Myths About Raw Feeding


On this page: "The Wild Dog Diet"


The Wild Dog Diet
Wild dogs are omnivores, not carnivores.

Wild dogs do show variation in their feeding patterns, but all are primarily carnivores. Gray wolves, the ancestors of our canine companions, are clearly carnivores (Mech, L.D. 2003. Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. Chapter 4: 'The Wolf as A Carnivore'.)


It seems a small distinction, but really is not trivial. This means that they do not live on meat alone, but also feast on vegetation.

Correct, this is not trivial. Omnivore means that they do feast on vegetation. Most wild dogs (including wolves), primarily eat meat. Some wild dogs will eat small amounts of vegetable matter or fruit, but it does not form the bulk of their diet. Additionally, the wild dogs that do eat the occasional vegetable matter are not considered ancestors of our canine companions. Our canine companions descend from the highly carnivorous gray wolf. Our dogs ARE carnivores, and there is not one shred of viable evidence to prove they are omnivores (unless you want to consider the fact that humans are forcing dogs to be omnivores by feeding them commercial diets high in grains or cooked diets with vegetables; just because they eat it does not mean it is appropriate or necessary for them.).


Cats, by contrast, are true carnivores.

Cats are obligate carnivores, yes. They cannot synthesize taurine, which is found in the meat they eat. If cats are true carnivores, then why are we 'supposed' to feed them a commercial diet primarily composed of grain?


Second, the meat they do eat is consumed as soon as it is caught and is obviously not a frozen product.

Correct. Freezing is a luxury our pets have; since freezing can help kill some parasites, which means we are even more able to give our pets a raw diet relatively free from parasites. Of course, the meat wild dogs and wolves eat is raw and not cooked in any way; it especially is not overly cooked and processed into unrecognizable "meat meal", and then blended with a variety of grains and artificial supplements until it can be extruded to form little pellets which are then sprayed with fat.


Wild dogs have evolved somewhat of a resistance to the dangerous bacteria and parasitic infections to which they are exposed, which our domestic dogs have not.

All canids seem to have a resistance to dangerous bacteria and certain parasites; part of this resistance is due to their digestive anatomy. One needs only to look at the dogs eating other species' feces, rotting carcasses, and who knows what with little or no ill effect. Domestic dogs do still retain these resistances to a certain degree. Their immune systems are highly capable of dealing with bacteria and parasites, but generations of feeding commercial foods, over-vaccinating our pets, and relying on toxic pesticides has led to suppressed immune systems that cannot function as efficiently. Is it any wonder that we have seen increases in auto-immune diseases in our pets since the advent of kibbled food and mandatory vaccinations? Feeding a raw diet, however, improves immune function; the body no longer has to continually mount an attack against the grain gluten that coats the lining of the stomach, and the body no longer is being pumped full of additives, preservatives, and unnatural inappropriate foodstuffs.


It is a documented fact through zoos and wolf experts such as Jennifer Sheldon, quoted above, that even wild dogs die and/or become ill from consuming raw meat.

Yes, wild dogs are not immune to disease or death. Whether or not the cause really was the raw meat is an issue that requires deeper study. Remember, many people (particularly vets) will initially blame the raw meat for an animal's problem without looking to see if there was an underlying cause (i.e. the real cause).


Not necessarily every time they eat it, but often enough for it to be of grave concern for your dog.

No, not every time they eat it, of course. "Enough for it to be of grave concern for your dog" is a highly doubtful statement.


We also know from the wild dogs taken into captivity that they are often found malnourished and unhealthy.

Once again, this has to deal with a variety of factors, primarily the fact that their prey supply is sporadic and they often starve for extended periods of time. It is not that their food is somehow deficient in some way (unless they are eating inappropriate foods like plants and garbage), but that they cannot get enough of it. If their natural food could not sustain them and was actually killing them, then they would have been extinct long ago or would have evolved to eat a "safer" food.


There is well documented evidence in the carcasses of wild dogs, and a well-known fact among veterinary doctors and scientists, that wild dogs DO choke on the bones of fowl or have them splinter in the stomach - even baby backs and necks (Washington State University, located in a rural area verifies this statement).

