Raw feeding is the feeding of raw meat, offal, bones and vegetables to dogs and cats.
The raw feeding movement has been around for years; it was a veterinary student Juliette de Bairacli Levy in 1930 who first raised the notion that dogs were healthier if they were fed on a natural diet of raw food. Around sixty years later, another vet, Dr Ian Billinghurst published a book called ‘Give your dog a bone’ which is based on the same principles. He introduced ‘Biologically Appropriate Raw Feeding’ or BARF, which is feeding a dog the diet it has naturally evolved to eat over millions of years. This means cutting out any cooked, processed, or artificial food.
Through observation raw feeding has been associated with improved health and vitality. A dog that is raw fed can have healthy skin, a shiny coat, clean healthy teeth and breath, a strong immune system, increased energy, improved digestion, lean muscle tone, a longer life expectancy (up to 30%) and a reduced likelihood of illness. Changing to a raw food diet can also resolve or assist existing health issues such as skin allergies, ear infections, bad breath and gingivitis, flatulence and soft stools, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, and diabetes and even anxiety.
Our dog’s ancestor, the wolf, has been in existence for 40 million years! Dogs were domesticated from wolves 15 000 years ago and since then humans have drastically changed their appearance and behavioural traits through breeding.
Some wolves are carnivores; their diet consists of prey that they have caught individually or with the help of a pack. They eat the whole carcass including the internal organs and bones. Dogs can also eat vegetable matter such as berries, grasses, and herbs, they are also natural scavengers and may find nutrients from leftover kills, vomit and even faeces. The faeces of some animals can be an excellent source of fibre, digestive enzymes, essential fatty acids, protein, fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and therefore be of high nutritional value to a dog. A domestic dog may eat faeces (e.g. deer, rabbit, cow faeces) to compensate for a lack of nutrition from their processed food. Domestic dogs may also eat other dog and cat faeces, but this is thought to be due to the undigested flavours they contain to make them palatable.
Due to the variability of their habitat and the prey within it wild dogs would tend to eat every 2-3 days rather than daily. They meet their nutritional needs over time which is referred to as the ‘balance over time’ concept, seeking nutrients as they need them. Wild dogs did not eat grain. Grain is a term for carbohydrates in the form of rice, wheat and corn that are used in high quantities to bulk out and bind processed dog food. Dogs find it difficult to digest grain which is why dogs fed on these diets produce a lot of faeces; it passes through their system offering no nutritional value.
Animals produce three kinds of enzymes, protease, lipase, and amylase to break down three food groups – protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Most mammals such as humans produce amylase in their saliva, but dogs and cats do not. This reflects their expected diet of meat and organs from prey. Herbivores and omnivores have flat molars that crush and chew food, but carnivore’s teeth are designed to catch and kill prey, and to rip and tear meat from the bone. Carnivores are not designed to chew; they swallow their food for digestion in the stomach and they do not consume carbohydrates so there is no need for amylase in the mouth. Nature is telling us that carbohydrates (which processed foods contain in high quantities) are not supposed to be a dog or cat’s primary source of nutrition.
The process of making commercial pet food also heats digestive enzymes which makes them non- functional. As no enzymes are provided in the food, our dogs must rely on their pancreas and intestines to produce all the enzymes they need to digest their food. This combined with the need to produce amylase to digest excess carbohydrate causes enlargement of the pancreas and stress on the hormone glands.
The digestive process starts in the stomach. To help with this the acid in a dog’s stomach is extremely strong and can easily dissolve bone! A figure called pH is a measure of acidity from very acidic (pH 1-6), neutral (pH 7) to alkaline (pH 8-14). The lower the pH the stronger the acid. Human’s stomachs operate at pH 5 but a dog’s stomach acid can be as low as pH 1-2!
There are many reasons to choose raw food over processed food, we have listed the main disadvantages of processed food below:
1. They contain low quality ingredients of little nutritional value.
2. The cooking process heats the food, decreasing the nutritional value and denaturing the enzymes that digest food. This forces our dog’s digestive organs such as the pancreas to work harder which places strain on their digestive system.
3. Processed food has a high grain content (up to 65%) whereas wild dogs do not eat grain, we know that they cannot properly digest or store grain so it will pass straight through their digestive system.
4. Processed food has a high content of low quality ‘crude’ fibre which has no nutritional value.
5. Processed food contains preservatives, these are chemical substances used to preserve the food.
6. Processed food contains artificial colourings to make it look more appealing, these have been associated with hyperactivity and behavioural problems in dogs.
7. Poor quality fat may be added to improve the nutritional value or make the food taste more palatable.
8. Chemical binders are used to make the food form into kibble or meaty chunks.
9. Kibble is too dry; it contains 5-10% moisture compared to 70% moisture in a natural diet.
10. Processed food has been linked to health problems such as dry skin, allergies, bad breath, flatulence, liver, heart, and kidney disease.