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Where Do You Stand on Raw Diets for Dogs?

Cali, a golden retriever, enjoys her raw dinner

A recent Canine Corner post by Dr. Stanley Coren, a well-known writer on canine cognition, strongly suggests that raw diets are unsafe. I’d like to present an opposing view of this often contentious question.

Full disclosure: I feed Cali a partially raw diet; I did the same for Jana for several years and she thrived on it. I’ve seen many, many dogs’ health and fitness improve dramatically and quickly when they switched to a raw diet.

I have a lot of respect for Dr. Coren; I’ve read most of his (copious) work on canine intelligence and relationships with people; I’ve even taken a graduate seminar with him. He’s a psychologist, though, not a nutritionist, so I am skeptical of his advice on canine nutrition.

His column shares a story of someone whose child became ill and who believes it is because of the raw diet she had been feeding her dog. Dr. Coren then describes and links to and FDA page that warns of the dangers of raw dog foods and Salmonella. Fair enough, but he should also link to this page, also from the U.S. government, warning of the danger of Salmonella contamination in human foods. The point being that any raw meat carries the risk of Salmonella contamination, as do other foods, including dry dog foods.

Dr. Coren says that many people who feed their dogs raw diets don’t trust their vets as a source of information on canine nutrition. True enough; I don’t — unless the vet is also a nutritionist or an expert on canine nutrition. Most vets aren’t. Just as I’d approach a trainer or certified behaviorist with questions on canine behavior, and a human dietitian for information on my own dietary needs, I’d seek out an expert for advice on canine nutrition. My favorite expert does, actually, happen to be a vet. Another expert whom I trust is the nutritionist for an outstanding guide dog school.

A third great source is The Whole Dog Journal. It takes no advertising, so is not beholden in any way to pet food companies. The Whole Dog Journal regularly publishes detailed reviews of canned, dry, and dehydrated raw dog foods. It has published several articles exploring the pros and cons of raw diets as well. (See: Raw Dog Food and Salmonella Risks and High Pressure Processing and Your Dog’s Raw Food, for example.)

These expert sources find that raw diets can be safe and very beneficial to most dogs. There are some caveats: I would not give a raw diet to a dog with a compromised immune system, for example. Nor would I allow children to feed the dog or handle the food or dirty dishes. We’ll never know whether the child in Dr. Coren’s story became ill because of the dog’s food, but why take that risk? Would you let your grade-school child prepare raw chicken and clean up afterward, unsupervised?

Many nutritious foods carry the risk of contamination; people eat sushi, hamburgers, chicken, eggs, mayonnaise, and many other foods despite the risk. Even fruit and vegetables are sometimes found to be the culprit in outbreaks of food-borne illness.

We need to balance the risks against the benefits and use some common sense. Personally, I am a vegetarian; I don’t expect my dog to adopt my diet, though. A raw diet is biologically appropriate for dogs, and, I believe, more healthful than heavily processed kibble. Kibble is less expensive and more convenient, and a high-quality kibble can provide adequate nutrition. I’ve decided that, for my healthy dog, the benefits of a raw diet (or partial diet) are worth the cost and the need for more careful handling. You might decide differently. But I don’t think that demonizing either choice is helpful.

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