Dog Nutrition

Raw Revolution – The Theory Behind The Raw Food Diet

More and more dog owners and professionals are taking a second look at what they feed their family dogs. The majority of puppies are fed on dried dog food to get them eating and growing. As they get older the dried food changes to the same adult variety and this has long been the way that owners have fed their dogs.

Elizabeth Roberts explores why more dog owners are taking their pet's diets back to nature.

However, concern is mounting over what ingredients actually make up the average dog food, so the manufactured brands are fast being pushed out over the growing popularity of the Raw food diet or BARF as it is also known.

BARF stands for Bones and Raw Food and this is primarily what you would feed your dog on, no dried dog biscuits, no cooked chicken or sausages but a huge variety of uncooked meats and pureed vegetables.

The Raw food diet is not a new phenomenon; it has been around for centuries. Dogs in the wild would live off whole carcasses including organs, which ensured that they got the right vitamins and nutrients to survive. The philosophy behind natural raw food is that the best way to feed your dog is by giving them a diet that they have evolved to eat – natural raw meat and bones.

But why are dog owners turning their back on the kibble and going Raw? Well many Raw – converts have reported a huge change in their dog’s health, appearance and smell since being fed a raw diet.

theory raw dog food diet

Tracey Knock started feeding her Golden Retriever bitch, Jasmine on a Raw diet at 6 months old. “Jasmine had a rash that the vet couldn’t explain, and I put it down to the Pedigree Junior Kibble that we were feeding her on. I also noticed that the food would affect her behaviour – she would have highs and lows like a kid after a fizzy drink!" After reading up on the Raw diet, Tracey decided to give it a go, and so out went the Kibble and in came Raw Meaty Bones. (RMB)

“I really wanted to give her a natural meaty diet which didn’t have added salt, flavourings and colourings.” Remembering Jasmine’s reaction to finding two meaty chicken wings in her bowl, Tracey says that she was quite confused, “she looked into the bowl, then back at me with a very quizzical expression and then back at the bowl, but it didn’t take her long to tuck in.”

Tracey feeds Jasmine on mince such as chicken, beef, turkey or green tripe, muscle meat such as Ox heart and then a RMB. Jasmine also occasionally gets a banana and non-bio yoghurt or a raw egg with the shell on. “Her favourite treat is pig’s trotters – she would run through the house showing everybody her prize!” recalls Tracey.

Generally, feeding a Raw diet means buying the meat either in bulk from specialised companies or going to your local butcher and asking for leftovers. You can then freeze the meat keeping it fresh and take out what you need for each day allowing it to defrost. You can then decide on the amount to feed your dog depending on their size and energy levels. Slightly more work than just opening the bag of dog food and pouring it into their bowl, but the results are amazing.

The Raw food diet consists of muscle meat, raw meaty bones and offal. Muscle can be minced or ground meat, breast meat, diced meat, heart and pretty much anything without a bone. You should feed your dog on muscle meat for one of their daily meals, the other meal should be a Raw Meaty Bone. This is just an edible bone covered in meat; for instance chicken wings, thighs, legs, whole chickens, lamb ribs, chops, necks and whole rabbit. Raw fish is also good for your dog to eat but some dogs may turn their nose up at it.

Many dog owners freeze the meat and then allow it to defrost before giving it to their dogs, but this is not just for convenience, freezing Raw meat actually kills the Neosporun Caninum form of bacteria which can be harmful to dogs, and so when it has thawed, the meat is nothing but goodness for them.

On a regular dog food diet the commercial food must be complete and balanced so that the dog can get sufficient vitamins. The Raw diet which offers variety in the different foods that the dog can eat, should contain enough variation in vitamins and minerals. However some dog owners like to add vitamin boosters to the diet such as oil capsules, vitamin E and A and calcium carbonate tablets so that they have the right amount of vitamins and nutrients.

However this is not a necessity to a Raw fed dog as they should be getting enough vitamins from the variety of different meats and bones. In the end your dog will guide you better than anyone else so just see what they like and how they respond to different meats.

