Pet Care Blog

Can Dogs Eat Raw Meat? Here's Everything You Need to Know

Dr. Ricky Walther
Dog eating raw meat off cutting board

Can dogs eat raw meat? The answer to this question is more complicated than a simple yes or no. All dogs are different, as are all samples of raw meat. Your pet might indulge in raw beef and suffer no consequences, or they could end up with a terrible disease.

In this article, we’re discussing the pros and cons of feeding your dog raw meat from a veterinarian’s perspective to help you make an informed decision.

Table of Contents:

Pro Tip: When you welcome a dog into your home, he or she will quickly become part of the family and you’ll want to do everything you can to look after them. But with so many potential risks, accidents can happen. Vet bills can be quite high, so consider protecting your dog (and your bank account) with a pet insurance policy.

Possible benefits of raw meat for dogs

As pet parents, we want to make sure that our four-legged companions receive a healthy, balanced diet. While there are hundreds of kibble and canned dog food options, many owners have started exploring diets that are based on raw meat for dogs.

One of the most popular raw food diets for dogs is BARF - Biologically Appropriate Raw Food, or the Bones and Raw Food diet. Invented in 1993 by the Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst, this diet requires dogs to eat a combination of uncooked meat, offal, vegetables, fruits, and eggs.

Raw meat aligns with dogs’ biological needs

The advocates of this approach argue that dogs are omnivores and raw diet aligns with their biological needs. Before canines were domesticated, their diet was mostly made up of raw meat. It is important to note that dogs also had shorter lifespans during this time compared to today’s pet dog breeds. Wolves still eat raw meat in the wild but it is important to remember that the dogs that live with us today are very distant relatives of the wolves they are descended from.

They also argue that dogs' digestive systems are designed to help them digest raw meat quickly and efficiently. Their GI system is shorter than the human’s, which means that food passes through it faster. Dogs also have stronger stomach acids which help break down foods that humans could never safely consume.

Possible benefits of feeding dogs raw meat

According to proponents, raw meat diets benefit dogs in the following ways:

Healthier coat and skin. Researchers at the University of California, Davis found that a raw meat diet is not only easier for dogs to digest, but also produces a softer, shinier coat than cereal-based dry food. This could be explained by the fact that raw dog food contains little to no carbohydrate filler, but plenty of fresh fat, readily available protein, plus high levels of vitamin E and zinc, all of which are vital to coat health. However, it’s important to note that most dog kibble adds vitamin E and zinc to the formula to achieve the same result.

Improved breath and oral health. A study by Brown and Park confirmed the theory that dental problems in dogs were a result of feeding “soft diets with insufficient dental activity”. In the experiment, canned dog food rations were replaced with beef oxtail (which consists of hard spinal vertebrae) in 30 dogs with tooth loss and dental calculus. More than 30% of the calculus was removed within 24 hours, and about 95% of the dogs’ calculus was removed by the end of the second week.

The important distinction here is that this study compared raw meat with bone fragments to canned food. Most raw diets do not contain hard bones and therefore do not help clean a dog's teeth as much as hard kibble does.

Possible improvement in medical conditions. Proponents claim raw meat can help to control conditions like diabetes, although further research is needed to confirm that this is actually beneficial for dogs with these health issues. Always discuss diet with your veterinarian if your dog has an underlying disease.

Improved digestion. Some believe a raw food diet enables dogs to absorb more nutrients. While kibble stays in dogs’ stomachs for seven to nine hours, raw food takes only one or two hours to digest. As a result, the dog will poop less frequently and their stools will smell less pungent.

Maintenance of lean mass and healthy weight. According to some, a raw diet balances dogs’ systems, helping them lose or gain weight as needed.

Potential risks of a raw meat dog diet

While there are some perceived benefits to feeding raw dog food, most veterinarians will advise against it. Here are some of the most important reasons why:

Raw dog food hosts bacteria

Raw meat presents a substantially larger risk of contamination than cooked meat. The reason for this is simple: heat destroys many of the pathogens and germs present in raw meat, such as Salmonella. Although are less susceptible to Salmonella than people, some will become quite sick and suffer from diarrhea for multiple days. In some cases, additional severe clinical signs can manifest.

More importantly, even if your pet doesn’t become sick from the bacteria in raw dog food, he or she will spread infective spores everywhere he goes, thus putting your family members at risk. This is extremely important for families with small children to consider, as feeding dogs raw meat puts them at a higher risk of exposure to dangerously harmful bacteria.

