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Risks and Benefits of Raw Food Diets In Dogs

The pet food industry offers a huge variety of diets for our canine companions. It can be a little overwhelming when trying to choose a diet for your fur baby.

Raw meat-based diets (RMBDs) are becoming increasingly popular amongst pet owners. So, how do you know if this is the latest fad, or something that could be beneficial to your dog? We take a closer look at raw feeding, and what to consider before starting this type of diet.

What is a RMBD?

RMBDs can be homemade or commercially sourced. Commercial RMBDs can be frozen, freeze-dried, or fresh, but some can appear as normal dry ‘kibble’ (for example diets with a raw meat coating). There is a selection of raw-dried and freeze-dried treat products available.

Raw meat diets can contain muscle meats, bones (ground or whole), and organ meats.

Several scientific studies have shown many risks associated with feeding raw diets. In contrast, there are no scientific studies published showing the health benefits of feeding raw diets.

What are the risks of Raw Food Diets?

1. Nutritional imbalances

Nutritional imbalances are common in both homemade and commercially available RMBD. Deficiency or excessive intake of nutrients (e.g., calcium: phosphorus imbalances) can pose a big risk to your dog's health and development.

No matter what the diet, it is crucial that you offer a balanced, complete diet.

A complete diet contains all the nutritional requirements for our dogs to sustain life. A balanced diet means that the nutrients are in the correct ratios.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is an organisation that sets nutritional standards for pet food that are internationally recognised.

We recommend you provide a diet that is AAFCO recognised. By doing so, you will ensure your dog is getting the correct nutrients for their life stage. There are three life stages (growth, pregnancy/nursing animals, and adult life stages).

If the diet fed is not AAFCO regulated, you could be putting your pet’s health at risk by giving them an incomplete, unbalanced diet.

2. Animal health risks

Studies have shown many health risks of RMBDs. These include: nutritional imbalances, potential ingestion of bones, diet-induced hyperthyroidism, and bacterial infection. Gastroenteritis (vomiting and diarrohea) can result from bacterial contamination in the diet, or high dietary fat levels. Bones can cause intestinal trauma, obstruction, and damage to teeth. Constipation through lack of fibre, and undigested bones has also been found in RMBDs.

3. High risk of bacterial contamination in the diet

As with human diets, raw meat can pose a health risk through bacterial contamination of dangerous bacteria. Examples of these bacteria are Salmonella, Listeria, Campylobacter, Clostridium and E.coli. Commonly known as food poisoning.

This is not only a risk for your dog, but also poses a human health risk aswell.

This is because the animals eating the RMBD can shed the bacteria in their faeces which can cause people to get infected. This is particularly a risk for any people or animals who are young, old, pregnant or immunosuppressed. Parasitic contamination is also a concern, e.g. tapeworm, which can also cause hydatid disease in humans.

Potential Benefits of Feeding Raw Food Diets

1.Raw bones help clean teeth, provide fibre and nutrients in the diet. Eating them also offers enrichment for your dog.

2.RMBD are lower in carbohydrates. This is useful for pets on a weight loss or weight maintenance plan.

3. Some dogs have food sensitivities or allergies that make it difficult to buy commercially prepared diets. These dogs may benefit from a home-prepared diet, so there is control in the diet to exclude the food the triggers the allergies. Sometimes owners choose to go raw. It's important to get a veterinary nutritionist to formulate a nutritionally appropriate diet for these animals to avoid feeding an incomplete, unbalanced diet.

4. Raw food diets have no food processing. This offers owners the ability to choose and avoid certain ingredients. It is easy to control what your dog eats, and you know exactly what they are eating.

Whatever diet you choose, make sure it is nutritionally complete and balanced.

Dogs need more than just raw meat, so a veterinary nutritionist should be involved in formulating your dog's diet.

If you would like to talk to a vet about your pets nutrition requirements you can book a consult with a registered veterinary professional here

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