Raw Dog Food - Is It Better Ground, In Chunks or Whole?

The raw dog food movement is gaining popularity among pet lovers worldwide for good reason. Many owners have testified on the improvements that raw food has made on their dogs’ health.

As a result, more and more companies are catering to the demand. Now a wide variety of raw foods are available in various forms.

In this article, we look into the pros and cons of raw dog foods in three different formats – ground, chunky and whole.

What is ground dog food?

Also known as B.A.R.F (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) – whether commercially prepared or homemade – usually consists of finely minced raw meat with a mix of other ingredients.

The variety of uncooked ingredients can include ground up bones or a calcium supplement, various organs (offal), whole grains, herbs eggs and/or fish, pureed veggies and/or a small amount of fruit. Supplements may also be added.

Some dog food brands provide very finely ground up food, almost like a mash. Some offer a coarser grind.

Is raw ground meat good for dogs?

In a new study published in the Journal of Animal Science, researchers tested the palatability and digestibility of four diets: two commercially marketed fresh foods, one raw diet and one traditional dry food (kibbles).

One fresh diet was lightly cooked (roasted) then refrigerated and pasteurized. The other was lightly cooked grain-free (roasted) then refrigerated and pasteurized. Both were ground up and presented in a meatball form.

The raw diet was treated with acidifying bacteria that makes the food inhospitable to harmful microbes. This was ground up but presented in a big sausage roll where the portions are cut up for feeding.

All the diets were chicken-based, but some had added beef, salmon, or chicken liver. Each diet also contained a vitamin and mineral mix, and a dry mix of plant products like sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, cranberries, and carrots.

The test subjects were eight beagles. They were fed one diet for one month followed by a 14-day transition period onto each new diet. The beagles were monitored for any changes in behaviour or activity. Urine, stool and blood samples were also collected and analyzed.

The results

Both roasted fresh diets were more digestible than kibbles. The blood triglyceride levels (cholesterol) of the beagles were higher after eating kibbles. The levels were lower after both raw and two fresh diets even though these were higher in animal fat.

There was a shift in the dogs’ gut bacteria but this had no effect on their well-being. In fact, all the dogs found the raw and fresh diets palatable and digestible. Their stools were also in good quality.

The study focussed on the dogs’ digestive and behavioral response to the different diets. However, it did not look into the effects of the diets on the dogs’ overall health and conditions of their coats.

A separate survey was conducted with 218 dog owners who fed their dogs raw meat-based diets. They were asked to observe changes to certain aspects of their dogs’ health. Below is a summary of their observations.

The conclusion

A dog’s digestive system is capable of adapting within only 14 days of transitioning from one totally different diet to another.

Raw ground meat is good for dogs, provided it is added with other ingredients to make the meal nutritionally balanced and complete.

The survey conducted on 218 dog owners, who gave their dogs B.A.R.F. diets, shows that the health benefits of raw food is evident:

  •   The majority of dog owners observed shinier coat and healthier skin
  •   About half cited increased muscle mass and cleaner teeth
  •   30% witnessed better vitality
  •   18% noticed odourless breath
  •   15% saw cleaner ears
  •   15% noted increased performance

Advantages of ground raw dog food

Each patty is a balanced and complete meal in itself, fulfilling all the ideal health requirements – high water content, pure animal protein, animal fat, fiber and vitamins from plant source, vitamins from organs, calcium and phosphorus from bone meal or eggshells, grains, herbs and other essential supplements.

Grinding up bones eliminates the risk of choking hazards, broken teeth as well as any gastrointestinal tract or digestive issues that may arise from sharp edges.

It is good for small breeds and senior dogs. Some toy breeds find big chunks of food intimidating and some senior dogs have missing teeth. They will have no issues with ground up food.

Disadvantages of ground raw dog food

Since all the ingredients are ground up, the dog doesn’t work its jaw muscles when it is eating. It just needs to lap up the paste.

Additional whole bones need to be given to the dog to satisfy its gnawing instinct. Bones also help to keep the dog’s teeth clean.

Eating too quickly has been associated with a sense of not eating enough, making the dog want more. Some owners misread this as the dog still feeling hungry and are tempted to feed the dog more than what it should eat. 

What is chunky raw dog food?