The dog owners we spoke to who opt for a Raw diet all reported similar findings, the overall health of dogs has improved, persistent skin irritations have disappeared, dogs look forward to their food and energy levels have rocketed.

As the dog takes a lot longer to eat a meaty bone, it gives the stomach time to get the acids moving which means the food is easily digested. By having to put more effort into gnawing at a bone the dogs teeth are getting cleaned and the gums stimulated, this eliminates the need to visit the vet for dental work, it also means that owners no longer have to fight with their dogs to brush their teeth; the teeth are getting brushed naturally.

The added effort builds up muscle in the dog’s neck, back and shoulders which means that the body is leaner and stronger. The diet also seems to rid dogs of the doggy odour that comes with them and the breath is clean and sweet smelling.

Gill Lucas who runs her own dog walking and sitting services used to have a pet shop selling her own BARF food and would make and sell her own vitamin supplements. She has two Alaskan Malamutes and two Labradors which she has fed on a Raw diet since day one and sticks by the mantra – “I’d rather put needles through my eyes than feed them kibble!”

Gill got her first Malamute, Indigo four years ago and fed him on raw chicken wings, chicken carcases and tripe, which she says he loved. “I was scared at first to try him on raw meat but after I saw how much he loved it, I knew there was no going back.” Gill reports seeing the amount of energy it gave her dogs as the first indicator that natural is best. “I also add pureed vegetables, ginger, garlic, eggs, oils and sunflower seeds to meals which they consume in seconds.” Gill also says that she has seen her dogs grow in a more natural consistent way. She says that they don’t have growth spurts and therefore stay as puppies for longer, she puts this down to feeding them their evolutionary diet.

Regular pet foods contain a huge amount of grain and cereals and carbohydrates which a dog’s digestive stream cannot deal with, grain is also the source of many allergies in dogs which just means more trips to the vet. However with a raw diet, your dog is getting all the vitamins, minerals and protein that they need from muscle meat and bones, and with no grain in sight the vet bills stay down.

The Raw diet is not only for large dogs, Kirsty Carrot made the transition to the raw diet six months ago with her West Highland White Terrier, Hamish. “Hamish had a bad rash on his belly, after reading that commercial dog foods contain ingredients that dogs are commonly allergic to, I decided to try Raw. Within a month of his new diet, his skin has improved massively.”

Kirsty opted to feed Hamish a diet of raw meaty bones, offal, tripe, oily fish and live yoghurt. “Hamish now has brilliant, white strong teeth and doesn’t ever have bad breath, his coat doesn’t have bad odour to it and it has thickened considerably. I also find that he has consistent energy levels, and he is an all round, happier dog.” Says Kirsty.

The philosophy of taking your dog back to its natural, evolutionary diet seems to scream benefits and advantages, but what about the other side of spectrum, are there many disadvantages? Well it would seem that you have to be dedicated to the raw diet which could mean buying your dog its own freezer to store all the meat, also many raw feeders say that the smell of the meat can sometimes be overwhelming. Kirsty says that she feels the diet is time consuming as she doesn’t like to leave Hamish alone with a RMB and so has to keep an eye on him making sure he doesn’t eat it on the sofa!

Dog owners who want to feed their dog on the Raw food diet should try and start off slowly, easing them in to getting a taste for meat. Try cutting a raw chicken wing in half and holding one end so your dog can taste the blood and bone. If they are still a little wary, and they might be, if it is not what they are used to, then you can try putting some raw meat in a very hot frying pan and quickly warming the skin on each side so that it seals in the flavour.

The skin is cooked but the meat and bone is still raw. It is also advised to introduce a new meat to your dog each week, try them on chicken wings first and see how they respond, if they are ok then you can try a different meat such as minced beef. This will help you see what meats are best for your dog by their reaction.

There are a few things that should definitely be avoided when feeding your dog. Cooked bones should never be given to dogs, they can splinter and become lodged in their throats, raw bones on the other hand will never splinter. Whilst most vegetables are good for dogs if they are pureed, onions should never be included, they contain chemicals that can oxidise the dogs red blood cells which can cause haemolytic anaemia. Grapes and raisins should also be avoided as dogs find it difficult to digest them.

