In this section, I am going to cover some general information on foods but, in the interest of time, I am going to specifically focus on German Shepherds. I would be glad to answer any questions on any other breed, however, if you would like to contact me.
What do I feed my German Shepherd?
Puppies have different dietary requirements than adult dogs. Also, large breed puppies have different requirements than some of your smaller breeds. German Shepherds are large breed dogs and therefore, have special needs for bone growth, muscle development, and calcium levels. It has been proven that several orthopedic diseases of dogs can be precipitated by improper feeding practices during growth. German Shepherds can be predisposed to these problems because they have the genetic potential for rapid growth. Maximal growth, (resulting in the greatest increased in body weight), in rapidly growing, large breed puppies can cause stress on the immature developing skeleton.
Rapid growth is NOT desirable.
Over Supplementation (this includes vitamins supplements) can result in medical problems including:
- Hip Dysplasia
- Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy
- Elbow Dysplasia
Protein (+/-), excessive calories, and inappropriate amounts of calcium have all been shown to negatively influence optimal skeletal development in large breed puppies. Large Breed foods address this problem by regulating both calcium and calories. We want controlled growth in these dogs — maximal growth is not optimal growth. Many people argue that they want a “big” dog. That is all fine and good, but it would be better for these dogs to reach their adult weight at 2-3 years instead of 12 months. (Size is pre-determined by genetics, not food!)
The most significant problems with foods in large breed dogs in order of decreasing importance:
Excessive calcium can result in skeletal malformation. Too little calcium can be a problem too. (Very seldom do you have a problem with too little calcium though, unless owners have opted to create their own “diets”.) Many people like to supplement their pups with Calcium — this can be a very serious problem. Puppies can not regulate how much calcium they absorb from their food. Excessive calcium is known to cause deficiencies in other nutrients such as Zinc. Also, the excess calcium prevents puppies from pulling the calcium out of their bones properly to allow for growth and remodeling of these bones.
The ideal calcium content, on a dry weight basis is 0.7%-1.2%-. AAFCO recommendation is 1%-2.5% which is generally acceptable though not ideal; however, for giant breeds, such as the Great Dane, the lower end of this range is especially recommended. It is believed that calcium in excess of 3% on a dry weight basis can predispose to significant skeletal abnormalities, such as those mentioned above. Keep in mind, also, that adding of vitamins, particularly Vitamin D, will also increase absorption of dietary calcium (to possibly excessive levels).
Your goal, if you are feeding a large breed puppy, is to keep him at a body condition score of 4 on a scale of 1-9. You should be able to easily feel his ribs (and maybe even see a couple of ribs). You must continually assess his body score while he is growing to make sure the you are not over-feeding. If your puppy is gaining too much weight, growing too rapidly, his immature skeleton is having to carry this surplus and can result in damage to the skeletal tissue. This damage can then result in malarticulation of joints, degenerative joint disease, and potentially chronic pain. For most practical purposes, energy levels in food can be extrapolated principally from dietary fat, which should be no less than 9% (AAFCO recommendation) to maximum of 12% on a dry weight basis. Total kcal/kg of food should remain in the 3.2 to 3.8 range
Protein levels per AAFCO should be 22%. As a dietary percent on a dry weight basis, they should be between 15%- 27%. The ideal protein concentration is difficult to pin down exactly because not all protein in “created equal”. Some protein has a higher value than other protein so it is more readily available for use by the body and thus you can feed less of it. But, keep in mind, if an excess of protein is being fed, it will be converted to energy, rather then incorporated into protein tissue. And, as I discussed before, too much energy (calories) will result in too rapid weight gain and can result in skeletal problems associated with excess energy consumption, as described above.
II. Feeding Method
Now that we have found a food that meets the needs of our growing puppy, we have to determine “how” to feed it. It is important to not only feed balanced foods, but right the right amount of this diet or otherwise, our puppy may overeat, and still result in the nutritional excesses we wish to avoid. Generally what I recommend is that you fill up a bowl of food and let him eat. Ignore the recommendations on the back of the bag. Just put the food down and let him eat whatever he wants until he walks away or until 10 minutes is up – whichever comes first.
This is a general rule-of-thumb – if your puppy is looking “chubby”, CUT BACK!!
