Things to Consider if Starting Your Dog on a Raw Food Diet
Raw food diets are becoming more popular for owners to feed to their dogs, but with that choice comes some points of consideration. There are still many concerns surrounding the raw food diet that owners need to be aware of. The overall nutritional balance of raw food can vary widely, which in turn can make for an unbalanced diet. Raw food diets can have nutritional deficiencies or even an excess of certain components, which, over long periods of time, can potentially cause serious health issues. Raw food diets may be lacking in calcium and phosphorus, which can cause bone fractures and dental issues. In puppies, if the calcium-phosphorus ratio is off, dogs can end up with bone deformities and growth issues, leading to a poor quality of life for that dog. Raw diets that are largely made up of liver can create an excess of vitamin A, which can become toxic if fed over a long period of time. This chronic exposure can lead to liver damage and increased pressure in the brain.
One of the major praises heard from dog owners is that they notice a shinier coat on the raw food diet, which is because that particular raw food is high in fat content. However, this can also be accomplished by kibble diets that are formulated with a higher fat content to promote healthy skin and coats. Some raw diets that are high in fat, but low in protein can cause anemia, which will result in a lack of energy, irregular heartbeat, rapid breathing, and weakness. If the diet is too low in fat, it can lead to a poor coat, dry skin, and weaker bones. Raw diets that are too high in protein can cause more problems for dogs that may be in late-stage kidney or liver failure. Raw diets overall are dangerous for dogs with cancer or on chemotherapy (or any immunosuppressed disease), as these dog’s owners need to pay particular attention to the ingredients in their foods. The possible bacterial contamination for immunosuppressed dogs could severely compromise their treatment and recovery.
One of the most prevalent concerns is the fact that raw pet food has been shown to have bacterial contamination. This is not only a risk for the dog, but also for the owner and other family members, such as children. A study of 20 raw meat diets found that 7.1% contained a type of salmonella, and E.coli bacteria was found in 59.6% of raw meat diets. These bacteria can be shed in feces, which can lead to potential exposure and infection not only for humans, but also for other animals that may come into contact with the contaminated feces. In a study performed by the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine, over 1000 samples of pet foods were screened for bacteria that could cause foodborne illness. Compared to other types of pet foods that were tested, raw food samples were more likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria, such as salmonella and listeria.
It is very common to hear from owners that feeding a raw diet is “natural” because that is how dogs used to live. Dogs have been domesticated for hundreds of years now, and with research, we have come to understand their diet requirements, which have been used to create dry dog foods that contain all the vitamins and minerals dogs require. Just as humans are living longer because of our lifestyles and what we eat, based on years of research, the same is true for dogs; veterinary care and the quality of kibble for dogs allows them to live life to the fullest as well.
If you are considering a raw food diet for your dog, talk to your veterinarian about the associated risks, and other possible alternatives to achieve the results you are looking for. If you do decide to feed your dog a raw food diet, be sure to bring your pet in for frequent health checks with your veterinarian.