The Raw Diet Debate

hungrydogYour dog’s diet is probably the single most important thing influencing his health and well-being. But a walk down the food aisle can leave even the most educated dog owner’s head spinning with the sheer number of brands (not to mention supplements) on the market. To take the confusion a step further, there are now a growing number of options beyond just kibble. Over the past decade, there’s been a significant rise in the popularity of raw food diets, in particular. The raw diet follows the school of thought that dogs should eat what their undomesticated predecessors ate – raw meat, bones, organs, vegetables, fruits and other items available in the wild.
The “raw” diet can come in many forms. One option is to make it yourself.  The other option is to purchase it.  There are several, high quality, frozen varieties available from commercial companies.  More recently, a number of freeze-dried brands have also emerged, which require adding a little bit of water before serving. Additionally, some mainstream brands are now offering “freeze dried raw infused” diets, offering a combination of kibble and raw ingredients.
When it comes to what and how to feed your dog, it’s important to remember that there’s no “one size fits all” solution.  Every dog is different with his own complex needs. We recommend you do the research, educate yourself and make the decision that you think is in the best interest of your dog’s health.  Below we break down some of the pros and cons of the raw diet to get you started.
What is a raw food diet?
Raw food diets (also known as BARF, “bones and raw food”, diets) emphasize uncooked meat, bones, vegetables and fruits as opposed to grain-based, commercial dry foods.   
Raw food diets can be purchased commercially from reputable companies like Stella and Chewys, Nature’s Variety, Orijen, Merrick and Primal.
They can also be home prepped by you.  This means you’re the chef, which puts the onus on you to concoct recipes that are balanced, nutritionally sound and palatable. This has both upsides and potential pitfalls which we’ll cover below.
What are some of the benefits of feeding raw?
Control & Customization
As chief chef, shopper and recipe chooser, you have absolute control over what goes into each meal. You can be sure you’re feeding him the very best of ingredients, free of pesticides.  You can also tailor a diet to suit the particular needs of your dog’s size, activity level, breed and specific health issues.
Stamina & Vitality
Protein-rich raw diets have been linked to increased energy, stamina and lean strong muscles.
Preservative Free
Raw diets generally don’t contain preservatives and other un-natural components found in many commercial dog foods.  
Healthier Skin & Coat
The natural oils and omega fatty acids have been linked to a shinier coat and healthier skin.
Healthy Digestion
Raw natural whole foods, having no grains or glutens, are a healthy alternative for dogs with food allergies.
What are some of the cons?
Cross contamination
When preparing raw meats, there’s always a risk of Salmonella, E Coli and other bacteria. It’s important to use same precautions you’d take when preparing chicken for your family (storing raw meat separately from other foods, carefully washing hands and cutting boards, etc.).  This risk is generally more dangerous to people than dogs.  One of the benefits of choosing a commercial raw or freeze dried product is that they’ve developed strict protocol for killing any pathogenic bacteria.  Primal Pet Foods, for example, uses a high pressure, water-based technology (no heat) to kill any bacteria present. This is one of the important differences between feeding raw product from a commercial company versus raw meat purchased at a grocery store, which was intended to be cooked.
Time & Expense
If you go the route of home-prepped meals, prep yourself for the time it will take to make them (not to mention shopping for ingredients and researching recipes).  Raw food diets are generally more expensive than commercial dry foods, as well.
Potential for Nutritional Deficiency
The downside to a home-prepped meal is the risk for missing important vitamins and minerals.  As head chef and nutritionist, you need to carefully weigh the recipes to ensure your dog is getting a balanced meal plan.  For example, a puppy needs plenty of calcium to insure proper bone growth, while a dog with kidney or liver failure would have an adverse reaction to a protein-rich raw diet.  Supplements can be added to recipes to help address this.
While uncooked bones are much safer than cooked bones, there’s a risk that inadequately chewed bones could lead to internal injury, intestinal blockage, chipped teeth or choking,
We recommend talking to your vet, doing the research and giving careful consideration to what you feed your dog always!  We love your dogs as much as you do and our knowledgeable staff is happy to answer any questions about the brands we carry, whether you’re seeking kibble, frozen raw, freeze dried or a combination. Next month on the blog we’ll tackle “What’s in My Dog’s Food: Reading Food Labels 101.”