Julie Lovall feeds her German Shephard Logan on a Raw diet which she says he got used to very quickly. “I started Logan with a lamb rib, he took it from me rather gingerly and went off into the garden with it trying to work out what to do with it! But he soon worked it out and started chomping on it. For his next meal, I gave him minced beef and tripe, he was very keen and ate all 2lb of it straight away and came to me tail wagging and gave me a big thank you!” Julie sticks by her decision to try Logan on Raw and says the benefits outweigh any draw backs.

“The health benefits to my dog and my bank balance are main thing. It costs about £14-16 per month. It's the best thing I have ever done for Logan.” Julie did say that she has had to buy a freezer just for Logan’s food but says that not been a problem.

Julie decided to try Logan on Raw food because she couldn’t bare for him to eat the same thing for the rest of his life. She says that sometime he wouldn’t even bother to sniff the kibble, and he was just so disinterested in his food. Julie did a lot of research before making the switch however which helped her to realise that Raw was best.

“Before I started to feed Raw I did months of research online, reading BARF books and talking to many people who feed Raw themselves. Only when I felt I knew enough about it and getting the nutritional balance right, did I take the plunge. And because of all the research done I have not had any problems and it has been much easier to feed Raw than I imagined.” Says Julie.

As with anything, the raw food diet has its opponents. Pet food manufacturers say that the food is already balanced for the stage of life and health condition of your pet and trying to decide on the right balance yourself could lead to nutritional deficiency. This however has been disputed by Raw food enthusiasts who say that the BARF diet is the most natural food you can give your dog, the bones contain the natural source of calcium and meat is packed with nutrients and vitamins.

There is also added concern about the bacteria raw meat contains and the notion that bones can splinter and become lodged in dog’s throats. This carries many myths; it is actually cooked bones that can splinter not raw bones. A dog’s digestive system is designed to withstand bacteria unlike a human's, and the stomach acid is exceptionally strong so destroys any bacteria from the raw meat.

There is no hiding the facts, more and more dog owners are opting to feed their beloved dogs the raw food that they have evolved to eat, the natural way can only be the better way and as Jessica with Jasmine and Gill with her Malamutes and Labs say, the proof is the pudding. Their dogs are healthier, leaner, energetic and generally happier.

The Science Of The Raw Food Diet

The whole point to a raw diet is to mimic the feeding habits of dogs in the wild. Whilst humans have evolved to use cutlery and heating devices, a dog's digestive system is best suited to raw, unprocessed food. It's not just the nutritional content of the raw food which brings the benefits. The actual texture, if you include bones, feathers and skin, provides friction which helps dogs to keep their teeth clean.

Raw food feeding also stimulates and promotes a more healthy attitude to food from the dog's point. Food that is soft and served in a bowl, doesn't naturally 'feel' like food to a dog. Over time, a dog will come to accept what it is given as food and it will become natural to them, but when given raw food, dogs will feed in a more wild and natural way.

Dogs will gorge on raw food, the ways they do in the wild. Whilst humans have taught dogs to eat measured portions in the way that we do, dogs in the wild will eat everything they can - they don't know where the next meal is coming from. This is healthy for a dog as it mimics the wild approach to feeding. It is particularly beneficial for dogs that live in groups or packs as it helps them to reinforce their pack hierarchy. Dominant dogs feed first and leave what they don't need for the rest of the pack. In human terms, this doesn't equate to having a good diet, but in canine terms it is entirely natural and healthy.

For quite a long time, people have doubted the validity of feeding dogs on canned, soft food that promises to deliver optimum nutrition in each and every meal. Research suggests that dogs do not need to receive measure, quantifiable nutrition in every meal and that they will develop a balanced diet over a period of time that is more effective. By eating raw food such as butcher's scraps, a dog may get more iron one day, and more protein the next. Whilst commercial, 'balanced' food attempts to deliver small measure of nutrition in each portion.

