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Should dogs really be eating raw food? We asked experts for answers

Julie Sprankles is a freelance writer living in the storied city of Charleston, SC. When she isn't slinging sass for SheKnows, she enjoys watching campy SyFy creature features (Pirahnaconda, anyone?), trolling the internet for dance work...

Here's what experts had to say about the raw dog food trend

With more information emerging every day about processed food, it's no wonder people are arguably more health-conscious than ever. And given that people consider pups part of the family, it was only a matter of time before raw diets for dogs experienced a surge in popularity.

But is this just another health fad for pets that comes in hot and burns out quick? Or is there more to this lifestyle choice than being trendy?

A raw food diet for dogs is precisely what it sounds like: all of the food is raw. There are no hidden ingredients. There are no preservatives or fillers. You are, in essence, feeding your dog the same healthy food you might eat yourself, but you don't cook any of it (not even the meats).

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The logic is that, historically, dogs didn't have meals cooked for them. Throughout evolution, they have survived on a raw food diet through predation and foraging. The theory, then, is that dogs' digestive systems could be better suited for raw diets.

People who make the switch seem to swear by it, claiming their dogs experience benefits ranging from better breath to a shinier coat and everything in between. Still, most of the information out there seems to be anecdotal, so we decided to consult an expert source.

According to veterinarian Dr. Eloise Bright of the Love That Pet vet clinics, a raw food diet for dogs can be helpful — but it does pose a few risks.

"Raw food diets can work fine, but I like to be cautious about certain meats raw, mainly due to food-safety issues," she told SheKnows. "We see a lot of gastro due to raw feeding, particularly raw chicken and mince. These things are best cooked due to high levels of E. coli and salmonella. Same with raw eggs."

Bright does concede, though, that dogs can do well adhering to a raw diet, explaining, "The truth is that dogs can thrive on all sorts of diets, and sometimes it isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. Many do best with little variety in their diet and will get stomach upsets with fatty, rich food. Or, in fact, anything but what they are used to."

Further pointing to the possibility that raw diets could be beneficial for dogs is the fact that raw diets rely largely on vegetables. "Dogs also need fiber in their diet, so an all-meat diet tends to lead to constipation," Bright said.

A raw food diet can also be beneficial for pet owners whose pups have food allergies — sometimes a change in diet helps, suggests Bright.

"Commonly, they are intolerant to chicken, beef, corn or another red meat, so switching to home-prepared food can be helpful. This is best done with assistance from a vet so you can make sure that nutritional requirements are being met. No dog will thrive on only eating a few ingredients with no vegetables," she said.

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One major caveat, according to Bright, is the consumption of raw bones.

She elaborates, "I don't like to recommend bones, mainly because we see the worst of what happens with bones, and they can be dangerous. Bones can cause gastroenteritis; foreign bodies (chicken necks are the ideal shape to get lodged in the esophagus) and harder bones will break teeth. Bones that are consumed (even if raw) will cause constipation and obstruction further along the digestive tract too. I would see usually one dog a week that has a broken tooth from bone chewing. When you think about how strong those big bones are — particularly beef shin bones that are able to hold up the weight of a cow — if a dog tries to chew one of those, often the tooth gives away before the bone does."

Plus, it's not like giving your dog a raw diet is going to give him pearly whites. "It's a complete myth that bones clean teeth," Bright emphasized. "The best thing for healthy teeth is the same as for us: daily brushing and a regular scale and polish every six months."

Raw diets can be accomplished with minimal risk to your dog, though, and dog nutrition blogger Kimberly Gauthier says the benefits speak for themselves. In fact, she believes in raw feeding for dogs so much that she parlayed her passion into one of the leading blogs in the U.S. on the subject — Keep the Tail Wagging garners over 100,000 unique visitors per month who practice raw feeding or are considering it.

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Gauthier first turned her attention to raw feeding for dogs because her own pooch, Rodrigo, suffered from severe allergies, ear infections and digestive issues. Seeking an alternative to commercial dog food that might alleviate Rodrigo's symptoms, Gauthier stumbled upon raw feeding.

Over 6,000 subscribers later, she is considered an unofficial expert on the dietary change for dogs.

When asked what advice she would give other dog owners who are considering making the switch, Gauthier shared with SheKnows her top three tips: 

"1) Don't rush into the diet unless you have a veterinarian experienced in raw feeding helping you along the way. I find it better to start with a reputable pre-made raw brand. Be careful — because of the growing awareness of raw feeding, there are a ton of hacks entering the game.

"2) Take your time and educate yourself on raw feeding and your dog's needs. I'm raising four raw-fed dogs and each one has different needs. Although there is a basic understanding of what it takes to create a balanced raw meal for our dog, this changes a little (or a lot) depending on the dog's age, health, weight and our access to resources.

"3) Join a local raw feeding community (or an online one). There are many Facebook groups and forums for raw feeders. These groups can be intense, so develop a thick skin. Despite the strong opinions you'll see flying back and forth, there is a wealth of information and experience here. But don't stop here — take a few steps and do your own research as well. I've found that finding a local raw feeding community is a great way to learn, share tips and save money on resources."

As always — and as recommended by both Bright and Gauthier — consult your veterinarian before making any major changes to your dog's diet or lifestyle.

What do you think? Would you try a raw diet for your dogs?

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