Raw feeding is probably the most controversial form of feeding dogs today. I hear from many vets on a daily basis that raw is extremely dangerous, unbalanced, not nutritious. On the other side of the table, there are many naturalists that say the B.A.R.F. diet (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food or Bones And Raw Foods), also called the “prey model”, is the only way to ensure your dog will be absolutely healthy.
But what is raw anyway? It’s not as simple as it sounds! I am a big advocate of raw, but I get new patients almost every day with issues CAUSED by feeding raw the wrong way.
A Brief History of Raw
Contrary to popular belief, raw feeding is NOT a new thing. It’s actually been around for at least 80 years. Though Dr. Billinghurst, the advocate of the BARF diet, gets all the credit, the true pioneer in raw (and pet nutrition in general) was Dr. Randy Wysong. Billinghurst’s philosophy was good on paper but turned out to be very problematic in reality, so much so that he has developed a commercial product to balance raw diets so consumers do not damage their dogs with unbalanced diets.
One of the first commercial raw diets came from none other than Hills! Yes, the makers of Science Diet at one time believed in raw feeding! They produced a frozen, raw horse meat back in the 1940’s that was delivered straight to your house (oh, have times changed…).
Different “Schools” of Raw
The argument of the century amongst raw feeders is what percentage of the diet should be meat, as well as what kind of meat to feed. On one polar end of the raw feeders spectrum are the believers that an all muscle meat diet will suffice. They believe canines are 100% carnivores, justifying their canine teeth and the fact that they chew with only an up and down motion, as opposed to the lateral motion of herbivores such as cows, or the mixed motion of omnivores such as humans.
On the opposite side there are the organ feeders with the “alpha diets”, who believe that the alpha wolves fed on organ meats alone, leaving the muscles to the less fortunate in the bottom of the pecking order.
In the middle you will find a bunch of people with no idea of what to believe in, usually led by some self proclaimed, pseudo intellectual dog nutritionist, with no diploma or scientific background. Why should they need credentials, they are the OWNERS of the blog (please picture me saying that whilst raising only my right eyebrow and almost shutting my left eye in a quasi caricature-like expression of sarcasm)!
Independent of what muscle meat to organ meat ratio is offered, the only theme that is agreed upon across the board is the comparison of the domesticated dog to its cousin the wolf. The alpha diet enthusiasts justify
their way of feeding by saying that the dog and the wolf share 99% of the same DNA. That is probably one of the dumbest excuses that anyone can use. Man and monkey share 95%, and yet you don’t see too many humans picking fleas and ticks from their kids and eating them. We also share 50% of our DNA with bananas, but we aren’t being attacked by monkeys!! When it comes to the genome, 0.01% is a LOT, so please refrain from those kinds of comparisons.
On that note, one cannot forget that dogs have evolved over time, and different breeds have different needs! Take a Chihuahua and a Great Dane for example. If you took a raw food diet, high in protein, and gave it to the little fellow, chances are he will be OK. Give the same protein rich (and calcium poor) diet to the Dane, and you will have so many osteopathies you will probably have to put it down before its first year.
Not All Dogs Are Created Equally, nor Should Their Diets Be
That said, I actually believe there is a happy medium, and I do like a few commercial raw foods such as Answers, Stella and Chewy’s, and Primal. The best ratio would be 30% organ meat (too much organ meat can lead to excess iron amongst other issues) with equal parts of heart, spleen (both good sources of Riboflavin, Niacin and Zinc, and a very good source of Protein, Vitamin C, Vitamin B12, Iron, Phosphorus, Copper and Selenium), green tripe (for the probiotic content, ESSENTIAL), lungs and trachea (collagen and glucosamine), 30% muscle meat, 10% bones and cartilage (absolutely necessary for the calcium content and possibly the most lacking in homemade raws, and 30% fruits and veggies, to add a good equilibrium of vitamins and minerals and lots of antioxidants.
You Probably Won’t Want to Try This at Home
To make this in such a specific and perfect balance at home is virtually impossible, and wouldn’t be much cheaper than buying commercial raws anyway. In addition to that, the smell of green tripe can be compared to that of having a rotting vulture zombie defecate the putrefying remains of the skunk it consumed, on a hot summer day. In Texas. In August. Without air conditioning. In a kitchen without windows. It can cause an Ostrich to have a gag reflex.
Another problem faced by homemade raws are the pathogens. In 2004, the FDA issued suggestions for manufacturing raw pet food more safely, citing concerns 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 were found in 59.6% of raw meat diets. These bacteria can also be shed in the feces, leading to another potential source of human exposure and infection. In 2012, High Pressure Processing (HPP) was instilled by the FDA and is used by the best raw food manufacturers today, which is another reasons not to make your own raw at home. The risks of pathogen contamination outweigh the benefits of making your own raw for sure. (Also watch for my article on LoveMyDogBlog about home cooking for your dog).
Unquestionably, if you have a perfectly balanced raw, there are infinite benefits, compact stools being one of them. I have had many clients describe their dog’s poop as picking up tootsie rolls! I can attest to that! My four Sphinx cats thrive on raw! My Bouvier, in the other hand prefers kibble, and Bouvs need a lot more fiber than my Shihtzus, for example.
Before Going Raw
This is one of those times where your clinical nutritionist is absolutely essential. Schedule an appointment and get a complete plan made. You will save money in the long run with vet bills, and save a whole lot of grief. Don’t forget: your CLINICAL NUTRITIONIST is a certified, educated professional. Don’t settle for the self proclaimed “pet nutrition experts”. Quite honestly, using the internet as your only source of research can be very dangerous, considering that much of the stuff online is OPINION, not SCIENTIFIC ABSTRACTS. A clinical nutritionist can do actual scientific research. Unless you are fine with complaining to Google in the future if your dogs get sick…