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Nutrition Nuggets
Your dog's nutrition is important for a healthy & happy life. petMD experts help you to know what to feed your dog, how much food to feed, and the differences in dog foods, so your dog gets optimum nutrition.
Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

The Risks and Benefits of Raw Meat Diets for Dogs

March 14, 2014 / (3) comments

We love our dogs and want to provide them with the most nutritious food possible, but deciding which food is best is not easy. Pet food industry marketing often complicates the issue and presents conflicting viewpoints. One type of diet that is becoming increasingly popular, the raw meat-based diet, is also one of the most polarizing topics in veterinary nutrition.


A recent article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association reviews the potential risks and benefits of raw meat-based diets. One of the main points put forth in the article is that there are strong opinions on each side of the argument but little scientific data supporting either side.


Advocates cite the following reasons for why feeding a raw meat-based diet is beneficial:


  1. Better palatability (taste)
  2. Cleaner teeth and less odor to the mouth, body and feces
  3. A shinier haircoat and healthier skin
  4. Improved immunity, behavior and energy
  5. A more natural diet, resembling what a dog in the wild would eat
  6. Avoids the harmful effects caused by processing and the inclusion of by-products or chemically synthesized additives and preservatives, which might increase the risk of some cancers
  7. Avoids the potential contaminants that commercial dog foods may contain (e.g., the 2007 recall due to melamine)
  8. Reduced poop production and improved colonic health (extrapolated from human studies)


Opponents of raw diets point to the following:


  1. Increased health risks to humans from handling raw meat and everything it touches as well as from exposure to increased numbers of bacteria in the dog’s feces
  2. Increased health risks to the dog and other pets in the household
  3. A high incidence of nutritional imbalances


Several professional veterinary organizations recommend against feeding raw meat-based diets, including the American Animal Hospital Association, American Veterinary Medical Association, and Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. The Delta Society’s Pet Partners Program excludes animals eating a raw meat-based diet from participating in their therapy animal programs. These organizations cite the risks to the pet, other animals, and humans as the basis for their decision.


Studies show that Salmonella is found in one-fourth to one-half of raw meat-based diets, with a high number of resistant isolates being found. This means many of the antibiotics commonly used to treat infections caused by these bacteria will not work. Salmonella can be found in commercial diets also, but the risk is much lower. Dogs and cats can become ill due to Salmonella, but the greatest risk is to the humans in the household. Many other types of bacteria are also found in raw diets. If bones are included, fractured teeth, penetration of the digestive tract, and gastrointestinal impaction are all possible as well.


Many raw meat-based diets have nutritional imbalances which can be harmful to the dog. One study evaluated 200 recipes for healthy dogs and found that 95 percent of the recipes had at least one essential nutrient below the recommended minimum amount. Many had multiple imbalances. Because it is very difficult to formulate a nutritionally-balanced home-prepared diet, a veterinary nutritionist should always be consulted first.


Further research is needed to substantiate the risks and benefits of raw diets. Each individual animal and the characteristics of the household should be evaluated (with input from a veterinarian) before deciding which diet is best.


Dr. Jennifer Coates



Current knowledge about the risks and benefits of raw meat-based diets for dogs and cats. Freeman LM, Chandler ML, Hamper BA, Weeth LP. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2013 Dec 1;243(11):1549-58.


Image: Thinkstock


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Comments  3

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  • Balance
    03/14/2014 06:14pm

    Besides the scary part about 1/4 to 1/2 of the meat having salmonella, it would seem to me that a balanced diet might be difficult to manage (as with any home-made diet). I'd love to see comments from some of the folks on this site that feed raw and how they assure their pet is getting balanced nutrition.

  • 03/16/2014 09:03am

    If I'm not mistaken, most of the recalls for commercial dry dog food are a result of salmonella contamination. I do agree that homemade raw diets might be a detriment to our pups if they're not formulated correctly. I think it's very hard to get all of the nutritional elements in the proper proportion when concocting a raw diet. I feed my guy commercial raw and he does very well on that.

  • 06/08/2014 07:36am

    I don't feed my dogs or cat a raw meat diet. I've been developing & getting cooked dog food recipes for a little while now. My dogs & yes even the cat, loves the stuff I've been coming up with. I'm very careful not to include foods that might be bad or dangerous to my animals. I started doing this because of my little chi mix, has a kidney stone problem. If anyone would like a recipe for cooked dog food let me know. I have a few & if you do an internet search you can find others as well.




Photo of Jennifer

... graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. In the years since, she has practiced veterinary medicine in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is the author of several books about veterinary medicine and animal care, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian .

Jennifer also writes short stories that focus on the strength and importance of the human-animal bond and freelance articles relating to a variety of animal care and veterinary topics. Dr. Coates lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and pets.