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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
What do I feed my
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.
growth is NOT desirable.
Supplementation (this includes vitamins supplements) can result
in medical problems including:
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.
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 giantbreeds, 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
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%.
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
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",
your puppy is under 4-5 months of age, feed three
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:
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Tid Bits of Info to
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
Manufacturer or distributor name
Net quantity statement
Nutritional adequacy statement
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.
statements 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.
Ingredient list 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
analysis 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.
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
The nutritional adequacy statement will also state for which
lifestages the product is suitable. AAFCO only recognizes the
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.
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
a raw diet may provide your dog with a
natural outlet for her chewing tendencies;
this may help to improve her overall
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
Feeding bones can cause choking, intestinal
blockage or perforations, and chipped or
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
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.
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
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
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.