The search on Google seldom bears relevant information on this topic. Instead, the results come up showing mostly cooked chunks of meat in sauce and other cooked ingredients.

Chunky raw dog food in this article actually refers to raw meat cut into various-sized cubes served together with a small portion of vegetable or fruit, meat organs and sometimes spices. Recipes may include raw bone, bone meal or egg shells as a calcium supplement.

The difference from ground raw food is that the pieces of meat are not minced and blended with the complementary ingredients. The meat is in small or medium-sized cubes. The complementary ingredients may be blended together or chopped finely.

Pros and cons of chunky raw food

Benefits of chunky raw food

Chunky raw food that follows the B.A.R.F. formula may have slightly more retained nutrients than the ground up version. Grinding up muscle meat breaks up all the tissue and blood capillaries in it, thus losing more nutrient-rich blood than chunks of meat.

Blending exposes more areas of raw meat to air thereby increasing the risk for microbial contamination. Extra care needs to be given to hygiene when preparing minced meat. On the contrary, meat cubes have less surface area exposed to the air.

The chunks of meat enable dogs to work their teeth and muscles while eating, which gives them greater satisfaction and slows their speed of eating.

Disadvantages of chunky raw food

Since the meat is in chunks, finicky dogs can easily pick out the meat and leave the rest of the complementary (yet equally important) ingredients behind.

One size does not fit all. Some commercially made raw foods are catered for larger dogs than smaller dogs, and vice versa. Large cubes might make eating a challenge for tiny jaws whereas tiny chunks don’t give big dogs the chewing experience. 

What is whole prey food?

There are two variations of whole prey diet where you feed:

1) the whole animal, or

2) chunks of meat with some bone plus organs (and sometimes egg)

This diet contains no vegetables or fruit, no other carbohydrates or dairy products, and no vitamin or mineral supplements. The most common recommendation is to feed 80% muscle meat, 10% bone (from raw meaty bones), 5% liver and 5% other secretory organs.

It is also known as the prey model diet or prey model raw, designed to resemble the natural diet of wild canines such as a wolf.

Wild canines consume small prey whole (such as moles, voles, mice and rabbits) – skin and offal included. The prey’s intestinal contents have finely chewed grasses, grains and berries. These provide sources of phytonutrients, antioxidants, enzymes and vitamins not found in muscle meats which are very beneficial to a canine’s overall health.

The tiny bones of small prey are easily crushed and these are a source of calcium and phosphorus. When wild canines eat larger prey, they are more selective.

Sometimes they leave the stomach and entrails behind. The only surviving species that can crush bone easily is the hyena. Yet, all canines whether domestic or wild, have the same instinct to gnaw bone. Why?

According to Dr. Stanley Coren, PhD., DSc., FRSC, bone marrow is particularly rich, with more than half of its composition being fat. In addition, bonded to the calcium making up the bone itself is the so-called bone grease. Although bone grease is less digestible and concentrated, it is still a substantial source of fat.

In bad times, wild canines particularly value fat, which serves as a sort of nutritional multiplier. Thus, they chew on bone to get to the bone marrow.

This evolutionary survival instinct – which is as strong as the drive to eat or mate – is also present in domestic pups. This explains why bone-chewing gives dogs such great satisfaction. Even a small dog can work up a bite strength of around 700 pounds per square inch.

Pros and cons of whole prey diet

Advantages of whole prey diet

There is no doubt that your faithful four-legged companion will get the real deal. Without slicing and dicing, all the nutrients in muscle meat, organs and bones will be intact.

Your pet dog’s deeply embedded wild instincts will be satisfied by the act of gnawing on meat and bone.

Disadvantages of whole prey diet

There are a few issues with the prey model diet:

1) How and where will you find a whole prey to feed your dog?

If you are squeamish about killing small animals – wild or domestic – this may not be a good idea. And if you don’t do the killing, where can you purchase them from easily?

2) Nutritional imbalance

When a wolf eats a deer, it eats the entire animal except the stomach contents, the very hard skull and leg bones. He may gnaw on the larger bones, but he doesn’t crunch them up and swallow them as a source of calcium and trace minerals.

It will eat muscle meat, smaller bones, internal organs (kidneys, lungs, blood, intestines, liver, heart and brain), the eyes, tongue, thyroid, adrenal and other glands, and assorted additional goodies.

