Raw Dog Food: Dietary Concerns, Benefits, and Risks Are raw food diets for dogs an ideal meal plan or a dangerous fad? Experts weigh in. By Elizabeth Lee Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on March 17, 2022
Raw dog food diets are controversial. But the popularity of the diets -- which emphasize raw meat, bones, fruits, and vegetables -- is rising.
Racing greyhounds and sled dogs have long eaten raw food diets. Extending those feeding practices to the family pet is an idea proposed in 1993 by Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst. He called his feeding suggestions the BARF diet, an acronym that stands for Bones and Raw Food, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food.
Billinghurst suggested that adult dogs would thrive on an evolutionary diet based on what canines ate before they became domesticated: Raw, meaty bones and vegetable scraps. Grain-based commercial pet foods, he contended, were harmful to a dog’s health.
Many mainstream veterinarians disagree, as does the FDA. The risks of raw diets have been documented in several studies published in veterinary journals.
Potential benefits of the raw dog food diet that supporters tout include:
Raw dog food recipes and meal suggestions are readily found online and in books.
Raw dog food diet: What it isA raw dog food diet typically consists of:
Knueven specializes in holistic medicine and also consults for Nature’s Variety, a Lincoln, Neb.-based manufacturer of frozen raw food diets as well as cooked dry and canned foods.
Barbara Benjamin-Creel of Marietta started giving raw food to her three dogs after Scooter, a German Shepherd, was diagnosed with cancer. The diet change came too late to help Scooter, she says, but the other dogs are thriving after two years on raw dog food. The 11-year-old dogs seem more energetic, and one with chronic digestive problems tolerates the raw diet better.
“The change in the coat was pretty immediate,” Benjamin-Creel says. “Also, their breath was much better.”
Benjamin-Creel makes the food herself, giving yogurt in the morning and raw ground pork, turkey, or beef mixed with some rice in the evening. To cut costs, she stocks up on ground meat when it’s on sale. “It’s not cheap,” she says, “but I think we’ve avoided a lot of old-age issues.”
The cost of a raw dog food diet varies with the ingredients used and how it is prepared.
Raw Dog Food Diet: What the research showsLisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, headed an evaluation of raw dog food diets published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association in 2001. She cautions pet owners against them, saying that many dog owners are choosing raw diets based on online myths and scare tactics about commercial pet food.
For pet owners who want to avoid commercial food, Freeman advises a cooked homemade diet designed by a nutritionist certified by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.
A nutrition professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, Freeman says that many of the benefits attributed to a raw food diet for dogs, such as a shinier coat, instead are the result of the high fat composition of the typical raw diet. High-fat commercial foods that would produce the same effect are available, she notes, without the risk of an unbalanced diet. Supplements can also be used as an alternative to increasing fat in the diet.
The evaluation looked at five raw diets, three homemade and two commercially available. All had nutritional deficiencies or excesses that could cause serious health problems when given long term, according to the report.
Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, PhD, has seen those problems appear in some dogs as poor coats, bad skin, or weak bones. Too little fat means a bad coat; but too much fat and not enough protein can cause mild anemia, says Wakshlag, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
Wakshlag -- who accepts some research funding from Nestle Purina PetCare -- says homemade raw diets also may lack enough calcium and phosphorous, causing bone fractures and dental problems. Depending on the quality of the diet, the calcium or phosphorus may also be difficult to properly digest, even if present in adequate amounts.
Studies of raw pet food also have shown bacterial contamination. The FDA issued suggestions in 2004 for manufacturing raw pet food more safely, citing concern about the possibility of health risks to owners from handling the meat. Studies done by the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine have found that raw pet food was more likely to contain disease-causing bacteria than other types of pet food that were tested. If you feed your pet raw pet food, the FDA recommends that you thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after you handle the pet food or touch anything that the raw pet food touched, and disinfect those surfaces.
