The raw feeding revolution was pioneered by Australian vet Dr. Ian Billinghurst, who believed that the best way to feed dogs was in a way that emulated the diet they would eat in the wild, which is rich in bones, raw meat and offal. While many working dogs thrive on a raw diet, the jury is still out as to whether it’s suitable for all pets. There are a variety of pros and cons.
Among the health advantages associated with feeding a raw diet are glossier coat, better digestive function, stronger immune system and healthier skin. One of the main reasons so many dog owners elect to feed raw is that the diet is free from chemicals, preservatives and is low in grain. Dr. Billinghurst believes that dogs are best adapted to digest unprocessed, uncooked meat, semi-digested vegetation found in the intestines of carcasses and bone.
The Biologically Appropriate Raw Food diet, or BARF diet, calls for raw bone. One clear advantage here is that bones help keep your dog’s teeth clean and healthy. The friction from chewing the bone removes plaque and decaying food. While some dogs may get an occasional bone to gnaw on, for dogs on a raw diet, bones are integral part of the nutritional balance.
Because there is less waste and less digestive effort required to process a diet that emulates the wild feeding habits of a dog, stools are typically smaller. From a homeowner’s point of view, this is always a welcome relief, but smaller stools are typically a sign of robust digestive health and optimum nutrition. Stool is waste, so less waste means better nutrition.
There is always a risk of dental damage, internal puncture and more commonly, choking, when feeding bones to a dog. But those risks can be minimized by only feeding uncooked bones. Cooked bones are more brittle and more prone to splintering.
There is a lot of bacteria in raw meat, but fortunately dogs have high levels of hydrochloric acid in their stomach that gives them a strong tolerance of such bacteria. However, dogs with immune system problems or digestive illnesses may not be as robust and may be negatively affected by the bacteria. Humans aren’t so lucky, so extra care and effort is required to keep the handling of raw meat from causing the spread of bacteria. Parasites are also a risk when feeding raw food, so only fresh, well-sourced raw meat should be on the menu. From the owner’s point of view, feeding raw is a hassle compared to popping open a can or sachet of dog food. Storage is an issue too. Raw meat is messy, required careful handling and can be a little smelly.
One thing a raw meat diet can’t deliver is calcium. Although wild dogs may have healthier guts and shinier coats, they don’t live as long as domestic dogs. One of the reasons for this is that their bones degenerate quicker due to lack of calcium, meaning they can’t hunt as effectively. Domestic dogs require calcium, otherwise bone and joint degeneration is accelerated.