By Aly Semigran
A raw food diet for dogs is one in which foods are being fed in their natural states. The foods are not processed, rather they emulate the way that canines ate before the existence of commercial, packaged foods.
“Raw diets have all of the nutrients in their natural form,” says Dr. Natasha Kassell, VMD. “You don’t have to add a million things back in to make a complete diet. They’re usually based on whole foods.”
If you’re considering feeding raw food to your dog, it’s important to know the benefits, risks, and preparation needed when it comes to the main protein sources used in this alternative diet.
According to Dr. Laurie Coger, DVM, CVCP, dogs “thrive on chicken, turkey, and beef,” which make them ideal options for raw food diets.
But choosing the best protein for your dog may be dictated by your dog’s overall health.
“Beef and pork are the lowest in sodium. Pork has the highest potassium, and chicken has the lowest,” says Dr. Judy Morgan, DVM. “This is important information for pets with heart or kidney disease.”
Low sodium meats are good options for dogs with certain heart conditions, while meats with lower potassium levels are ideal for some kidney patients, says Morgan. Additionally, beef, lamb, chicken and pork are all good options for dogs prone to bladder stones because each is low in calcium and moderately low in magnesium, explains Morgan.
It’s important to work with a veterinarian before switching to a raw-food diet.
“Bison is one of the richest natural sources of CoQ10, a powerful antioxidant,” Morgan says. A lean meat, Bison is lower in cholesterol, may be hypoallergenic for some individuals, and is higher in protein than other red meats. “It also has a higher concentration of essential fatty acids and iron.”
“Beef contains all the essential amino acids necessary for dogs of all ages,” Morgan notes, adding that it’s also a good source of beneficial zinc and iron.
Morgan also recommends pet parents choose grass-fed beef over commercially processed beef. “Confinement raised beef is much more likely to be fed hormones, antibiotics, and GMO grains,” she says.
Chicken is a good source of vitamin B and niacin for dogs. Niacin deficiency in dogs can cause fatigue, poor appetite, diarrhea, dementia, skin problems, and muscle weakness. Morgan recommends that chicken, like beef, is a better choice when it is free range.
Morgan suggests both white and dark turkey meat in a raw food diet for dogs, but explains that dark meat is “higher in zinc, riboflavin, thiamine, vitamins B6 and B12, and iron.” Foods high in iron can fight off issues such as anemia.
As a source of zinc, lamb helps improve immune system function. “Zinc is essential for wound healing, coat growth, and helps stabilize blood sugar and metabolic rate,” says Morgan.
“The body requires zinc to develop and activate T-cells. Low zinc levels are associated with increased susceptibility to pneumonia and other infections,” she adds.
Duck contains a well-balanced array of amino acids, but is also high in iron, phosphorus, zinc, copper, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamins B6 and B12, Morgan says. Citing duck as “a great protein source for pets with protein allergies,” it also works well for dogs who suffer from inflammatory conditions, says Morgan.
Morgan explains that liver should be part of any dog’s diet, and fed to them in small amounts on a regular basis. “Liver contains a vast range of important nutrients and is highly concentrated in the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K,” she says. “Liver is a rich source for other minerals as well, including zinc, manganese, selenium and iron.”
Beef tripe is made from the inner lining of a cow’s stomach and contains several benefits for dogs when fed raw. “Tripe supplies probiotics, enzymes, amino acids, phytonutrients, and omega 3 and 6 fatty acids,” Morgan says.
Tripe is also lower in phosphorous than other meats, says Morgan, which makes it a good base for preparing a diet for dogs with reduced kidney function.
Besides meat, eggs provide an ideal protein source for dogs eating raw-food diets.
“A protein's rating—called its Biological Value (BV)— is a measure of the amount and number of the essential amino acids present,” notes Coger. “The higher the BV, the more nutritionally valuable the protein is. Egg is generally considered the ‘perfect’ protein, and given a BV of 100.”
Egg whites are highly digestible and provide a good supply of amino acids, says Morgan, but the yolk also provides B vitamins.
“It's fine to feed the whole egg, and the shell can be included for calcium, if needed,” she explains. Morgan recommends mixing the eggs (either eggs with yolk or without) into the meat portion of the meal. She does this by “grinding everything into a big mix.”
“If feeding as a raw diet, options include feeding whole pieces of meat to larger dogs, or ground meats or smaller chunks for smaller dogs,” Morgan says. “Raw poultry (chicken, duck, and turkey) necks and backs can be fed whole, sized according to the size of the dog. This supplies meat and bone content.” Serving these proteins without skin is the best option, as leaving the skin on can make the fat content too high in the diet, she adds.
Kelleher, Morgan, and Kessell all recommend rotating the meats in each raw food diet so that your dog can get the individual benefits of each food. “As long as people feed a rotation of proteins and have meat be 50-75% of a balanced diet with vegetables and
calcium, minerals and omega fatty acid sources, optimum health is easily achieved,” says Kelleher.
“Diets that do not include eggs and organs will be short on some amino acids, vitamins, and minerals,” adds Morgan. “Bone [should] be added, or a calcium supplement must be added to make a complete diet.” Remember that meat is not the only component of a healthy diet for dogs. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fats, and vitamin/mineral supplements can all play a role.
If raw food is not prepared, stored, or handled correctly it could lead to contamination, exposure to bacteria, and other increased health risks for dogs and humans alike. It is also very easy to make a nutritionally incomplete raw diet for dogs that can produce more health problems than it solves.
Before starting your dog on a raw food diet, or changing protein sources in your dog’s raw diet, it’s important to work with a licensed veterinarian to ensure your dog is receiving optimal, balanced nutrition.