Raw Dog Food Diet: Concerns Overblown?Supporters of raw dog food diets are quick to point out that commercially processed pet foods can contain harmful bacteria, as can raw meat offered for human consumption.
“The whole concern about bad bacteria is overblown,” Knueven says. “When people are feeding a raw diet they know it’s not sterile, and they’re more careful about washing their hands. Feeding a raw meat diet is no different than cooking chicken for the family ... you have to clean up the counter and your knife.”
The FDA guidance document also suggested that manufacturers address typical nutrition problems in a raw-meat diet, including making sure it contained enough calcium and phosphorous, important for bone health. Raw-meat diets high in liver also may supply too much vitamin A, which can lead to vitamin A toxicity if fed for an extended period.
Even veterinarians like Knueven who support raw dog food diets say that they’re not appropriate for all dogs. Because the diets are typically high in protein, they aren’t appropriate for dogs with late-stage kidney or severe liver failure.
He recommends that dogs with pancreatitis or other digestive issues start with a cooked, homemade diet and clear up problems before switching to raw. Dogs with cancer, on chemotherapy, or dogs with other immunosuppressive diseases also should not eat raw food. And puppies aren’t good candidates, either.
“The only place I’ve seen a problem with this diet is puppies,” Knueven says. “If you don’t get the calcium and phosphorous ratio right, you can have bone deformities and growth issues.”
Billinghurst, I. Give Your Dog a Bone, self-published, 1993.
Freeman, L. Journal of the American Veterinary Association, March 1, 2001; vol 218: pp 705-709.
Strohmeyer, R. Journal of the American Veterinary Association, Feb. 15, 2006; vol 228: pp 537-542.
FDA: "Manufacture and Labeling of Raw Meat Foods for Companion and Captive Noncompanion Carnivores and Omnivores," "Get the Facts! Raw Pet Food Diets can be Dangerous to You and Your Pet."
Doug Knueven, DVM, holistic practitioner, Beaver Animal Clinic, Beaver, Pa.
Barbara Benjamin-Creel, pet owner, Marietta, Ga.
Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, nutrition professor, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine,Tufts University.
Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, PhD, assistant professor of clinical nutrition, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Disclosure: Research funding from Nestle Purina PetCare.
Pet sitting is generally of two types: Pet sitters that come to the house at specified times to feed, allow bodily elimination, and exercise the pet are the most common. Other pet sitters will not only care for the pets but can live at the pet owner’s house so pets have constant companions, or at least night companions. Pets can also show signs of stress when their owners are away but it tends to be less severe when they are in the familiar surroundings of their own homes. In 30 years I have yet to treat stress induced bloody colitis in a pet that has been cared for by a sitter. Having sitters also has the advantage of protecting the pet owner’s home. Newspaper and mail collection by the pet sitters eliminate "away from home" signals to possible “bad guys.” Pet sitters create near normal household activity that also discourages potential robberies like bringing in newspapers and the mail, they can care for indoor and outdoor plants and alternating indoor lights. Pet sitters are more likely to recognize potential health problems sooner and can arrange for the pets to be seen by a veterinarian. My experience is that pets with pet sitters tend to be less subject to separation stress.
So, Which is Better - Boarding or Sitting?
To me the obvious choice is pet sitting. It is as close to a normal environment for the pets as possible and is also great insurance against crime. It is my personal choice for my pets."
Why Is My Cat Pooping on the Floor? How to Stop Cat From Pooping Outside the Litter Box, Written by: Vicki Smirnova
We have all experienced this!
Sometimes cats poop on the floor and not in the cat tray. Many owners at such moments think that cats do it because of resentment or revenge. Why is my cat pooping on the floor? However, such a cat action may have more serious reasons.
Sometimes the owner does not try to understand the reason for the pet’s behavior. Only contacting a veterinarian or reading several articles will help the owner understand a cat’s behavior and raise it correctly.
