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.

Tom Harrison
Content writer
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Posted 7 OCTOBER 2019

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.

This type of diet was popularised in the early 1990s by Australian vet Dr Ian Billinghurst, who advocates the BARF (biologically appropriate raw food) diet and argues that eating raw is better for dogs and cats than consuming grain-based pet food.

There are two main types of raw diet – those that are commercially available and ones that are home-prepared.

Ready-mixed raw diets may be supplied in fresh or frozen form and claim to be nutritionally balanced, supplying all of a pet’s requirements. 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 preparing a diet at home, it’s important to bear in mind nutritional balance and that some fruits and vegetables – including onion 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.

Is a raw food diet good for pets?

Raw food diets attract plenty of debate, with nutritionists and pet owners alike disagreeing over the suitability of the diets for animals.

Raw food advocates argue that the diet leads to a number of benefits, including:

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


This is exactly what Kate, a hairdresser from Brighton, found when she switched her dog Hugo to a raw food diet. 

“The reason we tried raw food initially was because Hugo was having a funny tummy on good-quality kibble. But we found that it gave him a shiny coat, healthy teeth and improved his digestion, so there were fewer smelly poos to pick up,” she said.

Kate also likes that: “I know he’s eating real food and not products that contain additives and preservatives. And when I give him treats I know they’e 100% natural and I know what’s in them.”

However, critics argue that there’s limited evidence to support these benefits and that there are several risks of eating a raw food diet, including:

  • pets and their owners may become ill due to the bacteria that can be found in raw meat – including salmonella
  • eating whole bones can cause animals to choke or break their teeth
  • pets may miss out on vital nutrients, which can cause health issues.

Is raw food suitable for puppies?

Most commercial suppliers of raw pet food cater for puppies as part of their range. Some consider it safe to wean puppies from around 3-4 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, then it’s advisable to do it in stages. The first thing to do is consider whether it’s right for your pet.  

Then, it’s recommended to gradually transition your pet over to a raw food diet over a week or two – starting with a 50-50 mix of raw food and their previous diet, and increasing the raw food each day. This gives their digestive system and metabolism time to adapt. Switching too quickly can lead to diarrhoea and sickness.  

It may be that your pet takes a bit longer to adapt. Some animals don’t recognise new foods as food, and some pets can be picky when it comes to new textures, tastes and smells. If this is the case, slow the process down and be led by your pet.

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

It’s advisable to talk to your vet and get some expert advice before swapping to a raw diet.

Do pets on a raw food diet need extra supplements?

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

It’s advisable to talk to a vet about your pet’s diet and see what they recommend. Giving your pet inappropriate supplements can be damaging to their health.

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