Are raw food diets for dogs an ideal meal plan or a
fad? Experts weigh in.
By Elizabeth Lee
Raw dog food diets are controversial. But the
popularity of the diets -- which emphasize raw meat, bones, fruits, and
vegetables -- is rising.
Racing greyhounds and sled dogs have long eaten raw
food diets. Extending those feeding practices to the family pet is a more
recent idea, proposed in 1993 by Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst. He
called his feeding suggestions the BARF diet, an acronym that stands for Bones
and Raw Food, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food.
Billinghurst suggested that adult dogs would thrive
on an evolutionary diet based on what canines ate before they became
domesticated: Raw, meaty bones and vegetable scraps. Grain-based commercial pet
foods, he contended, were harmful to a dog’s health.
Many mainstream veterinarians disagree, as does the
FDA. The risks of raw diets have been documented in several studies published
in veterinary journals.
Potential benefits of the raw dog food diet that
supporters tout include:
Higher energy levels
Potential risks include:
Threats to human and dog health from bacteria in raw
An unbalanced diet that may damage the health of
dogs if given for an extended period
Potential for whole bones to choke an animal, break
teeth or cause an internal puncture.
Since Billinghurst’s book, Give Your Dog a Bone, was
published, several other types of raw dog food diets have emerged, including
commercially processed raw food diets that are frozen or freeze-dried and
combination diets that use blends of grains, vegetables, and vitamins that are
mixed with raw meat purchased by the owner at the grocery store.
Raw dog food recipes and meal suggestions are
readily found online and in books. Interest from pet owners continues to grow,
with the widespread recall of melamine-contaminated pet food in 2007 bringing
in new followers.
Raw dog food diet: What it is
A raw dog food diet typically consists of:
Muscle meat, often still on the bone
Bones, either whole or ground
Organ meats such as livers and kidneys
Vegetables like broccoli, spinach, and celery
Apples or other fruit
Some dairy, such as yogurt
“For most animals, it’s more beneficial than
processed foods,” says Doug Knueven, DVM, of the Beaver Animal Clinic in
Knueven specializes in holistic medicine and also
consults for Nature’s Variety, a Lincoln, Neb.-based manufacturer of frozen raw
food diets as well as cooked dry and canned foods.
Barbara Benjamin-Creel of Marietta started giving
raw food to her three dogs after Scooter, a German Shepherd, was diagnosed with
cancer. The diet change came too late to help Scooter, she says, but the other
dogs are thriving after two years on raw dog food. The 11-year-old dogs seem
more energetic, and one with chronic digestive problems tolerates the raw diet
“The change in the coat was pretty immediate,”
Benjamin-Creel says. “Also, their breath was much better.”
Benjamin-Creel makes the food herself, giving yogurt
in the morning and raw ground pork, turkey, or beef mixed with some rice in the
evening. To cut costs, she stocks up on ground meat when it’s on sale. “It’s
not cheap,” she says, “but I think we’ve avoided a lot of old-age issues.”
The cost of a raw dog food diet varies with the ingredients
used and how it is prepared. For a 30-pound dog, a one-day supply of one
variety of a frozen, commercially available raw chicken diet costs about $2.50;
others may range up to $5 a day. A super-premium, commercial dry dog food costs
Raw Dog Food Diet: What the research shows
Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, headed an evaluation of
raw dog food diets published in the Journal of the American Veterinary
Association in 2001. She cautions pet owners against them, saying that many dog
owners are choosing raw diets based on online myths and scare tactics about
commercial pet food.
For pet owners who want to avoid commercial food,
Freeman advises a cooked homemade diet designed by a nutritionist certified by
the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.
Freeman, a nutrition professor at the Cummings
School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, says that many of the
benefits attributed to a raw food diet for dogs, such as a shinier coat,
instead are the result of the high fat composition of the typical raw diet.
High-fat commercial foods that would produce the same effect are available, she
notes, without the risk of an unbalanced diet. Supplements can also be used as
an alternative to increasing fat in the diet.
The evaluation looked at five raw diets, three
homemade and two commercially available. All had nutritional deficiencies or
excesses that could cause serious health problems when given long term,
according to the report.
Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, PhD, has seen those problems
appear in some dogs as poor coats, bad skin, or weak bones. Too little fat
means a bad coat; but too much fat and not enough protein can cause mild
anemia, says Wakshlag, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at Cornell
University College of Veterinary Medicine.
Wakshlag -- who accepts some research funding from
Nestle Purina PetCare -- says homemade raw diets also may lack enough calcium
and phosphorous, causing bone fractures and dental problems. Depending on the
quality of the diet, the calcium or phosphorus may also be difficult to
properly digest, even if present in adequate amounts.
Studies of raw pet food also have shown bacterial
contamination. The FDA issued suggestions in 2004 for manufacturing raw pet
food more safely, citing concern about the possibility of health risks to
owners from handling the meat. A 2006 study of 20 commercially available raw
meat diets found that 7.1% contained a type of salmonella. E. coli bacteria was
found in 59.6% of raw meat diets. These bacteria can also be shed in the feces,
leading to a potential source of human exposure and infection.
The study also sampled four canned and dry dog
foods. It found E. coli in all of the commercially processed, cooked foods
during one of the four sampling periods, and in one brand of dry food during
another sampling period.
Supporters of raw dog food diets are quick to point
out that commercially processed pet foods can contain harmful bacteria, as can
raw meat offered for human consumption.
“The whole concern about bad bacteria is overblown,”
Knueven says. “When people are feeding a raw diet they know it’s not sterile,
and they’re more careful about washing their hands. Feeding a raw meat diet is
no different than cooking chicken for the family ... you have to clean up the
counter and your knife.”
The FDA guidance document also suggested that
manufacturers address typical nutrition problems in a raw-meat diet, including
making sure it contained enough calcium and phosphorous, important for bone
health. Raw-meat diets high in liver also may supply too much vitamin A, which
can lead to vitamin A toxicity if fed for an extended period.
Even veterinarians like Knueven who support raw dog
food diets say that they’re not appropriate for all dogs. Because the diets are
typically high in protein, they aren’t appropriate for dogs with late-stage
kidney or severe liver failure.
He recommends that dogs with pancreatitis or other
digestive issues start with a cooked, homemade diet and clear up problems
before switching to raw. Dogs with cancer, on chemotherapy, or dogs with other
immunosuppressive diseases also should not eat raw food. And puppies aren’t
good candidates, either.
“The only place I’ve seen a problem with this diet
is puppies,” Knueven says. “If you don’t get the calcium and phosphorous ratio
right, you can have bone deformities and growth issues.”
Adapted from: http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/guide/raw-dog-food-dietary-concerns-benefits-and-risks
Bear in mind as you read these articles that "research" can be a questionable commodity, in that you need to know that its source is a reputable entity. With the Internet being what it is today, anyone can publish anything they want to and someone else will take it as gospel. Moving on....
Pros & Cons To The Raw Pet Food Diet: Is It
Like all our loved ones, we want what’s best for our
pets. That includes what they eat. It’s estimated that we spent $20 billion on
pet food last year. According to market research, more owners are making
the switch to raw foods. Big retailers, like Target and Petco are even
stocking it on store shelves.
Many owners report better eating habits, fewer
allergies, shinier coats, healthier teeth and fewer trips to the vet.
Woody’s Pet Food Deli in south Minneapolis is seeing
a surge in the diet’s popularity. “We get new customers every day,” said Liz Cummiskey
with Woody’s Pet Food Deli. The idea is dogs and cats eat a more natural diet.
Just like wild animals hunt prey and eat it. “The bones are ground up really
fine and we use the whole animal,” Cummiskey said. “It truly is a natural
balance of bone to muscle meat.”
The food must meet standards for being balanced and
complete for the animal, but veterinarians worry consumers might expose
themselves to germs. “It has the potential health risks to the pets and
to the people in the household,” said Dr. Julie Churchill with the University
of Minnesota. She says bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella can be
found in the food, but most packages don’t warn owners.
In a recent University of Minnesota study, the
department looked at 60 raw meat diets available at stores in the Twin Cities.
