There is no doubt that natural, healthy food is in - for people and their pets. So it just makes sense that adopting a raw food diet has become popular for dogs as well as their owners.
In this article, we will cover the basics of a raw food diet for dogs - what to know, what to do, raw dog food pros and cons, special considerations and how to get started.
A Brief History of the Dog Raw Food Diet
The raw food diet actually isn't a new concept. It has been around since 1993, when a veterinarian named Ian Billinghurst began promoting it for pet dogs as well as professional canine athletes.
Billinghurst is also the person we must thank for the dog raw food diet's unfortunate nickname, B.A.R.F. This acronym stands for "biologically appropriate raw food" or "bones and raw food."
The entire premise for transitioning dogs to a raw food diet is based on canine genealogy.
Today's domesticated dogs, of course, share the majority of their DNA with wild wolves. Both originally ate the diet of an obligate carnivore - a pure meat-only diet.
Here is where the current controversy over feeding modern pet dogs a wolf-appropriate raw food diet arises.
At some point in our relatively recent shared past, genome mapping has highlighted how wolves and dogs diverged genetically.
Some researchers now posit that one of the most significant of these evolutionary changes was a shift towards an omnivorous diet.
It could be said that wolves and dogs have always been slightly omnivorous, for the simple reason that their prey are primarily herbivorous. So even an obligate carnivore is still taking in the minute amounts of plant matter in the stomachs of their prey.
What Is a Dog Raw Food Diet?
According to canine veterinarians, the raw food diet includes:
- Muscle meat protein.
- Organ meat protein.
- Raw bones.
- Meaty bones.
- Fruits and vegetables.
This grain-free diet is sometimes called the paleo diet for dogs.
Commercial dog food manufacturers are now making a type of freeze-dried raw food that is often mixed with dry grain-free kibble. For some dog owners, serving commercial grain free raw dog food may be easier.
Raw Food Diet Pros and Cons
The dog raw food diet has its proponents and its detractors. When it all shakes out, this is likely because trying to apply any diet, whether raw or otherwise, like a cookie cutter model, has never worked too well for people or pets.
Rather, the best approach tends to be taking a look at raw dog food pros and cons and deciding whether your precious pet dog is a good candidate for a raw food diet.
Raw food diet pros.
- The ingredients in your dog's diet are crystal clear (so no more vigilant tracking of what often seems like a constant barrage of dog food recall warnings).
- You get greater control over your dog's diet, which can be great if your pup suffers from food allergies or has a sensitive stomach.
- Depending on how you adopt the raw food diet, you won't have to worry about many or any preservatives or artificial ingredients.
- Many proponents of the grain free raw dog food diet say their dogs have shinier coats, healthier skin, fewer digestive complaints and more energy.
- Most dogs love the raw food diet at first sniff - a bonus for worried owners during the transition process.
Raw food diet cons.
- Feeding a pure raw meat diet is labour-intensive. Every day, sometimes more than once per day, you must prepare and serve raw meat to your dog.
- Raw food may contain pathogens that could harm you or your dog (or both). Serving raw or undercooked meat is known to be a health hazard, especially for anyone (people or pet) with a compromised immune system.
- Raw bones can still be a danger to your dog. While they do not pose the same risks as cooked bones, raw bones can still break teeth, splinter off or get swallowed and stuck.
- Purchasing raw meat can get expensive, especially if your pooch is sizable and eats a lot!
- Raw food on its own may not deliver complete and balanced nutrition for your dog at every life stage.
How to Get Started with the Raw Food Diet
The best method of switching your dog to a raw food diet is essentially the same method you would use when switching to any type of new diet or new dog food.
You want to start slowly and gradually, making the transition day by day for at least a 7 to 10-day period.
The reason you might want to draw out the transition is because sometimes transitioning to raw food can induce temporary gastrointestinal disturbance as the G.I. tract adjusts to this more extreme change from processed dry kibble and/or wet food.
You can use this raw dog food guide along with any specific instructions provided by your dog's veterinarian.
Day 1: Mix 90 percent old food with 10 percent raw food.
Day 2: Mix 80 percent old food with 20 percent raw food.
Day 3: Mix 70 percent old food with 30 percent raw food.
Day 4: Mix 60 percent old food with 40 percent raw food.
Day 5: Mix 50 percent old food with 50 percent raw food.
Day 6: Mix 40 percent old food with 60 percent raw food.
Day 7: Mix 30 percent old food with 70 percent raw food.
Day 9: Mix 20 percent old food with 80 percent raw food.
Day 9: Mix 10 percent old food with 90 percent raw food.
Day 10: Begin feeding 100 percent raw food.
Common Mistakes When Switching to Raw Food
There are three common mistakes that most dog owners tend to make when transitioning their dog to a raw food diet.
1. Trying to make the transition too quickly.
Dogs that transition to any new diet too quickly may experience constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and other unpleasant effects.
Monitoring your dog's stool is the best way to gauge how quickly you should make the transition.
2. Feeding raw food unsupervised.
You should always supervise your dog at least at first to ensure there are not any safety hazards. This is especially vital if you are feeding raw bones, which can present a choking or oral health risk.
3. Not consulting their canine veterinarian for nutritional guidance.
Feeding a raw food diet can be challenging nutritionally. To ensure your dog is receiving whole and complete daily nutrition, it is often necessary to supplement with vitamins and trace minerals.
Does Raw Food Offer a Proven Health Improvement?
The jury is still out regarding whether raw food or commercial dog food offers the most reliable source of whole and complete daily nutrition for dogs.
The general consensus is that transitioning to raw food works very well for some dogs, especially when their owners are all-in to do the hard work of preparing and serving daily meals plus any necessary supplements required to provide whole and complete nutrition.
If time or budget presents constraints, it can be wiser to choose a commercial dog food that incorporates freeze-dried raw food with nutritional supplementation in the form of dry kibble.
Is a Raw Food Diet Suitable for All Types of Dogs?
It is never a good idea to start your dog on a raw food diet (or any new dietary program) without first talking with your canine veterinarian.
This is especially vital if your dog has any autoimmune condition or is recovering from any serious illness or injury.
For puppies, always talk with your veterinarian first to decide the appropriate time to switch over. A puppy's immune system can continue to develop for up to 12 months.
When in doubt, always ask your veterinarian to review your raw dog food guide and suggest supplements as may be needed to provide whole and complete canine nutrition on the new raw food diet.
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