Raw diets – worth the risk?

I’ve written about this subject before. More and more I meet owners who extoll the virtues of raw food. However, this is a controversial area with little research done into the safety of this approach. My vet, for instance, would not dream of it.

Unfortunately, there is much written about raw diets, none of which relies on any scientific basis. Personally, I liken it to playing Russian roulette with a dogs health.

Whilst investigating some gut issues relating to my dog, I paid a visit to MSDs Veterinary manual (online) – this is written by highly qualified vets and is, certainly worth a read.

Away from the febrile responses received when daring to question this approach, it is worth looking at what MSD vets think about raw diets. Readers can, of course, form their own views.

Main points:

  • there is very little quality research on raw diets
  • the American Animal Hospital Association, the American Veterinary Association and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association all discourage the feeding of raw diets
  • raw chicken is a common source of Salmonella
    • 21-44% of chicken for human consumption is contaminated with Salmonella
    • 44% of dogs fed with raw chicken will excrete Salmonella in their faeces for as long as 7 days
  • beef and pork contamination rates for Salmonella range from 3.5-4%. However, they are a source of other pathogens:
    • E coli 0157:H7
    • Listeria 25-52%
  • Listeria spp is estimated to be present in 15-34% of chicken
  • potential pathogens are not fully destroyed by freezing or freeze-drying
  • nutrient imbalances are a concern
  • raw meat and bones carry the risk of foreign bodies causing oesophageal and intestinal perforation
  • raw diet supporters often cite that dogs are descendants of wolves – another contentious view:
    • a dog genome differs in 36 areas from wolves. 10 of these regions play critical roles in starch digestion and fat metabolism
  • zoonotic (cross-species) risks can be associated with feeding commercial of home-prepared raw diets

The above are some of the issues associated with adopting raw diets for our dogs.

I have seen no scientific evidence that would support the use of raw diets in our dogs. Certainly, it is not a risk I would recommend. I, of course, feed my dog a varied diet that includes meat. But, the meat is cooked.


Sherry Lynn Sanderson, BS, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, DACVN, Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia
Last full review/revision Sep 2013