- If your puppy is under 4-5 months of age, feed three times daily
- If your puppy is between 5- 9 months of age, feed only two times daily.
- If your puppy is greater than 9 month of age, you could feed just once daily but I think it is actually healthier to feed twice daily.
Remember – shepherds SHOULD go through a “gangly stage”. They SHOULD look lean when they are going through growth spurts. Just as a 18 or 19 year old kid doesn’t look like a 30 year old, neither should a 10 month old shepherd look like a 3 year old. Though an eighteen year old guy may be as tall as he will ever be, he simply hasn’t “filled out” yet. His muscles haven’t “bulked” and he should not be carrying “extra fat”. The same is true for a young shepherd. They simply SHOULD NOT look like an adult Shepherd – THEY AREN’T AN ADULT! They should look lean.
III. Keep in Mind:
- Look at the back of the bag not the front – check ingredients yourself Advertising is misleading!!
- Avoid additional supplements — when feeding a good diet, vitamin and mineral supplements are unnecessary and potentially harmful.
- There are some companies with good Large Breed Puppy formulas — Or, feed adult food. DO NOT FEED regular PUPPY FOOD.
- Remember – shepherds SHOULD go through a “gangly stage”. They SHOULD look lean when they are going through growth spurts.
- Look for the a statement that the food is an “AAFCO-feeding-trial approved diet” for puppy growth.
Below is a video on feeding puppies that I agree with entirely……
So What About the Adult Food?
There are several really good adult foods on the market, as well. As a whole, with the eyes of the consumer and the FDA being drawn more closely to the practices and imports of the dog food companies, dog foods as a whole have been forced to improve. Though there are still many foods that I WOULD NOT feed my dogs, I am not AS particular as I used to be. I would be more than happy to discuss certain brands of foods if you would like but I will not attempt to discuss them here.
What about Raw Diets?
Feeding raw meat diets to high performance dogs such as greyhounds, coon dogs, and sled dogs has been a common practice for some time. Recently, (the last 4 years), I have been bombarded with questions from owners who want to feed raw meat diets. The proponents of these diets believe the dogs feel better, have more energy and less disease. However, I have been unable to find ANY scientific evidence whatsoever to support these claims. I have 2 main concerns about these diets:
- The large amount of bacterial contamination potential
- The idea that you must also feed bones
- An the main concern – the inability of the average person to “create” a balanced RAW diet (especially over time).
First, as a veterinarian, I have a hard time with the concept that “bacterial contamination is not important”. While I do believe that it is true that most large breed dogs can go out and eat a carcass of a long-dead deer and not have any problems, I know many Chihuahuas that look at raw meat and get sick! In addition, constantly feeding raw meat diets can increase the risk of sickness to the owner that is constantly preparing raw meat in their kitchens.
To determine the actual contamination of these raw meat diets, the staff at Colorado State University in conjunction with the USDA evaluated 21 commercially available raw meat diets from three different retail stores. All diets were stored frozen until evaluated. The study revealed 53% of the diets contained e. coli, which can cause severe intestinal problems in dogs and humans. This is the same bacteria that usually cause illness in humans who eat undercooked hamburgers. Salmonella, another bacteria that causes intestinal disease, was also found in 5.9% of the samples. Although the federal government regulates processing of meat for human consumption, these laws do not apply to pet foods. Ninety-nine percent of the samples had some form of bacterial contamination in this study. Because there is no regulatory agency responsible for monitoring bacterial contamination in raw meat, milk, or eggs for pet foods, owners feeding their pets these diets should be concerned about their pets’ health as well as their own health.
Again, this may not be a big deal in a German Shepherd….?
Second, I have seen, and personally removed, many bones from the G.I tract of several dogs of varying breeds. Just 2 weeks ago, we had a Dachshund in the clinic that the owners had been feeding bones. He was extremely painful and had been for 2 days. This normally gentle dog had bitten the owner several times in the last 2 days. Upon further inspection, we found a 2 inch long sliver of bone extending across the back of his oral cavity from one side to the other. It had caused enough swelling that the bone had become embedded in the tissues.
