal plan for your dog is not hard, as hopefully you’ve gathered from the above.

However, it’s important to keep the meals well-balanced and always pay close attention to your dog. If you notice any issues or strange (for example lethargic) behaviour, always consult your vet to find out if maybe the dog is missing something in their diet. In any case, we wish you good luck in your raw feeding journey!

FAQ

How much raw food should my dog eat per day?

A general rule of thumb you could start with could be that dogs should eat about 2-3% of their body weight per day. However, the exact amount will actually depend on many factors: what exactly are you feeding, how active your dog is, as well as how old. If your canine buddy seems hungry, don’t be afraid to feed more, but if they start gaining too much weight make sure to control the portions.

Is raw food good for puppies?

Yes, raw food is fine for puppies (once they are ready to eat solid food) just as it is for adults. However, a raw diet of puppies must be carefully designed so it provides all of the essential nutrients. If puppies don’t get everything they need in the early stage of life (especially calcium and various vitamins), this might cause problems in the development of their bodies.

How do I start my dog on a raw diet?

Changing your dog’s diet suddenly can cause diarrhea and other intestinal issues. While your dog would most likely survive that, the more gentle way is always to switch gradually, just like when switching between different kinds of dry kibble. Just keep feeding the food your dog was eating before but feed a bit less every day and substitute this part with raw food. In about a week, your dog should be ready for a completely raw diet.

References
  1. Bosch, G., Hagen-Plantinga, E., & Hendriks, W. (2015). Dietary nutrient profiles of wild wolves: Insights for optimal dog nutrition? British Journal of Nutrition, 113(S1), S40-S54. doi:10.1017/S0007114514002311
  2. German, A. January 19, 2010. “E. Coli infection in Dogs”. PetMD. Retrieved October 20, 2020. https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/digestive/c_dg_e_coli_infection
  3. Flaim, D. July 31, 2019. “Raw Dog Food and Salmonella Risks” Whole Dog Journal. Retrieved October 20, 2020. https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/food/raw-dog-food-and-salmonella-risks/
  4. Lee, E. Raw Dog Food: Dietary Concerns, Benefits, and Risks. FETCH by WebMD. Retrieved October 18, 2020.  https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/guide/raw-dog-food-dietary-concerns-benefits-and-risks#1
  5. Ardente, A. June 30, 2020. “What You Need to Know About Raw Food Diets for Dogs”. PetMD. Retrieved October 20, 2020. https://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/5-mistakes-people-make-when-feeding-pets-raw-food-diet
  6. Negron, V. March 8, 2011. “Can Dogs Eat Bones? Raw & Cooked Bones for Dogs”. PetMD. Retrieved October 19, 2020. https://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/evr_dg_raw_bones_or_cooked_bones
  7. “Human Foods Dogs Can and Can’t Eat”. AKC. Retrieved October 20, 2020. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/nutrition/human-foods-dogs-can-and-cant-eat/
Vedrana Nikolic

Vedrana Nikolić is a professional writer, anthropologist & a dog lover with a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology. Currently pursuing a Masters degree in Semiotics studying the communication between animals and humans.

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