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Can Dogs Eat Raw Meat?

Kit Arbuckle
June 13, 2017

Raw food diets for dogs have some risks and some rewards. Learn what experts say and how to feed your dog raw meat safely.

In light of recent pet food recalls and reports of contaminated commercial foods, pet parents are seeking healthier, more natural and even homemade alternatives. One controversial wave in this trend is the number of people turning to raw meat-based diets. To some, that might sound completely normal, but many concerned pet owners are still asking, "Can dogs eat raw meat?" The answer isn't a simple yes or no.

Risks of Raw
Any benefits a raw diet might offer won't come without risks for you and your dog. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), raw and undercooked meat can contain various bacteria and pathogens, such as salmonella and listeria, that pose risks to dogs and the people around them. The AVMA doesn't recommend raw food, and several organizations, including the FDA, share their skepticism.

Dr. Susan G. Wynn, a veterinarian and animal nutrition specialist, only recommends commercial raw foods treated with high-pressure pasteurization. "The good commercial raw pet food manufacturers have in place stringent quality control procedures so that the foods they produce are checked at multiple points in the manufacture and post-manufacture processes," she explains.

Even then, she cautions that raw food is not without risk and should not be used "if the pet is immune-compromised in any way or lives in a household with a person that is immune-compromised. This might include very young babies, very old people or those on immunosuppressive [treatments] like chemotherapy."

Tips to Reduce the Risks
Whether you buy pre-made raw food or choose homemade, quality matters in reducing the risks. Christine M. Filardi, a certified holistic chef for animals and the author of "Home Cooking for Your Dog," says, "It is vital to feed high-quality meats if you choose a raw diet. Buy meats that smell and look fresh." Her best tip for acquiring high-quality meat is to "develop a relationship with a local butcher."

Exercising proper cleaning procedures makes a big difference in the contamination risk to people. The FDA advises against feeding raw meats, but recommends that if you choose to do so, you freeze your meat and keep it frozen until use, keep the raw foods separate from cooked food, clean prep surfaces with hot water and soap, and always clean your hands after handling the meat.

Filardi agrees, and says she doesn't mix "the raw meat with any vegetables or grains ... until it goes into their bowl at meal time." She uses "a very weak solution of water and bleach in a water bottle to clean the sink daily." She also uses stainless steel food bowls and cleans them daily, and always washes her hands before and after preparing or serving the raw meals.

Can dogs eat raw meat? Yes, but is switching to raw a healthy choice? When the food meets their nutritional needs, it can be. Dr. Wynn recommends using commercially prepared formulas, as homemade options "are rarely complete and balanced." AAFCO statements (from the Association of American Feed Control Officials, this statement must indicate whether a food meets certain nutritional standards) make nutritional balance much easier to determine in store-bought foods.

"A dog's diet should be composed of at least 50 percent to 75 percent animal protein," says Filardi. "A puppy's diet should contain no less than 60 percent animal protein. Animal protein is the bulk of a dog's diet and the most important part of meeting [their] nutritional needs."

The Benefits of Raw Meat for Dogs
Proponents say raw meat diets for dogs have some benefits. Potential benefits include:

  • Healthier skin and coat (fewer trips to the groomer!)
  • Improved oral health, including breath
  • Better digestion
  • Less stool and less smell
  • Maintenance of healthy weight and lean mass
  • Higher energy levels
  • Possible improvement in medical conditions, like arthritis and diabetes

Whether you decide raw meat is right for your dog depends on your circumstances. Seek out the advice of a pet nutritionist or a veterinarian before making changes to your dog's diet.

To make an informed decision, learn more about raw pet foods by reading about The BARF Diet.

Kit Arbuckle works as a freelance writer covering parenting, education, health and pet care topics.

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