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A Vet’s Guide to a Raw Diet for Dogs – Risks and Benefits

raw diet for dogs
Vet Approved

This information is up to date and writtenin accordance with the latest veterinary research.

As an experienced veterinarian, I’ve seen many dietary trends for pets come and go over the years.

One such trend that has gained considerable traction lately is the raw food diet for dogs. Many argue it’s a return to a more ‘natural’ way of eating, akin to the diet of their wild ancestors.

However, despite its growing popularity, it’s crucial for pet owners to understand the potential risks associated with this diet. Feeding your dog raw food may seem like a wholesome and appealing option, but it can pose significant health risks for both your canine companion and the people in your household.

In this article, we’ll weigh up the potential benefits and risks of feeding raw foods to your dog, and I’ll explain why it might not be the best diet for your dog. Let’s delve into the reasons why.

What is a Raw Diet for Dogs?

raw food for dogs

A raw diet for dogs involves feeding our canine companions raw, uncooked food ingredients.

This approach is often referred to as the “BARF” (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) diet and has gained popularity among pet owners who believe it provides a more natural and healthier alternative to conventional commercial pet food.

The BARF diet aims to mimic the ancestral diet of wild wolves, which primarily consists of raw meat, bones, and other animal parts. Sled dogs and racing greyhounds were also traditionally fed raw diets, so it must be good right?

The modern raw dog food diet typically consists largely of muscle meat, often on the bone, such as beef, chicken, and fish. Organ meats like liver and kidney, uncooked eggs, and dairy items such as yogurt may also be included. The addition of fruits and vegetables like broccoli, spinach, celery, and apples aims to provide essential vitamins and fiber.

Supporters of this diet believe that it promotes optimal health and longevity for our furry friends by providing them with a nutrient-dense and minimally processed diet. So far so good, right?

Potential Benefits of a Raw Food Diet

Many owners claim that there are numerous potential benefits of raw dog food diets. These include healthier skin, shinier coats, cleaner teeth, higher energy levels, and smaller, better-formed stools. Some owners also claim that a raw diet cured their dog’s food allergies.

While these testimonials may sound very compelling, it’s important to note that there is currently no clinical data or scientific research that definitively supports these claims.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) and other reputable sources in the animal healthcare community caution against making dietary decisions based solely on anecdotal evidence. 

In fact, several studies suggest that many perceived benefits of a raw dog food diet may be placebo effects observed by hopeful pet owners rather than actual improvements in canine health. Therefore, it is advisable to seek professional advice before making any major dietary changes for your pet. 

Your veterinarian can provide personalized advice based on your dog’s breed, age, and overall health status. So, don’t hesitate to ask for their opinion before making any significant changes to your dog’s diet.

Potential Risks of a Raw Food Diet

dog eating raw meat

One of the major concerns of feeding a raw dog food diet is bacterial infections like Salmonellosis and Listeriosis. These are serious infectious diseases which can be contracted from eating contaminated meat. 

But it’s not just your furry friend who’s at risk. Handling raw meat can also put humans in danger, posing a massive human health risk to everyone living in contact with your raw-fed dog.

Plus, feeding your dog bones as part of a raw diet can lead to choking or broken teeth. Not so fun.

And even if you manage to avoid these immediate dangers, there’s still the issue of your dog suffering from a nutritional imbalance; a homemade raw diet for dogs might not provide all the necessary nutrients in the right proportions for optimal dog health. 

Calcium and phosphorus deficiency is of particular concern, which can then lead to brittle bones, increasing the risk of fractures. Taking such a risk is not advisable.

In addition to all of that, some dogs are particularly vulnerable to complications from a raw food diet, like those with kidney disease or liver failure. The high protein content of these diets can be seriously detrimental for dogs with these conditions. 

Dogs with pancreatitis should also avoid raw meat diets too due to their often high-fat content. Similarly, if your dog is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, a raw food diet could make things worse; dogs on immunosuppressive drugs have a weakened immune system so are at an increased risk of the bacterial infections mentioned above.

But don’t just take my word for it.

What Does the Research Say?

dog reading book

Many vets and even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advise against feeding raw food, and for good reason.

Despite the popularity of feeding your dog a raw meat diet, scientific research suggests otherwise. A study published in the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) found that raw-based homemade diets can cause major nutritional imbalances.

