The amount of information available on feeding your dog or cat a raw diet is pretty extensive. And the debate is pretty passionate. On one side you have people who have fed raw and are adamantly opposed to anything other than raw. On the other side, you have people who feed a kibble and are adamantly opposed to the idea of raw. (Funny thing is, those in favor of raw have more than likely fed a dry food or canned food at some point in their lives, but those who are opposed to raw have more than likely never fed raw at all.) The goal of this page is to help you better understand raw food diets and your pet.
A dog’s digestive process
First, let’s look at the dog itself. While your poodle or bichon or pug may not look much like a wolf roaming the wild, anatomically speaking, their body is still the same. Dogs were designed to eat raw meat, organs and bones. Let’s look at that design.
Their teeth are pointed and sharp, designed to shred and tear meat. They’re jaws do not move sideways; they move up/down to clamp on and pull. Unlike humans… we have teeth that are flat and our jaws move sideways, allowing us to grind and chew our food.
A dog has enzymes in his saliva, but these are different than those which humans have. Dogs do not have enzymes to break down starches found in commercial dog foods, so the starches tend to stick to their teeth – which can lead to plaque and tartar buildup, gum disease and a host of other health issues. They do have enzymes that kill bacteria that may be present in the meat they are eating.
When they eat, their food passes through their mouth to the stomach, where the acidic “juices” begin to work (in humans, our digestion process actually starts in the mouth; in dogs, the mouth is more of a portal). These stomach juices are powerful enough to break down large chunks of meat and bones before passing them through to the intestines, as well as kill bad bacteria that may be in what they’ve just eaten. This is by design because, in the wild, dogs will gulp and devour their food in large pieces (survival of the fittest – eat fast or don’t eat). Dogs also have a strong regurgitation instinct. If a food hasn’t been processed correctly, they simply regurgitate it and try again. While it’s gross to us to see them eat their own throw up, it’s what they were designed to do.
Once the food hits the small intestines, it has already been processed and is basically in a liquid form. This is where the majority of nutrient absorption occurs. From there, what hasn’t been utilized is passed through the large intestines where good bacteria breaks it all down, and then it passes completely out of the dog.
The short digestive tract that your dog has makes it difficult for him to fully digest and utilize grains, which means when you feed high amounts of these, you’re basically just paying for your dog to poop.
Where did kibble (dry dog food) come from?
Kibble as we know it is only about 50-60 years old. Don’t you wonder what dogs ate before humans invented dog food? Let’s be honest, dog food wasn’t invented for dogs…it was invented for humans and our convenience.
The first commercial dog food was introduced in England in the 1860s by James Spratt. He had noticed dogs wandering around the piers waiting to be tossed scraps and old biscuits and thus his idea was born and the first commercial dog food was created. It was not in small kibble form as we know it, but it was still commercial dog food. He brought this food to the US in the 1890s. From there, other dog food companies sprang up. In the early 1900s, canned horse meat was introduced in the US as a way to dispose of dead horses. (Can you imagine walking into a store today and saying “I’d like a case of canned horse for Fido, please” – blech!). The 1930s brought canned food for cats, as well as a dry meat-meal food for dogs (perhaps the first “dehydrated” dog food product).
During the Great Depression, people started looking for more economical ways to feed their pets by adding grains and cereals to their diet. And during WWII, metal was rationed and the canned pet food industry nearly collapsed. By the end of the war, the pet food industry was revitalized. Companies began to realize the profits to be made from utilizing by-products. Slaughterhouses were able to sell non-human grade, diseased meats and unusable body parts to pet food manufacturers. Grain millhouses had found a way to sell their hulls, floor sweepings and such too. Everyone was making money while Fido was becoming unhealthy. By the mid 1950s, extruded pet food was hitting the store’s shelves and mass-marketing began. In the past 10 years or so, we’ve seen tremendous improvements in the commercially available dry dog foods, but still none of them are as good as what nature intended: raw.
