Raw diets are becoming popular for dogs. Not only have people started preparing raw meals for their dogs at home, there are now a number of commercial options available to save on preparation work. So how do they compare?

Why feed a raw diet?

The benefits of feeding a raw diet have not yet been well-documented and many veterinarians will advise against this practice. Raw meat can carry bacteria which can cause illness in your dog, just like in people. What’s more, even if your dog doesn’t become sick he can still become a long-term carrier of dangerous pathogens which can be passed on to people. It is best to, at least, gently cook any meats that are included in your dog’s diet. Bringing any raw meat to an internal temperature of 80⁰C for just 6 seconds should be sufficient to destroy most harmful bacteria.

Won’t my dog naturally prefer to eat raw meat?

Your dog will most likely have a preference for the food that they are familiar with. There is evidence that puppy food preferences are maintained in adulthood. The strong aromas and moist texture of raw meats can be enticing to many dogs, but this isn’t necessarily an innate preference. It is entirely possible for a dog to turn up their nose at a raw meal if it isn’t what they are used to eating!

Isn’t it more natural for dogs to eat raw meat, similar to how their wild ancestors would have eaten?

Dogs have a long history of domestication and they are now very different from their wild ancestors. Our canine companions have even developed an ability to digest grains because of their close association with people as they evolved.

Benefits of cooking

Cooking raw meat eliminates the risk of bacterial contamination. Many commercial foods are cooked and manufactured in a way which they can stay fresh with no need for refrigeration. Kibbles have a very low moisture content, typically below 13%, which means they can be stored in a sealed container on the shelf, even after opening. Sealed tins have to be refrigerated after opening but have a long shelf life, even with a high moisture content.

What should I look out for if I choose to feed a raw diet?

If you are determined to feed raw there are some things you can do to minimize the risk of your pet and family members from getting sick.

Raw meals that are home-prepared should follow a recipe formulated by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. This will ensure that the diet is truly tailored to the needs of your pet and that all the essential nutrients will be present in the correct amounts.

During meal prep, be mindful about any surfaces that come in contact with raw meat. These will need to be disinfected with hot soapy water. The bowl that your pet uses for the meal will also need to be thoroughly cleaned after use.

Another option to ensure that your pet is eating a balanced raw meal is to choose a pre-made commercial diet. Choose a food that states that it is “complete” on the label. This means that it has been formulated to meet established nutrient requirements.

Whether your commercial raw food arrives as fresh, frozen, or freeze dried, closely follow the directions on the package for meal preparation and clean-up.

Summary

There are currently no well-documented health benefits associated with feeding a raw diet versus a cooked diet. They have the potential to spread harmful pathogens which is why their use is often discouraged by veterinary professionals. In the end, many dogs will be just as satisfied eating a fresh-cooked or commercially-cooked food as they would a raw diet.

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