The raw food debate in dog feeding decoded

The raw food debate in dog feeding decoded

Health & Safety

Non-dog owners or the first time dog owner could easily be forgiven for thinking that feeding dogs is a simple endeavour, with many different varieties of pre-packaged complete dog foods readily available to buy from a wide range of different outlets. But as soon as you scratch the surface and start to look into dog food and how best to feed your dog in more detail, it soon becomes clear that picking the best and most appropriate way to feed your dog can be anything but straightforward!

As well as the wide range of different types of pre-prepared diets that can be bought for dogs, there are also various alternative methods of feeding dogs, including preparing meals at home from scratch. Another alternative to pre-packaged food that has received a lot of attention from dog owners and canine experts in recent years is the raw food diet, or BARF (biologically appropriate raw food) diet for dogs.

Opinions as to whether the raw food diet is the best way to feed dogs or is in fact inappropriate for their needs are polarised, with this system of feeding having a great many fans and an equal number of detractors. If you have heard of the BARF diet or raw food diet for dogs and are wondering whether it is a good idea or not, read on to learn more about it, and the various arguments surrounding it.

What does the raw food diet for dogs entail?

The core principle of the raw food or BARF diet for dogs involves removing all pre-packaged, processed complete foods such as kibble and tinned meat from the diet, and replacing it instead with a diet of edible bones, organ meat and uncooked meat, accompanied in smaller portions by fruit, vegetables and sometimes eggs and dairy products. More information on what makes up the Barf diet in detail, plus how to feed it can be found in this article.

Why do proponents of the raw food diet recommend it?

People who support the idea of feeding a raw food diet and moving away from commercially produced dog foods often cite the quality and consistency of pre-packed foods as part of their argument, and claim that the content and standard of the meat and other products that make up dog food can be highly variable or of a poor standard.

Added to this, fans of the raw food diet feel that feeding dry kibble or processed tinned meat is greatly removed from the natural feeding style of dogs in the wild, and that a diet of this type is not as beneficial to dogs as one that more closely mirrors the feeding style of dogs in the wild throughout history.

Raw food diets are normally produced by the dog owner at home, so that the owner knows exactly what is going into the food, where it came from and the quality of it. Plus, the diet can be tailored to suit the needs of dogs with specific allergies or other special dietary considerations. The raw food diet does not require any of the preservatives or additives that usually accompany pre-packaged foods, and gnawing on bones and fibre-rich vegetable tissue can be beneficial for the teeth and gums.

What do the critics say?

There are a range of problems or potential problems associated with feeding a raw food diet, which ensures that this feeding method has remained rather controversial and a regular topic of debate!

One of the main potential issues that accompany feeding a raw food diet is the health aspect of providing and preparing raw meat; raw diets may contain a range of potentially harmful bacteria, including Salmonella, E-coli and Staphylococcus aurius, which can affect both dogs and people. Not only is there a heightened risk involved for the person preparing and handling raw meat and meat products on a regular basis, but also possibly for the dog involved too. All of these bacteria can be shed in dog stools, presenting an additional layer of risk for those that clean up after the dog or spend time on the ground where the dog does his business.

There is also the additional risk posed by feeding bones to dogs; while gnawing on a bone can be beneficial to dental health, there is always the potential of chipping or damaging the teeth on a bone, or ingesting bone fragments that can then cause choking or internal perforations.

Getting the nutritional balance of dog food right can be a very delicate balancing act, and one that the food scientists and nutritionists employed by pet food companies spend a lot of time and effort working on. It is much more challenging for the layperson dog owner to produce a 100% balanced and nutritionally complete diet within the home by any means, and many dog owners will be completely unaware that something is lacking from their dog’s diet until the issue is quite pronounced.

Finally, feeding a raw food diet can be very time consuming and expensive; the dog owner must source the appropriate component parts of the diet and spend time preparing it for each meal, as well as having to store meat, bones and other food products in the fridge or freezer. Feeding a high quality raw food diet is also significantly more expensive than feeding a pre-packaged diet, even a top of the range one, and is outside of the financial reach of many dog owners.

Is the raw food diet suitable to feed my dog?

While a lot is said both for and against the raw food diet for dogs, no long-term studies have been conducted into its efficacy or risks at the time of writing. There is little scientific information or data available to the pet owner to be able to definitively make a decision either for or against the raw food diet for dogs, and each dog owner will have to weigh up the pros and cons and potential risks and benefits in order to reach their own decision.

You should always talk to your vet if you are considering making any significant changes to your dog’s diet, such as changing from packaged foods to a raw diet; but bear in mind that veterinary surgeons are just as polarised in their opinions on the raw food diet as the general dog-owning public is!



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