Raw dog food diets have been around as long as dogs — and their ancestors — have been around. Until the creation of dry dog food and canned dog food, dogs lived off raw meat, scraps and anything they could scavenge.
You may have heard of the old English expression ‘as fit as a butcher’s dog’, which implies that a dog living off meat, bones and offal is likely to be in fine fettle.
However, after the creation and growth of mass-market dog food, domestic dogs’ diets changed and the feeding of raw dog food became less common. That is until recent years…
Raw food for dogs has increased in popularity in recent years; some of it homemade, some produced by ‘cottage industries’, but increasingly provided by medium to large companies for a national market.
What are the best raw dog foods?
Some work on the ‘prey’ model, which is an 80% meat, 10% ground bone, 10% organ meat (offal) blend. Others use the recipes akin to the Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (BARF) model, which includes a small percentage of vegetables.
Both kinds profess an authenticity based on dogs’ evolutionary diets.
It being something new (but also very old) it has generated a lot of doubt, cynicism and questions — alongside its popularity.
We put some of those questions to Amy Zalneraitis, the CBO at We Feed Raw.
Is raw dog food safe for dogs?
Raw dog food is not only safe for dogs, it’s what is most biologically appropriate for them. Dogs have thrived on a raw, meat-based diet since the dawn of their existence. While we’ve domesticated dogs and bred them for their appearance, behavior, and temperament, in form and function, their digestive system is identical to their ancestors. With highly acidic stomachs, sharp, pointy teeth, and short, simple digestive tracts, a dog’s biology tells us what they should be eating.
So any raw food will do?
Not all raw pet foods are created equal. We use only high-quality, USDA, human-grade meats. We produce our recipes in a USDA-certified facility and all ingredients must comply with rigid incoming quality assurance specifications. Most importantly, to ensure safe raw feeding in the home, we use HPP (high-pressure processing) — a non-thermal pasteurization technology that uses extreme cold water pressure (up to 87,000 psi) to ensure our food is free of pathogens such as Listeria, E. coli, and Salmonella.
While not all raw companies in the U.S. do this, we incur the extra cost because it ensures a safe product. Because the process uses pressure rather than heat, there is no change in product taste, texture, or nutritional value.
Is raw dog food safe for humans?
It depends if you mean to eat or handle. While our food is sourced from USDA, human-grade meats, our recipes are not intended for human consumption. Our formulas contain the correct ratio of muscle meat, organ meat, finely ground bone and a high-quality vitamin and mineral mix for full and proper canine nutrition, not full and proper human nutrition.
As for handling, dogs can cope with bacteria in ways that humans can’t, but HPP offers extra peace of mind while feeding raw in the home. HPP is used by many reputable raw pet food companies because it’s a natural way to reduce harmful bacteria while preserving nutrients.
When you’re purchasing raw pet food from a reputable company, it’s easy to feed raw food safely — you use the same basic hygiene practices you use when preparing your own raw meats to cook, like washing hands, surfaces, and bowls.
It’s more expensive than kibble — why should I spend extra?
Because the quality of the food our dogs eat has a direct impact on how well they live. Eight percent of immune capability is in the gut and low-carb raw diets help to promote healthy gut microflora. Raw food will always be more expensive because quality costs more. Hands down, raw costs more to source and make and it’s not packed with cheap fillers. While you’ll pay more upfront with raw, you’ll save money down the line because you’ll have a healthier, happier dog and far fewer vet visits.
Why wouldn’t I just make raw food at home?
If you’re a DIY raw feeder, amazing! Great job! But we’ve found that many pet parents don’t have the time, energy, interest, or resources to make properly balanced raw food at home. That’s where we come in. We plan, portion, package, and deliver. All you have to do is thaw and feed. No concern that your dog is missing important nutrients, no trips to the pet food store, no guesswork.
Do dogs need vegetables?
Our recipes are based on the Prey Model Raw diet: approximately 80% muscle meat (with connective tissue and fat), 10% organ meat (all of which is secreting organ), 10% finely ground raw meaty bones — plus a small amount of a high-quality vitamin and mineral mix.
