Raw Food vs. Cooked Food for Dogs: Exploring the Pros and Cons

As pet owners, we strive to provide the best nutrition for our beloved dogs. When it comes to their diet, the debate between raw food and cooked food has sparked considerable discussion. In this blog post, we will explore the pros and cons of both approaches, drawing insights from scientific research and studies, as well as the Eastern philosophy of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM).

Raw Food

Proponents of raw food argue that it closely resembles a dog’s ancestral diet and cite the following benefits:

Nutrient Preservation: Raw food advocates believe that minimal processing and cooking preserve the natural nutrients found in ingredients, including enzymes, vitamins and minerals. Some studies suggest that raw diets can provide higher levels of certain vitamins (such as B vitamins and vitamin C) and enzymes.

Dental Health: Chewing on raw bones and tougher cuts of meat in raw diets can help maintain dental health by reducing plaque and tartar buildup. This mechanical action can contribute to healthier teeth and gums.

Improved Digestion: Some studies suggest that raw diets can enhance digestion in dogs, thanks to the naturally occurring enzymes and higher moisture content in raw foods. These enzymes are thought to support optimal gut health and nutrient absorption.

However, it is important to consider the potential cons of feeding raw food as well:

Bacterial Contamination: Raw diets pose a higher risk of bacterial contamination, such as Salmonella or E. coli, not only for dogs but also for the humans handling the food. This is easily prevented by implementing proper fresh food handling and storage and good hygiene practices.

Nutritional Imbalance: This is one of the main concerns dog parents struggle with, especially when preparing their own raw diets. The reason that veterinarians do not advise a homemade diet is because there are many caring pet owners who are unfortunately sorely lacking in knowledge about their pets’ nutritional requirements and end up feeding their pet an unbalanced diet. Feeding fresh food diets is not rocket science – but it still needs learning and careful planning. If you have pets with health issues, consultation with a veterinary nutritionist is advised to ensure balanced nutrition.

Nutrient Availability: While raw foods offer high nutrient content, certain nutrients, like lycopene in tomatoes or beta-carotene in carrots, become more bioavailable through the cooking process. Cooking can enhance nutrient absorption in some cases and make certain foods more easily digestible.

Cooked Food

Cooking food for dogs has its own set of advantages and disadvantages:

Improved Digestibility: Research suggests that cooking certain foods can enhance nutrient availability and absorption. Heat can break down cell walls and complex carbohydrates, proteins and fats, making nutrients more accessible to the body. Cooked diets can be particularly beneficial for senior dogs or dogs with compromised digestive and immune systems.

Reduced Bacterial Risk: Cooking food at appropriate temperatures can eliminate harmful bacteria and pathogens, reducing the risk of foodborne illnesses.

However, there are a few drawbacks to consider when feeding cooked food:

Loss of Nutrients: Cooking can lead to some loss of heat-sensitive nutrients, particularly vitamins like vitamin C and B vitamins and enzymes. However, a balanced diet can still provide necessary nutrients for optimal health.

Oxidative Damage: High-temperature cooking methods, such as frying or grilling, can produce harmful compounds like acrylamide or advanced glycation end-products (AGEs). These compounds, when consumed in excess, may contribute to oxidative stress and inflammation.

Dental Health: Cooked food does not provide the same teeth-cleaning benefits as raw food, so additional dental care may be required.

Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine Perspective

In Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine, the concept of balancing yin and yang plays a vital role in canine nutrition. According to TCVM, raw food is considered cooling and yin in nature, while cooked food is warming and yang. The choice between raw and cooked depends on a dog’s specific needs and the overall balance of their body.

TCVM also suggests that individual dogs may have different constitutions and dietary requirements based on factors such as age, breed and health conditions. Consulting with a holistic veterinarian or canine nutritionist well-versed in TCVM principles can help create a customised diet plan.

So, should we feed our dogs raw food or cooked food?

Choosing between a raw food or cooked food diet for your dog is a decision that requires careful consideration. Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages, supported by research and studies. Ultimately, the best approach depends on factors such as your dog’s health, individual needs, and your ability to safely handle and prepare the food.

I personally feed my dog both raw (with warm broth especially on cold days) and gently cooked diets (to preserve most of the nutrients), applying the Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine approach. I don’t think there is a one size fits all solution – health is a journey. What our dogs require now may be different as they move through different times and life stages – and it is important to recognise and adjust their diets and nutrition accordingly.

Regardless of the chosen method, it is crucial to ensure a nutritionally balanced diet, seek guidance from professionals and regularly monitor your dog’s health and wellbeing. Remember, every dog is unique. What works for one may not work for another – and finding the right dietary approach may involve trial and error. Good luck!

If you’d like to learn more about dog nutrition and feeding fresh foods (raw or cooked), check out our ebook called Bowie Drools Over the Alphabet. You will find an A to Z fresh foods list you can share with your dog, complete with the nutrient guidelines and over 30 dog friendly recipes to try. You will also learn about dogs’ physiology and the nutrients they need to thrive (supported by science) and how to make your own nutritionally balanced dog food.

“Bowie Drools Over the Alphabet is more than just a recipe book – it’s an exceptional resource about how we should feed our dogs. The book I wish I’d written!! I can’t recommend this book enough for all dog owners.”

Narelle Cooke, Accredited Clinical Naturopath, Nutritionist & Herbalist (Humans & Pets), Natural Health & Nutrition

Try our Complete & Balanced Raw Dog Food Recipe (AAFCO) – Rainbow Beef Brisket