Last month, we removed a ham bone from a Rottweiler’s intestinal tract. He had swallowed it but it was not small enough to pass all the way through the G.I. tract. We had to remove part of the intestines because of the damage done by the lodged piece of bone. THESE BONES DO NOT DISSOLVE AND HAVE NO SIGNIFICANT NUTRIENT QUALITY. By the time the owners finished paying for the Exploratory Surgery and Intestinal Anastomosis, they could have afforded a good quality dog food!
I do realize that not all raw diets require feeding bone and I also realize that raw proponents argue that uncooked bone is much different than cooked bone.
Third: Owners live busy lives. They have a hard enough time cooking good quality meals for themselves, let alone sitting down and figuring out the proper balance of nutrients for their dog. (Hence the reason fast food restaurants are thriving.) I think many owners have good intentions, and may start out well, but over long term and think most people will realize that “feeding raw” is not convenient. When that happens, the dog will be better off on a good quality commercial diet. Now…..if the truth be told…..there are starting to be “raw diets” that are commercially available. Obviously, the pet food industry has realized that many owners like the idea of feeding raw but don’t have time to do it. Too be honest, I haven’t had a chance to compare some of these commercial “raw” diets so I am going to hold back from commenting until I can evaluate them.
Conclusion: It is true that many GSD’s do well on raw diet. I have to ask myself “why?”. Here is what I think. I think that a properly balance raw diet is fine to feed for SOME people. But, as a whole, most people that are feeding “raw” are not really “FEEDING RAW”. They are either throwing out “scraps” and justifying it by calling it raw or they are feeding an assortment of “raw” things with no regards as to “balance”. When most people hear the term “raw” they think only of meat. But, balance raw diets include much more. Many people that feed raw simply go to the store and get chicken scraps (necks, wings, etc.) and feed that in the morning and then maybe a little cheap kibble in the evening and call it balanced. It isn’t. Dogs will do fairly well on this method however for a while and people conclude that their dog is “healthier” because his stools are better or because there is less of them…….Those reasons do NOT make the dog healthier. If anyone has been on the Adkins diet, they too know that HIGH protein makes for less and more firm stools…..but it can also make for kidney issues. Firms stools do not equal health.
Feeding raw can be a healthy diet IF fed properly. But, I generally will not recommend it simply because I don’t think that most people care or have the time to feeding it properly. And, I simply can’t agree with the raw diets that require feeding bone.
There is a great deal of science that goes into the formulation of a good quality dog food these days. People constantly ask me about foods, which one is best, what about RAW, and how do I justify feeding a food with grains in it. I am going to try to give just a bit more information here and I will slowly be adding and “re-modeling it” to make more “sense” over a period of time. Talking about foods is a never ending subject and there is no way a I enough time to cover it in 1 sitting (or even 4 or 5 sittings!).
Dog foods conversations are a highly volatile topic among many of your pet owners these days. There are so many Internet websites claiming to be experts on dog foods. In reality, you will find that many of these “expert” websites are simply no more than one or two peoples opinions on what they feel is a good quality food. Many of these opinions come from researching someone else’s website and just transferring that information to their own. Further, many people are opposed to “big company” food. As with everything else, people want to blame successful businesses or other successful people for being successful. I’m not saying that this is always the case but often times it is. Just because a company or a business is successful, it does not mean that they do not care. It also does not mean that they DO care.
There is no magic answer, no perfect food, nor are there any perfect dogs. Some dogs will simply do better on some foods and other dogs will do better on other foods. Since no two dogs are exactly alike, it goes to reason that no 2 genetic genomes are exactly alike either. This fact alone provides the evidence needed to prove that not all dogs will react exactly the same way to any given food.
Many people are hung up on “grain free” these days. Many people will tell you that corn causes allergies and has no nutritional value. While it is true that wolves do not walk out into a wheat field and eat the wheat, they had no quarrels about killing the deer that walked out into the wheat field and ate the wheat and then ingesting the stomach and all of its contents of that deer. Further, I assure you that if someone left a bowl of oatmeal out both your dog or your local wolf would have no hesitation in consuming that oatmeal – and they would suffer no ill effects from doing so. Though there are documented cases of food allergies and specifically allergies too grains, there are also documented cases of allergies to chicken, beef, lamb, or any other ingredient that you can think of. There is no evidence that supports the claims that grain causes any health problems. Am I an advocate for a mostly grain diet? – absolutely not. Do I stress over my dog eating some corn or oats? Not at all.
