Should you feed your dog raw or home cooked food?

Raw or Home Cooked Dog Food

There’s been a lot of interest recently in feeding pets raw food only. I’ve seen some irate comments on Facebook recently saying you must never mix raw and cooked food for your dog, but we eat raw and cooked foods all the time!

I feed my pets both raw and cooked, and over three decades have never had an issue. Not once.

So what gives?

Is raw meat really more nutritious than cooked meat?

Firstly, there isn’t much scientifically tested proof that raw meat is more nutritious than cooked meat, or more nutritionally available. There really isn’t!

I’m sure you’re surprised by that, and although it is considered cooking or processing of any sort will affect the nutrients in meat, there is the question of how much?

Certainly when you compare both raw meat and cooked meat to processed kibble you will likely conclude both feel far better, far healthier for your dog?

There are plenty of people who are convinced their pet has been healthier/has a better coat/seems more bouncy since they switched to raw only feeding. There are many from the home cooked camp who’ve seen similar results.

Again, all this really suggests is meat is better for our meat-loving pets than the grain-infusions or legume-cocktails of processed pet foods.

It’s not just about raw or cooked meats either. We know too well the importance of organs and bones as well, don’t we? And we know cooked bones are never and option for our dogs.

Bacteria and pathogens in raw animal foods

First and foremost, bacterial contamination is our biggest concern with raw meats. It’s the reason most home-cook-doggy-chefs avoid it.

Yes, the science is in with the inane ability of our dogs to deal with bacteria and pathogens. That’s if they’re otherwise healthy that is. Most of the time the risk is more to us than our dogs.

But that doesn’t wash with many. Since children we had it drummed into us that raw meat is hazardous, and if you can’t shrug that perception then that’s fine, and stick to home cooked.

Cooking kills pathogenic bacteria.

If food isn’t cooked, those bacteria are eaten and *can* cause infections. Ask your veterinarian if you don’t believe me, it’s not an urban myth.

In dogs and cats eating raw meat, Campylobacter spp and Salmonella spp are the most common causes of illness, however E coli has also been involved. Campylobacter is found in approximately half of the Australian dog population, yet only affects a mere few.

Some pets do get gastroenteritis (food poisoning) – vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramping from bacteria in raw meat.

The risk depends on the source of meat, how hygienic the processing abattoir/plant/butcher is, whether the meat has been refrigerated continuously and properly, whether your kitchen and utensils are clean, and how you have handled the meat and what else you have been handling.

There is a suggested link between Campylobacter ingestion and a serious condition in dogs called Acute Polyradiculoneuritis, where the body attacks it’s own nervous system. This results in weakness and paralysis. Studies have shown that there is a link between eating raw chicken and the risk of having this disease, but personally from reading the study I found the evidence weak (given the aforementioned fact of how prevalent campylobacter is in a healthy dog population – which kinda makes it easy to link it to all manner of conditions.

An important thought on this concern is the risk of humans becoming ill. If a pet eats raw meat containing Salmonella for example, they may or may not show symptoms, but the Salmonella numbers will increase internally in their gastrointestinal system, and then shed bacteria into their environment.

Humans can then become exposed to pathogenic bacteria – when their pet licks them, or when they pat their pet, or touch a surface the pet has infected. This is a serious risk for very young people, very elderly people, and anyone else who has poor immune function.

So, if you have high risk humans in your household (a new baby, someone having chemotherapy etc), then you may choose to put raw aside for a while and switch to home cooked dog food instead.

The importance of a nutritionally balanced diet

The second concern is whether the diet is actually nutritionally balanced.

There are quite a lot of premade raw patty style dog foods available now that are nutritionally balanced. These are classified “BARF”, Biologically Appropriate Raw Food”, coined by Australian veterinarian Dr Ian Billinghurst, author of Give Your Dog A Bone.

Studies of these premade raw diets in Norway and Switzerland suggested high proportions of them had bacterial contamination. No studies have been done on Australian premade balanced raw diets that I am aware of at this date. But there are also many people just feeding their pet raw human grade meat generally and randomly.

The idea being that it’s raw so it will have all the nutrition their pet needs. This isn’t necessarily the case, and veterinarians have noted illnesses due to malnutrition. There is also the argument soft raw meaty patties do nothing for dental health, which is something I’ve read often on Pet Food Reviews which is often critical of many forms of dog food in this respect.

It goes to show, whatever method of feeding your dog – raw, kibble, home cooked, BARF – there are concerns and risks when it comes to each one.

Why your pet loves raw meat

It was never my intention to slam raw meat or raw feeding. Quite the opposite in fact, and I confess to feeding my pets both raw and home cooked meals.

So let’s look at the positives of raw.

I think it’s clear our dogs and cats really enjoy eating raw meat. My dog salivates the minute I come home from the supermarket, and my cat turns his nose right up at cooked meat as if to say “What did you spoil it for?”

There is more physical effort involved in chewing raw meat which may be satisfying and may help some pets to meet species specific behavioural instincts. Like a horse grazing grass. In an era of anxiety and behavioural related disorders, this may be a factor needing more consideration.

There is clear evidence chewing on raw meat and raw meaty bones is your best way of preventing dental problems with your dog. Australian vet Dr Tom Lonsdale of Bligh Park Vets in Sydney swears by it, and even wrote a book “Raw Meaty Bones” which goes to great length explaining the benefits of raw feeding in terms of health, nutrition, and mental wellbeing.

We can’t overlook obesity in pets being at an all time high. Why do you think this is? We definitely feed our pets more convenience food than we used to, and yes by convenience food I mean the stuff you buy for your dogs at the supermarket and pet stores. A feeding option that takes more effort and time for them to ingest, such as raw feeding, may contribute more to general satiety and satisfactions levels – something which should be better researched.

So as with everything in life, there are pros and cons. Be thoughtful about your risk factors, what you are wanting to achieve and how you can use best practice and food hygiene in all your food preparations.

Related: If you want a really good guide on whether to feed your dog Raw or Home Cooked, or both, I highly recommend How To Feed A Dog – Raw Vs. Home Cooked Dog Food.

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Gina & David

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