The Pros and Cons of a Raw Dog Food Diet

A raw dog food diet or RMBD (Raw Meat Based Diet) is not a new concept and is after all the diet wild dog species evolved with.

by Guest blogger, Carl McLean

A raw dog food diet or RMBD (Raw Meat Based Diet) is not a new concept and is after all the diet wild dog species evolved with. However, introducing the raw diet to domestic dogs is a relatively new concept that has gained a lot of popularity in recent years and the response to this new trend has been met with some controversy.

Introducing the raw food diet to domestic dogs was first popularized by the Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst. He proposed that house dogs would gain a number of benefits from a diet that mimicked that of their original environment, rather than the Human led processed and grain-based diets, highlighting that the latter could be in fact a detriment. Although, his ideas did not spark widespread support from fellow veterinarians and many even criticised the claims.

From then on, numerous studies have been carried out to investigate the real impact of the raw food diet and explore whether it is in fact a viable alternative to the traditional home cooked dog food. Generally, evidence and commentary can be found to support both advocates and cynics, yet overall the consensus is generally not in favour of the idea.

With that said, what are the reputed pros of a raw food dog diet? Are any of them true? Before we begin exploring these important questions, let us explain what a raw food dog diet actually is.

What is a Raw Dog Food Diet?

When Ian Billinghurst first brought attention to the raw dog food diet, he named it the BARF diet, which refers to Bones and Raw Food or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. The main constitutes of such a diet were further defined to mean large uncooked meaty bones accompanied together with small portions of vegetables.

From then on, many other people have gone on to adapt Billinghursts original suggestions, many of which can easily be found on the web. Today, many are supplemented with additional nutrients including minerals, vitamins and grains. Some companies have even taken the opportunity to offer subscription based raw food diet plans.

For simplicity, the average raw dog food diet includes the following components:

  • Raw meat, typically still on the bone
  • Whole bones
  • Raw eggs
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables

Some diets include all of the above at the same time or have differing recipes paced throughout a single day. The majority of people find that trial and error plays a huge part in finding the right combination that works for their four legged friend. Factors including budget, breed size, temperament and personal preference all play a part in the discovery and adjustment phase.

The Advantages of a Raw Food Diet

Advocates of the raw food diet often make a series of statements about the advantages, both in terms of short term and long term benefits. Largely, the diet is advocated based on the belief that since wild dogs such as wolves naturally eat raw dog food and that in turn it must be a superior alternative to normal, processed dog food.

The main advantages are as follows:

  • A glossier coat
  • Increased energy levels
  • Smaller sized stool
  • Improved dental health
  • Decreased body odor and prevention of bad breath

A number of these claims do seem quite rational, for instance the removal of carbohydrates from the diet could improve dental hygiene and chewing on hard bones could also potentially help to remove plaque and other debris from the teeth.

However, with some more investigation, it seems that not all of the claims stand up to scrutiny. For instance, the assertion that a raw diet could lead to a glossier coat is not supported by all. Take Lisa Freeman from Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine for example, she highlights that increased shine is simply the result of consuming more fats, which could just as easily be achieved with a high fat processed diet.

The Disadvantages of a Raw Food Diet

With all these claims it’s easy to come to the conclusion that your pets missing out on the many advantages of a raw food diet. However, even though many people may be apprehensive about normal dog foods, some vets seem to be more concerned about the shortage of evidence to support the raw food diet and also highlight that there are potential risks.

These potential concerns include the following:

  • Enteric pathogens
  • Nutritional deficiency
  • Internal perforations and choking from broken bones

Even though the above list may not be a lengthy one, the fact remains that the potential risks that do exist are quite serious. Some vets and other observers also point out that there is a potential risk of harmful bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter transferring from pet to owner due to the intrinsic nature of handling and feeding uncooked animal products.

Many supporters of the raw food diet assert that pathogens could just as easily be present in raw meat made for human consumption and also in normal processed dog food.  Therefore, many advocates claim that such concerns are nothing more than an exaggeration.

In terms of nutrition, many vets state that commercially available dog foods have been formulated to be balanced and to meet a dog’s needs, while such an assessment is hard to make with a raw dog food diet.

It has also been reported that raw diets may lack certain important nutrients too, including vitamins C and E, as well as excessive amounts of vitamin D and an improper ratio of calcium to phosphorus which can have potential long term consequences, such as rickets.

What’s the Bottom Line?

At the end of the day, whether you put your dog on a raw food diet is entirely your choice to make. If you take the necessary steps to ensure proper hygiene is maintained when preparing the food, then this will help mitigate some of the associated risks concerning pathogens.

However, sometimes a dog may not be in the proper state to handle a raw food diet, such as when their immune system is compromised. For example, a raw diet may not be the best idea for elderly dogs, puppies and dogs with certain health conditions.

Carl McLean is a dog owner, wildlife enthusiast and blogger who’s other works can be found on Animal Mentor. If he’s not out walking his dogs, pruning his garden or tending his vegetable patch, he can be found writing about wildlife, animals and pets.

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