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7 Health Benefits of Raw Dog Food Diet – Based on Science

Focusing on raw meat, bones, and fresh produce, the raw dog food diet is one of today’s most controversial issues in canine nutrition and health.

Proponents of the diet claim inspiration from the raw diets of racing dogs, while mainstream veterinarians caution against it as a potentially dangerous pseudoscience. If you’re looking for the best diet for your dog’s overall health and well-being, you’ll need to sort through this often-conflicting information before making your own judgments.

That’s why we’ve put together this guide on the potential benefits of a raw dog food diet. In the following sections, we’ll explore the raw dog food diet from both its recent popularity and historical origins before covering the potential benefits, possible dangers, and general economics of a raw dog food diet.Divider 8

History and Origins of the Raw Dog Food Diet

The raw dog food diet is often professed as a more “natural” diet for dogs that allows them to get in touch with their wild and carnivorous ancestry. For the specifics of the diet as we understand it today, however, you’ll have to look only as far back as 1993.

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Originally advocated by the works of Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst in his book Give Your Dog A Bone: The Practical Commonsense Way to Feed Dogs for a Long Healthy Life, the raw dog food diet was first proposed as a solution to the detrimental effects of overly-processed factory-made dog food. Sometimes known as the BARF, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food, Billinghurst is widely regarded as the “father” of raw pet food.

Arguing that fully matured dogs would enjoy their best health with a diet based on pre-domestication canine feeding habits, the raw dog food diet emphasizes the feeding of raw, meaty bones and vegetable scraps as well as a small portion of high-quality raw grains.

Today, variations of Billinghurst’s original recommendations include freeze-dried raw food blends and pre-made combinations that are intended to be mixed with raw meat at home.Divider 4

Potential Benefits of a Raw Food Diet for Dogs Include:

What exactly do fans of the raw dog food diet claim as benefits of this unconventional nutrition plan? We found seven commonly cited potential benefits:

1. Better Bone and Dental Health

Brushing dog's teeth
Image Credit: Tech. Sgt. Dawn Price, Wikimedia Commons

The inclusion of whole bones in your dog’s diet may help to balance their calcium and phosphorus levels, two nutrients that are essential to the health of your dog’s bones and teeth.

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2. Improved Skin Health and Coat Condition

Flat-Coated Retriever health
A Flat-Coated Retriever named Sara | Image: Bas Leenders, Flickr, CC 2.0

Feeding your dog fewer synthetic ingredients and providing all of their nutrients in the highly bioavailable forms that a raw food diet offers may lead to healthier skin and shinier coats, though this may take quite some time to manifest.

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3. High Protein Availability

White Dog Eating
Image credit: manushot, Shutterstock

The high-heat processing that commercially-available dog foods undergo may limit your pet’s ability to absorb and digest the protein found therein. Since a raw diet does not expose its proteins to high temperatures, the amino acids and resulting proteins will be more available and easier to digest.

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4. Low Ecological Impact

happy pom-a-pug outside
Melissa Staroszik, Shutterstock

By doing away with the multiple time- and energy-consuming processing steps involved in preparing commercial dog food, a raw food diet may be more environmentally friendly. This is especially true if you prepare most of your dog’s raw food diet at home.

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5. Remove Dangers of Processed Foods

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Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

Many dog food recalls are the result of improper processing and safety measures at the factories that produce these foods. Taking your dog’s diet into your own hands limits the possibility of feeding them food that has been tainted by unsafe production practices.

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6. Minimize Bad Breath

Dog mouth
Credit: PxFuel

Since both excessive sugars and general digestive problems can lead to bad dog breath, a raw dog food diet has a chance of reducing or eliminating doggy breath by limiting sugars and improving overall digestive capacity.

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7. Smaller and Less Smelly Poops

Labrador Retriever poop_wasitt hemwarapornchai_shutterstock
Credit: Wasitt Hemwarapornchai, Shutterstock

Adherents to the raw dog food diet claim that without the fillers used in many processed dog foods, their pups produce less voluminous feces with lower odor.

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Potential Disadvantages and Dangers of a Raw Food Diet for Dogs

Dangers and side effects of a raw dog food diet come in three main forms, all covered in a critical review of available literature by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association:

1. Nutritional Imbalance

Lacking the facilities and testing equipment necessary to verify whether a diet contains all the nutrients a dog needs, some owners who choose home preparation of a raw dog food diet may be unknowingly underfeeding essential nutrients. The inverse is true, as well; a diet too high in organ meat can lead to excess accumulation of vitamins and minerals that may put your dog’s health at risk.

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2. Bacterial Contamination

Consuming raw meat is inherently dangerous thanks in particular to the risk of Salmonella and E. coli. Even with proper food handling procedures, raw meat can easily end up harboring harmful bacteria that will adversely affect your dog’s health.

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3. Risk of Bone Shards

For anyone choosing to include whole bones in their dog’s diet, the possibility of creating bone chips and shards can pose a serious risk to the lining of your dog’s intestines. Similarly, hard bones can easily lead to damaged teeth after prolonged chewing.Divider 2

The Cost of the Raw Dog Food Diet

husky being fed raw food
Image Credit: Recless media, Shutterstock

According to a survey of The Raw Feeding Community, an online group of raw dog food enthusiasts and practitioners, most owners will pay less than two dollars per pound of raw pet food. Calculating an average amount of dog food per month as roughly 2.5% of your dog’s ideal adult body weight, the community advises budgeting around $60 per month on a raw food diet for a 50-pound dog.

What Raw Foods Can You Feed Your Dog?

Foods commonly found in a raw dog food diet include:
  • Fresh raw meat (beef is the most common, followed by chicken)
  • Vegetables (squash, leafy greens, carrots, etc.)
  • Organ meats (especially liver)
  • Fruits (apples and berries in particular)
  • Bone broth or stock
  • Uncooked bones

Additionally, some owners choose to supplement their dog’s raw food diet with a small portion of vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids such as:

  • Vitamin E
  • Fish oil
  • Zinc
  • Kelp
  • Probiotics


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Final Thoughts on Raw Dog Food Diets

While certainly growing in popularity, raw food diets for dogs are still a hotly contested nutritional choice.

Despite the potential benefits of being able to more closely control the composition and preparation of your dog’s diet, the American Veterinary Medical Association still advises against raw meat in your pet’s diet, primarily because of the risk of bacterial contamination.

Alternatively, the potential benefits of a raw food diet for dogs outlined by The Raw Feeding Community show that processed foods may not be a healthy option for your pet, either – and they advocate for a safe and practical approach to raw food preparation.

Ultimately, only you will be able to decide which diet is best for you, your budget, and your dog’s health and well-being.

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Featured image credit: thamKC, Shutterstock