When processed properly grains, just like corn, can be a healthy part at any dogs diet. In fact, often times many of your grains contain far more nutrients than some of the replacements that are used for grain free diets. Am I advocating going to a grain free diet or a grain filled diet? – no. In fact, I think it makes not one bit of difference in MOST dogs. However, there are exceptions to that rule. Is your dog one to be exceptions? I simply don’t know, but, none of mine are. Make no mistake here though……I am not opposed to a grain free diet either.
So what would you want out of a German Shepherd dog food (besides what we have talked about in the way of calcium, protein, and calories)?
Kibble size and texture – science has proven that the size and texture of the kibble can affect the dogs desire to consume it. A kibble that has better surface area will obviously have better flavor. Also, if you can convince the dog to CHEW rather than just SWALLOW without chewing, you will naturally improve the oral hygiene. And lastly, if your dog will take the time to chew the food, relish it in his mouth rather than “wolfing it down” you will decrease the likelihood of swallowing air which will decrease stomach distention. Stomach distention can increase the likelihood of bloat.
Here is an interesting fact – after a meal the stomach of a large breed dog can reach up to about 2 gallons in size. The ability of the stomach to stretch to this level obviously shows that the stomach is not as firmly attached in the abdomen as you might see in a smaller breed dog. This fact increases the dog’s predisposition to bloat.
Better and Firmer Stools: Some scientific studies have shown a predisposition in the large breed dogs to a lower digestive tolerance compared to small dog on the same day. What this means as is that a large breed dog will be more prone to have soft stools than a small breed dog. We’re not exactly sure why this is but it is thought that it might have to do with the fact that the digestive tract of the large breed dog has a lower weight (2.7%) in comparison with that of the small breed dog (7%). We also see a higher and intestinal permeability, a weaker digestive capability, and a greater fermentation activity among large dogs. All of these things contribute to a more sensitive digestive tract = wetter stools – this seems to be especially true in the German Shepherd.
So, the goals with German Shepherd nutrition are geared toward improving intestinal absorption, protecting the intestinal mucosa, limiting fermentative activity, normalizing bacterial flora, and improving the consistency of the stools.
In order to do this, we must use ingredients that are very digestible. We do not want ingredients that have to ferment in order for the dog to be able to utilize the nutrients. Highly digestible proteins create less metabolic waste. You will find that both soy and poultry proteins are very high in their organic value, they are highly digestible, (which decreases the amount of indigestible protein into the colon) which will reduce putrefaction, and help maintain flora equilibrium.
Why do we want to limit from the fermentation activity? Strong fermentation activity can trigger in rush of water into the colon and can also cause a bacterial overgrowth. Both of these factors can lead to an increase in watery feces. It is essential to limit fermentation among the German shepherds. Again you want to use a very digestible food to help reduce the amount of non-digested remnants that enter the colon. Also, beet pulp, a fiber that’s degraded by bacteria can also help limit colon fermentation.
Additives that Target Weaknesses in GSD’s: By this I mean, glucosamines, chrodrotin, and increased fatty acids to name a few. Most people know that one of the weakness in the GSD breed is their tendencies to joint issues. Glucosamines and Chrodrotins are both known to aid the body in the repair and maintenance of the joint. There are no feeding requirements of these products by AAFCO but neither is there any evidence that they would be harmful to the body. There are several companies that are routinely adding these products to their food. Though I don’t feel that the levels are sufficient in most of these foods, they may very well be of some assistance. Owners can further increase the levels by adding their own supplements if need be.
Fatty acids have also proven beneficial in a variety of areas – they help decrease inflammation, help the body repair dry skin, dull hair coats, seborrhea, and arthritis, helps prevent atopy and autoimmune disease, promotes a healthy immune system, aids the body in eye development, helps that body combat the effects of cancer, as well as many other beneficial roles. For these reasons, I feel that a food that is high in some of these nutrients would be of significant benefit.