I would like to see this 'well-documented evidence', although any specific references (journal papers, personal communications with specific people at Washington State University, etc.) to it do not seem to exist. Remember, the presence of bone does not mean that the dog suffered splinters and punctures—yet many people seem to infer that immediately. All it means is the dog simply ingested bone previously, and this is all that "bone splinter" x-ray shows. It simply shows that the dog ate bones, which that dog did (from an old deer carcass, if I remember correctly). As for carcasses: how recent are these carcasses? Are the intestines and stomach actually still intact and not decomposed? Have other animals had access to the carcasses (which would result in ripped entrails, etc.)? Much more 'evidence' is needed before we can infer that bones killed these wild dogs.

Yes, dogs can choke on the bones of fowl and have them splinter. It is a possibility, especially if the animal is rummaging in the trash and eating cooked bones, or is eating bones that have been drying out in the sun for days (this too makes them brittle). Did Washington State University verify whether or not these bones were cooked or raw? In my experience, most vets and professionals do not designate between the two even though this designation is of critical importance.


Cooking a bone may make it more likely to splinter, however, raw bones sometimes do splinter in the throat and stomach.

Yes, cooking a bone does make it more likely to splinter. That is a well-known fact that is evidenced by the number of dogs veterinarians treat for eating cooked bones! Can a raw bone splinter? Possibly. It is much rarer, however, and highly unlikely.


A more likely event is that the raw bone will be broken into small, jagged pieces which can tear the lining of the throat and stomach or become lodged in the palate.

Raw bones are crushed into small pieces that primarily have uneven, dull edges, and if chewed correctly (i.e. thoroughly enough; this measurement depends on the individual dog) are swallowed without problems. Bones, like small chicken bones, can become lodged in the palate, but the instances of this occurring are very rare. Very rarely, sharp bone slivers are vomited up by the dog; this is a perfectly normal and natural occurrence and is a means of safely getting rid of an offending object. To the best of my knowledge, dogs that I have heard of vomiting up bone slivers and bile on occasion (usually when just starting the diet) are today perfectly healthy animals that are thriving on their raw diets. Even edges that look "sharp" to us seem to be dealt with quite safely by the strong and highly elastic connective tissue of the esophagus and stomach.


In general, wolf and wild dog studies show that muscle meat is not always the primary source of food and that lamb and chicken are not often among the meats.

No, lamb and chicken are not among the meats often (of course, these seem to be perfectly acceptable to feed our pets in a highly processed, overly cooked form; why is that?). The most common meats to be eaten are game meats from the animals we consider to be game animals. Raw meaty bones are primarily the food source, along with organs and skin. Raw feeders make due with the prey sources that are available to them, and their animals thrive just the same.


Most wild dogs hunt small prey, like rabbit, birds or rodents, providing a relatively small amount of actual meat. Even bones are sometimes left behind.

Small prey is hunted and often eaten in its entirety. Bones can be left as well, depending on what the animal needs or can eat. Other animals (like ravens or bears) may take over a kill and chase the wolf away. In the larger kills, the large leg bones are often left because they are so incredibly dense and hard to eat. Stomach contents are always ignored at the larger kills.

The first thing they do with prey is tear open the belly and eat the pre-digested greens, then the organs, then a combination of muscle meat, bones and fur.

Wild dogs and wolves do not eat the stomach contents of their prey unless the prey is small enough to be eaten in its entirety.

"Wolves usually tear into the body cavity of large prey and...consume the larger internal organs, such as lungs, heart, and liver. The large rumen [, which is one of the main stomach chambers in large ruminant herbivores,] usually punctured during removal and its contents spilled. The vegetation in the intestinal tract is of no interest to the wolves, but the stomach lining and intestinal wall are consumed, and their contents further strewn about the kill site." (Mech, L.D. 2003. Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. pg 123, emphasis added)

"To grow and maintain their own bodies, wolves need to ingest all the major parts of their herbivorous prey, except the plants in the digestive system." (Mech, L.D. 2003. Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. pg 124, emphasis added).

It is also important to remember that only large pack dogs like the gray or red wolves hunt large ungulates (i.e., deer, antelope). One dog could not possibly take down a 250 pound animal with their mouth while it's running at 20-30 miles per hour. They share the feast with the whole pack. The females then return to their pups and regurgitate pre-digested meat for them (contradicting Dr. Pitcarin and Billinghurst's theory that predigested meat is not healthy or normal for dogs to eat).

