Raw feeding dogs and cats has snowballed in popularity in recent years. Advocates of raw (with or without meaty bones) diets believe that providing the most natural or unprocessed food for their pets enables their dog or cat to lead their happiest and healthiest life. And, seemingly, there are some advantages to raw feeding for some individuals. Benefits might include improved skin condition, better quality poop, increased motivation to eat, better dental hygiene and fresher breath. However, many vets are opposed to the feeding of raw diets and actively discourage their use. This is not without reason, so let’s consider the risks you should be aware of before choosing a raw diet for your pet.

Is raw feeding the most natural option for your pet?

If you compare raw diets to processed diets, the additives in processed and cooked dog foods are greater. So in this sense, yes, raw food is more natural. However… consider too how biologically different the domestic dog is from their wolf ancestor. In reality, modern dogs’ biological and lifestyle needs are far removed from their genetic roots. For example, domestic dogs have a far greater ability to digest starch than wolves. In addition, natural does not always mean better. Food that has rotted is ‘natural’, whereas food that is pickled or preserved is not natural but is safer to eat. For this reason, it is absolutely critical that raw food is handled and stored safely and correctly.

What are the risks of raw feeding?

There really are some risks that you need to be aware of.

1. Risk of dangerous bacteria 

The biggest risk and greatest concern to most vets is the higher bacterial load in uncooked food. These bacteria can cause gastroenteritis in your pet. 

But, more worryingly, the bacteria sit in your pet’s guts and colonise the intestines (or increase in numbers). Research shows that raw-fed dogs – even those never exposed to antibiotics – have an increased chance of shedding antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their faeces. These dangerous bacteria can lead to life-threatening infections in animals and people exposed to them. People that are immunocompromised (chronic illness, on chemotherapy, pregnant), children and the elderly are particularly at risk.

If a raw-fed dog is admitted to a veterinary hospital for any reason, barrier nursing is usually implemented. This is to protect other patients who may have a weakened immune system and the staff caring for that patient. In addition, if a pet has had gastroenteritis (vomiting and diarrhoea) or gastrointestinal surgery, vets will often advise that a raw food diet should be avoided, at least until the guts are completely healed. If your pet’s protective mechanisms in their gut are worn down, introducing food high in bacteria is not a good idea.

Yes, it is true that sometimes cooked foods are recalled because of bacterial contamination. But this contamination is the norm in raw meat – so precautions are needed not just when handling it, but also when you remember that dogs’ tongues are excellent bacterial spreaders around the house!

2. Malnutrition 

Getting the right nutritional balance can be tricky for pet owners, particularly if you are home-preparing your pet’s diet. Pets with food intolerances and allergies can add another layer of complexity. Nutritional deficiencies and illnesses related to dietary issues are more common in pets fed homemade diets. Taurine deficiency can cause blindness and heart disease in cats. Also, grain-free diets have been linked to dilated cardiomyopathy in some dogs (this is an ongoing research area, but the current database suggests it is a real issue). 

Most commercial pet foods are tested to contain the correct balance of nutrients your pet requires at the point of feeding – not before the food is processed, but afterwards. This means that you know what nutrients the dog is being fed, not just what was in the ingredients list. In contrast, homemade recipes are a bit of a minefield, and are remarkably difficult to balance. Calcium and phosphorus levels are particularly important to growing dogs. To avoid cartilage and joint issues, getting the right balance of minerals is essential in large-breed dogs, whose growth is so fast that there is very little room for even minor nutrient imbalances.

3. Risk of feeding bones

Most vets agree that the risk of feeding bones is increased by cooking them. Cooked bones are more brittle and, therefore, harder to digest and more likely to splinter. This can cause trauma to the oesophagus (throat), stomach and intestines, which might cause severe sickness and tissue ulceration. In the worst cases, these bones might cause an obstruction or pierce through the gut wall. 

Raw bones are not entirely safe, though. If dogs can break away a chunk of bone, this can also be a choking risk or cause a blockage. A complete intestinal obstruction is life-threatening and requires surgery. Any vet who has seen a case like this is unlikely to recommend a raw meaty bones diet to another pet owner.

I’ve always raw-fed my pet; how can I reduce the risks?

If you are determined to raw feed your dog or cat, and have decided that it’s right for you and for them in the light of all the evidence, then that’s fine. Most vets are mainly worried about people making ill-informed decisions around these risks.

However, there are things that you should do to reduce the risks. Buying pre-prepared food from a reputable manufacturer will increase nutritional balance in the diet and hopefully reduce the risk of poor storage conditions. The manufacturer should provide feeding guides for different dietary needs and life stages. This will ensure that your pet gets all the necessary vitamins and minerals in the correct balance. 

Freezing can reduce the risk of parasite (although not bacterial) contamination of the food. Thawing food should be covered and stored away from human food. Any thawed food, including bones, should be discarded after 24 hours. All surfaces must be cleaned with antibacterial cleaner, and hands must be washed thoroughly after handling the food. But, most importantly, dog faeces must be cleaned away thoroughly, and vulnerable people should not be exposed to the areas where your pet poops – or ideally to doggy kisses either. 


It’s true that many vets are not keen on raw diets and will recommend some form of heat-treated products instead. Working in a busy veterinary hospital soon opens one’s eyes to the number of severe gastroenteritis cases vets see daily. Whenever a raw-fed patient is admitted to the hospital, this increases the risk of more severe infections for all the patients, and even the staff in that hospital. So these concerns are certainly justified. 

And, while it does appear that some pets thrive on a raw-fed diet, there is often a cooked diet that would work equally well. That said, openness and education are crucial for vets working closely with pet owners to provide the best nutritional advice. 

At the end of the day, each pet should be considered individually – this is definitely not a case of ‘one size fits all’.

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