The idea of feeding dogs a raw food diet is both ancient and very modern. Long before the first canned dog food, Ken-L-Ration, was launched by Chappel brothers in 1922, scraps from the kitchen and the table were all that dogs ever ate. Yet the current trend towards a raw food diet only started in 1993, when Australian vet, Ian Billinghurst, first proposed the BARF diet (standing for either Bones And Raw Food, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food).

What is a raw food diet?

All canned dog food is cooked, but a raw food diet is just that – raw. However, there is more to a raw food diet than simply giving your dog a bowl of uncooked mince. A raw food diet has to be balanced just like any other dog food, to ensure your dog gets the nutrition it needs. There are 37 essential nutrients required for a happy, healthy dog, including trace elements like zinc and iron, and important building blocks like calcium and phosphorous. A portion of BARF dog food contains just 50% meat, with the rest made up of fruits, vegetables, eggs, cheese and other ingredients such as cod liver oil and salt.

What are the benefits?

Many advocates of raw dog food claim that it gives a shinier coat, healthier teeth, higher energy levels and fewer digestive problems. They also say that raw food improves their dog’s breath, which I’m sure we’re all in favour of. Raw dog food diets also contain far fewer carbohydrates, so it is easier to manage your dog’s weight. However, this is only half of the story…

What are the drawbacks?

Opponents of raw food diets say that they rarely have the correct balance of nutrients that are found in canned foods. Although there are set European standards, much of the raw dog food market remains unregulated, while canned pet foods are much more carefully controlled.
Another problem with raw dog food is the issue of bacteria. One study found E. coli in 59.6% of raw dog food samples tested. This not only puts your dog’s health at risk, but also your own, as bacteria can easily be shed with faeces. It should be noted that the same study also showed bacteria were present in some of the canned food samples tested, though not to the same extent.

Sourcing raw dog food

Feeding a balanced raw food diet to your dog is not as simple as it sounds and can be almost impossible to do if you make it yourself. Include too little calcium and you risk bone deformity and growth problems. Include too much of certain vitamins and they can build up to toxic levels. To be sure of a balanced diet, you need to buy from a producer that is registered with the Pet Food Manufacturers Association and complies with the same strict EU nutrient profiles that apply to canned dog foods. Unfortunately, very few of the current suppliers on the market are.

What should I do?

Feeding your dog a raw food diet may seem the natural thing to do, but it takes a lot of hard work to get it right. If you are prepared to invest the time, and considerable expense, to do it properly, there can be many benefits. However, if you don’t get it exactly right, there are also many risks to both your dog and to yourself. Raw feeding is not something to be considered lightly and you should thoroughly research the subject before you make your choice.