This is true: large ungulates must be hunted in packs. The feast is shared, and wolves (not just females, mind you) will return to regurgitate the predigested meat.


One of the greater dangers than even the bacteria and parasites, is the fact that a raw meat diet is extremely unbalanced.

Yes, a raw meat diet is extremely unbalanced: it is lacking in calcium and other trace minerals. That is why bones are NECESSARY, and that is why it is important to feed a prey-model diet that is based on a whole prey animal—bones, meat, organs, skin, and even fur if applicable.


And a diet supplemented with raw meat is near impossible to keep balanced.

Why? I know of several breeders who feed their animals part kibble, part raw, and have been doing so for years with no problems. Their dogs are happier and healthier because of it. I personally, however, would not recommend feeding raw and kibble together; it is like eating healthy part of the time and then stuffing oneself with junk food the rest of the time. However, some fresh raw food is better than none! If people wish to feed this way, I urge them to just make the whole transition to a raw, prey-model diet if they can.


Our pet dogs are privileged to be protected from the nutritional deficiencies that wild dogs face.

The nutritional deficiencies that wild dogs face are a result of not getting enough food. Their malnutrition is NOT because their natural prey is somehow insufficient nutritionally, but that wolves cannot get enough of their prey to nourish their bodies. Yes, our dogs are privileged to be protected from starvation. Unfortunately, with the 'eradication' of starvation and malnutrition, we are now seeing the presence of numerous diseases previously unheard of in dogs and strongly linked to processed foods. Our dogs no longer starve, thankfully, but are now suffering from periodontal disease, joint diseases (arthritis, degenerative joint disease, etc.), skin conditions ("staph" infections, yeast infections, hives, hot spots, etc.), allergies, bloat, irritable bowel syndrome, auto-immune diseases (hypothyroidism, lupus, and other diseases with strong links to diet AND to over-vaccination), mysteriously caused kidney and liver failures, and cancer like never before. To ignore the evidence that is right before our eyes is to don blinders of purposeful ignorance.


Wild Dogs Aren't Good Role Models
It sounds like a good idea to give your dog fresh, raw meat because "that's what the wild dogs eat".

It is a good idea to give your dog fresh, raw meaty bones and whole carcasses because that's what it was designed to eat, and until 70 years ago that is what our dogs ate for their entire historical existence. Fresh foods will always be better than heavily processed foods.


This is an understandable misconception, but here are a couple of facts to consider
(1) Domestic dogs do not have the same digestive enzymes as a wild dog. Our domestic dogs are removed from wolf relations by thousands of years.

This POSSIBILITY has been recognized by world renown wolf biologists, but the domestic dog is still used as a model in wolf studies because "it is unlikely that dogs would exhibit physiological innovations or capacities not shared with wolves" (Meyer and Stadtfeld 1980, in Mech, L.D. 2003. Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. pg 115). Domestic dogs are removed from wolves by thousands of years, but in evolutionary time this is a blink of an eye, and is hardly enough time for physiological (not phenotypic anatomical changes like ear shape and body size) changes of great magnitude to occur, even with human interference. The "difference in digestive enzymes" is a possibility, but it is likely to be in strength, not in what enzymes are present (Mech, L.D. 2003. Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. pg 115). To change what enzymes are present and produced by the pancreas would require a drastically longer period of time. The dog is still designed for a carnivorous diet; how does the possibility of different or weaker enzymes warrant feeding it an even harder-to-digest food of kibble or cooked meat?


Dogs have been in captivity (of Man) for at least 2000 years, and surviving healthfully on cooked foods for as long as humans have.

It is estimated that dogs were domesticated about 15,000 years ago (Savolainen et al. 2002 in Mech, L.D. 2003. Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. pg 225). Other estimates place canine domestication nearly 100,000 years ago (Vila et al. 1997 in Mech, L.D. 2003. Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. pg 225). It is highly doubtful that dogs were fed cooked foods as long as humans ate cooked food. There is no concrete evidence to suggest that dogs ate cooked foods during that time period. The nature of the dog-human relationship highly suggests otherwise; dogs served as the 'receptacle' for unused parts of the animals and did not enjoy the wonderful social status that they enjoy now. If food is a precious commodity, why would one "waste it" on a dog?


