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July 2021

Raw Food Diet For Dogs: The Theory And The Basics

Health & Nutrition

Just like the seasons' change, so does the evolution of research, culture and new trends – including new insights into the diets for our canine companions. One of the biggest trends right now is a raw diet for dogs, sometimes known as BARF, one of the more popular versions of raw feeding (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food). The theory and research behind raw diets have been around for a while, but the uptake is surging, becoming a popular choice for many pet owners.

So, what does a raw diet for dogs look like? How do you transition your dog to a raw diet? Lastly, where should you begin and who do you consult? We tackle these questions and more below.

What is a raw food diet for dogs? and where does it come from?

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While raw feeding has been a practice for many years for some dog owners, the main figurehead to place it at the forefront of the wider pet and pet food industry was Australian veterinarian, Dr Ian Billinghurst. In 1993, Dr Billinghurst first talked about the benefits of raw food in his book Give Your Dog A Bone, a theory based on what canines ate before domestication. Essentially, a cleaner, more natural diet. Think raw meats, vegetables, bones and zero unnecessary additives.

“Although the mind and the outward appearance of our modern dog has changed dramatically, the internal workings, including the entire digestive system, and the way food is utilised for growth, maintenance, repair and reproduction is fundamentally the same as its wild ancestors,” – Dr Ian Billinghurst.>

While Dr Billinghurst created momentum and strong theory in his feeding principles through the BARF diet model, the term ‘raw diet’ has expanded since this time. Another popular version of a raw dog diet is RMBD (Raw Meaty Bones Diet).

If you search online, you’ll find a lot of different meal plans and creations based on raw feeding principles.

BARF and RMBD raw dog diets

The main difference between the BARF and RMBD raw dog diets is a slight adjustment in the ingredient inclusions. BARF is all about fresh, raw animal meat, bones, fruit and vegetables, along with other tasty nutrients like probiotics, kelp powder and cold-pressed ground flaxseed. Alternatively, RMBD, which is similar and otherwise known as the Prey-Model, removes grains and vegetables. Furthermore, it also includes organs, muscles and bones. You can also now find commercially processed raw food options that are frozen or freeze-dried, providing variety within the raw offering. Just remember, the key principle of raw diets is to provide a healthier and more natural diet for your dog, without any unnecessary inclusions or preservatives.

*Note: Many vets back the research and findings of raw feeding, however, there are some who oppose it for safety risks and differing beliefs on what a dog’s diet can look like. It’s important to carefully select a diet for your dog after doing your own research, reading/understanding food labels, and discussing with a trusted vet.

The breakdown of a raw diet meal plan

Due to the evolution of raw food diets for dogs, there is no cookie-cutter meal or ingredients list for raw feeding. However, here are the basics of what is included in a typical raw diet:

  • Raw Meats
  • Offal
  • Bone
  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Probiotics, herbs, fatty acids and prebiotics (alternative ingredients to balance nutrient profiles)

As with all dog diets, you need to ensure your pup is eating a complete and balanced one, offering your dog all the essentials to remain healthy. Acquiring an understanding of your dog’s daily nutrient requirements is very important, including the percentage of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

Speak to your local vet for more information on your dog’s nutritional requirements and any other deficiencies you may need to address in their diet.

Raw feeding only vs. mix feeding

Not everyone wants to feed their dog an exclusively raw based diet. Some dog owners will opt to mix raw meats with kibble and other ingredients, which is a personal choice and should be made in consultation with your vet. In some cases, the raw product you serve your dog may not offer a complete and balanced meal on its own, so it will be necessary to add other nutrients to the diet/daily intake.

What are the Pros and Cons of a Raw Food Diet

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Australia's relatively unregulated pet food industry can make it easy and hard to define the 'right choices' without opposition. However, like all dog food diets, you can look at some key facts and proposed benefits to help guide your decision.

Regulations in Australia: The Pet Food Industry Association Australia

If you are considering feeding a raw food diet for your dog – or any diet – the food or diet should be in line with the Pet Food Industry Association Australia standards. While what's outlined is voluntary standards, it is a strong indicator of ensuring the ingredients' quality and food safety standards during manufacturing.

Benefits of raw feeding

When it comes to raw food diets for dogs, the commonly agreed benefits and considerations are:

  • Better digestion
  • Healthier coat and skin
  • Reduced stool volume and odour
  • Improved breathe and body odour
  • Healthier teeth and gums
  • Fresh and without preservatives, artificial colours or flavours

Considerations of raw feeding

  • If raw food is incorrectly prepared, cross-contamination can occur, making it very important to pay special attention to food safety.

  • Ensuring your dog eats a complete and balanced diet is the key to any diet, and in some instances, creating your version of a raw food diet can leave room for error.

  • Typically, raw food is a bit more expensive than other dog foods.

  • Pet food isn't legally required to undergo bacteria testing in Australia but will find reputable brands, and manufacturers will undertake everything in line with the Australian standards.

Tip on transitioning to a raw diet for dogs with big pet foods

Transitioning your dog to a raw diet should be a gradual process, as your dog’s digestive system will need to adjust to the new ingredients without creating a tummy upset. Any dog diet transition follows a similar approach (with a two-week transitional period), but here are the main tips from Big Dog Pet Foods.

  • Break down the process over two weeks, with the percentage of new diet starting at 20% and gradually increasing by 20% each day. The old diet/food should work backwards in the same way from 80%.

  • Don’t worry if your numbers are a little off – this is simply an ideal guide.

  • Ensure you feed your dog the right amount of raw food in conjunction with their metabolism, size, age and activity level, as this can affect their overall nutritional requirements.

Don’t hesitate to work this through with your local vet, as you may encounter different challenges. Every dog is different, and this includes their taste preferences, digestive system and intake needs.

Raw products and varieties

Due to the ever-increasing popularity of raw food diets for dogs, many manufacturers have various raw meat options available – both in frozen, fresh and freeze-dried varieties.

The meat options include:

  • Salmon
  • Lamb
  • Beef
  • Kangaroo
  • Goat
  • Turkey
  • Chicken