“I’ve been hearing a lot about feeding dogs raw food. It seems controversial. Can you tell me what’s best for my dog?”
Dog owners want the absolute best for their canine companions to ensure they live healthy, happy, and active lives. The first step in achieving that goal is feeding your dog a balanced, nutritious diet. Historically, dry dog kibble and canned dog food were the only choices on the market. But over the years, raw food has become increasingly available.
What’s right for your dog?
You should discuss your pet’s diet with your veterinarian. She will be familiar with your dog’s nutritional needs based on his health, lifestyle, and exercise level.
For example, working canines, such as sled, hunting, racing, law enforcement, service, and even show dogs, may have different caloric requirements than that of a more sedentary dog that is your household pet. Here’s some basic information to help you make an informed decision.
Raw Dog Food
A raw dog food diet typically consists of:
- Organ meats
- Muscle meat
- Whole or ground bone
- Raw eggs
- Dog safe fresh fruits and vegetables, like broccoli, spinach, celery, carrots, and apples
- Some dairy, such as yogurt
Supporters of raw food claim the potential benefits to be:
- Shinier coats
- Healthier skin
- Improved dental health
- Increased energy
- Smaller stools
Dog owners should be aware that feeding your pup a raw food diet is much more time consuming than giving him cooked, commercially made dog food. Meticulous care is required in the handling, preparation, and sanitation of raw food. Also, a raw food diet is typically more expensive than a processed kibble diet.
Raw food diets are not recommended in homes with small children or immunocompromised individuals. This is due to the health risk raw foods can present. For example, there have been multiple reports of recalls of certain raw dog foods due to contamination with salmonella, E-coli, campylobacter, and/or listeria.
Dog owners should also know that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has taken a formal position opposing the feeding of raw foods. Their policy states: “The AVMA discourages the feeding to cats and dogs of any animal-source protein that has not first been subjected to a process to eliminate pathogens because of the risk of illness to cats and dogs as well as humans.”
However, there are still many raw food diet advocates. If a dog owner elects to pursue this type of diet, find a veterinarian who is familiar with raw foods and can help guide you in the proper handling and cleaning required to prevent possible health concerns.
Dry Dog Kibble
Dry food ingredients vary by brand, but all kibble dog foods are required to be balanced and meet the nutritional needs of a dog. In fact, the content, calories, and nutritional value of commercially prepared pet foods are regulated by law. The ingredients in dry dog food kibble are processed together and cooked.
These required ingredients include:
- Protein sources like beef, poultry, fish, and eggs
- Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants
Supporters of dry dog food kibble claim the potential benefits to be:
- Reduced dental plaque
- Healthier gums
- Reduced risk of bacteria
- Easier storage
- Less risk of spoilage
There are many dry dog foods available. As with all foods, reading the label will help you find the best possible brand for your dog. Always remember that the first ingredient is the most prevalent in that food.
- Look for a food that has a protein as the first ingredient, not a grain. The best dry dog foods have a single or novel source of protein, such as lamb, chicken, or salmon.
- There are some grain-free diets, but remember that grains are carbohydrates and required for energy — especially in rapidly growing, large-breed puppies and very active dogs. The choice of grain, however, is important. Some dogs may have sensitivities to wheat, corn, or soybeans.
- All dry dog foods need preservatives to prevent the fat from becoming rancid. Some commonly used preservatives have been controversial, such as ethoxyquin, BHA, and BHT. Dry foods tend to use more natural preservatives, such as tocopherols (vitamin E), citric acid (vitamin C), and rosemary extract. The shelf life of these foods may be affected, so always read the label on the bag and check the “best by” date. Avoid buying excessive amounts of food at one time if it will not be used in a timely fashion.
Dog owners also have the option of wet canned dog food, and grain-free kibble selections are becoming more prevalent. Ask your veterinarian for advice on which to use, and together, you’ll make the best decision for your dog.
Dr. Jerry Klein