Common myths around feeding raw food to your dog

OK, so in our last post we talked about the amazing benefits of a raw diet, and hopefully you’ve started exploring the wonderful world of fresh foods for your pets. But if you’ve done this, you’ve probably also come up against a few big scary warnings and maybe you’ve even lost your nerve.

Never fear!

People are sometimes surprised when they hear that I’m glad they’re nervous about raw feeding. But it’s not because I believe all the big scary warnings; it’s because nervous people tend to do have a better appreciation for how big the responsibility of feeding your pet is, and they tend to do more research. Unfortunately they also then tend to get even more nervous about the common raw feeding myths out there. If this is you, I want to cover a couple of the most common ones and hopefully put your mind a little at ease. To call these myths is not strictly true in every case, because there is some validity to some of these concerns; I think it is more appropriate to say some of these are risks, and it is definitely sensible to consider them. But I believe, when we look at the whole picture, that they are significantly outweighed by the corresponding benefits and nothing on this list should stop you from feeding a raw diet. And of course some of them are just plain ol’ wrong!

My dog will get (or give me) Salmonella poisoning!

This is extremely unlikely. Opponents of raw diets LOVE to fear monger about salmonella, and it is true that raw fed dogs can carry and shed salmonella, and of course we should always practice good food hygiene when preparing any food. But, according to the CDC, kibble fed dogs also carry salmonella and dry dog food is one of the possible contaminated foods they list on their website. In fact, it’s thought that up to 36% of all healthy dogs carry salmonella, regardless of what they are fed. And not all salmonella is pathogenic, many are harmless. Nevertheless, dogs have a stomach pH of around 1.5, which may be up to 100 times more acidic than humans,’ and fully capable of eliminating the vast majority of pathogenic bacteria. This is exactly why they are able to eat dodgy things they find on walks and seemingly never get sick.

Bones with break teeth or cause intestinal injury

Bones are maybe the most contentious issue in the raw feeding world and they are not without risks. If you feed weight bearing bones from large animals (like cows), you may find they are too hard and can chip teeth. Cooked and dried bones can splinter and may cause issues the intestinal tract. But hard and cooked bones are not the kind we recommend when feeding a raw diet. We recommend raw bones, like necks, poultry wings or ruminant ribs, which are actually significantly softer and highly digestible for most dogs. This is because, as we’ve discussed, dogs have a gastric pH that is highly acidic for the very purpose of digesting things like bones. Bones also provide enormous dental health benefits and, for carnivorous animals, they are nature’s toothbrush. When you take into account that up to 80% of dogs these days have periodontal disease by the time they are just two, and that this leads to a life of paid and disease; keeping those pearly white clean is pretty bloody important!

Dogs are omnivores and need carbohydrates

Possibly the most hotly debated topic when it comes to canine nutrition. It is perhaps not technically incorrect to call dogs omnivores because they do willingly eat some plant matter, unlike cats, who everyone seems to agree are obligate carnivores and don’t need any (which begs the question, “why does dry cat food exist?”). That being said, wolves are carnivores and dogs are basically biologically identical, so I am unsure when they “became” omnivores, but I suspect it was around the same time that processed pet food was invented. In any case, dogs show several markers that indicate they do not digest carbohydrates well, and the first is that they do not produce any salivary amylase, which is the enzyme we make in our mouths to digest starches. They produce very little pancreatic amylase, which places stress on the pancreas when large amounts of carbohydrates are in the diet. They also have a short digestive system that is unsuited to the type of fermentation required to digest plants. Oh, and even the internationally recognised nutrition standards that processed pet food uses (AAFCO/FEDIAF/NRC) all admit they have no carbohydrate requirement whatsoever.

The best food is in vet clinics!

This can be very confusing for well meaning pet owners because OF COURSE your vet would only sell and recommend the very best pet food on the market. But when we flip these bags over, we see grains, grains, grains, some more grains, a little bit of meat by-product meal and a whole lot of synthetic nutrients. The reasons behind this are very complicated and confusing for pet owners, but basically these companies make it very appealing for clinics to sell these foods; they have infiltrated the veterinary industry at almost every level, from publishing university textbooks to funding professional associations; and at the end of the day, most veterinarians are not nutrition experts. These are two different professions. Fortunately more and more vets are cluing on to this and lots are now supportive of species appropriate diets, you just have to hunt around a little.

Kibble will clean your dogs teeth

Kibble does not clean teeth. Just like biscuits don’t clean your teeth. This is especially true for dogs, because their teeth are not flat and round like ours; they are sharp, pointy and jagged for hunting, ripping and tearing. This is an action that DOES clean teeth, whereas dogs will either swallow kibble whole or smash it with their sharp molars (ever seen kibble vomit? It’s always whole). Kibble will often not even come in contact with most teeth, and it does not scrape down the lower part of any teeth, which is where most dental disease begins. Dental disease is an epidemic in pets, and disease in the mouth can lead to bacteria spreading throughout the body. There is a whole canine dental industry that has developed in recent years which begs the question – why has this occurred if kibble cleans teeth ?

