The Pros and Cons of Feeding Dogs Raw Meat: What You Should Know

1. An Overview

One of the most popular raw diets for dogs is the Bones and Raw Food (BARF) diet. This method, developed by Australian veterinarian Dr. Ian Billinghurst in 1993, combines organs, vegetables, fruits, eggs, and raw meat.

Advocates of this method believe that raw diets meet the biological needs of dogs. They argue that the canine digestive system is designed to quickly and efficiently digest raw meat. Dogs have a shorter digestive system than humans, meaning that food passes through their bodies more quickly. They also have stronger stomach acid, which helps them break down foods that humans can’t safely consume.

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A typical raw food diet for dogs includes:

  • Raw meat, often with bones
  • Whole or ground bones
  • Organ meats such as liver and kidney
  • Raw eggs
  • Various vegetables like broccoli, spinach, and celery
  • Apples or other fruits

2. Benefits of Feeding Dogs Raw Meat

Why feed dogs raw meat? Potential benefits of feeding dogs raw meat include:

  • Healthier skin and coat: Research from the University of California, Davis has found that dogs on raw diets have softer and shinier coats compared to dogs on kibble diets. This is because raw diets are low in carbohydrates and high in fresh fats, proteins, vitamin E, and zinc – all essential for a dog’s coat and skin health.

  • Improved dental health: Most dental issues in dogs are caused by poor diets, especially those high in processed foods or carbohydrates. In the wild, dogs clean their teeth by gnawing on bones and consuming raw meat, which helps remove plaque from hard-to-reach areas.

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  • Stronger bones: Nothing supports bone health better than bones themselves! Bones are a natural source of calcium, phosphorus, glucosamine, chondroitin, collagen, and marrow – all essential components for a dog’s skeletal and joint health.

  • Boosted immune system: A strong immune system is crucial for fighting infections, which is why maintaining it in peak condition is essential. Feeding dogs raw meat helps enhance their natural immune system:

    • Meat: A fundamental component of a dog’s diet, providing high-quality and easily digestible protein – key factors for good health and immunity. Additionally, raw meat supplies various essential fats, vitamins, and minerals that are pure and not lost during processing and cooking.

    • Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables contain a wide range of complete vitamins and minerals naturally balanced. They’re rich in antioxidants, plant-based nutrients, and enzymes that benefit a dog’s overall health. For example, citrus fruits are rich in vitamin C, carrots provide vitamin A, and leafy greens contain ample vitamin K.

  • Reduced stool volume and odor: Dogs’ digestive systems are designed to extract as many nutrients as possible from their food. Carbohydrates and fillers like soy, potatoes, corn, and rice take longer to digest and aren’t fully absorbed. These fillers act as bulking agents and can result in larger, smellier stools. Raw diets, which lack fillers and contain fewer carbohydrates, produce smaller and less odorous stools.

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  • Less body odor: While not officially confirmed by clinical studies, many raw feeders claim that their dogs have less body odor.

  • Maintaining lean muscle mass and a healthy weight: According to some, a balanced raw diet helps regulate a dog’s system, allowing them to gain or lose weight as necessary.

3. Potential Risks of Feeding Dogs Raw Meat

Feeding dogs raw meat comes with certain risks, despite the benefits:

  • Bacteria: Raw meat carries a higher risk of bacterial contamination compared to cooked meat. Cooking meat helps kill off potential harmful bacteria like Salmonella. These bacteria can also be present in the dog’s feces, posing a risk of infection and exposure to humans.
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Other bacteria commonly found in raw meat include Listeria, Campylobacter, Clostridium, and E. coli. Additionally, raw meat may harbor parasites such as Trichinella, which can cause serious illness.

However, it’s important to note that dogs have a unique digestive system that can handle bacteria without issues. Their bodies are equipped to prevent harmful bacteria like Salmonella from invading or disrupting their healthy gut microbiome. Dogs have highly acidic stomachs, natural digestive enzymes, and bile to handle Salmonella and other bacteria.

By choosing, handling, and preparing raw food for dogs with good hygiene practices and sourcing meat from reputable suppliers, you can avoid bacterial contamination.

  • Nutritional imbalances: Feeding dogs a raw diet can lead to deficiencies or excesses in nutrients. Dogs may receive too much vitamin A and D, an imbalance between calcium and phosphorus, or inadequate or excessive fat. A poorly balanced diet can harm a dog’s health if fed for an extended period. To feed dogs raw meat correctly, thorough research is required, or you can follow our raw feeding guide to avoid mistakes.

4. Minimizing Risks when Feeding Dogs Raw Meat

Feeding dogs raw meat can offer significant benefits while minimizing risks. Here are some tips to reduce potential risks:

a. Choose high-quality meat

The quality of raw meat is crucial in reducing risks. Start by purchasing fresh and odorless meat. Avoid feeding dogs meat that smells rancid or has been sitting out for too long.

b. Caution when feeding raw bones

While dogs can handle larger raw bones, avoid feeding them cooked or small, sharp bones. These bones can become brittle and cause choking or puncture the dog’s throat or intestines. Raw bones are softer, and your dog will have no issues handling them.

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c. Create a balanced diet

The key to feeding dogs raw meat is providing them with a balanced and adjusted nutritional intake over time. Feeding a raw diet doesn’t mean simply giving dogs raw meat. It requires variety in the diet to provide all the necessary vitamins, minerals, and a complete and balanced nutrition. You also need to include bones, organs, essential fatty acids, and supporting vitamins and minerals to create a balanced diet for your dog’s overall health.

If you want to feed your dog raw meat, follow online recipes or consult books on raw feeding. Homemade raw diets are rarely complete, so it’s essential to follow a comprehensive guide to avoid mistakes.

d. Consideration is key

While there are tremendous benefits to feeding dogs raw meat, it’s not suitable for every dog. Each dog has unique health conditions, and careful consideration should be given before deciding to feed raw meat:

  • Dogs with advanced kidney or liver disease should not be fed a raw diet due to its high protein content.
  • Dogs with pancreatitis or other digestive issues should start with a cooked diet and address the issues before transitioning to a raw diet.
  • Dogs with cancer, undergoing chemotherapy, or suffering from other immune-suppressive diseases should not be fed a raw diet.
  • Puppies have rapid growth and complex dietary requirements. If not given the correct balance of calcium and phosphorus, they can develop bone deformities and growth issues. This also applies to older dogs with weaker immune systems and more sensitive digestion.

In summary, dogs can eat raw meat, and a raw diet can provide them with complete and balanced nutrition for optimal development and health. Feeding dogs raw meat can result in healthier skin and coat, improved dental health, stronger bones, a boosted immune system, reduced stool volume and odor, and less body odor. However, there are also risks such as bacterial contamination and nutritional imbalances.

Ultimately, whether to feed dogs raw or cooked meat depends on each individual dog’s health condition (as mentioned above) and your own comfort level. If you feel safe and confident in preparing a balanced raw diet for your dog, you can choose to feed them raw meat.

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