Some of our customers will choose to add veggies to the meals, and that’s great, as long as they don’t overdo it. If your dog does well with a bit of extra fiber, our Ph.D. nutritionist suggests around a 5-8% veggie inclusion. With dogs, plant matter usually passes out as part of the stool, undigested because their bodies have to work much harder to break it down.
We usually recommend pureeing veggies: dogs do not have natural cellulase, an enzyme that helps to break down fiber, so pureeing them will help aid in digestion.
Do I need to add supplements?
Nope. Our food is complete and balanced as is. No need to add supplements. That said, it’s totally fine to add a small amount of your preferred probiotic, prebiotic, fish oil or omega-3 oil, etc. We just advise that pet parents don’t add a multivitamin, as we already include a high-quality vitamin and mineral mix to our recipes.
When it comes to adding other whole foods, like canned pumpkin, phytoplankton, sardines, green-lipped mussels, etc, these can be wonderful, healthy additions and we totally support those as toppers to our meals.
Are there any proven benefits to a raw diet?
A dog’s digestive system is identical to its ancestors’. They didn’t lose the ability to digest their evolutionary diet just because kibble was invented mere seconds ago in geologic time. Therefore, isn’t it prudent to imitate what nature provided as a guideline?
As for specific studies, we’re excited about the work being done at the University of Helsinki on the benefits of a raw dog food diet. Led by veterinary scientist Dr. Anna-Hielm Björkman (DVM and PhD), The Dog Risk Study is a university-led, cruelty-free study using 16,000 dogs of all breeds and ages.
The program has already proven that puppies fed raw (vs kibble) have fewer environmental allergies as adults and a reduced risk of developing IBD later in life. Some of the other specific studies it’s exploring include hip dysplasia, GI issues, chronic ear infections, cancer and tumors.
How do I transition my dog to raw food?
Our intro plan helps to gradually introduce dogs to raw food over a 10-day period. The detailed directions instruct pet parents on how to mix their pup’s current food with We Feed Raw and increase the percentage of We Feed Raw over the course of 9 days until they’re feeding 100% raw.
What are the best raw dog foods?
Will there be side effects?
While some dogs transition to raw with no issues, other dogs with sensitive stomachs may require a bit more TLC and time. It’s all normal. The long-term effects of a healthy, species-appropriate diet make it all worth it: smaller, less smelly stools, shiny skin and coat, cleaner teeth, improved digestion, stronger immune system, better weight control… the list goes on.
Can I mix raw food with cooked food?
Yes, absolutely. We encourage pet parents to feed what works for their budget and lifestyle. Adding even 25% raw food to your dog’s diet can have life-changing health benefits. Raw feeding isn’t an all-or-nothing approach. Using it as a base, mixer, or topper with cooked food or kibble can still have amazing overall health benefits.
Why are some vets anti-raw food?
We’re seeing a real shift with conventional vets becoming more raw-friendly. In fact, we work with many conventional vets who not only recommend raw to their clients but feed it to their own pets.
So while the tide is changing, here are some reasons that conventional vets may not be pro-raw: 1) They’re not taught about raw diets in vet school; 2) They’ve seen homemade raw diets go wrong (imbalanced, missing important nutrients, incorrect ratios); 3) They think it’s a danger to the humans feeding it. However, serious and reputable raw brands in the U.S., like our company, use HPP to neutralize pathogens for safe feeding in the home.
Is raw dog food human-grade?
Raw dog food is meant to be fed raw and usually contains bone, and therefore cannot technically be labeled “human-grade” as a whole. So while our food is sourced from high-quality human-grade meats and produced in a USDA-certified facility, we do not make the human-grade claim on our labels.
Are bones and offal actually good for dogs?
Not only are they good for dogs, they’re essential to a complete and balanced raw diet. Organ meats, particularly liver, are packed with vitamins and minerals. Bones are an excellent source of calcium and phosphorus.