In the past I fed my mutt Ace a commercially prepared raw dog food diet. This year I plan to make his raw food myself.
A homemade raw dog food diet can be the healthiest diet for dogs, but it can also be unhealthy, depending on what you feed. Some vets, dog owners, breeders and trainers recommend a raw dog food diet for dogs, and others do not. You should always consult with your dog’s vet to make sure a raw dog food diet is safe for your particular dog.
I am not a vet or a nutritionist. I am a concerned dog owner, and I care about the health of my dog. I am sharing my experience to help you make your own decisions for your dog based on your beliefs and circumstances. I have researched the pros and cons of raw food diets for dogs, and the same info is out there for you to do your own research.
Below are some reasons why I believe a raw dog food diet is healthy for my almost 7-year-old retriever mix Ace.
What are the health benefits of feeding my dog a raw diet?
Humans are able to get by on a mostly processed diet, but minimally processed foods are healthier for most of us. Likewise, dogs and cats are able to get by on processed pet food (kibble), but that doesn’t mean it’s healthiest for them.
Personally, I would like to feed my dog healthier options as long as they are available and affordable. Ideally, I would like to feed him raw meat (muscle meat, fat, organs and bones) without any pesticides, hormones, chemical preservatives or low-quality by-products. This is easier said than done, of course. Even my own food often contains harmful ingredients.
I also plan to feed Ace a small amount of raw fruits and veggies. However, it is controversial whether or not pet dogs benefit from eating plant materials. Vegetables may not be necessary for them at all.
Those who do feed their dogs vegetables typically blend or grind them first to help with digestion. This is because dogs lack the ability to digest whole fruits and veggies, according to Dr. Jeannie Thomason, a certified veterinary naturopath who maintains TheWholeDog.org.
Dogs have a short gut, so the food passes through quickly, she said on her web site. Vegetables need time to sit and ferment, which requires longer colons and longer small intestines.
This is why you might see veggies pass right through your dog the same way they went in!
Wolves are carnivores
It might be a waste of money to feed a dog vegetables, as wild dogs rarely eat vegetation if protein is available.
In the advance copy of his book Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs , Ted Kerasote (also the author of Merle’s Door) interviewed Douglas Smith, head of the Yellowstone Wolf Project in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyo.
The park’s wolves rarely consume berries, and they do not eat the vegetable matter in the stomachs of their large prey, according to Smith.
This information is also reinforced by L. David Mech  and Luigi Boitani  in the book Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. The vegetation found in the intestinal tract of a prey animal is of no interest to wolves, they wrote. The stomach lining and intestinal wall of the prey is consumed, but the stomach contents are left behind.
Dog trainer and author Tamar Geller had the opportunity to study wolves in their natural habitat when she worked as an assistant to a research team after finishing her service with the Israeli Army Special Forces.
The majority of the wolves’ diets came from animal carcasses – meat protein, fat and bone, she said in her book 30 Days to a Well-Mannered Dog. They occasionally ate some grass, berries or bark.
Dogs are very similar to wolves.
Although wild canines eat a diet of mostly meat, fat and bone, you could argue that dogs are not wolves. Anyone can compare a toy poodle to a gray wolf, for example, and see they are very different. Why would dogs need to eat the same diet as wolves?
It’s because domestic dogs differ from gray wolves by, at most, 0.1 percent of their entire nuclear gene sequence, according to Kerasote in Pukka’s Promise.
Actually, “Our understanding of digestion in wolves is largely inferred from studies of the domestic dog,” according to Mech and Boitani in Wolves. “It is unlikely that dogs would exhibit physiological innovations or capacities not shared with wolves.”
Thomason also backs this up saying on her web site that the outward appearance of dogs have changed through domestication, but changes have not occurred in their internal anatomy or how their bodies work.
For example, a dog’s teeth are designed for grabbing, ripping and shredding, she wrote. They are not equipped with flat molars for grinding plants or kibble. Instead, their molars are pointed in a scissors bite for disposing meat and bones. They also have large, elastic stomachs designed to hold huge quantities of meat.
In addition, a dog’s stomach secretes hydrochloric acid, which creates the environment needed to digest protein, according to Thomason in an article Dogs: The Omnivore-Carnivore Question , along with Dr. Kim Bloomer . This acid is also able to destroy “bad” bacteria that may be ingested, which is why dogs generally do not get sick from raw meat.
Dry dog food contains unnecessary grains.
Dogs (and presumably wolves) possess the ability to alter their enzyme systems to adapt to a diet low in protein and high in carbs, according to Mech and Boitani in Wolves. A wolf would do this to avoid starvation, and a domestic dog does this as a response to a diet high in carbohydrate additives.