Tid Bits of Info to Consider:
I always tell everyone who is “researching dog foods” to take all the information and with a grain of salt. Often times you will find that the reviews are being published by the manufacturer of the food that is attempting to be sold or someone with a vested interest in the product/company.
Don’t forget that often times natural, holistic, and veggie based pet foods are based more on market demand for the owners and not necessarily the nutritional value for the pet.
Make sure that you are not buying the food simply because it says “holistic”. There are no specific definitions for the term “holistic” or “organic pet food”. That label can be slapped on many products.
Don’t always assume that a diet with a higher the amount of protein or meat is actually equal to a better quality diet. Many dogs and cats can actually be harmed by too much protein in their diet. Protein must be broken down by the liver and filtered out by the kidneys. Older pets often have difficult time with surplus protein in their food.
Pet food labels: What you need to know to read them….
AAFCO guidelines include requirements for 8 specific features…..
- Brand and Product name
- Species for which the product is intended
- Feeding instructions
- Manufacturer or distributor name and address
- Net quantity statement
- Guaranteed analysis
- Ingredient list
- Nutritional adequacy statement
Product names – Labeling the Product and What it Means
The 95% Rule. A label reading “Beef for Dogs” would mean that 95% of the product contains beef. It is required by AAFCO that at least 95% of the product must be in there in order to be used in the name. Also, a company could use “Beef ‘n Chicken Dog Food” meaning that 95% of the product is made up of both beef and chicken with beef being the majority ingredient and chicken the minority.
The 25% Rule. A label reading “Beef Dinner for Dogs” could use the term “dinner” if the product contains less than 95% but at least 25% of the named product. Some companies will use other descriptive terms as well – “Platter”, “Entrée”, “Nuggets”, and “Formula” are a few of these examples. In these type foods, the main ingredient does not have to be the “named” ingredient. For example, beef dinner for dogs could actually contain mainly chicken with beef being the third or fourth ingredient on the list. The food may also be called “Beef ‘n Chicken Dinner for Dogs” as long as beef and chicken together comprised at least 25% of the food and each individual ingredient must make up at least 3%.
“Flavor Rule” – with this rule a specific percentage is not required but the product must contain at least a sufficient amount of the flavor to be detected. In other words, a company could use the “Beef Flavored” on a food that’s made up mostly of chicken yet sprinkled with beef products or beef meal. You can also get “flavors” from a material treated with heat and enzymes forming a “digest” in order to obtain a concentrated natural flavor. Only a small amount of “chicken digest” is needed to produce a “chicken flavor” even though no actual chicken was added to the food. Additionally, foods often contain the claim “no artificial flavors”. In reality, very seldom are any artificial flavors ever used in pet foods.
The food must contain the “manufactured by…” statement indicating which party is responsible for the quality and safety of the product and its location. If the label says “manufactured for.…” Or “distributed by.…”, the food was manufactured by the outside manufacturer but the label still designates the responsible party.
Most people are aware that all ingredients are required to be listed in order of predominance by weight on any food. However, many people don’t know that the weight can include moisture content. This fact is important when evaluating quantity claims, especially when the ingredients of different moisture contents are compared.
Let’s think about this statement. Many dog food companies will list meat as its first ingredient. Often consumers will flip two bags of food over and compare the ingredients list. This in reality does not tell you much of anything. A product that list corn first and meat second does not necessarily have less animal source protein than a product that lists meat first and corn second. We would have to compare both products on a dry matter basis – that means the water must be removed from both ingredients.
“Meat” is defined as “clean flesh of slaughtered mammals and is limited to… the striated muscle… with or without the accompanying and overlying fat and portions of skin, sinew, nerve, and blood vessels which normally accompanies the flesh”.
“Meat meal” is the “rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added blood, hair, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents.” Meat meal typically has more protein content on a dry matter basis then “meat”.
“By-Products” can actually include things such as hearts, livers, and lungs. When processed properly, byproducts often provide valuable nutrients for the pet. Is this always the case? No. But if you have any doubts about the quality of the byproduct being used and your dogs food, not hesitate to call your manufacturer.
Farther down on the ingredients list are typically ingredients with chemical sounding names – these are generally in fact, vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients. All of these ingredients should be considered GRAS – or “Generally Recognized As Safe”. If they are not considered safe or scientific data shows a potential health risk, the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine can prohibit or modify its use in pet food – Such was the case with ethoxyquin and propylene glycol.
