Where Do You Stand on Raw Diets for Dogs?

Cali, a golden retriever, enjoys her raw dinner

A recent Canine Corner post by Dr. Stanley Coren, a well-known writer on canine cognition, strongly suggests that raw diets are unsafe. I’d like to present an opposing view of this often contentious question.

Full disclosure: I feed Cali a partially raw diet; I did the same for Jana for several years and she thrived on it. I’ve seen many, many dogs’ health and fitness improve dramatically and quickly when they switched to a raw diet.

I have a lot of respect for Dr. Coren; I’ve read most of his (copious) work on canine intelligence and relationships with people; I’ve even taken a graduate seminar with him. He’s a psychologist, though, not a nutritionist, so I am skeptical of his advice on canine nutrition.

His column shares a story of someone whose child became ill and who believes it is because of the raw diet she had been feeding her dog. Dr. Coren then describes and links to and FDA page that warns of the dangers of raw dog foods and Salmonella. Fair enough, but he should also link to this page, also from the U.S. government, warning of the danger of Salmonella contamination in human foods. The point being that any raw meat carries the risk of Salmonella contamination, as do other foods, including dry dog foods.

Dr. Coren says that many people who feed their dogs raw diets don’t trust their vets as a source of information on canine nutrition. True enough; I don’t — unless the vet is also a nutritionist or an expert on canine nutrition. Most vets aren’t. Just as I’d approach a trainer or certified behaviorist with questions on canine behavior, and a human dietitian for information on my own dietary needs, I’d seek out an expert for advice on canine nutrition. My favorite expert does, actually, happen to be a vet. Another expert whom I trust is the nutritionist for an outstanding guide dog school.

A third great source is The Whole Dog Journal. It takes no advertising, so is not beholden in any way to pet food companies. The Whole Dog Journal regularly publishes detailed reviews of canned, dry, and dehydrated raw dog foods. It has published several articles exploring the pros and cons of raw diets as well. (See: Raw Dog Food and Salmonella Risks and High Pressure Processing and Your Dog’s Raw Food, for example.)

These expert sources find that raw diets can be safe and very beneficial to most dogs. There are some caveats: I would not give a raw diet to a dog with a compromised immune system, for example. Nor would I allow children to feed the dog or handle the food or dirty dishes. We’ll never know whether the child in Dr. Coren’s story became ill because of the dog’s food, but why take that risk? Would you let your grade-school child prepare raw chicken and clean up afterward, unsupervised?

Many nutritious foods carry the risk of contamination; people eat sushi, hamburgers, chicken, eggs, mayonnaise, and many other foods despite the risk. Even fruit and vegetables are sometimes found to be the culprit in outbreaks of food-borne illness.

We need to balance the risks against the benefits and use some common sense. Personally, I am a vegetarian; I don’t expect my dog to adopt my diet, though. A raw diet is biologically appropriate for dogs, and, I believe, more healthful than heavily processed kibble. Kibble is less expensive and more convenient, and a high-quality kibble can provide adequate nutrition. I’ve decided that, for my healthy dog, the benefits of a raw diet (or partial diet) are worth the cost and the need for more careful handling. You might decide differently. But I don’t think that demonizing either choice is helpful.

About Pam Hogle

Pam Hogle is a freelance writer and editor who focuses on dogs. Her Thinking Dog Blog (www.thinkingdogblog.com) looks at how dogs think and learn and encourages readers to challenge their dogs' minds as they improve their relationships with those dogs. Pam also teaches at the Bergin University of Canine Studies in Rohnert Park, California, an accredited university that focuses on the human-canine partnership. She lives in Petaluma, California with two thinking golden retrievers, Jana and Cali.
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6 Responses to Where Do You Stand on Raw Diets for Dogs?

  1. Great article. I’m for a raw or home cooked diet. I personally home cook because my dog does not do well on raw, but homecooked the food is “partially digested” already for him so he thrives on it. Eating whole, real foods is always important for both our pets and ourselves. There’s nothing fresh or real about a dry, highly-processed kibble. Great post.

  2. Thank you for this great article! I agree 100%. Food preparation & cleanup should always be handled with care, whether it’s raw or cooked, for humans or canines! I believe that if common sense and basic hygiene practices are followed, raw food–even commercially prepared– is much safer than kibble. Our dogs have been enjoying the benefits of a raw diet since 2011. When our 2 senior dogs were pups, they had severe health issues…Olive had terrible allergic reactions, dull, thin coat, itchy skin and frequent UTIs. Dio had frequent diarrhea and vomited nearly every day (mostly undigested kibble because his body was rejecting it). Raw feeding eliminated every single issue! Their bloodwork is consistently great, they’re extremely fit, have shiny coats and clean teeth. Smaller, less frequent (and altogether less offensive) stools are another great side effect! I can’t say enough good things about feeding this way…especially for bully breed dogs, as so many of them seem to have food sensitivities resulting in persistent skin & coat issues.

    • Pam Hogle says:

      Yes … my biggest regret is not switching Jana, my aging golden, to an entirely raw diet. Might have bought her more time or better health in her last years.

  3. I personally believe you nail it on your article. I do prefer raw, however I choose to feed half raw & other food. I wish I could physically cook my guys their food, but I can not. So, I do this and my Golden is nearing 13 yrs.
    Second, you are so correct about Vets & their knowledge on nutrition. However, if we all used our brains? Look at the food they sell, hello!

    This has always been puzzling to me, your a Vet right? What part of diet is not a part of health issues? Hey, I`m just a guy who have done almost everything with dogs for 25 plus years.
    Great article.

  4. For the past 8 years I have fed my boxers – 8 of them – an exclusively raw diet. We made the change from dry kibble mixed with warm water and added mince meat to raw when my oldest girl started to vomit her meals and then re-eat them after an hour. Since then I have researched dry foods and other commercially prepared “Raw Diets” and am loathe to recommend ANY of those. The health of my dogs speaks volumes. My oldest boxers are now 13 and 12 years old with only minor age related arthritic ailments. Mitigating possible risks from any food borne bacterial infection is fairy simple and straight forward – keep refrigerated, source all meat from human grade sources, use rubber gloves when preparing and feed immediately.. While there are “Tools” that I take from Dr Coren’s books and articles, I find his writing to be aimed at generalist/popular readers and is not always based on wide studies of the subject matter in focus; he often anthropomorphizes canine bebehaviourial issues, and is quick to draw false conclusions based on limited data.

    Veterinary nutritionists are not always correct either; most of these I find have their coursework based on research conducted by commercial pet food manufactures “research”. As an Animal Scientist, I am most focused on the nutrition required by my dogs, it’s bio-availability, and ensuring appropriate proteins and fats are included. Feeding raw to all my dogs over many years provides me with ample evidence to refute the theory that “Raw Diets are dangerous”..

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