This would explain why dogs can certainly “get by” on a diet high in processed grains, but that does not mean a carb-based diet is best for them.
Although I plan to feed Ace a small amount of blended fruits and veggies, I do not plan to feed him grain. He has happily been on a grain-free dry food or raw food since 2009.
Not a single dog was eating grain when they were first domesticated between 33,000 and 16,000 years ago, according to Kerasote in Pukka’s Promise. Dogs did not eat corn, soy, barley, rice, oats or wheat at that time because agriculture had not been invented.
How on earth did they survive without kibble?
Dogs are not meant to eat corn.
The majority of commercial dog food companies produce their products from corn and will tell you corn is a nutritional protein source for dogs. This is what dog food company Hills Science Diet claims on its web site , and this is what many veterinarians will tell you.
Why is some form of corn in so many of our food products, including pet foods?
Because corn is available. Corn is cheap. And corn is a food we can get by on.
Those of us who spend a small fortune feeding our pets grain-free food know that feeding them meat is much more expensive than feeding them corn! Likewise, it’s typically more expensive to buy high-quality meat for ourselves than it is to buy grain-based products such as pastas and breads.
It’s also important to note the close relationship between the dog food industry and the veterinary profession.
The textbook Small Animal Clinical Nutrition is co-authored by eight people, and seven of them work for or are affiliated with Hill’s Science Diet, according to Kerasote in Pukka’s Promise.
On its web site, Hill’s calls the textbook “the authoritative source for pet nutrition information.” 
Hills also gives the textbook to vet students for free (its retail value is roughly $200), according to Kerasote. And in one of its opening chapters, the textbook states that dry dog food typically contains 30 to 60 percent carbohydrates and causes no adverse effects.
It’s not surprising, then, that Hill’s Science Diet dog food is on the shelves of Ace’s vet’s office in West Fargo, N.D. I’ve also seen the food on the shelves of about 10 other vet offices around Fargo, N.D.; Moorhead, Minn.; and the Twin Cities.
Most commercial dog food contains chemical preservatives, sweeteners or dyes.
We all consume chemical preservatives in some of the food we eat every day. Just as these chemicals are not healthy for us, they are not healthy for our dogs.
Some examples of chemical preservatives in most commercial dog foods include ethoxyquin, BHA and BHT, according to the web site of Born Free USA, a national animal advocacy organization.
These synthetic chemicals are used to preserve dry dog food so it has a longer shelf life, according to Born Free. The long term build-up of these agents may ultimately be harmful, and some pet food critics and veterinarians believe ethoxyquin is a major cause of disease, skin problems and infertility in dogs.
Kerasote also wrote about these chemicals in Pukka’s Promise.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, has found sufficient evidence for the carcinogenicity of BHA, he wrote.
Whether these chemicals are a danger or not, it’s easy to avoid them by purchasing natural pet food that does not contain chemical preservatives.
Many pet food makers have responded to consumer concern and are now using preservatives such as vitamin C (ascorbate), vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) and oils of rosemary, clove or other spices, according to Born Free.
So how do I start feeding my dog a raw diet?
There is no “correct” way to feed a raw food diet to dogs.
Some dog owners choose to follow the “prey model” where they feed their dogs a strictly carnivorous diet of meat, organs and bones. Others follow the “BARF”diet which stands for bones and raw food, including veggies. I tend to follow the BARF folks, but I suggest you do your own research and make your own decision.
Many of my readers have generously shared their tips and recipes for how to make raw dog food, so you could start with some of their most basic ideas.
Personally, I find it easiest to start with a commercially prepared raw food. This is expensive, but it’s an easy way to start out. You can always switch to making your dog’s raw food later.
If you do make your dog’s raw food, I suggest you keep it as simple as possible and progress slowly. Start with one type of protein such as chicken, and slowly add small amounts of organ meat as your dog adjusts. If you feed raw bones, do your research first and always supervise. Do not feed your dog cooked bones.
If you have any questions about what is or is not safe for your particular dog, always consult with a veterinarian first. Don’t be an idiot.
Have you ever fed your dog or cat a raw diet?
1. I received a free, advance copy of Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs for review purposes. Its scheduled publication date is Feb. 5, 2013 with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Watch for a full Pukka’s Promise book review soon!
2. L. David Mech is a senior research scientist with the Biological Resources Division, U.S. Geological Survey and an adjunct professor in the department of fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology and the department of ecology, evolution and behavior at the University of Minnesota.
3. Luigi Boitani is a professor at the University of Rome.
4. Dogs: The Omnivore-Carnivore Question was published in Natural Horse Magazine (Vol 11 Issue 3, May 2009).
5. Dr. Kim Bloomer is a veterinary naturopath certified in small animal nutrition.