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The Truth About Raw Meat-Based Diets

Posted 11.16.21 by Christine Taylor, DVM

You’ve seen the commercials all over television…. the ones with the howling wolf that morphs into a Yorkshire terrier, claiming that all dogs are descendants from wolves, and thus deserve a raw diet like that of their “ancestors”…

I’m still puzzled as to how a Boston Terrier came about from a wolf.

Boston Terrier

Domestic dogs are not direct descendants from wolves, and therefore, have very distinct biological systems. As part of the domestication process, they require nutrients in different bioavailable forms. A raw food diet can be very harmful to not only dogs and cats, but pet owners as well.

Raw meat-based diets can be homemade or commercially available. Commercial raw diets are typically marketed as frozen or freeze-dried chunks, but some are available as fresh or refrigerated products. Others can look just like regular kibble, with a raw meat coating. Raw-dried and freeze-dried treats are also marketed.

Raw diets may contain harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella spp, Escherichia coli, Campylobacter spp, and Listeria spp. They may also contain parasites and protozoa. All of which can be transmissible to human beings by handling and prepping the food, as well as exposure to the fecal waste of the animal. Studies have shown that 80% of raw diets contain salmonella, and that 30% of fecal samples from dogs eating raw diets will also contain salmonella. This poses a tremendous risk of exposure for all members of the household, particularly the young and elderly, as they tend to have weaker immune systems.

Bones fed as part of a raw diet can also be hazardous to the health of our pets. Both raw and cooked bones can cause tooth fractures, as well as tear the esophagus, stomach or intestines. Fragments of bone can also become lodged in the gastrointestinal tract, leading to a bowel obstruction, and a costly surgical emergency.

Finally, raw diets are typically not nutritionally balanced or complete.

  • Calcium deficiency is a common finding when raw diets are analyzed, and this can lead to impaired growth, spontaneous fractures and loosened teeth.
  • Diet-induced hyperthyroidism has also been linked to raw meat-based diets.
  • Vitamin A toxicity can occur if large amounts of raw liver are fed.
  • More recently, we have learned that grain-free diets are linked to dilated cardiomyopathy in certain breeds of dogs.

The bottom line is talk to your veterinarian about diet recommendations for your pet. There are no scientific studies supporting the health benefits claimed by raw diet components, and plenty of data to advise us to proceed with an abundance of caution when these diets are selected for our pets. As a profession, we tend to lean toward recommending diets that have reputable scientific data supporting their nutritional claims, and we take our responsibility to protect both pets and the humans that love them very seriously.

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