A raw diet will make my dog blood thirsty

Just… no. The only thing my raw fed dog has ever hunted and killed is a moth. If anything, a dog fed nutritious, whole foods has even less reason to hunt, and a dog fed an inappropriate, highly processed mono-food is probably more likely to go looking for suitable food!

There is no evidence a raw diet is better

This is a myth. None of the research processed pet food companies have commissioned demonstrates this, but why would they fund that research?! Research is extremely expensive and unfortunately this does present a significant obstacle for raw food producers and enthusiasts, who tend to be much smaller than the mega-confectionary corporations who make the majority of processed dog food. But there is still research that supports it! And more and more is emerging. A 5-year study published in 2003 found that dogs fed a high quality homemade diet lived up to 3 years longer than dogs fed commercial processed foods, and a 2017 study out of New Zealand found significantly more abundant good bacteria in the gut of raw fed dogs than kibble fed. There is also an abundance of scientific research, including the stuff out of commercial pet food research centres, that supports the indisputable fact that canine metabolic needs are best suited to a species appropriate diet. And don’t get me started on the anecdotal evidence (try it and find out for yourself!)

You can’t feed kibble with raw

There are lots of articles online about how you can’t feed raw and kibble together because it will be unbalanced, or because they digest at different rates or even because a raw fed dog has a different stomach pH to a kibble fed dog. Most of these make very little sense from a scientific perspective, and largely seem to be scare tactics from either side. Studies have shown that kibble fed dogs do not have an elevated stomach pH, so they are well equipped to handle all foods, either together or in separate meals. Similarly, whether the food is kibble or raw does not significantly impact the speed it is digested. Different macronutrients are broken down at different stages in the digestive process regardless of the food source, and the very clever digestive system is well equipped to figure this puzzle out (have you ever eaten a hamburger? Kind of like that!).

Ensuring the nutritional balance of the diet when feeding both kibble and raw is something you will need to watch, but providing both foods are well balanced and nutritionally robust, dividing the meals between them won’t inherently create issues. Adding some raw to kibble can be a great way to ease into a new diet, both for you and your dog.

Nutritional inadequacies

This one is not so much a myth but an important factor that must be accounted for. It is very possible to create a homemade diet with nutritional inadequacies; in fact it’s quite challenging to create a homemade diet without nutritional inadequacies unless you are very experienced. But it is not impossible by any means and, just like us, dogs don’t need to eat every single essential nutrient in every meal in a carefully formulated equation. Meeting your pets nutritional needs doesn’t mean you can’t feed a raw diet, it just means that you must ensure all of the essential nutrients are provided in the diet over an appropriate period of time.

  1. E. P. Miller, Ahle N. W. and DeBey M. C. (2010) Food Safety (pp 225-249) in Hand M.S. (Ed), Thatcher C.D. (Ed), Remillard R.L (Ed), Roudebush P (Ed), Novotny B.J, (Ed) Small Animal Clinical Nutrition 5th Edition
  2. Wiggs R.B., Lobprise H.B. Periodontology in: Veterinary Dentistry, Principles and Practice: Philadelphia, Lippincott Raven, 1997, pp 186-231.
  3. Lippert, G. and Sapy, B. 2003. Relation Between the Domestic Dogs’ Well-Being and Life Expectancy.
  4. Bermingham EN, Maclean P, Thomas DG, Cave NJ, Young W. 2017. Key bacterial families (Clostridiaceae, Erysipelotrichaceae and Bacteroidaceae) are related to the digestion of protein and energy in dogs. PeerJ 5:e3019 https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.3019

Shifting your dog to a raw diet? Why, how and when to start

The idea of starting out on a raw diet for your pet can be sooooo overwhelming! There is so much info out there, and a lot of people have some very strong opinion about whether you should do it or not, and even about how you should do it if you decide to. My number one and first tip if you are considering making the switch to fresh foods (and I think you should!), is to take a deep breath.

Understanding why there are so many opinions is a blog all of its own, but I want to cover a few of the big questions to help you make a decision without getting overwhelmed. The what, why, when and how, if you will. The who is easy! (It’s your dog).

So what is a raw diet?

