Raw dog food and the general raw food diet for pets is rapidly rising in popularity here in the UK. And, it is now widely available to buy in ordinary pet shops and online.
Studies and raw food advocates believe and suggest that increased levels of non-natural foods, dairy and sugars in a modern-day dog’s diet are part of the reason why there are also rising levels of cancers and other health issues.
Whether this is true or not on a wide scale is yet to be confirmed, but it is a reason why many believe cutting these foods out of a dog’s diet is important.
Keeping food raw maintains all of the natural benefits. Most raw dog foods also cut out the filler ingredients, preservatives and flavourings (such as grains) which most manufactured food now contains.
What is raw dog food?
It is mostly what the name suggests – raw meat, with minimal additions. But raw dog food usually contains every part of the meat, such as muscle (often still on the bone), bones (either whole or ground), and organ meats such as livers and kidneys.
The food is preserved as soon as possible and maintained to ensure the nutrients, vitamins and goodness is locked in. Other ingredients are commonly added, such as vegetables and rice, but in smaller quantities. This can give dogs the carbohydrates and other vitamins they need, which meat doesn’t provide.
When food is cooked for ordinary dog biscuits or tinned food, it can lose a lot of the natural nutrients. So leaving it raw is seen as the healthiest diet, too.
Why should I consider a raw dog food diet?
Dogs are instinctively carnivorous animals, as much as that may make your tummy go a bit iffy. In nature, they would find and eat an entire animal. Raw dog food mimics this without you having to go and hunt in the forest or set up a butchery in your living room.
In today’s commercial kibbles, there are usually a lot of carbohydrates – sometimes as much as 50%. But dogs are not genetically designed to consume this filler content at such high levels. Keeping it to about 20% maximum is seen as best. Specialised raw dog food can keep these ingredients to a basic minimum.
But if you are considering raw dog food, don’t think you can necessarily make it yourself.
Completely fresh raw meat can carry a lot of risks for dogs, especially if it is meat actually made for humans that we’d cook. So raw dog food is often dehydrated, frozen or freeze-dried to preserve nutrients and ensure it doesn’t pick up any of the germs which cooking it would kill off.
Raw meat is likely to contain harmful bacteria like Salmonella, Listeria and E. coli which low temperatures and freezing can kill off
It has been shown in studies that if a dog eats what they have evolved to eat, dogs enjoy better health and longevity.
The benefits of raw diets for dogs
A canine should be full of energy, and healthy on the inside and out. When switching to a raw diet, you may see:
- A shinier coat
- Improved energy levels
- Optimal weight
- Optimal body composition and shape
- Decreased intolerances, allergies and sensitivities to foods
- Less wind
- Firmer stools
- Wind and faeces are less smelly
Common ingredients in raw dog food
A raw dog food diet is designed to mimic a dog’s natural menu in the wild. The evolutionary feeding template of wolves involves:
- Limited fruits and berries
- Healthy fats
This can cut out grains and any extra wheat or cereals they wouldn’t usually have. These ingredients are usually used in dog food manufacturing to fill out the food and keep prices down both for them and the consumer.
As mentioned above, many modern commercial foods can contain 50% carbohydrates. If raw food does contain grains or carbs, it will be in small amounts so that there is nutritional value but not in bulk majority to act as a filler.
Carbohydrates such as rice and pasta are things your dog’s digestive system was not originally designed to cope with – they have evolved to do so
So, raw foods stick to this makeup in various quantities, but meat is always the main focus. There are usually a few variations, though, such as non-vegetable foods or ones for working dogs.
BARF diets for dogs
The most common raw diet template is BARF (Bones and Raw Feeding).
BARF is an ‘ancestral template’, which follows an 80:10:10 ratio of meat, bones and offal and emulates what wolves would naturally feed on. But it is now thought that something more like 64:8:8:20 (meat, bones, offal, vegetables and berries) is more appropriate for the modern-day dog.
Varying meals in a raw dog food diet
Studies have suggested that if you are to give your dog a raw diet, you should vary the source and main makeup of the diet.
By switching up the proteins your dog consumes, you increase the likelihood of your dog receiving the full spectrum of amino acids in the correct balance.
To avoid getting too scientific, variations of protein is necessary for a full, healthy life.
It also minimises the likelihood of developing food intolerances. Dogs are prone to intestinal permeability (leaky gut), which is what can give them sudden intolerances in later life.
The same food over and over again does not maintain the gut lining, and this applies even to non-raw diets.
A good pattern would be beef for a few days, then chicken, then fish. Dogs can then have time to desensitise from the ingredients.
Balancing phosphorus and calcium
Dogs need a balance between the amount of phosphorus and calcium they get in their daily diets. Ideally, this should be a 1:1 ratio but verge more on the calcium side.
Meat is very high in phosphorus and low in calcium. On the other hand, bone is high in both calcium and in phosphorus.
The main function of phosphorus is in forming bones and teeth, so it is essential for a dogs wellbeing, especially if they are developing. It also plays an important role in the body’s use of carbohydrates and fat which controls weight.
Calcium is important to maintain these strong bones. But too much can cause increased bone density which causes issues such as hip dysplasia.
If a dog was to eat just meat, they would have far too much phosphorus and not enough calcium, which is why many raw dog foods also contain bone in some form. This is why buying a ready-made raw diet is best over making it at home – it can get far too complicated to calculate all the time.