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Have you been thinking about switching your dog from kibble to a raw diet? You probably have a lot of questions. Is raw better than kibble? What are the pros and cons of each?
If you switch your dog to a raw diet, how can you be sure they’re getting all the nutrients they need? And what about homemade dog food – how does that compare to raw vs kibble?
The debate about raw vs kibble is heating up all the time, with vets and proponents on both sides swearing their diet is the best. All the talk can get confusing, so let’s talk about raw vs kibble and everything you need to know to make the best decision for your pup’s health. In the end, there is no wrong or right answer – it’s all about what’s best for your dog and your family.
Already leaning toward one food or the other for your pup? Use this table to quickly decide which diet might be best for your dog.
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The raw diet is based on the idea that dogs should be eating a diet close to what their wolf cousins would eat, which would primarily be raw meat, organs, and bones. Raw feeding has become increasingly popular since 1993, when Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst decided that dogs would thrive more on an evolutionary-based diet. He called it BARF, which stands for Bones and Raw Food or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food.
Many people swear by raw feeding, claiming their dogs are healthier and happier on a raw diet. Others, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and many veterinarians, claim that raw diets are too risky due to the chances of bacterial contamination or an improperly balanced diet.
The biggest concern about raw diets is that it can be somewhat complicated and stressful ensuring your dog gets all the vitamins and nutrients they need when you’re in complete control of what they eat. How do you know what to include in your dog’s diet?
There are a few critical components that make a raw diet work.
You need to make sure that your dog’s diet is made up of 12-15% (raw) bone. While cooked bones can splinter and hurt your dog or their digestive system, raw bones are more flexible and are safer for your dog to chew on. With that being said, you can grind up the raw bones if you’re concerned about whole bones being a choking hazard for your dog.
Eggshells also contain calcium and many people who feed their dog a raw diet like to add in raw eggs, but they should come straight from the chicken since supermarkets spray chemicals on eggs to sterilize them.
Examples of raw organ meat include kidney, lung, testicle, brain, liver, and more. Organs contain important nutrients and vitamins that your dog would miss out on if you only feed your dog muscle meat.
It’s important to mention that liver should never make up more than 10% of your dog’s overall diet because it’s very high in vitamin A and can give your dog diarrhea in large doses. Like everything about a raw diet, variety is key when selecting organ meats for your dog.
While some fat is crucial in your dog’s diet, too much is detrimental. Choose things like skinless poultry or lean ground beef over poultry with skin or ground beef that’s 85% lean or less. We should mention here that the heart is considered a muscle rather than an organ.
While many raw food advocates believe that dogs don’t necessarily NEED fruits and vegetable, most will agree that dogs can benefit from the additional nutrients that fruits and vegetables can provide.
Some fruits and most vegetables should be steamed or run through a food processor first to help your dog get the nutrients. Dogs can’t process raw vegetables very well, so grinding them up or cooking them first makes it easier for your dog’s digestive system to extract the nutrients they need.
Starches like grains, rice, peas, and potatoes are a filler in commercial dog foods and cause your dog to produce excess insulin, which can lead to obesity or diabetes.
Starch has no nutritional value, and some vets believe that eliminating starch from a dog’s diet is the primary reason so many dogs show improved health after switching from kibble to a raw diet. If your dog isn’t getting any benefit from a food, then why add it to their diet?
Each meal doesn’t need to be balanced, but the overall diet should balance out over the course of a few days to a week. You can achieve this by giving your dog a variety of different meats and organs along with a whole fish once a week for critical omega-3. Look for sales on various types of meats and organs to change up your dog’s diet from time to time.
One of the biggest concerns people have with raw feeding is the potential for your dog or human family members to get sick from bacteria associated with raw meat.
As long as you sterilize any surface that raw meat touches and wash your hands after handling it, your family should be safe, and healthy dogs are unlikely to be sickened by many bacteria that could be found in raw meat.
It should be noted that sick, elderly, or young dogs are more likely to become sick from bacteria found in raw meat and the potential risk for these dogs may not outweigh the benefits.
