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Raw Food Diet for Dogs: Is It Safe?

Updated on June 15, 2010

What is in your dog's bowl?

Photo by Anita Lumley
Photo by Anita Lumley

In the never ending quest to provide the best for our pets, pet owners have turned to different methods of feeding their dogs, including: raw diets, grain-free diets, and home-cooked diets. Whether any of the previous methods are better than the other is debatable, and many different opinions exist.

When I first heard of the raw food diet, I imagined feeding my dogs strictly raw food and was concerned. I wondered how these pet owners managed to maintain all the essential nutrients for their loved ones efficiently, avoid bacteria/parasites, and afford the price of raw meat. A raw food diet sounded like an awful lot of work and dangerous.

I wanted to know if feeding my dog raw food would be safe and economical. I sought some answers and here are some things I found.

What's healthy for your dog?

Photo by Maggie Smith www.freedigitalphotos.net
Photo by Maggie Smith www.freedigitalphotos.net

How did the raw diet become popular?

It all began with Dr. Ian Billinghurst and his BARF diet for dogs; BARF being an acronym for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. This diet promotes feeding canines pieces of raw meat, ground bones, fat, organs, fruits and vegetables. The BARF website offers many claims to why the diet is beneficial for pets, including better skin conditions for dogs, better immunity, more energy, and less bodily odor.

BARF's website warns against commercial kibble, and I'm inclined to agree; however, some dry dog food companies offer the same ingredients and claim the same benefits and are just as healthy.

Bacteria and Parasites


The handling of raw meat is a serious matter, and proper techniques are required. Following information was found in the book, Home-Prepared Dog and Cat Diets by Patricia Schenck, 2010.

Salmonella


A healthy dog's digestive system can typically handle this bacteria. Dogs, however, shed salmonella in their feces. Humans, especially children and the elderly, in contact with a dog's contaminated feces can be infected with this bacteria. Imagine a child playing in a yard where a dog has ate raw meat and pooped.

Symptoms:

  • loss of appetite
  • lethargy
  • diarrhea
  • gastroenteritis
  • chronic fever
  • conjunctivitis
  • abortion
  • and pneumonia

Clostridium Botulinum


Found in soil, it can contaminate raw meat, dead animal tissue, and vegetables. This nasty bacteria can produce a toxin that blocks the neurotransmitter, Acetylcholine. The toxin is sensitive to heat and is destroyed when reaching temperatures above 212° F for ten minutes.

Symptom:

  • Paralysis

Rickettsia


Born from a parasitic fluke, Nanophyetus Salmincola , commonly found in raw salmon, this nasty critter can make it's way into a dog's digestive system and release a Rickettsia, Neorickettsia Helminthoeca , into the bloodstream. Fatal if treatment is not sought in the early stages.

Symptoms:

  • vomiting
  • bloody diarrhea
  • fever
  • dehydration
  • enlarged lymph nods

Toxoplasmosis


Mostly found in cats, this parasite can also affect dogs and humans. Toxoplasmosis, regardless of symptoms, can be hard to detect in dogs. Dogs are usually infected by eating contaminated cat feces, raw meat, and milk from infected goats. Source: Toxoplasmosis from peteducation.com

Symptoms:

  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • depression
  • central nervous system: paralysis, loss of nerve function, and seizures
  • Muscles: a stiff gait, and loss of muscle
  • inflammation in the eyes
  • pneumonia
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • jaundice

Other Toxicities


In Home-Prepared Dog and Cat Diets by Patricia Schenck, several other issues with feeding dogs from home, not just raw meat, are outlined in this informative book.

Metal Toxins


Due to an unbalanced diet, dogs can achieve toxicity from Lead, Zinc, Cadmium, and Arsenic. Careful preparation is key.

Onions & Garlics


Feeding a dog abundant amounts of onions or garlic can cause a condition known as Heinz Body Anemia, which destroys red blood cells.

Grapes & Raisins


Not much is known about the reaction dogs have after eating grapes or raisins, but it is severe. Ochratoxin, is thought to be the cause of renal failure in some dogs after eating grapes or raisins. Any amount consumed by a dog should have immediate action: Seek proper veterinarian care as soon as possible.

