In a totally non-related area of my life, a conversation about dog food came up. The person who started the conversation was looking for a “good dog food.” She didn’t give any criteria about her budget or say what size dog she had.
Several other people jumped right in to recommend raw food.
I found myself in a weird position. I have seen tremendous benefits from feeding Silas raw food. If you have a dog with serious food allergies, I really don’t see a way around a home prepared diet of some sort. (Unless things are so bad that you really need the hypoallergenic kibbles, in which case I am sincerely sorry.)
Even though the raw diet has done great things for us, though, I don’t recommend it wholesale to everyone. In the original conversation, I recommended one of the dog food review sites.
The reason I don’t always recommend raw food is quite simple: people don’t do their research. Very few veterinarians know enough to help you formulate a raw diet, even if they aren’t completely horrified by the idea. Very few places in the country have knowledgeable stores that sell raw diets. Even places that sell the pre-made blends don’t always know a lot about what they’re selling. That means the raw-feeder is left almost entirely to her own devices. Grabbing the wrong book off Amazon could be disastrous, as, among other things, some of them recommend completely inadequate amounts of calcium. (For more information, see Mary Straus’s list of book reviews.) If you don’t find reading a lot about dog nutrition, with a lot of conflicting information, to be geekily exciting, then a home-prepared raw diet isn’t likely to be a good choice for you. As long as you have the basics down, there’s no need to obsess over the exact quantity of every nutrient every day, but those basics are extremely important.
It also isn’t a great choice for dogs who live with young children, elderly people, or immune-compromised individuals. Your dog is very unlikely to catch a food borne disease, thanks to the structure of his digestive system. He can shed those bacteria in his saliva and feces, which can be a problem for people who are already at-risk. (Although, to play devil’s advocate with my own argument, I suspect it’s less of a risk than eating at a restaurant or buying those horribly dangerous packaged hamburger patties.) People who are really devoted to raw food tend to downplay the risk to humans just because the bacteria risk to the dog really is fairly minimal.
There are great kibbles on the market, and great reasons to use them. There are also, as Silas is living proof, legitimate reasons to want something else. My bottom line winds up being very murky. I can see valid reasons to feed everything from the factory-prepared raw foods to home-prepared raw food to canned food to kibble.
Know your dog, know your life, accept your limitations, and don’t let anybody make you feel bad.