While few scientific studies have been done examining the benefits of raw food diets, reported benefits may include:
Kibble is a fairly recent innovation when it comes to feeding dogs. Dog food kibble as we know it today was invented in 1956 by a division of General Mills called the Ralston Purina Company.
Until then, people primarily fed their dogs raw meat or table scraps. The Ralston Purina Company marketed its product as the best way to feed dogs, and the popularity of kibble grew until it was the most common dog food diet.
Kibble is made by a process called extrusion, where wet and dry ingredients are combined and cooked with high temperatures and high pressure, then cut into kibble shapes to cool and dry. The high temperatures destroy many important nutrients, so a vitamin and supplement solution is typically sprayed on the kibble to add back the nutrients lost during the cooking process.
Commercial dog foods including kibble and canned food are regulated by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which ensures that all commercial dog foods meet minimum nutrition requirements, so you have some assurance that your kibble should be nutritionally complete. (Although, it should be noted that AAFCO is a private corporation that includes representatives from many of the major dog food brands, so one could argue that they may not have the dogs’ best interests at heart.)
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also oversees the safety of dog food and periodically issues recalls on commercial dog foods which may be harmful due to a variety of reasons ranging from high levels of vitamin D to bacterial contamination to the presence of pentobarbital (the drug used to euthanize animals) or shards of metal.
If you believe kibble is the best choice for your large dog, check out our article on the Best Large Breed Dog Food (11 Top Picks for 2019).
Kibble has a variety of benefits over raw, including:
Some people go for an option in between raw and kibble diets and decide to cook their dog’s meal themselves. Cooking your dog’s food reduces some of the risks of feeding your dog a raw diet, but it has the same problems with making sure your dog is getting a nutritionally complete diet. You may accidentally cause your dog to suffer from malnutrition if your homemade diet is unbalanced.
If you enjoy cooking for your dogs and think that’s the best option for feeding them, you should use recipes created be a veterinary nutritionist, and you should talk about your dog’s homemade diet with your vet to make sure your dog is getting all the nutrients they need. You may need to supplement your dog’s diet with fish oil or vitamins to ensure they’re getting everything they need.
For more information on homemade dog food, check out this article on the 10 Best Homemade Dog Food Recipes for Large Dogs.
As you can see, both raw and kibble diets have a variety of pros and cons, so there’s no clear winner about which diet is best. Let’s talk about a few specific categories to help you decide which diet is best for your dog and your family.
Hands down, the most convenient way to feed your dog is to scoop a couple of cups of kibble into a bowl. You can easily travel with it or let somebody else feed your dog with little worry.
Raw diets require a lot of planning and preparation and other people may be unwilling to feed it to your dog. With that being said, there are commercial freeze-dried raw diets available that have most of the benefit of a regular raw diet but are much more convenient than a traditional raw diet.
This one is awarded with a bit of a caveat. There aren’t many studies that have been done regarding the health benefits of raw dog food compared to kibble.
However, plenty of studies have shown how humans are healthier when they eat less processed food, so along with the numerous anecdotes of dogs whose health has improved by switching to a raw diet, it seems likely that raw dog food is generally healthier than kibble.
You can spend a ton of money on ultra-premium kibble or find super deals on raw meat. However, kibble is generally going to be cheaper than a raw diet, especially when it comes to large dog breeds.
A raw diet should be 2-3% of your dog’s ideal body weight every day, which means 2-3 pounds of meat, bones, and organs every day for a 100-pound dog. That can be pricy.
There is always a risk of you or your dog getting sick from giving them a raw meat diet. However, there are also recalls on commercial dog foods every week or so due to contamination by everything from bacteria to metal shards to elevated levels of vitamin D to pentobarbital, the drug used for euthanizing animals. Both foods could cause potential safety risks to your dog.
It’s up to you to decide whether to trust the meat you buy yourself over the food you buy from companies who occasionally have serious problems with their food.
Only you can decide what’s the best diet for your pup. If you travel a lot, raw might not be a good option. If you worry about contamination from a raw diet, then kibble might be the best bet for your family. Hopefully, we’ve given you enough information to help you decide which diet is best for you and your family.