Until commercial dog food came about approximately 100 years ago, dogs in captivity ate the common food of the people. Those fed raw meat scraps often became ill back then also.

Yes, dogs in captivity ate the food people did not use or need. They also were allowed to hunt and scavenge for food as well. Remember, much of the improvement in canine health and care are the result of improved social status. Yes, those fed raw meat scraps—the majority of dogs—became ill back then for a variety of reasons, reasons often relating to the life they were expected to lead. They braved the elements and worked for a living, and many 'illnesses' were undoubtedly job or life-related, not necessarily diet-related (unless you are speaking of malnutrition or starvation as a result of a lifestyle scavenging for what little food was available; this is a problem of 'not enough food'.).


This is why experienced veterinarians do not recommend it.

It is only the past two generations of veterinarians that do not recommend raw diets. Why? For the past two generations they have been receiving information solely about commercial diets and dog food. They are taught nothing about raw diets, and furthermore are taught very little about the huge role nutrition plays in the majority of canine diseases. Most of their time is spent on learning the techniques and practicalities of surgery, disease management, etc.


Most breeds we have today are really of no relation to wolves since they were created by man's intervention through breeding over thousands of years.

Virtually all dogs today still share 99.8% of their mitochondrial DNA with wolves. Gray wolves are the exclusive ancestors to our dogs (Vila et al. 1997 in Mech, L.D. 2003. Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. pg 225). Dogs have recently been reclassified as Canis lupus familiaris, placing them in the same species as gray wolves. Yes, the breeds of dogs we have today were created by man through manipulation. Man, however, has done NOTHING to change the internal physiological and metabolic needs of the dog. Man has done nothing to change the need for a carnivorous diet. All man has done is impose harmful, grain-based omnivorous diets (or worse, VEGETARIAN diets) upon our carnivorous pets.


You just don't see packs of poodles, great Danes or golden retrievers in the wild.

That is because our dogs are companion animals geared for a life with humans. It would not be tolerated in our society to have packs of Poodles, Great Danes, or Golden Retrievers in the wild. I have, however, heard of packs of feral Chihuahuas, and have seen packs of dogs chase horses through fences. In developing countries, it is more common to see packs of semi-feral dogs hanging around towns and cities than here in the U.S.


The average lifespan of a domestic dog is much longer than that of a dog in the wild. (see "can a dog overcome illness from a raw meat diet", below)

Yes, this typically is the case (except when you have dogs dying 'early' because of diet-induced bloat or diet-related cancer, etc.). That is because our dogs enjoy the wonderful social status of 'beloved companion'. They are not braving the elements, they are not starving, they are not facing predation, they are not trying to bring down large ungulates, etc. Our dogs today enjoy a nice, "reduced risk" life where they are taken care of by other animals (humans). They sleep in the house next to or in our beds. They have a carefully controlled environment compared to animals in the wild. They have access to health care, where their diseases and injuries can be treated: they generally are not left out to die in the wild after breaking their leg, for example. The lifespan of a domestic dog is longer than a wild dog or wolf for a variety of factors, not just diet. The only contribution nutrition has made is to ensure our domestic animals are not starving and have a constant food source.


(2) The theory is to feed our dogs like wild dogs/wolves. However, the BARF and raw meat diets being proposed have little in common with what a wild dog/wolf eats.

Yes, BARF diets do have little in common with what a wild dog or wolf eats.


If you want to feed your dog like a wolf, then start shopping for worms, roots, swamp grass, rodents and fowl. Or garbage of neighboring humans.

Wait, you just said raw fowl was a bad thing! This aside, the diet described does not fit the diet of a typical wolf. The diet of a typical gray wolf includes deer, elk, caribou, rodents, fowl, the occasional fish, and rabbits. The primary food of wolves is large ungulates (Mech, L.D. 2003. Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. See Chapter 4: 'The Wolf as a Carnivore'.). Dingoes and foxes will eat worms, particularly those found in putrefying flesh (like maggots). Coyotes and foxes will eat the garbage of neighboring humans quite readily, but wolves less so since they are shy creatures that avoid human contact. They rarely eat vegetation. They do not even eat the stomach contents of their large herbivore prey!