Litter box problems
The first thing to pay attention to if your pet goes to the toilet on the floor is litter boxes. You need to understand how to choose a suitable tray for a cat. Some owners buy trays for little kittens and do not change them as the pet grows.
The small size of a cat’s litter boxes can discourage the pet from going there. You should consider the size of an adult pet and replace the pet litter box with a suitable size. You should increase the size of the cat tray in proportion to the pet’s growth. If your pet has already grown to an adult of considerable size, you should not be surprised if he refuses to go to a small cat tray. Just buy a bigger toilet for your cat.
Sometimes, a litter box has high sides or a roof. You can try to replace this with a litter box without walls and without a roof.
If your cat starts going to the toilet on the floor, this may be due to the fact that the pet dislikes the kind of litter being used. You can gradually mix the old type of litter with the new one so that the cat does not feel the difference.
Some owners do not use pet litter at all. This is not the right decision. Like their wildcat ancestors, domestic cats instinctively like to dig in the ground. But a natural tray with sand can be expensive and not always convenient. To solve this issue, manufacturers have come up with special litter. Cats do not like toilets without the litter. Because they do not see the difference between the floor and the litter box. Therefore, litter must be in the tray.
When cleaning a cat litter box, owners often make a common mistake: washing it out with chemicals. You should not use such tools, as the pet might not like the smell and will stop using the cat box. The solution will only be replacing the tray with a new one.
Behavior problems and reasons
If the cat is healthy, the tray is clean, and the correct size, then you need to look for reasons in the nature and preferences of the cat. There are several behavioral reasons why a pet poops on the floor. One of them is the excessive cleanliness of the pet. Cats cannot relieve themselves in a dirty cat litter box, even if it has been used only once. The owner only needs to keep the cat tray clean, regularly scooping solid waste and monitoring the smell to solve this problem.
If your pet does not use the litter boxes initially, it may be an adaptation issue. This happens to kittens who have just arrived in a new family; they may have not yet become situated in the house and to the tray’s location. Therefore, you need to be patient and nudge it toward the tray every time.
If you have more than one pet, you can try adding one or more pet trays to solve this problem. Several cats in the house may cause conflict, resulting in not using the litter box.
The pet tray’s location may also affect the pet’s behavior. It is recommended to place the tray in a quiet corner. But you should not place the litter box in the hall or in a place where people are constantly passing. Cats also need privacy and concentration on their needs. Some cats are so anxious that they only want to go to the toilet in a secluded place. If your cat is like this, try to put the fresh litter boxes away from corridors or buy a tray-house.
In order for your pet to be happy and poop in the right place, you need to consider its needs and treat it as a full-fledged family member. Then, the pet will please its owner with its good behavior and cleanliness.
A change of location of the pet’s litter box in the house can also cause the pet’s dissatisfaction. You can try to change the litter box location to a new place, completely change the tray to a new one or use a new litter.
If cats experience stress, toilet misfires can also happen; for example, a new person/animal appeared in the family or someone died, you moved to another apartment or rearranged furniture, got pregnant or started paying less attention to the pet. All these are reasons for alarm. In this case, you need to try to identify and eliminate the cause of stress, calm the cat and pay it more attention.
When detecting the fact that your pet poops on the floor, it is first of all necessary to exclude the possibility of disease. You can do this by contacting a qualified veterinarian.
Health problems that make cats poop outside the litter boxes
Cats can also poop outside the litter box due to health problems. If you notice such behavior from your pet, you should immediately go to the veterinarian.
Due to pain in the process of healing, the pet may mistakenly associate negativity with a tray. Do not punish the pet. The best solution would be to consult the veterinarian and find out the reason for this behavior.
Urination in small amounts, the presence of blood in urine and feces, a long process of urination, anxiety before urination/defecation are the first symptoms that should alert you to an issue.
