The Scoop on Raw Pet Diets

By Clint Pumphrey, Animal Planet

Scientists believe that all domestic dogs descend from a single pack of gray wolves that roamed China about 15,000 years ago, and all domestic cats descend from five felines that lived in the Middle East more than 100,000 years ago [source: McGourty, BBC News]. But with so much evolution between today’s pets and their ancient ancestors, should Spot and Whiskers be eating the same raw food diet as their forefathers? This question became an especially hot topic of debate after a 2007 recall of more than 100 brands of processed pet food in the United States. The concern was over food containing wheat gluten contaminated with melamine, a substance used to make plastics and fertilizer. About 2,000 dogs and 2,000 cats died from ingesting tainted food [source: Mann].

Because of the melamine scare, many owners have begun feeding their pets less-processed foods, including raw food diets. While this approach has many forms, the most popular is the Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods diet, or “BARF” diet. It recommends a menu of bones, fleshy meat, organ meat, vegetables, fruit, eggs, flax seed, garlic, kelp, alfalfa, and cod liver oil, vitamin E, zinc oxide, and manganese oxide supplements.  Some owners swear by this diet, suggesting it’s closer to what their pets’ ancestors might have eaten in the wild. They claim animals on this diet are thinner, fitter and happier, with fewer allergies, fleas and everyday aches and pains than animals that eat processed food. While researchers haven’t produced any studies that test these assertions, the anecdotal evidence is compelling. But are there risks? And how do you prepare the meals?

Raw Pet Food Risks and How to Prepare the Cuisine

Before you go out and get your pet a T-bone to munch on, consider the risks and drawbacks of the raw food diet. Foremost among these is the threat posed by salmonella and E. coli. Present in a frighteningly large percentage of raw meat, these bacteria can cause illness and death in animals. Owners can also become infected either through direct contact with meat or through indirect contact with pet feces. Raw bones can also be hazardous. They can chip or fracture an animal’s teeth, or worse, shards of bone can break off and get lodged in, or puncture, its gastrointestinal tract. Experts also question the nutritional value of raw food diets, specifically the balance of potassium, calcium, phosphorus and zinc they provide. Finally, raw food diets are expensive. Owners can expect to pay upwards of $70 a month for raw meat, fruit and veggies, while processed food can cost as little as $10 a month.

If, after considering the benefits and risks, you choose to put your animal on a raw food diet, the switch can typically be made right away.  However, if your pet is older or has digestive or immune problems, you’ll want to introduce the raw food slowly. The key to the raw diet is variety, so there are endless ways to prepare it. A typical meal might include some type of meaty bone (chicken backs, chicken wings, turkey necks), ground meat (beef, turkey, lamb), organ meat (beef kidneys, chicken liver), whole eggs, pulverized fruits and vegetables, and supplements. For owners short on time, some companies sell prepackaged frozen patties with all of these ingredients already mixed together. Animals react in various ways to the new diet; some will eat everything you put in front of them, while others may never develop a taste for raw food. You’ll have to experiment to see what they like.

Remember to consult your veterinarian before making any major changes to your pet’s diet.

Another Alternative: A Middle Ground between Processed Kibble and Raw Food

If you want to feed your pet something a little better than heavily-processed kibble, but you’re wary of the raw food diet, you might look into high-quality bagged and canned pet food. These products can typically be identified by their labeling, which often promotes “human-grade” ingredients.

The more specific the ingredient list, the better. For example, “beef” is better than “beef byproducts.” You should be the most suspicious of vague ingredients like “meat byproducts meal,” which may contain euthanized dogs and cats, or even road kill!

See Sources

10 Foods Poisonous to Pets
What’s Really in My Pet’s Food?
10 Safe “People” Foods for Your Dog
How to Cook for Your Pet


Valerie G.
Valerie G.5 years ago

thank you Samantha.

Marcia Machado
Marcia Machado5 years ago


John S.
Past Member 5 years ago

I use a high quality dried food and he's in great shape. No table scraps equals no begging equals happy life. Occasionally I buy him some Biltong because he share with me, and its a training treat I can put in my my mouth when I'm using my hands.

Kimberly Fulton
Kimberly Fulton5 years ago

LOL @ Jay Evas - that's great!

colleen prinssen
colleen p.5 years ago

I thought some of the bacterias only hit people hard. dog bodies(if not immune comprised) can handle raw eggs and chicken.
we can't

it's funny when they say "No people food to pets", but pets, as mentioned ate our leftovers(and why those Asian wolves came to us) that "pet food" is better, but cheap mass made pet food is harming them?

people food is only people food if processed with salts, and flavors. human food is human food when others cannot eat it(ok aside from human food allergys)

Diane L.
Diane L.5 years ago

(cont)..........actually "roadkill" may be healthy sources for petfood, providing such roadkill was processed in a reasonable amount of time. Why NOT use the meat of a deer, elk, or moose that was hit and killed on a highway? The animal died of trauma and/or blunt force injury, not disease or toxic chemicals. Get real.