The guaranteed analysis simply tells you what the minimum percentages of crude protein and crude fat and the maximum percentages of crude fiber and moisture are. The term crude refers to the scientific method of testing the product and not the quality of the product itself. In some dog foods the manufacturer also provide the minimum percentage of calcium, phosphorus, sodium, and linolenic acid. Unfortunately, the maximums are not provided.
These guarantees are declared on an “as fed” or “as is” basis. Canned foods typically contain between 75 – 78% moisture, whereas dry foods contain only about 10 – 12% moisture. To make comparisons between these two, you must compare them on the same moisture basis – that is to say a “dry matter” basis.
Nutritional adequacy statement
In order for a food to be marketed as complete and balanced, it must be approved by AAFCO using either laboratory analysis only or laboratory analysis plus an actual feeding trial.
Laboratory analysis – The first method is for the pet food to contain the ingredients formulated to provide levels of nutrients that meet an establish profile provided by AAFCO. If the dog food has met this requirement, the company can then place this statement on their bag – “.… Is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO food nutrient profiles”.
Laboratory analysis/feeding trial – this method means that the product has been tested in the lab as well as been subjected to a feeding trial protocol. The food has been fed to a group of dogs under strict guidelines and found to provide proper nutrition. That food would contain the statement “animal feeding test using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (name of product) provides complete and balanced nutrition”.
The nutritional adequacy statement will also state for which lifestages the product is suitable. AAFCO only recognizes the following life stages – maintenance, growth, and reproduction (gestation and lactation). If the food has met the nutritional requirements for maintenance, growth, and reproduction, the company can place “for all life stages” on the bag.
Other label claims
Many pet foods are labeled as “premium”, “super premium”, and “gourmet”. None of these labels actually mean anything. They are NOT required to have better or higher quality ingredients then the “average” bag.
“Natural” can also be found on some bags of food. This does not have an official definition either. Basically it generally means that there are no artificial flavors, artificial colors, or artificial preservatives in the product. As mentioned above, artificial flavors are rarely used, artificial colors are not necessary, and natural source preservatives can be used in place of artificial preservatives.
Though pet food labels contains a wealth of information, one must also know how to read it. Do not be swayed by the marketing gimmicks or vast amount of consumer-pleasing claims that might be found on the bag. If there’s a question about the product, don’t hesitate to contact the manufacturer.
The Raw Debate
What is the best food to feed domesticated dogs?
By Liz Pask and Laura Scott
People are very passionate when it comes to the subject of what they feed their dogs, and with good reason. A good diet can contribute to a long and healthy life and even psychological well-being for our pets. The question is, what is the best food to feed domesticated dogs? While the majority of people feed a commercial kibble or canned food, many owners today are looking for other options.
A raw food-based diet is one approach that has grown in popularity over the last decade, but along with this growing popularity has come growing controversy regarding the benefits of feeding a raw diet.
One of the reasons people cite for feeding a raw diet is that it is a more “natural” diet for dogs. The theory is that wild canids would eat a diet mainly consisting of raw meat and bones, so people should try and mimic this diet when feeding their pets. However, the pet dogs that live in our homes do not resemble their wild cousins. We have bred dogs to have a range in size from the tiny Papillon to the massive Neapolitan Mastiff, and a variety of builds from the light-framed Whippet to the bulky Bulldog. In addition, there are breeds like the Bedlington Terrier that are prone to specific nutrient deficiencies. With all of these physiological differences between our pets and wild canids, can we be certain that what a wild canid eats is indeed an ideal diet for Rover?
One of the biggest challenges in deciding whether to feed a raw diet is the overwhelming amount of conflicting information, and the fact that much of this information is anecdotal in nature. There are numerous websites and message boards extolling the virtues of a raw diet and there are others condemning raw diets as unsafe and unhealthy. When choosing how and what to feed your dog, you need balanced information—information that outlines both the good and bad so that an educated choice can be made.