Just as a note, extrusion is the process where the ingredients are blended together and pushed through a machine (similar to a cake decorating tip) and subjected to high pressure and steam. They are cut into their final shape, and after drying, they are often sprayed with an animal fat or digest to make it more palatable (appealing) to Fido, and even to add synthetic nutrients to compensate for those that were lost during processing.
The objections to raw
We’ve all heard them. Most of us have even thought them ourselves. So let’s take a look at the common reasons someone might choose to not feed raw.
It’s too time consuming. Feeding raw used to be time-consuming, but there are now products available that make it simple and as easy as scooping a cup of dry food.
I won’t remember to defrost. Once you get started, the thawing schedule becomes like clockwork. For example, we know at our house that when we open one package, it’s time to pull the next one out of the freezer to start defrosting. Still not sure? There are even raw products available that are freeze-dried….just add water.
It’s dangerous with all that bacteria – my dog could get sick from eating raw food. As we discussed earlier, your dog’s body is designed to eat raw meat. Bacteria is much less of an issue for your dog than you think – sometimes “less than fresh roadkill” is on the wild dog’s menu. As far as human contamination goes, use common sense just as you would when handling raw meat for yourself. Wash the bowls, utensils, your hands, etc. You should do this after handling ANY dog food, not just raw.
I have small children and there’s too much risk of them getting sick from it. There’s just as much risk with dry foods. In fact, there have actually been more dog food recalls on kibble from potential salmonella than there have been raw foods. It’s really a matter of using a common sense approach – wash your hands, their bowls, utensils, etc. every time, the same as you would if you were preparing dinner for yourself.
It’s too costly. We like to say “You can pay to feed your pet, or you can pay to go to the vet.” A dog fed a healthy, species-appropriate diet will be much less likely to have health issues and need frequent vet visits. I would like to think that even your vet would like to see you less often if that means your pet is healthy. And honestly, depending on what dry food you’re currently feeding, it may not be as big of a cost difference as you think.
Kibble is healthy and nutritionally balanced. But not biologically appropriate. Remember the discussion above about how their teeth are designed to shred and tear, not grind and chomp. And the part about how the enzymes in their saliva are designed to kill bacteria but not break down starches. And most kibbles contain synthetic vitamins and minerals to make it balanced…synthetic is not natural. Additionally, just because the label reads well, it doesn’t mean that your dog processes it well.
Kibble helps clean the dog’s teeth. Not true. For there to be a cleaning action, there must be a grinding action. Again with that grinding thing…dogs don’t grind kibble. Most of them don’t even chew kibble. Then there’s the added issue of their saliva not being able to break down the starches in the kibble. Want clean teeth? Feed an appropriate diet and give them raw meaty bones and antlers to chew on.
Feeding raw will make my dog bloodthristy, mean, and vicious. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dogs are carnivorous predators. It’s what they do. Fifi chases the squirrel regardless of whether she eats kibble or raw. It’s instinctive. As for mean and vicious…have you seen these raw-fed cuties?
The benefits of raw
Oh my, where to start. The benefits are NUMEROUS! I could simply say your pet is healthier and that would be sufficient, but for the sake of specificity, we’ll cover some benefits. When any of the items below are NOT true about your pet, it’s simply a symptom of an unhealthy pet.
Shiny, soft coat – everyone will want to use your dog as a pillow
Fresh breath, less doggy odor – your neighbor’s will think you’ve spent zillions of dollars on grooming products
Reduces gas – gas is just your dog’s digestive system saying something isn’t right
No more picky-eater syndrome – dogs love what they were created to love
Less likely to show “allergic reactions” – bye bye dry, itchy skin
Svelt figure – easy to maintain appropriate weight
More energy – more runs in the park will help get you in shape too
Less poo – and let’s face it, a little less poo to pick up is a good thing
Fewer insects and parasites – a healthy pet is less likely to get fleas, ticks, worms, etc.
The bottom line
Remember, your dog’s life is in your hands. What you choose to feed him is the single most important health decision you can make for him. Why not make the one he would make for himself if he could?