Mara, lots could contribute to your couson's bulldog being sick when fed raw food other than the food, and vice versa. While there is nothing wrong with Purina One at all, it isn't THE highest quality, but it's also not the worst. I know of some who swear their dogs to great on BENEFUL. I have to wonder how much BETTER they'd be on Chicken Soup of Innova, however! BENEFUL hasn't been on the market long enough to show that it isn't the "twinkies" of processed dog food. Oh, wait, that's Kibbles N Bits! My bad!

As for the bulldog, many breeds have so many genetic and breed-specific health issues, as I said, impossible to say. Daschunds have many issues related to their bodies (backs, specifically), while other breeds have more skin-related or digestive issues. So, it's unfair to say your Daschund does well on junk, while your friend's dog that may have inheritible DIGESTIVE issues does poorly on good food. I have a GSD that does great on Purina ProPlan, while my Golden starts losing hair and itching on that food. They're all different.

Diane L.
Diane L.5 years ago

A raw food diet is ideal, providing one makes sure that all the animals' nutritional needs are met. It's very difficullt to do in today's enviroment. It's hard enough to find meat that isn't raised on factory-farms and laced and loaded with hormones, antibiotics and chemicals for our own consumption, let alone our pets. However, it can be done. Simply throwing a chunk of roadkill to FIDO won't "cut it", though. If you watch wild dogs or wolves, coyotes, etc., they do consume more than just the muscle parts. They also eat internal organs and bones. What is left is undigestible parts such as hide, hooves and beaks.

Not all of us can even afford the money or time to feed an entirely raw food diet, either. Processed food is not AS good, but then if one reads labels and does their homework, they can find quality kibble, and for small dogs, cans that do not contain a ton of by-products and chemicals. Remember that anything in a can will contain gluten, and many kibbles by nature, have to have preservatives. Stick with the high-end ones, such as Wellness, Innova, Blue Buffalo, Natural Balance, and those that have as few ingredients as possible, starting with REAL meat, whichever the source.

However, even the poorest quality petfoods do not contain euthanized animals. The petfood industry actually IS highly regulated. It's against the law to use the bodies of animals PTS with chemicals. (to be cont).

Jay Evas
Jay Evas5 years ago

vague ingredients like “meat byproducts meal,” which may contain euthanized dogs and cats, or even road kill!

------------wtf? how the hell does companies get away with this crap. give me a list i'll sue the hell out of those douchebags

Luisa A.
Lisa a.5 years ago

m not to convice in feeding my dogs raw food, this last part about meat by-productmeal, wich may CONTAIN EUTHENIZED DOGS AND CATS OR EVEN ROAD KILL! this is so wrong! they dont include this in people food, why do it to our pets food?! this really makes me ill to by stomach and will definetly not give to by dogs if it in some pets food. No wonder alot of dogs and cats get sick, they even get cancer. Imagine if the dog or cat had cancer or was ill of something. Even if it wasent is moraly wrong.I had heard of this, is there any were I can complain on this meat byproduct meal being put in our pets food? any one know? i feel we need to do something about this....I definetly will like to do something. thanx

lynn k.
lynn kalish5 years ago

I have been feeding my relatively (10 lbs) small dogs raw food for the last thirty years. They have all been long lived and healthy. I feed two meals a day for very active dogs.
I recommend that each meal include raw meat (one kind at a time) I usually use skinless boneless chicken that I purchase on sale and freeze in six ounce ounce portions(must defrost night before use). Typical meal: one or two leaves minced romaine lettuce or broccoli or kale, some orange or berries or other fruit, crunchy vegetables (cauliflower or carrots chunked) and 3 ounces meat. Once in a while use raw lean red meat(instead of the chicken) or low in sodium swiss cheese for a change. Be sure to slice cheese very thinly along with an apple thinly sliced and hand feed to dog alternate pieces of cheese and fruit. The cheese meal is convenient when you travel. Use no supplements but give a marrow bone (on newspaper) two or three times per week to help clean teeth. Take away bone after about an hour. Your dog will get everything it needs without artificial ingredients or petrified commercial food or compromised nutrients in capsule form. For snacks, use hot air popcorn or small pieces of melon or bananas or something else -- be creative! Your dog will have no gas
on this diet. Just keep each regular meal simple and healthy --
one green vegetable, some cut up acid or sub - acid fruit, something very crunchy, and the raw meat.