Raw meat feeding is one of the loudest trends in dog food, advertisers using terms like ‘ancestral’, ‘biologically appropriate’ and ‘natural’ to target the ‘wild dog’ inside our Labradoodle. Pawrents who feed raw swear that wet, uncooked meat is the best thing ever for their ‘tiny wolves’. But the experts disagree.
Raw meat is risky business
According to the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, American Veterinary Medical Association and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, raw meat pet food can introduce bad bacteria like E. coli and salmonella, and even parasites, into our pets and into our homes. This ‘premium’ diet has been accompanied by an increase in pet food recalls and an FDA study has shown that raw pet food was more likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria than other types of pet food.
A research paper last year warned that "the trend for feeding dogs raw food may be fuelling the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria". The raw foods analysed in the study contained beef, goose, duck, salmon, turkey, chicken, lamb, and vegetables. More than half the foods tested positive for a type of bacteria called Enterococcus. More than 40% of these enterococci were resistant to multiple types of antibiotics and, most alarmingly, nearly a quarter were resistant to linezolid, a drug considered to be a 'last-resort antibiotic' - used only where other drugs have failed to treat an infection. Yikes! Not only does raw meat risk making our dogs sick, but studies show it could also seriously compromise our own immune systems and cause a public health risk.
Is it really what our modern dogs need?
And what about that term ‘biologically appropriate’? Firstly, our domestic dogs are far removed from wolves and have very different nutritional requirements. Raw meat contains high levels of fat, which makes your dog’s coat shiny. It also makes them more likely to pile on the pounds: unlike wolves, your dog isn’t burning calories chasing down that meaty meal. Overweight dogs are at risk from diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, kidney disease and cancer. What’s more, research has found that those extra kilos can reduce a dog’s lifespan by 20% - that’s roughly two and half years less time with you than if your dog was a healthy weight.
This misinformed assumption that dogs are prehistoric predators is used as a key marketing message for high-animal protein, raw dog foods. Yet the “raw meat” you feed to your dog today is nothing like the prey that a wolf killed thousands of years ago. A wolf would gobble up their kill immediately, leaving little chance for the fresh meat to become contaminated by pathogenic bacteria. There would also be no added antibiotics, hormones, or growth-boosting vitamin and mineral injections contaminating the meat, as there are today.
The myth of ‘natural’ dog food
Forget about cows, pigs or chickens. Ancient wolves and dogs had virtually no chance of eating these animals, making them a poor choice as ‘biologically appropriate’! More like squirrels, mice, and whatever dead carcass they lucked across – meat we’re unlikely to want to feed today. There’s nothing ‘natural’ about modern supermarket-bought ‘ancestral’ raw diets or chicken necks from the butcher.
An environmental disaster
Let’s not forget the impact of feeding raw meat on the planet. Demand for ‘human-grade’ raw dog food pushes up meat consumption and increases our dog’s environmental pawprint. Choosing to feed raw meat means that cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals are being bred and killed specifically for dog food, rather than our pups using up our leftovers. To put this into perspective, research reveals that roughly a quarter of calories from all animal meat eaten in the US are now consumed by pets!
A bum deal
Let’s end on every pawrent’s favourite topic: dog poop. Many raw meat feeders boast of their dog’s more frequent bowel movements. Unfortunately, the constant pooping is more likely due to lower fibre intake rather than the magical ‘enzymes’ and mysterious ‘co-factors’ purportedly in raw animal meat.
With all this in mind, wouldn’t it be safer to feed wet, meat-free plant-based dog food? For our dogs, for our families, and for the planet!