Vitamins


Vitamins are a good thing, and just like in humans, too much vitamins can cause damage to a dog.

  • Liver is rich in vitamin A, feeding a dog too much liver can cause toxicity.
  • Vitamin B-6 can reach toxic levels when dogs consume too much
  • Vitamin C can also be toxic at high levels
  • Vitamin D can be toxic when dogs consume too much fish oils or certain house plants.

Microscopic Dangers

Photo by renjith krishnan www.freedigitalphotos.net
Photo by renjith krishnan www.freedigitalphotos.net

A notion that feeding a dog a diet similar to it's ancestors has been supported by many pet owners, including myself. Many owners site ancestral dogs and what they ate, and the argument seems sound. Dogs, logically, should thrive on a raw diet, and the diet is the answer to many pet owner's questions. Deciding if it is the right choice should be based on solid research and discussion with professionals.

Some raw food advocates bring up zoo animals and how they are fed. Of course, these animals are taken care of by professionals and have veterinarian care 24/7. Most pet owners are not trained animal dietitians, nor veterinarians, and neither am I, which is why I think a raw food diet for dogs is risky. A simple answer doesn't exist, and not enough scientific accurate research has been conducted regarding this issue. Dog owners must weigh the risks with the benefits themselves.

As a "mom" to two beautiful dogs, a college student, and wife, I simply don't have the time or money to buy enough food to feed both my family and pets. I'd love to be able to control exactly what goes into my pet's food, but I'm afraid I wouldn't be very good at keeping them safe. Adding another opinion to the countless opinions on the internet and elsewhere--I don't think feeding a dog a diet of raw meat is economical or safe for my lifestyle. Dry dog food producers are competing to provide concerned pet owners the best, safest, and healthiest food that is economical, and mimics a diet ate by our pet's ancestors. My family has gone the route of buying the most natural, healthiest dry dog food we could find at an affordable price. To encourage variety in our pet's diet we feed them various natural treats and canned wet food of different flavors. Many people are distrustful of industry but not all companies are bad, and there is healthy dry dog food on the market.

Many dogs need to be on specialized diets for certain individual health reasons. Following a home-diet for any pet should be consulted with a family veterinarian to ensure the pet is receiving all the nutrients needed to remain healthy.

Ultimately, the health and choice of pet food lies in the owner's hands. I'd love to hear what thoughts and experiences dog owner's have using a home-diet. Please share thoughts about the raw diet debate. Successes? Failures?

Thank you and stay informed!

Would you feed your dog a diet of raw meat and vegetables?

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    • saicheshire profile image

      saicheshire 7 years ago from Iowa

      I fed BARF years ago. At the time I had 4 dogs, 2 Dobermans and 2 Corgis. It lasted for about 6 months, mostly due to financial reasons. It's not as expensive if you can get a hold of a good source for chicken necks. Neck bones are soft which is why they are most recommended, Billinghurst I believe ONLY recommended necks (maybe backs too) but a lot of people who fed the raw diet seemed to think anything would do because they believe all raw bones don't splinter which is most certainly not true.

      In the book Billinghurst claims that all problems will disappear, I believe he may have said within a short amount of time but I don't recall and I don't know where the book is right now so I can't confirm it. My oldest Doberman had a lot of problems which are usually blamed on allergies but whether he actually had any allergies I don't know. Some of his problems improved but he still had some and I didn't really see much of an improvement over all in the others as compared to a good quality dry food. After 6 months they went back to dry because I lost my source for chicken necks, unless of course I was willing to drive a longer distance than I already was. Considering there wasn't that much of an improvement, I decided against it and I switched the dogs to a different food. I remember putting my "allergy-prone" one on California Natural and all of his symptoms disappeared after a week or two.

      I no longer support BARF, not for that reason alone however. After researching the diet of wolves (in the wild), I have come to discover that it really isn't all that biologically appropriate. Maybe I'll create a hub on it (whenever I relocate the book).

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 5 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      I live on a very tiny income and can barely afford the dry dog food I give her. I think she would do better on a healthier diet. Do you suppose I could give her more vegetables in addition to her dry food and maybe she will eat less kibble? Also, she loves peanut butter. Is that safe? Nice hub.

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