Here’s What To Know About Raw Diets For Dogs

Should you try raw food for your dog?

dog holding raw steak in mouth

You may have heard of raw dog food and wondered what’s the deal with it. Is a raw diet for dogs safe?

We reached out to Dr. Sara Ochoa, a veterinarian consultant at Senior Tail Waggers, to get all the info you need about raw dog food and feeding it to your pup.

What is a raw diet for dogs?

A raw diet for dogs basically just consists of uncooked food, like raw meat and vegetables.

“This is just like you going to the store and getting meat that has not been prepared and feeding it to your dog,” Dr. Ochoa told The Dodo.

Raw dog food usually includes ingredients such as raw meat (sometimes still on the bone), bones, organ meat (like kidney), raw eggs and uncooked vegetables.

Is a raw diet healthy for dogs?

Many pet parents like feeding their dogs raw dog food because it doesn’t have preservatives or processed ingredients, Dr. Ochoa said.

“[Raw dog food] also allows you to know exactly what is in your dog’s diet,” Dr. Ochoa said.

Potential benefits to raw dog food include shinier coats, healthy skin, better bone and joint health and cleaner teeth.

But some of these benefits come from the high fat content in raw food, which you can get from high-fat dry or wet food. Your pup will also get the same health benefits from dental treats and supplements.

Risks of a raw diet for dogs

Just like eating raw meat can cause food poisoning in people, feeding your pup raw dog food can make him ill, too.

“If the food is not handled properly, bacteria can grow on this meat, causing your dog to [become] very sick,” Dr. Ochoa said. “Salmonella and E. coli are two common pathogens that can grow on improperly handled raw food. While you may not handle the food incorrectly, you never know how it was handled in transit to the pet store and then to you.”

Symptoms of food poisoning in dogs include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Weakness
  • Lack of oxygen, leading to blue or pale gums, lips or nostrils

And since raw dog food contains raw meat, if you don’t wash your hands and any surfaces the food touched really well, you can get sick.

Raw dog food is often high in protein, so it’s not good for dogs who have certain medical conditions, such as kidney disease. You also shouldn’t feed it to your dog if he has a weak immune system because that makes him more susceptible to getting sick from bacteria. This includes dogs receiving cancer treatment, puppies and dogs with immunosuppressive diseases.

Some raw dog foods contain whole bones, which can be a choking hazard, cause an intestinal blockage or break your dog’s teeth.

How to start your dog on a raw diet

If you’re interested in feeding your dog a raw diet, Dr. Ochoa doesn’t recommend making it yourself, since it might not have all the nutrients and vitamins your pup needs.

Instead, look for a commercial raw dog food you can buy.

Try this Instinct raw and kibble mix dog food from Chewy

When changing your dog’s food, you should do it slowly so your pup doesn’t get an upset stomach.

“I recommend doing this change over a two- to three-week process of gradually decreasing the old food and increasing the new diet,” Dr. Ochoa said. Here’s an example schedule of how to switch your dog to a new food:

  • Days 1–3: Feed 25 percent new food and 75 percent old food
  • Days 4–6: Feed 50 percent new food and 50 percent old food
  • Days 7–9: Feed 75 percent new food and 25 percent old food
  • Day 10: Feed 100 percent new food

If you notice your dog having any digestive problems, switch back to his old food or slow down the transition.

Feeding your dog a raw diet can have some health benefits, but you’ll have to be extra careful when handling the food so your pup (and you) don’t get sick.

We independently pick all the products we recommend because we love them and think you will too. If you buy a product from a link on our site, we may earn a commission.