Raw food consists of feeding domestic dogs, cats and other animals with a diet consisting mainly of uncooked meat, edible bones and organs. The ingredients used to formulate raw diets may vary. Some pet owners choose to make homemade raw foods to feed their animals, but raw commercial foods are also available. The practice of feeding raw diets has raised some concerns because of the risk of foodborne illness, zoonoses and nutritional imbalances. People who feed their dogs with raw food do so for a multitude of reasons, including but not limited to: culture, beliefs about health, nutrition, and what is perceived to be more natural for their pets. Feeding raw foods can be seen as allowing the animal to stay in touch with its wild and carnivorous ancestry. The movement of raw foods has occurred alongside changing trends in human nutrition for more natural and organic products.
Feeding of raw food has been common since the domestication of animals, but it has become more popular among pet owners in the United States in the 2000s and may be correlated with increased consumption of organic foods in humans. Some homeowners who humanize their pets may feel more connected with their pets because they are more involved in the process of feeding by preparing food. Many dog owners choose to feed a raw diet because they feel it best meets the natural predatory instinct of their dog. Feeding a diet that looks like wolf, the closest ancestor of the domesticated dog, would eat is a more “natural” feeding method. Proponents of the raw food movement mention many of the health claims made in raw food for processed pet foods.
Diet plays an important role in promoting both good bone and good dental health by maintaining the calcium / phosphorus ratio. Up to 99% of a dog’s calcium and 85% of phosphorus is found in bones and teeth. An ideal ratio of calcium to phosphorus in dogs is 1.4: 1. Maintaining an optimal ratio allows for the continuous regulation of calcium metabolism, which is important for many normal physiological functions throughout the body. Phosphorus is readily available in many food sources, however, phytate-related phosphorus has a much lower bioavailability. It is difficult to find foods that provide enough calcium to maintain a good ratio, because many foods rich in calcium also contain a lot of phosphorus. For this reason, the creation of a homemade raw food with adequate calcium / phosphorus could be difficult, especially without the analytical techniques available to commercial feed producers. The inclusion of bones in raw diets is commonly practiced because it is a good source of calcium and phosphorus. Feeding raw bone can have a detrimental effect on a dog’s health if fed whole form. Whole bones in the diet increase the risk of dental fractures, intestinal obstructions, gastroenteritis and intestinal perforations. Feeding bones instead of whole bones reduces the risk of these side effects.
Many raw diets focus on promoting healthy skin and a coat, primarily through the supplementation of essential fatty acids. Fatty acids play an important role in the structure and function of cells, while improving the palatability of the diet. Omega-6 (n-6) and omega-3 (n-3) are particularly important for the normal function and appearance of the skin. The ability of the skin to produce long chain fatty acids, such as linoleic acid (18: 2n-6) and linolenic acid (18: 2n-3) is limited. For this reason, these fatty acids are particularly essential for skin health and many raw diets ensure that they are properly supplemented. To improve skin peel and health, essential fatty acids are provided in excess of the requirements of the American Feed Association (AAFCO), resulting in improved shine and health of the skin. Omega-6 fatty acids, particularly linoleic acid, play an important role in the skin barrier function. Omega-3 fatty acids also play an important role in