This is concerning because it could lead to health issues that creep up over time. Like calcium and phosphorus deficiency that can result in bone fractures and dental problems – once this happens, it’s often too late. 

In addition to nutritional concerns, there’s also a significant risk associated with bacterial contamination. According to another study, nearly 24% of raw chicken-based dog foods tested positive for harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and Listeria. These pathogens not only pose risks to your pets but can also be transmitted from animals to humans.

Nearly 24% of raw chicken-based dog foods tested positive for harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and Listeria.

– US Food and Drug Administration

Furthermore, feeding dogs bones has been linked with various injuries such as broken teeth and gastrointestinal complications including blockages and perforations – conditions that often require emergency veterinary care. So, as you can see there’s significant risks associate with feeding a raw food diet for dogs. 

Is a raw food diet suitable for puppies?

is raw food good for puppies

Raw diets can have catastrophic consequences for puppies and young dogs. Puppies have different nutritional needs than adult dogs, and they require more calcium and phosphorous for their growing bones and teeth.

The American Veterinary Medical Association advises against feeding raw diets to puppies because of the risk of nutritional imbalances. Plus, due to the higher chance of bacterial contamination with raw food, it can be especially dangerous for puppies with immature immune systems.

Pups require a well-rounded diet to guarantee they are supplied with all the vital nutrients for their growth – a diet that’s too low in essential nutrients can, therefore, cause developmental problems. That’s why you shouldn’t feed puppies on a raw diet, no matter what the breeder says.

It’s important to choose a high-quality balanced puppy food that’s specifically formulated for their needs. 

How to Safely Feed Your Dog a Raw Food Diet

While most vets don’t recommend a raw meat diet, owners have the right to feed their dog what they want. If they decide to go ahead with feeding their dog a raw pet food diet, it’s crucial to take into account all of the risks mentioned above.

If you want to feed your dog on raw food, here are some essential hygiene tips to follow:

  • Wash Your Hands

    Always wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling raw meat.

  • Clean Surfaces

    Use disinfectants on all surfaces that come into contact with the raw dog food.

  • Safe Storage

    Keep the raw food frozen until it’s time for feeding. Frozen raw food diets carry less risk. Store it separately from other foods in your refrigerator or freezer.

  • Dedicated Dishes/Bowls

    Avoid cross-contamination by using separate dishes and bowls for serving the raw meals.

  • No Kissing or Licking

    To avoid possible infection, refrain from kissing your pet or allowing them to lick you after they’ve eaten their meal.

Regular vet check-ups can also help monitor any changes in your dog’s health while on this diet. If there are signs of illness such as diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, or lethargy, consult with a professional veterinarian.

Note that these precautions don’t completely eliminate the risks associated with a raw dog food diet, but they may reduce them. It’s crucial always to weigh up whether those potential (unproven) benefits outweigh these significant considerations when deciding what type of diet is best for our pets.

Are Raw Dog Food Diets Safe?

Raw meat consumption can increase the risk of bacterial infections such as Salmonellosis and Listeriosis.

Not to mention, bones present in these meals pose choking hazards or could lead to dental problems. And certain groups of dogs are more vulnerable when fed on this kind of diet – puppies, those suffering from kidney disease or liver failure, and dogs undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer.

If you still choose to proceed with feeding raw foods, ensure strict hygiene practices are followed during preparation and handling of their meals. It’s crucial not only for your pet’s safety but yours too since bacteria present in the meal can easily spread within your household environment.

While some may advocate for its potential benefits like shinier coats or higher energy levels, there isn’t enough scientific evidence supporting claims about the superiority of raw diets over commercially prepared dog foods which meet all necessary nutrition standards set by reputable bodies like AAFCO.

So, before you jump on the raw food bandwagon, consider the risks and benefits carefully. Your furry friend’s health and safety should always come first.


Is a raw diet safe for dogs?

No, the risks of bacterial contamination and nutritional imbalance outweigh any unproven benefits of a raw diet.

What are the concerns with a raw diet for dogs?

The main concerns are the risk of bacterial infection from raw meat, potential nutrient deficiencies or imbalances, and possible injury from ingesting bones.

Do dogs live longer on a raw diet?

No, research does not support that dogs live longer on a raw diet.

Is a raw dog diet better for dog food allergies?

No, there is no evidence to suggest that a raw diet helps with allergies. See our guide on dog food allergies here.


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