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Raw food diet for pets: a guide

Raw food is the oldest form of pet food – but the issue of whether to feed your pet a raw-food diet is a contentious one, with strong views on either side. We take a look at the pros and cons.

Raw food is the oldest form of pet food – but the issue of whether to feed your pet a raw-food diet is a contentious one, with strong views on either side. We take a look at the pros and cons.

Written by
Anna McEntee
Home, pet and travel insurance expert
Last Updated
4 min read
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What is a raw food diet?

The raw-food diet is based around the oldest forms of pet food – raw meat, bones, fruit and vegetables. It’s essentially what animals would have eaten years ago, before they became domesticated.

Australian vet Dr Ian Billinghurst popularised this type of diet in the early nineties. He advocates the BARF (biologically appropriate raw food) diet, and argues that eating raw is better for dogs and cats than grain-based pet food.

There are two main types of raw diet – those that are commercially produced and ones you prepare at home.

There are lots of companies offering ready-mixed raw diets, which you can have delivered either fresh or frozen. These make strong claims about their nutritional benefits, and promise to take the effort out of preparing daily meals for your animal. But plenty of raw-food advocates prefer to prepare their pets’ meals themselves. Home-prepared raw diets typically consist of:

  • muscle meat, typically still on the bone
  • bones – whole or ground
  • organ meat, such as liver or kidney
  • raw eggs
  • fruit and vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach and
  • apples
  • added grains.

If you’re preparing your pet’s diet at home, it’s important to understand their nutritional requirements. You’ll need to know, among other things, that some fruits and vegetables – including onion, grapes, and rhubarb – can be toxic to cats and dogs. 

Also, while some pets can tolerate a small amount of dairy, it can make others poorly. If you’re considering a raw diet, it’s important to do thorough research and think hard about whether you have the time and expertise to do it properly.

Is a raw food diet good for pets?

Raw-food diets attract plenty of debate, with nutritionists and pet owners alike disagreeing about how appropriate they are.

Raw-food advocates argue that the diet has no end of benefits, and will give your pet:

  • naturally cleaner teeth
  • improved digestion
  • shinier, healthier fur
  • smaller, less smelly stools
  • more energy
  • a stronger immune system  
  • improved liver, pancreatic and bowel health.

But critics argue that there’s limited evidence to support these claims, and that raw-food diets come with risks, including:

  • Illness – raw meat is often full of bacteria, including salmonella. This is especially true of meat you’ll find in the supermarket and at the butcher’s, which is supposed to be cooked. 
  • Choking – eating bones can cause your animal to choke. Bone splinters can also damage their internal organs, while whole bones can break their teeth.
  • Malnutrition – your pet may miss out on vital nutrients, which can lead to health issues.
  • Some pets don’t take to raw diets, and can suffer with issues like constipation.

Raw food diets can also be extremely expensive. You may be tempted to keep costs down by buying cheap meat, which may have lower animal-welfare standards. 

Is raw food suitable for puppies?

Most raw pet food manufacturers offer puppy meals as part of their range. Some consider it safe to wean puppies from around three-four weeks of age onto a pre-bought, raw-food diet.

How do I swap my cat or dog to a raw diet?

If you’d like to move your cat or dog to a raw-food diet, it’s advisable to do it in stages. First, consider whether it’s right for your pet.

If you decide to go ahead, experts recommend gradually transitioning to a raw-food diet over a week or two. Start with a 50-50 mix of raw food and their previous diet, then increase the amount of raw food you give them each day.

This gives their digestive system and metabolism time to adapt. Switching too quickly can lead to diarrhoea and sickness.

You may find your pet takes a bit longer to adapt. Some animals don’t recognise new foods as food, while others can be picky when it comes to new textures, tastes and smells. If this is the case, slow down the process and follow your pet’s lead.

When it comes to how much of each raw-food type to feed your pet, guidelines vary. The BARF diet suggests an 80:10:10 ratio for meat, bones and offal.

Before switching to a raw diet, it’s worth talking to your vet and getting expert advice.

Do pets on a raw food diet need extra supplements?

It might be that your dog or cat needs supplements alongside their raw food diet to make sure they’re getting the right mix of vitamin and minerals.

We recommend that you talk to a vet about your pet’s diet and see what they suggest. Giving your pet the wrong supplements can damage their health.

Frequently asked questions

Will pet insurance cover illness caused by a raw-food diet?

Whether your insurance will cover your pet’s illness will depend on several factors, such as what policy you have in place, and whether it’s a recurring illness. Read your policy’s small print and, if in doubt, call your insurance provider.

How can I lower the risks of a raw-food diet?

If you’re keen to feed your pet a raw-food diet, there are ways you can reduce any potential risks. These include:

  • Buying ready-made raw meals, so you know that they’re nutritionally optimised.
  • Thoroughly washing your hands before and after handling food.
  • Using one set of bowls and utensils to avoid cross-contamination. Clean these thoroughly, using bleach if necessary.
  • Freezing your pet’s food will kill some pathogens – just make sure you defrost it thoroughly.  

Where can I buy raw food for my pet?

Raw-food diets for pets have become extremely popular in recent years. That means you’ll find plenty of companies online who specialise in raw food. You’ll need to compare a few to check prices, and whether they deliver to your area

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