Diseases of the musculoskeletal system, such as osteoarthritis and osteoarthritis, especially in elderly animals, can also provoke such behavior if the pet has an uncomfortable tray with high sides and it hurts the pet to jump into it.
Unfortunately, even a young animal may have problems with the kidney, liver or gastrointestinal tract. Problems with the tray are often the first symptom of such problems: it hurts the pet to go to the toilet, and the animal is looking for the most convenient place. A biochemical blood test may be required, so do not feed your pet eight hours before a visit to the veterinarian clinic.
Another problem that cannot be dealt with without a specialist is an adult unsterilized animal. Without access to reproduction, cats begin hormonal failures that seriously affect behavior.
Steps to Stop Your Cat from Pooping on the Floor
How to prevent cat’s litter box aversion?
Teaching a cat to cope with the need in the right place is the basis for raising a domestic pet. It is necessary to take this process responsibly so as not to experience inconveniences in the future. It is essential to accustom the cat to the tray from an early age. Praise and encouragement, with a treat, will help you speed up the learning process.
For your pet to use the tray for its intended purpose, the following points must be taken into account:
It is necessary to clean the tray of solid waste regularly. This way, you can extend the shelf life of the litter, keep the tray clean and get rid of unpleasant odors.
To clean the cat litter box, do not use detergents with chemicals. The pungent odors of chlorine can scare away your pet, and it will stop using the tray. A sharp smell can also spoil the pet’s attitude to the tray; e.g., an air freshener in the toilet; a new, fragrant, washing powder in the bathroom.
If you have a multi-cat household, you need to install enough litter boxes. Such actions will help pets to use the tray in a convenient place.
Why is my cat suddenly pooping on the floor?
First, it is necessary to exclude a possible disease by asking a veterinarian. If there are no problems with the pet’s health, it is necessary to pay attention to the location of the pet tray, the litter, the cleanliness of the box and its size. You should not think about saving money at such moments, since you can spend more money on cleaning furniture and floor coverings.
How can I get my cat to stop pooping on the floor?
Try changing the box to a more suitable size for your pet. If there are several cats in your house, you can try adding another pet tray by placing it in a quiet secluded place. Changing the litter can fix the situation. The cleanliness of the cat’s toilet plays a crucial role. In addition, you need to place the tray in the corners of rooms and in quiet places where people rarely pass. Privacy in the toilet is an essential factor for both people and animals.
Why is my cat suddenly pooping outside the litter box?
When changing their place of residence, pets can begin to poop past the tray on the floor. In this case, you can try to purchase a new tray. Changing the litter can also help solve the problem. The presence of foreign odors or harsh scents can scare the pet away from the toilet box.
Do cats poop on the floor out of spite?
Often, owners attribute human qualities to cats and think that pets poop on the floor for revenge. Yes, cats are often temperamental animals. But this behavior can be caused due to the presence of diseases or uncomfortable sensations in the pet. It is necessary to immediately contact a veterinarian if such behavior is detected.
Is Toilet Water Safe for Pets to Drink?
PUBLISHED: JANUARY 06, 2017
UPDATED: MAY 18, 2020
Vet Reviewed by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Reviewed and updated on May 18, 2020 by Jennifer Coates, DVM
When it comes to strange pet behaviors, drinking out of the toilet may very well be at the top of the list.
Oddly enough, some of the reasons for a pet drinking out of the toilet are rather sensible—at least on the surface. Dr. Jennifer Coates puts it this way, “When was the last time you dumped and scrubbed your pet’s water bowl? If you can’t remember, the water in the toilet may be more appetizing than what’s available in the water bowl!”
Why Are Pets Attracted to Toilet Water?
The fact that your toilet is running (complete with sounds of flowing water) may very well speak to the primal nature of your pet to seek out running water in the wild. According to Dr. Coates, running water tends to be a healthier choice than stagnant water in a natural setting. “Perhaps some of our pets have an instinctive pull towards running water and that’s why they’re attracted to water that ‘moves’ in our homes,” she says.
