Long before the age of commercial kibbles and intricately formulated dog foods, the ancestors of our domesticated dogs lived on a diet that was essentially a raw dog food diet. This consisted mostly of fresh meat, bones, and the occasional fruits and vegetables they could scavenge. It’s this ancestral diet that many still consider to be the optimal diet for today's dogs.
But this wasn’t always the case. As society shifted towards more urban living, the demands for convenience influenced many aspects of life, including how we feed our pets.
In the mid to late 20th century, as pet ownership surged and urban living became the norm, the convenience of commercial pet foods took center stage. These were diets that promised complete nutrition in a convenient package — that is, until scientists started to point out the significant links between diet and disease and question the health implications of these processed diets.
By the 1990s, the raw feeding movement started to grow significantly thanks to Australian veterinarian Dr. Ian Billinghurst, who advocated for the "BARF" diet, an acronym for “Bones and Raw Food” or “Biologically Appropriate Raw Food.” His argument was the same as others had pointed out before — our dogs can eat raw meat just as their wild ancestors did.
Today, raw feeding is not just a niche trend but a significant movement within the world of pet nutrition. Despite its growing popularity, it remains a topic of debate among veterinarians and pet nutritionists. But, with generations of dogs now raised on commercial food, how do you find the best raw dog food for your pooch?
The raw puppy food and adult dog movement are about more than mimicking a dog's ancestral diet. It's also about taking advantage of the many benefits that come with unprocessed and intact ingredients. Let’s unpack the benefits of a raw diet:
The biggest benefit of feeding a raw diet is that you will be stepping away from processed foods and prioritizing whole, unprocessed ingredients such as fresh meats, vegetables, and fruits. This means no fillers, artificial colorings, and additives in your dog’s food — things that PetMD points out offer no nutritional benefit, can cause allergic reactions, or are potentially carcinogenic.
A shinier coat and healthier skin are some of the most common improvements attributed to a raw diet. This is likely because raw diets are high in fat and rich in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, which can have a positive impact on a dog’s skin and coat.1 This is not just a cosmetic benefit but also reflects the overall health of the pet.
Periodontal disease affects nearly 80% of dogs by age three.2 While brushing your dog’s teeth can help prevent this, the mechanical action of chewing raw bones and meat can also act as natural dental cleaners, reducing tartar and plaque. In fact, a study published in the Australian Veterinarian Journal found that chewing raw bovine bones can reduce dental calculus covering by up to 87.8%.
Studies show that up to 65% of dogs in the United States are considered overweight or obese, which can, in turn, contribute to kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, and a decreased quality of life. 3
Because raw diets are protein-centric and low on fillers, they can potentially help fight canine obesity. In fact, experts believe that dogs tend to have a good, healthy body condition and aren’t overweight. “This may be due to twice daily, portion feeding, or to the high protein, low carbohydrate content,” according to a report published in The Canadian Veterinary Journal. 4
While raw feeding sounds pretty good at first sight, you should approach it carefully. From parasites to nutritional imbalances, understanding the risks of raw meat for dogs is an essential first step. Here are the most important dangers to consider:
Designing a balanced raw diet is more complex than simply offering meat. A chunk of beef or chicken is not a complete meal, and if that’s all you are feeding, your dog won’t get all the necessary nutrients to stay healthy.
Calcium and phosphorus imbalances, for example, can result in bone deformities, especially in growing dogs. Unfortunately, studies have found that up to 60% of both home-prepared and commercially-bought raw diets had multiple nutritional imbalances, including a poor calcium-to-phosphorus ratio, very low content of vitamin A and E, and extremely high levels of vitamin D.5
The reason for this? Research shows that most people (33%) design their own pet’s diet by just following other people’s advice available online. An alarming 19% follow no rules whatsoever, just throwing ingredients together without understanding if the final mix is balanced or not.6 This is a risky practice as it often overlooks the specific needs of different dog breeds and ages.
With a homemade raw diet, you will also need to monitor how your dog responds to different ingredients. Some might cause digestive upsets, while others could be potential allergens. You will also need to rotate proteins and other ingredients to make sure your dog is getting the proper nutrition. What does this all mean? It means feeding a proper, well-balanced homemade raw diet is not an easy task and it’s very time-consuming.
The scariest and most serious issue with a raw diet issue is the presence of pathogens. Recent findings revealed that nearly 60% of raw meat diets tested had pathogens like Salmonella and E. Coli in them.7 These bacteria are dangerous not only to dogs but also to humans handling the food.
Raw diets (especially those that include wild-caught meats) can also introduce parasites like tapeworms and toxoplasmosis.8 These parasites can affect your dog’s effects and can also be transmitted to humans in some cases. Although regular deworming and careful meat selection can help reduce these risks, they can’t eliminate them.
While bones can be good for dental health, they can also present significant dangers, including fractured teeth and gastrointestinal injury. According to a study published by the American Veterinary Medical Association, they can also cause obstruction or perforation of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, or colon. The study adds that “Bone foreign bodies were present in 30% to 80% of dogs and cats with esophageal foreign bodies.” These blockages can be life-threatening and require emergency medical intervention.
Quality raw dog food ingredients can stretch budgets, which is why raw diets tend to cost significantly more than commercial pet food.9 The expenses can also add up, especially in a multiple-dog household or if you share your life with medium to large-sized dogs. In addition, access to affordable high-quality raw ingredients can be especially difficult in some regions, complicating consistent feeding. For those seeking immediate availability, searching for "raw dog food near me" will show you local suppliers who specialize in raw canine diets.
Raw diets are the only pet diets that need to be handled extremely carefully to avoid contamination. For starters, storing raw food requires careful attention to prevent bacterial growth. Without the right storage temperature, bacterial overgrowth can quickly turn a nutritious meal into a toxic one. Preparation also carries risks, as raw food can easily contaminate the kitchen, making people sick.
One of the most critical aspects to consider is the safe handling of the food. Raw meat is highly perishable and it needs to be stored properly. In homes where space is shared between human and pet foods, it’s smart to also use separate containers or designated areas in the refrigerator to avoid cross-contamination.
After each meal, all surfaces, utensils, and hands must be cleaned well to prevent the spread of pathogens like Salmonella or E. coli. In fact, the FDA recommends cleaning and disinfecting all surfaces and objects that come in contact with raw pet food, first with hot soapy water and then with a mix of water and bleach.
Raw dog food diets offer a unique mix of potential benefits and significant risks. While many dog owners are passionate advocates of the benefits of a fresh or frozen raw dog food diet, it's essential that anybody considering it spends some time looking closely at all the research available. Even better, it would be a good idea to consult with your veterinarian for a better understanding of what to expect.
For pet owners who want to offer their dogs a more natural diet but are concerned about the risks and difficulties of raw feeding, there's an alternative available. Fresh dog food, professionally formulated and conveniently delivered, bridges the gap between commercial kibble and raw diets. Cola's Kitchen provides ready-to-serve fresh meals for dogs that are truly nutritionally complete, tailored to your dog's specific needs and 100% safe. It’s a great way to get all the benefits of whole, real food without the risks and challenges associated with raw feeding.