Studies carried out at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Science points to the raw method delivering more nutritional value over time, when compared to balanced, shop-bought food. The studies, which examined the general health and stools of the participants reported that the first two signs that raw food was more beneficial than commercial food were that coat quality improved and stools were firmer from a younger age.

The main risks associated with raw feeding are linked with parasites and bacteria. One benefit claimed by food manufacturers is that their cooking process destroys all bacteria and parasites. It is also true that the heat used in the preparation process diminishes the nutritional content of any raw products used. Whilst it is more likely for raw food to contain bacteria and parasites compared to commercial, dogs that are fed on raw food are better able to deal with parasites and bacteria due to stomach enzymes which are promoted by the raw diet.

Have you tried the raw food diet? How did your dog get on? Let us know - we'd love to hear your own stories or tips!

Comments

comments

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Chris

    May 14, 2013 at 8:13 am

    I like the sound of this diet and wonder if it might help my dogs Trachea problems (he is currently on dried feed and is a toy yorkie) but I am a little confused. I have always been told (including by vets) to not feed bones to my dogs, especially chicken bones which are a BIG no no. I have also been told not to feed raw chicken as it can cause food poisoning.
    Any help would be appreciated.

    • Emma

      May 14, 2013 at 8:42 pm

      COOKED bones of any type should never be fed to dogs because cooking them makes them brittle and more likely to splinter and cause injury. Raw bones, even chicken bones, are fine to give dogs. The only ones that should be avoided are weight bearing bones of large animals such as cows because they are harder and could cause damage to a dog’s teeth.

      Dogs are also not affected by salmonella because the pH level of their stomach acid is lower than ours (1 as opposed to 4), so they’re able to handle the bacteria better and won’t get food poisoning from eating raw chicken. But if you’re feeding any raw meat, then the usual precautions should be taken to make sure that all surfaces are clean before and after you prepare the dog’s meal to avoid any contamination risk to yourself or your family.

    • Kimberley

      May 15, 2013 at 5:17 pm

      Feeding cooked bones is definitely something to avoid but raw bones do not splinter and contain a natural source of calcium. Choose bones that are appropriate to the size of your dog. My 10 pound mutts get chicken wings, chicken necks and the ribs from chicken. Other bones are a little big for them to get through but a meaty marrow bone (for making soups) is a treat that they still enjoy nawing on.

      Many vets don’t recommend feeding raw food because most are taught to choose kibbles which apparently are ‘nutritionally complete’ though there are no studies on what actually constitutes ‘nutritional complete canine (or feline) diets’. The problem these days is that too many pet food companies are more worried about the bottom line rather than the quality of the food and as a result we have seen too many tainted pet food scares and I personally lost pets to tainted pet food.

      Dogs and cats have a much tougher digestive track and are able to tolerate bacteria more than their human counterparts. But even with that said, some of the grocery store shelves contain meat that have antibiotic resistant bacteria and because the bacteria has evolved to be a tougher strain, it may be something worth worrying about. I personally am cautious about using such meat. I usually sear the exterior (were the bacteria would be found) and then cut and serve the seared meat. Organically raised meat is fed to my mutts in raw form.

  2. Fran

    May 14, 2013 at 9:18 am

    Dry foods are denatured and by their very nature dehydrated, which causes dehydration during the digestive process. With regards to ingredient it is so easy to hide a multitude of sins again another living creature. One of the urban myths put out by the pet food industry and the veterinary profession is that dogs have evolved to enable them to eat dry foods in the past 50 years. This is a physical impossibility, as for the very first signs of evolution to occur takes millions of years – not 50! These are species inappropriate diets. We are effectively expecting our dogs and cats to consume corporate ‘waste’ / sludge which has been toasted beyond all recognition. With regards to behaviour nobody – absolutely nobody has publicly started connecting the dots between the increase in dog attacks on humans with nutrition. It is not – by far – the main cause, but my goodness it will be a real factor with regards to a dogs emotionality and ability to handle certain situations. There is something called the GAPS diet being publicized for children with behaviour problems (Gut and Psychology Syndrome). There is an American homeopathic vet who has recently published GAPS applies to dogs too, and having looked into this,I think he has hit the nail right on the head!

