As it turns out, raw diets can have a huge positive impact on the health of dogs, and for very good, specific reasons!
To understand what makes raw diets so special, it's important to understand a little bit about how dogs went from eating their natural diets, to crunching on the hard, dry little kibbles most dogs eat now.
For centuries, there was no such thing as commercial dog food — dogs simply ate the wild prey that they caught, plus foraged berries and grasses. All of that food was raw, and that was the natural diet for all dogs. And of course, domesticated dogs also began to eat leftover food of their human companions.
In the early 20th century, as more and more regulations were implemented to protect the safety of consumers, the manufacturers of human foods were left with increasingly large amounts of low quality, tainted, or non-nutritious foods that they weren't allowed to sell to humans - but few such regulations existed for the production of food for pet animals.
The first manufacturers to take advantage of this regulatory loophole were actually breakfast cereal companies. These manufacturers' industrial extrusion cooking process, which involves exposing foods to extreme temperatures and pressures, gave them a cheap, easy, shelf-stable way to turn those subpar foods into crunchy kibbles that they could sell as dog food.
In other words, dry dog food was not created as a healthy option in the best interest of our dogs, but for simple profitability and convenience.
Perhaps more surprisingly, even as our understanding of nutritional science has improved, and we become aware of the damage that highly processed foods made with industrial cooking methods can do to humans and animals alike, very little has changed in this process.
Regulations now dictate minimum nutritional standards for dog foods, but in many cases very little of that nutrition comes from the ingredients themselves. Instead, manufacturers meet these minimums by spraying a slurry of synthetic, lab-created nutrients on their foods after the cooking process.
That's why a dry kibble diet is not so different from breakfast cereal. Can you imagine eating breakfast cereal every single day, for every single meal, for your entire life? Even if it was a relatively high quality and nutritious breakfast cereal, that's simply not going to be as nutritious as a diet made from whole foods - and that's true for dogs as well as humans.
Nature designed dogs to eat meat. While they are technically omnivores and can get nutrition from a variety of foods, they require a much higher proportion of protein and fat in their diets than we humans do, and their digestive systems are geared towards a meat-heavy diet that raw dog food does a better job of supplying, simply because it is never cooked.
"Now wait a minute," you might be asking yourself, "the kibble I buy for my dog has meat as the first ingredient! That means that my dog is eating more meat than anything else, right?"
Unfortunately, that's not the case. Ingredients are listed on the bag in order of weight before cooking. Because meat has lots of moisture in it, it shrinks a great deal when it's cooked, so in the finished product, dry and pre-cooked ingredients like grains or grain meals that show up further down that ingredient list may make up a much larger portion of what your dog is actually eating.
In fact, many popular kibbles have 10% or less actual meat present in their finished product, with much of the nutritional protein in those foods coming from much cheaper grains and veggies which our dogs' bodies just aren't as good at extracting nutrition from.
And besides, just because meat is first on the list, that doesn't mean there's a lot of it overall - just that there's more than any other ingredient. A food which contains only 5% meat will still have meat first in the ingredient list, as long as no other individual ingredient makes up more than that 5% - which is why many of the cheapest "meat first" dog foods have such long ingredient lists.
Simply put, raw dog food diets completely turn these industry standards on their head, by providing our dogs with the food that nature designed them to eat, in a form their bodies can most effectively digest.
To start with, most raw dog diets are extremely high in meat, making up between 85-98% of the finished product, and the rest composed of fruits, veggies, and other healthy carbs. Compared to the 10% or less meat that's present in many kibbles, that's HUGE.
Secondly, these foods are never exposed to the heat of cooking which can destroy the natural nutrition present in its ingredients, so, generally, raw food manufacturers don't need to add a bunch of synthetic supplements to the food afterwards to meet minimal nutritional standards. All that nutrition is present in an easily digestible form.
And the nutritional drawbacks of raw food diets? Well, to be blunt, I don't really believe there are any.
Sometimes, the presence of pathogens like salmonella in raw meat is cited as a potential problem, but ultimately, this is overstated, for two reasons: dogs evolved to have strong stomachs to fight off the bacteria sometimes present in their ancestral diets, and commercial raw diets undergo special treatments to kill pathogens (which is one of the reasons you should use a commercial raw diet, rather than simply raw meat or fish from the supermarket).
It's still a good idea to wash your hands after handling raw dog food, but that's actually true of kibble too - in fact, more people get salmonella from handling dry dog food each year than from commercial raw dog foods!
At the end of the day, the truth is that raw food isn't some miraculous scientific advancement - it simply solves a lot of the problems created by the popularity of kibble by offering a return to what our dogs should always have been eating!
Canine Sciences is a firm believer in the benefits of feeding raw. That's why we created our raw freeze-dried Naturally Scrumptious diet and Nutrient Heaven treats using a special, extra-gentle freeze-drying process to lock in raw nutrition and flavor. See what a difference raw nutrition can make for your dog, by placing your order today!