Sure, they eat vegetation including fruit and graze on grasses, but you're not likely to see them sitting down to a bowl of oatmeal and yogurt in the morning or a serving of fresh broccoli with their just killed mole.

Yes, wolves and dogs may graze on grasses or eat the occasional fallen fruit, but it comes out the same way it came in (i.e. remains undigested). One only has to investigate the poops of a domestic dog after it has eaten grass to see evidence of this. This makes up a very small portion of their diet; since it is not even digested, should we even include it? Still, raw meaty bones and whole prey make up the bulk of their diet. And no, you will not see them sitting down to oatmeal and broccoli; those are both inappropriate items for carnivores. Of course, it seems to be perfectly acceptable to feed our dogs a variety of cooked or processed grains, vegetables, and fruits in the form of commercial kibble or home-cooked meals. So they are not only eating an "unnatural" food, but they are also consuming it in an even further unnatural form! And yet people are okay with this as long as it is not fed raw.


Some retail frozen raw meat products are really nothing but byproducts, and others include a menu of dairy products or are heavily supplemented with items that are believed to be healthful for humans, but not researched to determine the benefit to a dog.

How true!! Another reason to avoid pre-made BARF/raw. Stick to the raw meaty bones and whole carcasses. As for the items believed to be healthful for humans but not researched to determine the benefit to a dog: this is precisely what happens with commercial dog foods and home-made cooked diets. Grains, vegetables, fiber, and cooked meats are believed to be healthful for humans, but they have not been researched to determine the BENEFIT to a dog; they have been researched to see if a dog can eat and subsist on them. The same goes for supplements like kelp and alfalfa powder, spirulina, etc. Commercial dog food makers appeal to the human senses, making us believe that what is good for us is good for our dogs. That is not the case. Dogs do not need the majority of items put into commercial dog foods AND home-cooked diets. All that advertising on TV, in magazines, at dog shows, in the veterinarian's office, etc. is all for us, not for the dog! Most companies spend more money advertising their products than they do researching and developing it.


One consistent ingredient in the many varied BARF or raw meat diets is the supplementation of dairy products. Dogs are lactose intolerant and do not produce lactase after 6-8 weeks of age. Furthermore, bovine and goat milk is nothing like canine milk.

True. A species appropriate raw diet contains no dairy. It is unnecessary.


Wolves donít eat dairy (bear in mind that eggs are not dairy, they are meat) although they would if it were available. Which brings up another point - wolves are scavengers.

Wolves and dogs are very opportunistic. They will eat what they can, which is an ingrained instinct. Life in the wild means sporadic food supply, so you eat what you can when you can. However, the diet is still primarily composed of raw meaty bones and whole animals (since whole animals are composed of raw meaty bones, among other things like organs and skin) UNLESS the dog or wolf is starving. THEN they will resort to a more omnivorous diet, but this does not mean this is the best or most evolutionarily correct diet for them. An omnivorous diet is simply a 'survival diet' that will keep the wolf or dog alive until the next prey animal is killed. In times of plentiful prey, vegetable matter is rarely consumed.


They are not the best judge of what's good for them and neither is your dog. They'll eat cat poop and antifreeze if you let them.

Dogs and wolves can show suprisingly good judgment (like the dogs that consistently refuse commercial food) if given the chance in an evolutionarily appropriate context. Dogs depend on humans for their subsistence. It is our job to ensure that they are eating appropriate, healthy foods that are free from harmful preservatives and inappropriate foodstuffs.

Cat poop—an excellent example of how dogs can eat the feces of another animal (bacteria and all) and remain unscathed. This is, however, a natural behavior, particularly in commercially fed animals (both the commercial food-fed dogs that consume cat poop and the commercial food-fed cats that create said poop. Apparently the poop of raw-fed cats is not of as much interest.).

Antifreeze—an example of a human innovation that dogs are not evolutionarily equipped to deal with. How are they supposed to 'know' this sweet-tasting substance is poisonous to them if the instinct to avoid it has not been developed? They should not have to develop such an instinct to make up for a human shortcoming.