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Raw Food Diet for Dogs


Chelsea McGivney, DVM, Nestle Purina Pet Care

Feeding a raw food diet to your dog is often branded healthy, wholesome and even natural, but studies show that up to 50% of the commercial and homemade raw protein diets that were tested are contaminated. Harmful bacteria like salmonella, listeria and E. coli can be transferred from infected food to pets and people.

 Small, mixed-breed white and tan dog lying next to empty food bowl on a pink rug.

Which symptoms might dogs have after eating a contaminated raw diet?

Dogs speak in terms of behavior so it’s important to observe your dog if you choose to switch his diet. If your dog’s behavior seems odd or unusual or there are physical signs of illness such as bloody diarrhea after eating a raw food diet, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.


Subclinical, undiagnosed illnesses can quickly spread, infecting other animals in the household and human members of the family. Bones can cause obstructions in the intestine or tear the delicate lining of the stomach and esophagus.


Bacteria-infected raw food may result in salmonella, listeria and E. coli infections, causing symptoms of illness.

Raw Food Diet Foodborne Illnesses
Salmonella Symptoms Listeria Symptoms E. coli Symptoms
Vomiting Facial paralysis Increased heart rate
Diarrhea (sometimes bloody) Refuses food Dehydrated
Fever Fever Not hungry
Loss of appetite Unbalanced Vomiting
Decreased activity level Drooling Sad
Fatigue Depression Weakness
Weight loss Diarrhea Lethargy
Dehydration Nausea Diarrhea

What are the dangers of a raw food diet for dogs?

One of the dangers of feeding raw food is that the meals may result in a nutritional imbalance that compromises a dog’s health. The formulation of pet food is very deliberate and requires precise amounts of various macronutrients such as protein, fat and carbohydrates and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals.


Without the input of an expert like a veterinary nutritionist, home-formulated raw food diets carry a higher risk of nutritional imbalances, which can make your dog very sick.


Additionally, some veterinary hospitals view the dangers of feeding raw so great that they may choose to board these patients in isolation, treating them as infectious or contagious during their stay in the hospital.


The potential bacterial spread has also resulted in many hospitals banning pets from visiting human patients if these dogs are raw-fed in an effort to protect immunosuppressed-hospitalized patients.



How healthy is a raw food diet?

Feeding a dog a raw diet is a personal decision. At this time, there is no scientifically-supported studies available that are advocating any health benefits of a raw food diet for dogs over commercially formulated pet foods.


Most veterinarians agree with the research published that directly links disease-causing illnesses to raw protein diets. Multiple studies prove there is more risk than reward for a pet who is fed raw food.


In fact, peer-reviewed evidence from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reject raw food as a safe feeding option for animals.



Dogs and raw diets: Fact-check

Myth: Raw diets are natural

Fact – The truth is that wolves eat a variety of foods including some fruits and plants. It’s important to remember that domesticated dogs do not live similar lives to wolves and have different nutritional needs.


Myth: Raw diets use human-grade ingredients

Fact – Human-grade meat and dairy quality can be questionable since the discovery of mad cow disease from beef, bovine tuberculosis from deer, salmonella in eggs or E. coli from chickens.


All of these infectious diseases have affected people that buy human-grade meat for consumption from stores. Cooking products reduce the risk of bacterial contamination to both the pet and the family.


Myth: Raw diets are naturally, nutritionally-balanced

Fact – Dogs that are fed a raw diet, which includes raw meat, raw chicken, bones or egg shells, may not get the nutrition they need to maintain important nutrient levels such as calcium.


Pet parents who choose to feed a raw food diet should talk to a veterinarian about balancing and understanding pet food ingredients before switching a dog’s meals.



Pets that must avoid eating raw diets

Before switching your dog’s diet, consult with a veterinarian to guide and recommend appropriate food choices you make for your pup. Since raw diets lean towards being protein-heavy, the ingredients may be inappropriate for some dogs.


Raw food diets are inappropriate for puppies and dogs with:


  1. Chronic stage 4 kidney failure
  2. Severe renal disease
  3. Liver failure
  4. Pancreatitis
  5. Cancer and in chemotherapy treatment
  6. Immune deficiencies
  7. Gastrointestinal sensitivities



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