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dog looking at raw meat

The essentials

  • Dogs can eat some raw meat, but they probably shouldn’t—  Just like with people, raw meat can be harmful to dogs.  
  • Raw food diets are controversial — There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence out there in favor of feeding dogs raw foods, but many scientific institutions still advise against it.
  • Never feed your dog raw meat that looks or smells like it might be spoiled — If you’re going to feed your dog raw meat, you need to make sure it’s good quality. 
  • Always consult a vet before changing your dog’s diet — Talk to a professional before  starting your dog on a raw food diet and follow the safety guidelines of trusted organizations to minimize the risk of contamination and foodborne illness.

If you’re like most dog owners, you only want the best quality food for your pet. Your first thought might be: can dogs eat raw meat? After all, raw meat is one of the foods they would have eaten in the wild, along with raw fruits and vegetables. Raw food diets (RFDs) like this have recently gained traction — advocates cite improved digestion and oral health, increased energy, and shinier coats as potential benefits. Unfortunately, there are also risks to raw foods, especially raw meats..

👉 Consult with your veterinarian before switching your dog’s diet, and take time to weigh the pros and cons of a raw diet. Your dog’s food should suit their particular needs.

Yes, dogs can eat certain raw foods

Many raw foods are perfectly safe for dogs to eat, particularly plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables. However, some fruits and vegetables like grapes, raisins, and avocados can cause severe harm.

Animal products like organ meats, muscle meat, whole or ground bones, raw eggs, and yogurt included in some raw-food diets for dogs may not be safe either. RFD proponents argue that raw meats are dogs’ natural food of choice and that their bodies are designed to digest them quickly and efficiently. While dogs may have digestive systems better suited to the task of breaking down raw meat, there’s not a lot of scientific evidence to support its alleged health benefits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against it. 

👉 If you feed your dog raw meat, give them high-quality meat that’s been handled and prepared following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s hygiene standards, and always consult your local veterinarian first.

Potential benefits of a raw meat diet

Raw meats are naturally high in several compounds dogs need to stay happy and healthy.  Supporters swear by their health benefits, claiming their consumption may lead to: 

  • Healthier coat and skin. Some anecdotal evidence suggests that dogs on RFDs have softer, shinier coats than those on commercial dog food diets. Raw meat has naturally high levels of fresh fat, easily digestible proteins, vitamin E, and zinc — though most kibble formulas, board-certified and animal-tested, also incorporate vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc to achieve the same result.
  • Improved breath and oral health. Hard raw foods like bones act as natural toothbrushes that scrape excess plaque off a dog’s teeth while they’re chewing. However, many raw diets do not incorporate hard bones because they can fracture teeth, are a choking hazard and can cause a gastrointestinal obstruction. In many cases, raw diets do not help clean a dog’s teeth as much as hard kibble does. 
  • Improved medical conditions. RFD proponents claim that raw meats can help curb the effects of long-lasting diseases like cancer and diabetes; however, there is not enough evidence to prove this theory. One study found that dogs on grain-free, legume-rich diets may be more prone to heart disease.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. Raw diet proponents maintain that raw meat improves a dog’s muscle tone since it’s naturally high in protein. Be careful, though, since too much protein can cause harm to the kidneys. On the other hand, high quality dog foods are formulated by boarded nutritionists and contain the recommended amount of protein for a dog to live a healthy lifestyle — though many are also high in carbohydrates, which RFD proponents say leads to unnecessary weight gain. 

Risks associated with raw meat diets for dogs

Despite the potential benefits of raw meat diets, reputable institutions like the FDA, CDC, and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) advise against feeding dogs raw meat. They cite risks including:

  • Bacteria. Raw meat contains harmful pathogens usually destroyed by heat when cooked, including salmonella, listeria, and E. coli. While dogs are less susceptible to these bacteria than humans, they can still get very sick and develop diarrhea that lasts for days if they eat contaminated food. They can also spread the bacteria everywhere they go, potentially putting everyone in the household at risk, including small children.
  • Nutritional imbalances. Even though domesticated dogs descend from carnivorous wolves and wild dogs, their dietary needs have changed over time to adapt to their new environment. Today’s dogs are more like omnivores than carnivores — they require nutrients found in foods other than just raw meats. Evolution has also led some pet dogs to develop allergies or intolerances to certain raw foods, which is why a vet should always be consulted before you introduce something new into your dog’s diet. 
  • Lack of regulation. The AMVA states that “raw pet foods are produced with little to no regulatory oversight by the state or federal governments.” This worsens the nutritional imbalances outlined above, as many commercial raw foods for pets are made without consideration for the vitamins and nutrients dogs need to stay healthy. Some products might have too much of a certain vitamin, while others are severely lacking in several. 

Ways to make it safer for your dog to eat raw meat

If you have consulted your veterinarian, understand the risks, and still want to give your dog raw meat, take a few extra precautions to minimize their chances of becoming sick or malnourished. Ensure that you:

  • Only feed your dog quality meat. Only buy meats for your dog that look and smell fresh. If a piece of raw meat has been left unrefrigerated for a while, avoid feeding it to your dog.
  • Freeze raw meat. Keep raw meat in the freezer until it’s ready for use, and thaw it in the refrigerator or microwave (not in the sink or on the counter).
  • Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands frequently when handling raw meat to avoid spreading harmful bacteria to the other people in your house. Never touch your face or mouth while handling it. Try not to let your dog lick your face when they’re done eating raw meat, and make sure to clean any preparation surfaces and food bowls with soap and hot water. 
  • Stay on top of your dog’s nutrition. If you’re going to feed your dog raw meat, ensure their complete nutritional needs are being met. This can be done using other raw foods like fruits and veggies, though experts tend to recommend commercially prepared products like supplements instead since they eliminate a lot of the guesswork.

🚨Puppies and older dogs have extra-sensitive digestive systems and should never be fed raw meats.

Alternatives to a raw food diet for dogs

At the end of the day, every dog’s nutritional needs are going to differ based on things like their age, breed, and overall level of health. A vet will assess these factors and steer you toward the best type of food for your dog, whether it’s a combination of cooked and raw whole foods or commercially prepared dog formula. If you feed your dog a homecooked food diet, get it formulated by a boarded veterinary nutritionist to give them all the nutrients they need to stay healthy. This costs about $500, but it’s essential for your dog’s health. You can also check out BalanceIT for recipes or find a board-certified veterinary nutritionist near you. Companies like JustFoodForDogs and Nom Nom sell pre-packaged home-cooked diets that have undergone feed trials.

Frequently asked questions

Can I feed my dog raw steak?

Avoid feeding your dog raw steak, as it can contain harmful bacteria like listeria, E. coli, and salmonella and lead to pancreatitis.

Do dogs prefer cooked or raw meat?

Dogs love eating all kinds of foods — even the things they’re not supposed to. They usually find both raw and cooked meat to be pretty appetizing. However, you should consult with your veterinarian before feeding your dog raw meat. 

Can puppies eat raw meat?

It is best to feed puppies a high-quality puppy formula as it contains the proper nutrients they need to stay healthy and grow to their full potential. Feeding raw meat to a puppy is not recommended as it can cause an upset stomach and pass on harmful bacteria, like Salmonella and E. coli.