Ask anyone who has a cat that hangs out on the kitchen counter. Turning on the faucet can be an irresistible temptation for the cat to saunter over and have a sip. Similarly, many dogs love to drink water running from the hose when you’re washing your car or watering the lawn. Even knowing this, pet owners still scratch their heads when, after they go to the trouble of providing fresh water—perhaps even water of a trendy and imported nature—their fur kids still line up for a crack at the toilet when they’re feeling parched.
Coates has another hypothesis. “It could be that some pets prefer the relative solitude of the bathroom. If their water bowl is in the middle of a chaotic home, they might not feel comfortable settling down to drink at that location,” she says.
So, are the dangers of drinking out of the toilet real, or are we worrying ourselves over something that is harmless for our pets?
Is Toilet Water Dirty?
“I think [the dangers] are real,” says Dr. Patrick Mahaney, a holistic vet who practices in Los Angeles, California. “I’m not a fan of letting your pet drink out of the toilet.”
Dr. Mahaney says, “if you were to swab your average toilet there would be an issue. If you don’t clean your toilet very often, you are going to put your dog or cat at risk for coming down with an infection, such as E. coli, because our feces can contain that—as well as other bacteria.”
The risk of infection increases greatly when we ourselves are sick. According to Dr. Mahaney, humans can pass diseases like Giardia to their animals, and the consumption of toilet water can put your pet on the road to illness. And intestinal bacteria and parasites aren’t the only risks. Humans who are undergoing medical treatments such as chemotherapy can also shed toxic chemical substances in their urine and stool. While the chances of such exposures may be low for pets, there remains a potential for it to happen.
Toxic Toilet Cleaning ProductsAnother danger associated with consuming toilet water come from the chemicals that we use to clean our toilets—with chlorine bleach products being one of the main offenders. Toilet cleaners can contain sodium hypochlorite, hypochlorite salts, sodium peroxide, sodium perborate, and other chemicals that can be lethal when directly consumed.
Restricting your pet’s access to the bathroom for a few hours (and a few flushes) after you’ve cleaned is a good rule of thumb. And never use the types of cleaners that are added to the toilet reservoir. They continuously release chemicals into the water with every fill of the bowl. Of course, it is also a good rule to be vigilant for symptoms of any sort of poisoning.
Poorly diluted toilet bowl cleaners can cause chemical burns in the mouth and throat while going down, as well as other serious complications once fully ingested. Symptoms of bleach ingestion in pets can include vomiting, drooling, redness in and around the mouth, abdominal pain, and a sore throat.
“Any toxin is not good for a pet to ingest,” says Dr. Katie Grzyb of One Love Animal Hospital in Brooklyn, New York. Dr. Coates agrees but adds, “when used properly in a toilet bowl, bleach is usually so diluted that healthy animals would be expected to show only mild gastrointestinal upset after ingestion.”
How to Stop Your Pet Drinking from the Toilet“I think the best way to curb drinking from the toilet is to keep the lid down and the door closed. Also, offering several bowls of clean, cool, fresh water around the house can help to deter toilet-water drinking,” says Dr. Grzyb.
Dr. Mahaney also advises owners to keep the lid closed, but realizes that is not possible for everyone. “If you can’t [keep the toilet closed] because you have children, for example, then just try to keep the toilet as clean as possible,” he says.
For pet owners who want to offer all of the excitement of drinking from the toilet without the risk, a pet water fountain can provide that experience. Dr. Coates recommends them, “particularly for cats who may not drink enough water from bowls to stay well hydrated.”
Of course, you’ll need to keep your pet’s fountain filled with fresh water, as well as thoroughly cleaning the interior once a week and periodically changing the filters. Dr. Coates cautions, “if you don’t clean and maintain your pet’s water fountain, the water in it just may be dirtier than what’s available in your toilet.”
By: David F. Kramer