September 20, 2021

Interpretive Summary: Clinical health markers in dogs fed raw meat-based or commercial extruded kibble diets

Interpretive Summary: Clinical health markers in dogs fed raw meat-based or commercial extruded kibble diets

By: Dr. Emily Taylor

Research has long proved the irrefutable impact of diet on animal health. The interest and demand for healthy, locally sourced, fresh, or less processed foods for human consumption have also been mirrored in the pet industry. Additionally, there has been a massive increase in companion animal diets labeled natural, fresh, or grain-free. Nontraditional feeding methods, including raw, home-cooked, and naturally sourced ingredients, are believed to be superior to traditional extruded commercial dog foods by some owners and practitioners. There are some anecdotal reports of improved health benefits of raw meat-based diets that include cleaner teeth, decreased fecal output, improvement in skin and coat, and a decrease in inflammatory-related diseases; however, there is little evidence within the scientific community to support these findings. Furthermore, feeding raw diets comes with many health risks and significant variance in nutrient composition and digestibility based on type, duration, and processing temperature.

Previous research has shown that a diet's nutrient composition is a strong driver of differences in the intestinal tract microbial populations and subsequently impacts the animal's overall health. Therefore, it is unlikely that naturally sourced ingredients or raw foods would result in consistent animal performance and health outcomes. In the current study, authors hypothesized that healthy dogs fed raw-meat diets would show improved general health markers, including a modest clinical benefit (improved dental, ear, and skin health scores) compared with dogs fed a kibble diet. In addition, age, BCS, breed, and gender would also contribute to differences seen in general health markers. 

Dogs fed raw-meat diets showed a lower phosphatase activity, globulin concentration, increased lymphocyte count, and a slight improvement in clinical health scores. There were no differences observed in urinalysis between diet groups. Additionally, owner management played a significant role, with a greater likelihood of management interventions (dietary supplements and sporting activities) in dogs fed raw meat. Authors found that raw-meat diets differed substantially in overall macronutrient composition from kibble, consisting primarily of protein and fat. Diet processing may contribute mainly to the considerable variation in composition, and further work is needed to decipher these differences.

This article is available in the Journal of Animal Science