Even though it’s been thousands of years since dogs were domesticated as wolves, one thing that remains the same is an instinctive desire for meat.
The concept of feeding raw food diets to domestic dogs was born from the understanding that even though they don’t eat solely meat like their ancestors, they are still perfectly designed to digest and derive nutrition from raw meat.
A WOLF’S DIGESTIVE ANATOMY
Three features of dogs have remained exactly the same as their ancestors:
- The pH of their stomach acid Like wolves, a dog’s stomach acid can reach the pH level of car battery acid (about 0-1) - precisely where it needs to be in order to protect them against common meat-borne pathogens like Salmonella and E. Coli.
- Short digestive tracts Any animal, like a dog or wolf, that eats raw meat must have a short digestive tract - as it is designed to quickly pass chunks of meat that would otherwise begin to rot if left in the digestive tract for too long. This is as opposed to the long digestive tracts of herbivores which are designed for the slow digestion of starchy carbs and plants that take longer to break down.
- Teeth and jaws Looking in the mouth of an herbivore, it’s clear what it’s designed to do. Flat molars and jaws that move side-to-side are perfect for smashing and grinding plant material. It’s just as obvious what a meat-eater’s mouth is built for. Sharp teeth and jaws that only move up and down tell us their mouths are meant to tear raw meat from its prey.
WHAT ABOUT BACTERIA?
The first question that typically comes to mind when considering raw diets for dogs is: is it safe to feed my dog raw meat?
The short answer is: yes! The reason, as you may have guessed, is their stomach acid. As we mentioned, dogs’ digestive tracts are highly acidic - which creates an environment in which meat-borne pathogens have no chance at survival. Dog’s bodies are indeed built to eat raw meat.
The second most common concern is for our own safety. Is raw dog food safe for us to handle?
As long as you use the same safe handling practices for your dog’s raw food as you would your own raw meat (ie, wash your hands and any surfaces that touched it), it is completely safe to handle raw dog food. It’s advised you don’t allow your dog to lick your face right after he eats it, but this would be advisable for any type of dog food as bacteria can be present in all of them.
COMPLETE VS INCOMPLETE
It’s important to understand the distinction between the different types of raw foods, as not all of them are going to meet your dog’s daily nutrition requirements.
Homemade Raw Diets
It is possible to cook a whole and balanced diet for your dog from home. However, it is extremely difficult to provide all of the exact vitamins and minerals your dog needs in the correct quantity for his size, activity level, and other specific needs. For this reason, it’s only advisable to attempt this type of diet with the guidance of a veterinary nutritionist.
Raw “Toppers” or Treats
As the popularity of raw food increases, so do the number of other “raw” products. When buying raw food items for your dog, make sure what you’re buying is not actually meant to be just a treat or topper (for making their normal diet tastier).
Complete and Balanced Raw Food
There are now many brands and forms of raw food that is intended to be a dog’s staple diet. The way you can find whether or not a raw food is complete is by checking the label for the AAFCO statement. It will say somewhere on the packaging the food is “formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles…”
BENEFITS OF RAW DOG FOOD
There are many veterinarians and veterinary nutritionists arguing the more raw you can get in your dog’s diet - the better. Here are some of the reasons:
High palatability - most dogs love raw food
It’s not known exactly why, but it can’t be denied that most dogs would choose raw dog food over any other kind. Perhaps their powerful noses smell the live nutrients!
Makes a perfect topper for kibble
Raw food can easily be mixed into kibble to add an extra boost of nutrition, variance, and flavor.
Helps keep teeth cleaner
Raw food does not require any chewing, so there’s little to no contact with their teeth at all!
Healthy energy levels
Another benefit to a food that contains little to no carbs is that your dog will be getting his energy from healthy fats instead of high-glycemic ingredients. This means there will be no blood-sugar spikes and energy will be more even and long-lasting.
Supports healthy weight and muscle retention
It’s easier for your dog to stay lean on a raw diet due to its lack of high-glycemic ingredients causing insulin spikes and fat storage. And since most raw diets are high-protein, it can also help your dog to retain muscle.
Smaller, fewer stools
Dogs on a raw food diet are able to fully digest far more of what they consume - resulting in more compact and less frequent stools! Dry food often requires that your dog eat a large amount of it in order to deliver all the nutrients he needs, but this results in much more “waste.”
Because so many of the vitamins and minerals in raw food are still in its natural form and haven’t been altered through the cooking and processing that dry food has, they are far more readily absorbed by your dog’s body.
This level of proper nutrient absorption promotes:
- Healthier skin
- Shinier coat
- Sharper focus
- Clearer eyes
- Healthier digestion/bowel movements
- Stronger immune system
MANY FORMS OF RAW
There are three main types of raw dog food:
Frozen raw food keeps bacteria at bay by being kept at temperatures too low to harber them. It must be thawed, but continues to stay safe for up to a few days in the refrigerator, and should be eaten within that time frame.
This form of raw food is flash-frozen and then the moisture is removed via vacuum. Since bacteria requires moisture, freeze-dried raw food is completely safe. This form of raw food can be safely kept in the cabinet for long periods of time.
These rolls are slow-cooked, which has the same benefits of raw as slow-cooking retains the natural nutrients while killing bacteria.