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Can dogs eat raw meat?

A dog bowl with raw food for dogs

If your dog had his way, he’d be quite happy to eat anything and everything he finds on his adventures each day—including what’s on your plate! 

Fortunately, there are loads of foods that you and your best friend can enjoy together (though perhaps you can have different plates!). But a word of caution: there are also many foods that aren’t so good for dogs. Sure, he might seem happy to chow down on whatever you give him, but that doesn’t mean he should.

Knowing what to feed your dog to keep him happy and healthy requires a bit of homework. The first thing to know is that there are foods well beyond processed dog treats and canned meals that harbor amazing benefits for your pooch. Learning about the ‘human’ foods that dogs can and can’t eat is important.

So, what about raw meat?

Your dog’s ancestors roamed freely throughout Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Their food came from what they hunted and scavenged. This consisted of plant-eating animals such as rabbits, deer, sheep or antelope. Scavenged food included the scraps leftover from the meals of much larger carnivores, such as lions and bears. So, yes, dogs were originally built to eat meat. But what about today?

Can dogs eat raw meat?

Yes, raw meat is just great for dogs! In fact, raw diets are becoming increasingly popular and many vets recommend it as a highly beneficial source of protein and nutrients. Dogs can thrive on a raw diet (known as BARF) that comprises raw meat and meaty bones. 

The entire anatomy and physiology of dogs is designed for a meat-eating diet. Of course, this doesn’t mean dogs should eat meat alone. We know that dogs can survive very well on human dinner scraps and certain fruits and vegetables, too.

But to keep your dog in tip-top health, it’s important to recognize that he is first and foremost a carnivore with omnivorous abilities.

Of course, every dog’s needs are different. You need to understand both the risks and benefits of feeding your dog raw meat, particularly if he has any special dietary needs. 

Benefits of a raw diet for dogs

Raw meat is rich in ‘real’ nutrients

Raw meat contains a huge range of nutrients that aren’t present in any other foods. These include live enzymes, natural antioxidants, digestible proteins, nourishing essential fatty acids, organic vitamins, minerals, and more. That’s a long way from the carbohydrate-based products that make up many modern processed dog foods.

Studies have shown that the benefits of feeding raw meat to dogs include a shinier coat, muscle mass improvement, and healthier teeth.

Bones are great for his teeth

Chewing on a bone is a very stimulating activity for a dog. It’s thought that chewing releases endorphins, which promote feelings of wellbeing and happiness. 

Another benefit of bone chewing is that it helps prevent tartar building up on his teeth. Bones are like a natural toothbrush for a dog. A recent study demonstrated that feeding dogs raw bovine bones every day reduced the amount of dental calculus by up to 70.6% after 12 days.

Offal is a multivitamin boost

Offal meats are not only an excellent source of protein, but also many vitamins and minerals. Liver contains iron, zinc and folate. It’s also a good source of vitamin A, C, D, E and K, as well as B6 and B12. In fact, many veterinarians consider the liver to be the most nutritional organ in the body! Some sources suggest that liver or other offal meats should make up 5% of your dog’s raw meat diet.

Kidney is also a great source of protein, minerals, and vitamins. iron, zinc and folate too. It also provides your dog with essential fatty acids and vitamins A, D, E and K, as well as all of the B vitamins. Heart is another nutritious muscle meat. It’s packed with iron and zinc, as well as thiamin, vitamin B6 and B12, phosphorus, copper and selenium. 

Risks of feeding your dog raw meat

One problem with feeding your dog raw meat is that it may put you at risk of being infected with Salmonella or Listeria monocytogenes. These bacteria can be accidentally spread from the contaminated food to your mouth. 

A dog’s digestive system has a unique way of preventing and fighting against pathogenic Salmonella. This is largely due to the pH level of their stomach and the incubation period of Salmonella.

Salmonella is more of a problem for humans than it is for pets. That’s why it’s super important to apply proper food handling and safety protocol when preparing raw meat for your dog’s diet. Be sure to use separate knives and cutting boards for your dog’s food, and always wash your hands in between touching your face or your own food.  

Ensuring a balanced raw meat diet for dogs

Here are some tips for managing your dog’s raw diet. 

Feed a variety of protein sources

Try to serve at least three different types of proteins over the period of a week. You can sometimes find special pet minces, which are minced with the bone, which boost the mineral content of his diet. Choose frozen products to reduce the risk of additives and preservatives.

Choose the right meaty bones

Chicken and rabbit frames, chicken wings, lamb ribs, and ox tails can be fed as a meat source two or three times a week. These are great for small dogs and puppies aged over 5 weeks. They provide a rich source of calcium and other minerals and vitamins, as well as maintaining dental health. Avoid weight-bearing bones, as these are harder and could damage your dog’s teeth. 

Always feed meaty bones appropriate to your dog’s size. This will help prevent him from gulping the bones in one piece. Never give cooked bones as they are extremely difficult to digest. They can even lead to intestinal blockages or constipation. Cooked bones are also more likely to splinter. Raw meaty bones, on the other hand, are easy to chew and digest as they are softer and more moist.

Feed in moderation

Different sources of raw meat have different nutritional properties. Raw heart is quite high in cholesterol, so try not to serve it too often. It should make up to 10% of your dog’s raw meat diet.

Also aim to feed your dog meat from pastured, grass-fed, organic animals. 

It’s important to feed your dog a variety of different proteins. The raw food diet suggests a ratio of 80:10:10—that’s 80% meat, 10% organ meat, and 10% bones.

The best sources of raw protein include:

  • Muscle meat
  • Meaty bones, either whole or ground
  • Organ meats such as livers and kidneys
  • Raw eggs
  • Whole fish (much better than fish oil supplements!)

The article was written by Katie Stone on January 3, 2021.

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