A raw diet is a species appropriate diet, which closely replicates how a dog would typically eat in the wild. It is what their ancestors would have eaten before domestication, and what their wolfie cousins still eat today. When we say “species appropriate,” we mean it is food that’s well suited to their metabolic needs and their digestive capabilities. Dogs are facultative carnivores, and while they have been known to scavenge for some plant matter and are sometimes classified as omnivores, the bulk of their food should be animal protein. Like us, dogs have certain nutritional needs that we must meet, no matter what food we feed them. With a raw diet, this means we must feed them a variety of different animal proteins, including different organ meats and ideally some bones. It’s a good idea to include a bit of plant matter and some oily fish for health fats, plus some functional foods to ensure all their micronutrient requirements are met.

Why should we feed a raw diet?

In some ways the why is similar to the what, in the sense that it is the food dogs were designed to eat. For me, it’s really more of a why not? But to get more specific, there are some really good reasons that a raw diet is the best option for your dog. One is that dogs are not well equipped to digest a lot of the heavily processed ingredients in pet food, like carbohydrates. They have no nutritional need for carbs, and they don’t get their energy from them in the same way we do; they get it from protein. Their digestive system is short and acidic and not designed to process foods that require fermentation, and even their teeth are not the right shape for grinding plant matter – they’re sharp and pointy for ripping and tearing flesh (have you ever noticed your dog can’t move their jaw sideways??). All of this comes back to my earlier point, which is that at the end of the day, a dog is a carnivore that needs to eat meat for good health. Supporting this is the fact that dogs who eat a diet like this have been shows to live up to 3 years longer ! There is also a documented increase in good gut bacteria in raw fed dogs , which goes a long way to explaining the mountains of pet owner accounts of less itching, less body and breath odour, better weight control, better digestion, less ear and eye infections, better stool formation, less gas, shinier coats, cleaner teeth and less illness in general.

“I’m in! When can I start?”

You can switch your dog to a raw diet from the day you bring them home, no matter if they are 8 weeks or 8 years. There’s no time like the present! If you have a young puppy it’s very important you switch them to a puppy specific diet as their nutritional needs are different, but raising a puppy on raw from a very young age is one of the best things you can do to give them the best paw forward in life. Older dogs can also make the switch, and many pet owners decide to do this when they find their dog’s health is declining rapidly on processed foods. It is truly amazing what a diet change can do, and you may find you feel like you’ve put your ageing dog in a time machine.

TELL ME HOW ALREADY!

Ok, ok! The how is of course the trickiest part, and I am not going to tell you it’s effortless if you decide to go it alone. It’s a lot of responsibility and it is really important that you get the balance of nutrients right and include everything your dog requires nutritionally. There are some really common gaps that I see over and over in homemade diets, like vitamin E and zinc, and which over time can cause issues. The safest way to raw feed your dog is to use a complete product like Butcher’s Dog, or engage the services of a nutritionist to help you formulate a diet you can make yourself. I will be the first to admit that this can be a lot of work, especially in the learning stages, so I recommend starting with a complete product and building on this if you would like to venture further into becoming your dog’s personal chef. In the meantime, you can begin adding whole food toppers and bits of meat to their current food and you’ll soon see how much they love it!

  1. Lippert, G. and Sapy, B. 2003. Relation Between the Domestic Dogs’ Well-Being and Life Expectancy.
  2. Bermingham EN, Maclean P, Thomas DG, Cave NJ, Young W. 2017. Key bacterial families (Clostridiaceae, Erysipelotrichaceae and Bacteroidaceae) are related to the digestion of protein and energy in dogs. PeerJ 5:e3019 https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.3019

Meet Clare, our resident Pet Nutritionist + Writer

Clare will be contributing posts, articles, and discussions on a broad range of dog and cat health topics. She has an engaging writing style that cuts a swathe through “twaddle and poppycock” and provides dog parents with a real-world take on feeding and caring for their beloved doggos.

Clare is an Australian pet nutritionist + writer, who specialized in all things canine and feline nutrition. Clare lives in Byron Bay with her two kelpies, Tex Perkins (8 years but you’d never know it) and Pip (9 months and it shows), who are living, breathing examples of Clare’s philosophy around nourishing our pets.

Clare studied small animal nutrition at the Holistic Animal Therapy Organisation and has spent the better part of a decade actively educating herself about nutrition and the pet food industry. She started educating others professionally in 2015, as a way to provide information and support to people wishing to improve their pets’ lives through fresh, whole foods. She has hosted sold-out workshops in canine nutrition and regularly writes about pet nutrition and the pet food industry.

Clare’s passion is educating people on the benefits of a fresh, whole foods diet for their pets. She strongly believes that nutrition fundamentally underpins our health and that without fresh, healthy foods we can’t possibly be at our most vibrant. Clare sees no distinction between us and our animal companions in this respect. Clare connected with Jo a few years ago over a shared passion for improving the health and wellbeing of our pets through healthy foods, and the two have joined forces to positively impact the lives of as many pets as possible