    • caroline

      June 27, 2013 at 10:24 am

      Fran , I am So glad to read your comment as I have considered the GAPS diet a wonderful set of research and also believe it applys to dogs too! Who was the usa vet you speak about? :-)

  3. Helen

    May 14, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    “Dogs in the wild would live off whole carcasses including organs, which ensured that they got the right vitamins and nutrients to survive. The philosophy behind natural raw food is that the best way to feed your dog is by giving them a diet that they have evolved to eat” Really? The dogs in our homes have been domesticated for 12000 years, and basically eaten what we have. I presume, following this argument to it’s natural conclusion, the author advocates humans eating raw meat and bones, as that is also what we used to do?

  4. janet.peart@facebook.com

    May 14, 2013 at 10:42 pm

    Hi. I have been feeding my dogs on raw meat and veg for about 2 years. They are now 11and 10 years old.
    Since I changes their food their coats, teeth, energy levels and rest time have been brilliant. Their favourite are chicken necks and ox tail.
    They have a morning feed or minced or pieces of mixed bone meat and veg and for the 2nd meal of the day they have chicken carcasses or beef or lamb ribs with meat. Keeps their minds occupied too. Their joints are better and I’ve spent much less time and money in the vets.
    Their stomachs are not like ours and the acids break up the chunks of bone and meat. Their stomachs don’t tolerate rice and grains so why do we think they do? Convenience!
    For your dogs sake try it for 6 months. Chicken wings are great and inexpensive to start off with for meals, then tripe, oh tripe – they love it!! Heart, liver, kidney, brains, any part of the animal!! Carrots, broccoli, sweetcorn, beetroot, celery, It’s a joy to see them relish their food!

  5. lou

    May 15, 2013 at 7:51 am

    RAW all the way. what a difference it made when i changed my dogs about 3 years ago. muscle on fat off, no farting & i mean no farting, great coat, cleared up a 6 month skin problem 1 had in just over a week & it’s never recurred, no stinky breathe, little stools, pearly white teeth, no anal gland emptying needed. better attitude . chicken bones are fine like all others as long as they are not cooked! best thing i ever did!

  6. Andrew Payne

    May 15, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    I was introduced to BARF 10 years ago after we started having trouble controlling our 2 year old Dalmation,she would have mad fits and run around the house like she was on drugs. We changed to BARF and never looked back she calmed down, her coat and teeth are fantastic as are those of our other dogs. She is 13 now and people often comment on her looks for her age. They get bones, raw veg, fish and oils and absolutely love it.

    I would recommend it to anyone.

  7. Kari

    May 15, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    @Chris, you don’t ever want to feed cooked bones to a dog. The bones can splinter and cause damage. But raw bones are just fine. Poultry bones especially are very soft and easy to digest. As for food poisoning… not an issue with raw-fed dogs. Their digestive systems are much more acidic than ours, and bacteria and parasites don’t do well in that environment. I’ve been raw feeding for many years, and my dogs have eaten some pretty disgusting things with no ill consequences. You, however, need to wash your hands thoroughly after handing their food ;=)

  8. Cheryl

    June 15, 2013 at 2:09 am

    Any suggestions on BARF for toy poodles? I’ve been interested for years, but all the products I’ve found seem too big for their mouths.

    • caroline

      June 27, 2013 at 10:26 am

      Hello Cheryl there is alot of information on the Natures Menu website. Chicken wings and turkeys necks should be fine for your dogs as my little terrier cross adores them, or perhaps they would like to strip the meaty bits from lamb or beef ribs? Don’t be afraid to try and see if they like them.

  9. linda

    June 28, 2013 at 9:21 am

    we had our 3 dogs on the raw diet but took them of it has they all put loads of weight on now they only have it now and then so you have to watch their weight

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