There are two distinct camps when you start asking dog owners, breeders, nutritionalists and even veterinarians what is the very best type of food to feed a domesticated pet dog. One group recommends a pre-made, high quality, nutritionally balanced food, typically dry or kibble, while the other group recommends a totally natural, raw food diet. There are pros and cons to each type of diet, but in reality both when fed correctly, are very healthy for a dog and also nutritionally sound.
In order to compare the two it is important to make a few general assumptions. The first assumption is that with both types of diets, either dog food or raw, that the food will be fresh and of the highest possible quality. No one thinks that the low cost bulk dog food is a good dry dog food, as it is mostly filler and very cheap animal by-products which have little to no nutritional value to the dog. In addition foods that are labeled with the terms dinner, flavored or meal have almost no significant amounts of that product, regardless of what the consumer may assume. In addition those that advocate the raw food diets only feed high quality, lean cuts of meat and knuckle or joint bones to their dogs, they don't feed straight bones, fatty meats or even specific types of raw meats such as pork or large quantities of raw fish. Both of these items, although natural, can be very unhealthy for the dog and can result in serious health concerns if they form the bulk of the raw diet.
Another consideration is that the food has to be palatable for the dog. Not all dogs will eat the raw food diets if they have been brought up on commercially prepared foods. Some dogs simply prefer the commercial foods and while they will eat when hungry, they often pick through the raw food and end up with nutritional deficiencies or weight loss and poor coats. The flip side of that is many dogs that have been raised on raw food diets don't do well when changed to commercial foods. They may refuse food or have digestive problems with the commercial food, even when properly switched over.
Raw diets are closest to what dogs originally ate before they became companion pets. Even in early civilizations dogs were still hunters and scavengers, eating meat, vegetables, fruits, grasses and grains as part of their diet. Modern raw food diets, also called BARF diets, are gaining popularity with many dog owners, breeders and vets as a way to avoid allergies, increase growth and allow dogs to eat preservative free, highly nutritious foods. The BARF diet which is an acronym for Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods or Bones And Raw Foods, is a balanced raw diet started by Dr. Billinghurst as a way to feed without the need for processed food diets. The intent is simple; get dogs back to eating how they were decades ago, before commercial dog food hit the market.
Feeding a raw diet isn't just throwing your dog a joint bone with a good amount of red meat; it is also about providing fruits, vegetables and grains as well as fish oils and necessary supplements. With a good, well-balanced raw diet there is not as much need for supplements, however most companies that market BARF diets also sell a holistic supplement line they recommend.
Supporters of raw food diets indicate that their dogs have shinier, healthier coats, fewer skin problems, digestive problems and growth problems, plus they have almost no dental disease issues. This is because the dogs are chewing bones and natural raw vegetables, literally scraping their teeth clean as they eat.
Feeding a raw diet does require knowledge on the part of the owner. You can buy pre-packaged and pre-mixed raw foods that you simply thaw and feed to the dog, or you can make your own. Making your own requires an understanding of canine nutrition and the ability to weigh, measure and supplement the food to ensure it is nutritionally balanced.
The major drawback to a raw food diet is that it may not be ideal for people that live in apartments and places where dogs are inside more than out. They will need a place to have their bones, and most owners don't want that to be the living room couch! In addition when dogs are initially put on the BARF diet they will have digestive issues in switching over from other foods. These often include excessive gas and diarrhea, although not all dogs will experience these symptoms to the same degree.
If a puppy has started out on a BARF or raw food diet they may not accept any other type of food or may have problems in switching to a commercially prepared food.
Canned and semi-moist dog foods are not recommended as a standard diet unless indicated by your vet. That leaves commercially prepared dry kibble as the best option with regards to already prepared dog food. Kibble, when appropriate in crude protein, fiber and fat can be a great, balanced type of dog food for most dogs. Some dogs with allergies to specific foods in the commercial dog food will do best on a special diet, typically either a food free from the problem ingredient or a natural raw diet as discussed above.
Feeding high quality dry kibble has advantages for dog owners. The first is that the owner doesn't have to worry about balancing nutrition; that has already been done. All the owner has to do is monitor the dog's intake and avoid overfeeding or underfeeding to ensure a reasonably balanced nutritional level.
Dry kibble does provide some tooth cleaning action, although a nice knuckle bone or a dental chew toy is always recommended to help keep teeth clean and free from tartar. In addition dry kibble can be stored easily in a sealed container, without having to make fresh meals once a day or every other day as you do when feeding raw foods.
Dry food may not be highly palatable for some dogs, however it can be softened with a bit of sodium free beef or chicken stock or even some vegetable broth. Softening removes the dental cleaning aspect of the food and owners need to keep this in mind. Dry food can cause some digestive problems with dogs that gulp their food, which is of concern to owners of breeds that are prone to conditions such as bloat.
If you are trying to decide if you want to feed dry or raw food, ask to visit a kennel or breeder that feeds each kind. Ask questions and get information, then talk to your vet about what is best for your dog. Keep in mind that picking a diet and sticking with it will help your dog in the long run, switching back and forth will not.