You love visiting your friend because she has two mutts and a prize-winning Doberman who you adore. As you walk in clutching a six-pack of ale, you enter what could be mistaken as a Hollywood horror scene. Your friend is wearing a butcher type apron and is shoving meat into a food processor with bloody glee. “Feeding time!”, she says with a grin as she greets you. The dogs are well behaved and patiently lying at her feet, tails wagging, and a little drool on their chins. They usually greet visitors for a pat on the head, but not today.
These are happy and very healthy dogs, living long lives. They are fed raw meat as their regular diet without any harm. Their coats are shiny and they are very active. One of the theories for adopting a raw diet for your dog is that canines in the wild exist on fresh meat and that we should take this genetic history into account. The problem with this is that domestic dogs have been bred far away from their ancestors and their dietary needs are different from the needs of wolves or feral dogs living in the wild. You may look at your husky and imagine her ripping apart some prey, but that is not how she lives today. And different breeds require different types of food based on their joints, their digestion, and conditions to which they might be vulnerable. Feeding your dog raw foods has become controversial, so let’s break it down so we understand the pros and cons.
If you wish to feed your dog a raw diet, you have two options. There are commercially made raw diet packages that you buy either frozen or not. The packets come in either bulk form or even in patties (I guess because humans like patties). Or you can make it yourself with raw meat and bones (more about that later) with added in vegetables, supplements, or grains. You will need to do a little research to find the right balance for your breed and size, and balance it against Spot’s activity level or any dietary concerns. The good thing about raw food diets made at home is that you can tinker with the mixture based on keeping your dog on a balanced diet that fits her lifestyle. But even with the commercial frozen raw food, you can meet those needs. Remember to buy food that is flash frozen (as most of it is) and contains no preservatives. The distributor will have all the information you need.
Over the past few years, there have been many pet food recalls regarding ingredients that are not healthful. If you choose to feed your dog a raw diet that you mix, you can be assured that she is eating pure and healthy food. Another benefit from a homemade raw diet mixture is that there is high water content which might fill your dog up quickly. If she has been packing on the ounces, this could be a tool for weight control that does not involve depriving your dog of a portion of her food. We all know that much-prepared dog food is loaded with preservatives and fillers. Making your raw diet at home, or purchasing commercially packaged raw food from a reputable distributor, eliminates that worry. For dogs who like to chew, and sometimes not on the most appropriate objects, a raw diet might provide enough chewing (if you include bones) to lessen the need for chewing inedible objects. Of course, using bones in your homemade mixture in small amounts will help strengthen her teeth in the long run.
Regarding bones used in raw diets, caution is always warranted. There are choking hazards, risk of perforation, or chipped teeth. Bones that are uncooked are more digestible than cook bones which become brittle and easily splinter, which is why feeding your dog cooked chicken bones is a no-no. One thing to remember when planning your homemade raw diet is that some vegetables that have bulk are indigestible for dogs, so cooking them and cooling them before adding them into your raw mixture is recommended.
Let’s take a look at the cons. Raw diets are expensive and time-consuming. If your schedule is such that your family eats out or brings in take-out three or four days a week, the planning and preparation of switching your dog to a raw diet might add more stress to the family, and even to your dog. If you travel a lot and either take your dog with you or arrange for a sitter, this diet might be hard to adhere to and switching diets back and forth is not a good idea. Some kennels charge extra for food preparation or do not provide that service. And preparing meals in a hotel would be difficult. Dogs like things to be on schedule and familiar, so think this over before starting her on a new diet if you travel a lot.
Another concern regarding raw diets is the need to make sure that a vitamin or mineral deficiency does not occur. Do some research about the optimal ingredients to add to your raw diet to make sure that she does not become deficient in vital nutrients. Symptoms of vitamin or mineral deficiencies may take months to appear, so it is important to watch for changes in usual activity levels. It is recommended not to use pork which grows trichinella spiralis very quickly in uncooked pork and can make your dog very sick. There are other pathogens that grow in uncooked beef and fish, and all of these can cause illness or death. It is crucial to have excellent refrigeration and to prepare food for each meal separately to avoid the growth of pathogens.
Raw food diets are a good choice for your dog nutritionally and, if the three dogs mentioned at the beginning are a good example, they enjoy the flavors and textures. If you are prepared to do a little bit of research and have the time and the resources, this is a regimen that could greatly enhance Spot’s wellbeing and help her to live a long and happy life.