Commercial and home-prepared raw meat-based diets (RMBDs) have grown in popularity over the past decade. Many Husky owners advocate feeding raw meat to their dogs given their working dog category and hunting nature. Motivation for husky owners and breeders to feed a raw meat diet is driven by the perceived health benefits of raw diets and a desire to mirror the diets of wild-living related species. However, Huskies are a domesticated species that have undergone several thousand years of evolution resulting in a genetically different species to wild dogs and wolves. So, should we be feeding Huskies raw meat? And what are the risks of feeding a raw meat diet? Let’s find out!
Raw meat-based diets often include higher amounts of protein and fat and relatively low amounts of carbohydrates and fiber. A high protein diet will help your dog maintain a healthy muscle mass, provide slow-release energy for an active lifestyle, and have good coat quality. Feeding a raw meat-based diet allows certain protein sources to be omitted easily and they are often free from grain, pulses, and legumes which may be an advantage to dogs with known food allergens or sensitive digestion.
The process of chewing, biting, and tearing raw meat and bones can help to clean teeth and reduce dental disease in our canine friends. Furthermore, a high protein, low carbohydrate diet has a low glycaemic index and can improve satiety in dogs meaning they stay feeling full for longer. Diets with high protein levels can be helpful for weight loss in loss and reducing the incidence of obesity.
What Are the Risks of Feeding a Raw Meat Diet?
The safety issues relating to raw meat-based diets include:
Home prepared and commercial diets commonly have identified nutritional problems. Calcium/ phosphorus imbalances and specific vitamin deficiencies have been reported. This is particularly true for homemade diets as pet owners may find it difficult to access nutritional advice and provide all of the nutrients required for their dogs. Different life stages such as puppies, elderly dogs, or illnesses require specific nutritional requirements. Calcium and phosphorous imbalances can be detrimental in developing puppies. Diets low in fiber can lead to constipation and other digestive problems.
Bones can provide essential enrichment to dogs and encourage chewing, reduce boredom, and improve dental health. However, feeding your dog bones also comes with risks. Bones can result in broken teeth, obstruction of the esophagus or intestines, and constipation.
Parasites can be found in raw meat and are one of the main sources pet dogs are exposed to intestinal parasites such as roundworms and tapeworms. Dogs can spread food-derived parasites to farm animals and people. Ensuring your dog has an up-to-date parasite treatment protocol, and practicing good hygiene when handling your dog’s feces are essential if feeding a raw diet.
Raw meat harbors various pathogens including E.coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria. Meat that has been processed – for example, shop-bought meat rather than animal carcasses or processed meats such as burgers or sausages has a higher level of bacterial contamination. This increases the risk of infection and gastrointestinal upset which can result in vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Salmonella can cause serious illness, especially in very young, old, pregnant, or ill pets. Care should be taken when considering a raw meat-based diet in dogs with a compromised immune system or those that are on medications that affect the immune system such as chemotherapy drugs to treat cancer.
Further information detailing the hazards of bacterial contamination in raw meat can be found here in a review article published in the Journal of Small Animal Practice (JSAP). Raw diets for dogs and cats: a review, with particular reference to microbiological hazards – Davies – 2019 – Journal of Small Animal Practice – Wiley Online Library
Dog owners and other people in a household can be infected by harmful bacteria by handling raw meat-based diets and through their stools. Pets on raw food diets have been shown to carry and shed harmful bacteria and there is increasing concern that pets on raw meat diets have higher levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. People with a compromised immune system are more at risk (e.g., young children, elderly people, pregnant people, and individuals with specific illnesses or taking certain medication).
Is it Safe to Feed My Husky Raw Meat?
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) have all spoken about the dangers of feeding raw meat. Bacterial contamination of raw meat can be high and pose a risk to our dogs and other members of the household. Whilst other food sources can be contaminated, cooking meat to a safe temperature kills off harmful bacteria and reduces the risk of infection. Choosing a well-balanced raw-based diet that is formulated with fruit, vegetables, seeds, and legumes is often beneficial over a home-prepared diet to ensure that your dog gets all of the nutrients they require. Following strict hygiene rules when preparing raw meat diets for your dog helps to reduce the risk to you and your pup. The FDA safety guideline can be found here: Get the Facts! Raw Pet Food Diets can be Dangerous to You and Your Pet | FDA
Muscle, meat, organ meat, bones, and raw eggs may be included in a raw diet. Raw meat-based diets often include a mix of different animal meats including chicken, beef, lamb, turkey, venison, and seafood. Chicken, Turkey, and white meats are lean protein sources that are lower in fat and are commonly included in commercial raw dog foods. Beef, lamb, and venison generally have higher levels of dietary fats. This may help sustain your dog’s energy levels and provide essential fatty acids such as omega-6. Raw pork often has higher levels of parasites and worms than other meats and care should be taken when feeding this meat. Processed meats are not recommended (such as ham, sausages, and bacon) as the fat and salt content may be too high for your dog and lead to digestive problems. Raw fish and seafood can contain high levels of harmful bacteria and should only be fed fresh rather than frozen and then defrosted.
Whether to feed your Husky a raw meat-based diet or not doesn’t have a black and white answer. The most important thing is to feed a nutritionally well-balanced diet that ensures your dog has all the nutritional requirements, vitamins, and minerals to stay healthy and fit. Both raw diets and cooked diets can fall short nutritionally, so it is not possible to categorize all raw-based diets as ‘bad’ and cooked diets as ‘good’. However, there is growing evidence that feeding raw meat can be a health risk to both pets and owners. Furthermore, the WSAVA (World Small Animal Veterinary Association) which aims to improve the health and welfare of pets worldwide released a recent consensus statement that states there is no evidence that raw meat-based diets provide health benefits over balanced commercial or home-made cooked diets. (A summary of this statement can be found here RawMeatBasedDiets_Jan2021 (wsava.org)). Focusing on the quality of the ingredients in your dog’s food and the nutrition it provides is more important than whether the meat source is fed raw or cooked.