If you are procuring chunks of meat from larger animals (like chicken, lamb, pork and beef), you will need to replicate the wolf’s diet by buying intestines apart as well as other internal organs. If you don’t do that sufficiently and in a balanced manner, your dog may suffer from nutritional imbalance.

3) Storage

Fancy keeping small dead animals in your freezer? Big chunks of animal parts are also a challenge in packaging.

4) Injuries from eating bone

There have been many cases of fractured teeth and choking due to chewing on large bones. Of all reported cases, 92% of the dogs received bones regularly. Dogs that are hasty are the most prone to incidents of choking.

Conclusion

According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the minimum requirements for a dog’s variety of vital nutrients are:

Omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to promote healthy brain and eye development in young animals. The caloric density of foods designed for adults and puppies can also be very different.

Different dog breeds have different considerations. Large breed puppies are at higher than average risk for developmental orthopaedic diseases (e.g., hip and elbow dysplasia). Their foods are slightly lower in fat, contain a little less calcium and phosphorus, and have a carefully balanced calcium to phosphorus ratio to help these dogs grow at a healthier rate.

When puppies reach approximately 80% of their expected adult size, they can usually be switched to an adult dog food. This happens at different times for different individuals.

Tiny breeds (e.g., Chihuahuas, Miniature Pinschers, and Toy Poodles) reach this point first, usually at around 9 or 10 months of age. Medium sized pups reach it at about 12 months old, and larger breeds at 12 to 16 months old.

Not switching to an adult diet when the time is right increases the chances of your dog becoming overweight or obese. Therefore, dog owners should consider all these factors before they go DIY.

The problem with homemade raw food is calculating the right amount of ingredients to make a balanced meal. Some sources on the Internet make it sound easy but it actually involves a lot of mathematics. Each calculation must take into account the different nutritional values of different meat parts and organs.

The stakes are high here because your beloved doggy’s life is in your hands. Nutrition imbalance can cause health problems that will not only compromise your dog’s well-being but also burn a hole in your pocket with veterinary bills.

Unless you’re ready to hammer away on a calculator for each meal, you might be better off leaving it to the experts who create raw dog foods for the market.

You can buy ground or chunky raw food from a reputable brand like Petcubes so that your dog gets the whole range of essential nutrients. These usually come with calcium and phosphorus supplements in the form of bone meal or ground eggshells.

You can still give your dog meaty raw bone occasionally to cater to its chewing instinct. Pick a bone that is the size of your dog’s head. However, dogs should always be monitored while they are chewing on bones. 

Sources

IntechOpen. 10 October 2018. Nutritional Composition of Meat. (Online) Available at: https://www.intechopen.com/books/meat-science-and-nutrition/nutritional-composition-of-meat

Animal Wellness. 6 September 2013. Prey model or B.A.R.F. diets for dogs. (Online) Available at: https://animalwellnessmagazine.com/prey-model-barf/  [Accessed on 30 June 2020]

Science Daily. 23 August 2018. Fresh and raw daily diets for dogs may have health benefits, study says. (Online) Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/08/180823171030.htm  [Accessed on 30 June 2020] 

BMC Veterinary Research. 2019. Raw meat-based diets for dogs: surveys of owners’ motivations, attitudes and practices. (Online) Available at:  https://bmcvetres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12917-019-1824-x  [Accessed on 30 June 2020]

PetMD. 25 May 2016. How to Use Bones in a Dog’s Raw Food Diet. (Online) Available at: https://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/how-use-bones-raw-dog-food-diet  [Accessed on 30 June 2020]

Psychology Today. 27 Jan 2010. Why Do Dogs Love Bones? (Online) Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/canine-corner/201001/why-do-dogs-love-bones  [Accessed on 30 June 2020]

https://aces.illinois.edu/news/fresh-and-raw-diets-dogs-may-have-health-benefits-study-says

Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association. Adult Dog Calorie Calculator. (Online) Available at: https://www.pfma.org.uk/adult-dog-calorie-calculator-maf-raw  [Accessed on 30 June 2020]

Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association. Calorie Factsheet. (Online) Available at:  https://www.pfma.org.uk/calorie-factsheet  [Accessed on 30 June 2020]
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