Seven percent of them tested positive for salmonella. “They look fine and healthy on the outside, they
look like they’re doing well, but they could be putting others at risk or they
themselves could get sick,” Churchill said.
The diet is also more expensive than regular dog
food. Most bags of kibble run about a dollar per pound. Places like Woody’s charge anywhere from $7 to
almost $30 for five pounds of food. Target charges around $13 for six pounds. At Petco,
it’ll cost you $63 for a five and a half pound bag.
As a believer, Annie Wiegers, says she guards
against the risks. “We put it on a separate plate for him and then put
that plate in the dishwasher,” Wiegers said. She thinks it’s worth every penny. “We try to eat as organic and raw and healthy as we
can and he’s just part of the family, so we want to do that for him, too,”
Not everyone is sold.
“I am unwilling to take the risk when I know there’s
no nutritional advantage,” Churchill said. Churchill wants you to think about this before
making the switch — Wild animals, like wolves, who eat raw only live about six
years. She also says most diet switches with dry food can
give you the same results of a raw diet, so check with your vet before shopping
for any new food.
Adapted from: http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2013/02/06/pros-cons-to-the-raw-pet-food-diet-is-it-worth-it/
THE RAW PET FOOD DIET DEBATE
by: Alison McNeilly, Colorado State University, Public Health Graduate
The concern for food safety is becoming greater and
greater and includes the diets of our four-legged friends in the family unit.
With the recent issues involving melamine and Salmonella contamination in
commercial pet foods, many owners are looking to alternative diets. Some
breeders recommend “raw diets,” claiming they are more nutritious than dry food
and carry a wealth of benefits. These diets consist of raw food, including
vegetables, grains, meat, and bones. These diets can be purchased commercially
in a frozen form or created at home.
There has been limited research conducted on either
the costs or benefits of such diets, so there is skepticism about their use for
companion animals. There are many inherent risks of raw diets that may affect
the long and short term health of the animal, the health of the owner(s), and
those who come in contact with the pet or waste from the pet. These risks
include lack of adequate nutrition, problems associated with ingesting bones,
and the presence of bacteria. Studies have found that the nutritional value of
raw diets, both commercial and homemade, are lacking. Pets fed these diets on a
long term basis could experience nutrient deficiencies and detrimental health
effects. One recommendation is to add fruits and vegetables to a quality
commercial non-raw diet to provide a more “organic” experience for your pet.
Many raw diets include the bones associated with the meat products. Bones in a
pet’s diet have been reported to cause intestinal obstruction, perforation,
gastroenteritis and fractured teeth. These may lead to extreme discomfort, surgery,
Another serious risk posed by feeding a raw diet is
that of bacterial contamination. This factor can be harmful to the pet and also
to the humans who come in contact with the pet through feeding or cleaning. Raw
food diets have been found to contain high levels of bacteria including
Escherichia coli, Salmonella spp, Clostridium perfringens, C. difficile and
Staphylococcus aureus. These bacteria can cause illness and diarrhea in both
the pet and humans that come in contact with the food or the feces of the
animal. There is special concern for the young, elderly, or immune-suppressed.
Human contact with the bacteria in these pet foods generally occurs during meal
preparation. Surfaces and utensils are likely to be contaminated and much care
must be taken to avoid cross contamination throughout the kitchen. Also, pet
dishes must be thoroughly cleaned after each feeding. It is important to remove
any uneaten portions immediately to avoid additional bacterial growth. Another
source of contamination comes from the feces of the pet. It has been shown that
bacteria consumed through raw pet diets may be shed in the feces by the animal for 7-11 days
after consumption. This poses a risk in cleaning up after the pet and the
potential for small children to come in contact with fecal matter containing
If you are considering a raw diet for your pet, it
is extremely important to follow recommended hygiene guidelines to protect
yourself and your family from harmful bacteria that may be present in this type
of diet. Sanitize all surfaces and utensils used to prepare the meal and remove
leftovers promptly. Without research supporting increased benefits of feeding a
raw food diet, are the potential increased risks really worth it? Just cook it!
...and, of course, be sure to talk it over with your veterinarian prior to make the change.
Adapted from: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/safefood/newsltr/v14n1s07.html
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