There’s been a lot written about raw food for dogs – some praising it, others condemning it. I think that the whole “raw vs. cooked” controversy is an unnecessary distraction from the real issue that should be focused on, which is “fresh food vs. processed food”.
Of course, each dog is unique and the nutritional needs of different dogs are often best met in different ways. Having said that, there are a few principles that I think are universal when it comes to pet nutrition:
1. Use high quality, nutrient-dense ingredients
2. Create a precise formula for each meal so it provides complete and balanced nutrition
3. Minimally process the food so the nutrients are the most readily absorbable and least damaged.
4. Serve the meals as soon as possible to minimize any depletion of nutrients and spoiling.
I don’t think anyone would argue with these principles (if they would, I’d be interested to hear why).
The real question comes down to how little to process the food (the third principle). For those of us who advocate feeding fresh food, the heavy heat and processing to make commercial dry or canned foods results in significant destruction of the nutrients found in the food. Manufacturers then try to replace some of the lost micronutrients with chemical additives, which are often less absorbable. I always chuckle when I see a bag of “natural” or “organic” kibble, since I think that much of the benefit of using better quality ingredients is undone by the heavy processing done to the meals in order to produce dry food.
Advocates for raw food contend that even light cooking of fresh food compromises the nutrients. Detractors claim that feeding raw increases the risk of introducing pathogens like salmonella and E.coli. I think that there is some truth to both statements, but the question comes down to what are the trade-offs for each approach.
Most credible experts that I consult with agree that a healthy dog’s digestive system is well-equipped to deal with normal amounts of bacteria, etc. that may be present in raw meat. At the same time, according to many of the same experts, light cooking of meals (sufficient to destroy any pathogens) causes only minimal damage to even the most heat-sensitive nutrients.
So there’s no compelling reason to pick one approach over the other. Instead, the decision should be made on a case-by-case basis.
The general rule that I think should be applied is that the less processing that is done to the food, the better. And for most dogs, that is no processing at all – that is, raw.
Having said that, there are some dogs with sensitive digestive systems that don’t handle raw food very well, and find cooked food easier to break down. And other dogs with compromised immune systems (or who live with people with compromised immune systems) for whom the risk of illness from pathogens is real. There are still other dogs who just prefer their meals cooked, for whatever reason. For those dogs, lightly cooking the food is the best approach.
Surveys of our customers indicate that about a third of them cook the meals for their pets, and two-thirds feed raw. Both groups see dramatic improvements in their dog’s health versus commercial kibble, and neither group report any health problems resulting from their choice.
So my advice is not to get too fixated on the issue of raw or cooked. If you’d feel more comfortable lightly cooking your pet’s meals, go right ahead. The important thing is to feed fresh food, whether raw or cooked, and try to minimize the use of heavily processed kibble.