Below, we outline the major benefits and concerns regarding raw diets to help you in deciding if a raw diet would be right for your dog. Keep in mind there are benefits and risks associated with all choices of food for your dog, so you must decide if the benefits of a raw diet outweigh the potential risks. When making the best choice for your dog, it’s important to remember that what is right for you and your dog may not be right for someone else and their dog. A raw diet may not be appropriate for all dogs and before you decide what is right for your dog, you should discuss your options with your veterinarian. Consulting a canine nutritionist can also be very beneficial when designing a diet specific to your dog’s requirements.
Types of Raw Diets
There are two major types of raw diets: commercial and home-prepared. Commercial raw diets, which may be fresh or frozen, supply all of the dog’s requirements and are typically in a meat patty form.
Home-prepared raw diets usually consist of raw meat and bones, with veggies, fruits, supplements, and added grains. These diets may not be balanced each day but, if designed properly, should meet the dog’s requirements over the long term.
Safety. Over the past couple of years, there have been a number of pet food recalls. When preparing your dog’s food at home, you have total control of what you include in your dog’s food and where those ingredients are from.
Health. Raw diets (especially home-made diets) allow you to meet your dog’s specific needs. Raw diets can be prepared to avoid foods that your dog is allergic to and can be made to meet your dog’s specific nutrient requirements. The high water content present in raw food may allow you to feed more while still keeping the calories low for portly pooches.
Processed foods often have added preservatives that enhance product shelf life. Food that has been freshly prepared and has not been processed or had preservatives added is commonly considered a healthier choice. Commercial raw diets are usually frozen, which means they don’t require added preservatives.
The bones that are part of the raw diet are anecdotally considered to be good for dental hygiene, which can be good for overall health.
Other. Feeding a raw diet may provide your dog with a natural outlet for her chewing tendencies; this may help to improve her overall behaviour.
Safety. Raw diets have been found to contain Salmonella, Campylobacter, Escherichia coli O157:H7, Clostridium perfringens, Clostridium botulinium, and Staphylococcus aureus, all of which are known human and canine pathogens. These bacteria are shed in dog stools and may be transferred to carpets and furniture as the dog moves around the house. These pathogens usually only pose a serious human risk to the immuno-compromised, the elderly, and young children; however, this is a very important consideration if you are feeding a raw diet and have people in these risk groups living in your home.
In addition, there is a potential risk to dogs from certain pathogens found in raw foods, such as Neospora caninum, found in raw beef, Nanophyetus salmincola, found in raw salmon, and Trichinella spiralis, which is found in raw pork and wild game such as deer, elk, and moose. All of these pathogens can make your dog sick and are potentially fatal.
Feeding bones can cause choking, intestinal blockage or perforations, and chipped or broken teeth.
Health. Because it can be difficult and time consuming to adequately balance a raw diet, nutritional deficiencies, especially in vitamins and minerals, are a significant possibility. To complicate the matter even further, some nutritional deficiencies take many months to show up and you may not see the problems with feeding a particular diet until the animal has been eating it for months or years.
Raw vegetables are often poorly digested by dogs. Most of the nutrients in raw vegetables are rendered more available when they are lightly cooked and then ground.
Convenience. Feeding raw food is expensive and time consuming. The preparation of balanced meals for your dog every day can be a challenge to fit into a busy lifestyle. As a rule of thumb, if you are eating out more than three meals a week, you are likely too busy to properly prepare meals for your dog, so a home-made raw diet may not be the best choice for your life schedule.
Raw diets are particularly inconvenient if you travel frequently, whether your dog goes with you or stays behind. Many hotels are not equipped to deal with raw food storage, not all commercial brands are available everywhere, and some boarding facilities charge a premium for dogs on raw diets because of the space required for food storage.
Unfortunately, there is little scientific research on feeding raw foods. This means that some of the information provided here is based on anecdotal evidence and has not been proven at this time. Much of the existing research on raw diets surrounds the microbial risks of raw meats and is very important to take into consideration. Hopefully, future research into raw diets will allow you to make a more informed choice about what to feed your dog.
Laura Scott holds a Master’s degree in animal nutrition. She lives with two Golden Retrievers, a 12-year-old couch potato and 2-year-old who loves training and competing in dog sports. Liz Pask is a PhD candidate studying nutritional toxicology. She has two Labrador Retrievers who train and compete in a variety of sports.