Q: I have been thinking of switching to a grain free, raw diet for my dog. Is there anything I need to know?
A: This is a great question and one of my biggest pet peeves so I am glad you asked. Let me break this down into the raw food diet portion, and then the grain free concern.
Raw food diets have many claimed great health effects including elimination of itching, skin infections, loose stools, vomiting, and being the more natural food, etc. Most of these are not only not true but they can be worse on raw food diets. If they are improved, it is often for a reason other than being a raw food. The biggest reason a raw diet may help is because it contains a different protein source than you were feeding before (a cooked packaged food has the same effects). The things they don't mention about raw foods is food safety and that dogs are not wolves. A German shepherd dog or chihuahua is nothing like a coyote or wolf and they actually have physical differences including digestion and especially longevity. Raw foods markedly increase the bacterial counts throughout your home. Remember you clean your counters after preparing meat but your dog will lick their bowl, lick their feet and walk all over the house and sit on the couch or bed. Then they will lick your hand or give you a kiss. Guess how much Salmonella and E. coli they just spread over your whole house? A Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist I spoke to recommended to never feed your dog a raw food diet. Period.
As for the grain-free craze. This was perpetrated by food companies realizing that humans had some grain allergies and dogs have skin allergies so dogs must have grain allergies. If they sold grain or gluten-free foods, they could charge a lot more for it. We're talking making millions of dollars off these foods. It makes sense, the problem is it just isn't true. Skin allergies in dogs are composed of fleas, food, and environment with food usually the significantly smallest portion. Of those dogs who actually have food allergies, the overwhelming majority are to the meat protein in their diet with chicken, beef, and dairy making up almost the entire food allergy pie. They are not bad just the most commonly used proteins. The remainder of the food allergies are to the less commonly used proteins like fish, rabbit, duck, lamb, etc. with grains and gluten not even registering as a blip on the allergy spectrum. I spoke to one of the major food companies and they admitted to me that the only reason they came out with a grain free diet, is because that is what everyone is buying and they lost market share without it. No science, no research, just pure money and business.
If you want to help your dog (and these are also true for cats), do not feed grain or gluten free diets and never feed raw food as it can cause hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (bloody diarrhea). Instead, talk to your veterinarian so they can try to first evaluate if a diet trial may even be helpful (many times it is fleas or environment that need addressed instead) and help guide you through the search for the right food. So to answer your question about what you need to know...don’t do it! Hope that helps keep yourself, your animals, and your family safer, and helps keep your wallet fuller.