In addition to Salmonella, other pathogens often found in raw meat include:

  • Listeria. L. monocytogenes rarely cause illness in dogs and, even when infected, pups usually have only mild GI symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. However, more serious symptoms are possible, including fever, breathing problems, muscle pain, and even death.
  • Campylobacter. In dogs, typical clinical signs include watery diarrhea, abdominal pain or cramping, fever, and lethargy. Diarrhea might last for one week or more.
  • Clostridium. This bacterial infection causes severe diarrhea in dogs. There are two specific types of clostridium in dogs, Clostridium difficile and Clostridium perfringens.
  • E. coli. E. coli is usually benign in dogs, but symptoms can appear when the bacteria concentration is too high. If it goes untreated, E. coli infection can be serious and result in blood poisoning. It mostly affects puppies but can be found in canines of any age.
  • Trichinosis is a parasitic disease caused by a roundworm parasite called Trichinella spiralis, also known as “pork worm”. In most cases, this infection results from eating contaminated raw or undercooked pork.

Dogs’ nutritional needs have evolved with the species

Even though wolves and dogs came from a common ancestor, we shouldn’t disregard the dogs’ evolution as a domestic species. Dogs are perfectly able to digest starchy foods through increased amylase secretion, which is directly associated with the drastic increase in copy numbers of the AMY2B gene throughout their evolutionary history.

In addition, many pet dogs today have food intolerances and allergies. In some cases, a dog can be sensitive to some of the more common meats found in dog foods, such as chicken and beef.

Raw meat diets aren’t well-regulated

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA), “Raw pet foods are produced with little to no regulatory oversight by the state or federal governments.” Studies have found excessive vitamin A and D, as well as low levels of calcium and phosphorus present in raw diets. An unbalanced diet might damage your dog’s health if he or she is on it for an extended period of time.

How to reduce the risk of feeding dogs raw meat

Dogs can eat raw meat, so long as your veterinarian is on board, but there are some things to keep in mind to reduce the risk illness due to contamination.

Be mindful of meat quality and proper hygiene

Quality is an important factor when it comes to reducing the risks of raw dog food. The first step is to buy meats that look and smell fresh. Avoid giving your dog meat that has been lying out on the counter for too long.

Next, you need to make sure you exercise proper cleaning procedures. The Federal Drug Administration doesn’t recommend feeding dogs raw meat, but if you do, they suggest:

  • Freezing the raw meat until ready for use
  • Keeping the raw meat separate from cooked food
  • Cleaning preparation surfaces and food bowls with soap and hot water
  • Washing your hands before and after handling the meat

Use caution when feeding dogs raw bones

Dogs can eat raw bones that are large in size, but avoid feeding your pet cooked bones. Small bones may present a choking hazard, but you should be especially careful with cooked poultry bones, as they can splinter and lodge in your pet’s throat or puncture his intestines. Uncooked bones are softer and your pup should have no problem handling them.

Puppies and senior dogs are more vulnerable to health complications

Pet parents should be especially careful with puppies as they develop rapidly and have complex dietary needs. The same is true for older dogs who might have weaker immune systems and more sensitive digestive systems.

Balanced nutrition is key to optimal health in dogs

The key to feeding your dog a raw meat diet is to provide them with balanced nutrition adjusted over time. Experts recommend using commercially prepared formulas, as homemade options are rarely complete.

What if my dog ate raw meat?

If your dog eats raw meat from the grocery store, chances are that they’ll be fine. However, if you are worried or you notice anything out of the ordinary after they consume raw food, contact your vet. Severe illness that occurs overnight or on the weekend may require an emergency animal hospital, but be aware that unexpected vet costs can be quite expensive.

Pro Tip: Some pet insurance plans cover emergency and specialty care no matter where you go, so you can rest easy knowing that your dog is covered for any unexpected illness and accident that may occur.

Are other raw foods good for dogs?

If you’re still contemplating a raw food dog diet, but you’re skeptical about raw meat, you should know that there are alternative options, such as certain vegetables and fruits, that are perfectly safe and very healthy.

Fo example, dogs can safely eat apples, bananas, carrots, and more, as long as you remember the 90/10 rule: 90% of your pup’s daily calorie intake should come from balanced and complete dog food, while the other 10% can come from special treats and healthy snacks.

Key Takeaways

  • A little raw meat from time to time likely won’t hurt your canine companion.
  • Avoid feeding dogs raw meat that looks or smells suspicious or that may be spoiled. Pet dogs often have more sensitive tummies than dogs in the wild.
  • If you do decide to give your dog a raw-meat-based diet, be sure to consult your vet first. Also refer to the safety guidelines published by the AVMA and FDA to minimize the risks of foodborne illnesses and contamination.

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Ricky Walther, DVM

Dr. Ricky Walther

Ricky Walther, DVM, is a small animal general practitioner in the greater Sacramento, California area. Realizing the positive financial and medical impact that pet insurance can provide for pet parents and the profession, he lends support and advice to companies like Pawlicy Advisor "The Pet Insurance Marketplace") that simplify the process of connecting with veterinary financing resources.

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