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Can you feed raw food to your cat and dog?

Anna Suaro
Anna Suaro
Veterinary nutritionist
Can you feed raw food to your cat and dog?

Recently, "raw eating" among dogs and cats has become very common. A large number of articles and publications on the subject of BARF and RMBD can be found on the internet.

BARF (Bones And Raw Food Diet, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food Diet): raw meat and bones, or biologically appropriate raw food.
RMBD (Raw-meat-based diets)

As this is the type of food that dogs and cats consumed prior to domestication as well as throughout its early stages, owners who read scientific and popular science publications on raw meat-based pet nutrition are the main driving force behind switching their pet to this diet. Cats have always been carnivores; as part of their natural diet, they may hunt, catch, and eat small mammals, reptiles, birds, and insects. Dogs, however, have evolved to become omnivores and can eat a variety of plant and animal foods to satisfy their fundamental nutritional requirements. 

What are raw food-based diets?

This method can be credited to Australian Dr. Ian Billinghurst, author of the book Give Your Dog a Bone.

Various BARF diets exist.  For instance, while some exclusively have meat, bones, and vegetables, others may also include dairy items, oils, and eggs, depending on the owner. The main principle is no cereals or commercial additives.

The amount of food per day recommended by BARF followers is 2–4% of an adult dog's or cat's weight and 5–10% of a puppy's or kitten's weight.

As you can see, the range is rather wide, and it is unclear what to focus on.

Different sources provide varying ratios of meat, meat-bone components, vegetables, and other food elements.

For example:

  • 30% vegetables, fruit, dairy products;
  • 70% meat and bone total, (30% meat, 70% bone to be exact).


  • 50% meat and bone ingredients;
  • 30% vegetables;
  • 20% meat.

If the pet is underweight or overweight, we must adjust the portion and amount of fat to achieve the desired result.

In such a setting, striking a balance might be challenging.

Based on the % doses, a dog or cat weighing 4 kg need 160 g of food each day. However, different meats have varying fat content and hence different calories; we can have a calorie deficit or excess, and our pet will get fat or underweight.

Or a situation like this: a varied diet of different types of meat, but today we give a mix based on turkey, and the fat content is about 15%, and tomorrow we use a mix based on lamb, and the fat content can already reach 30-40%. Such fluctuations can adversely affect the pancreas.

Food that can be used in a "raw food" diet

  • Meat: beef, chicken, lamb, turkey, duck, deer, elk, etc.
  • Pork is forbidden! Since raw pork can be a source of Pseudorabies, Aujeszky’s Disease.
  • Meat and bone content: chicken necks, backs, turkey necks, tails, etc.
  • Vegetables and fruits: cabbage, carrots, cucumber, zucchini, pumpkin, seasonal berries, etc.
  • Eggs, fish, nuts, and oils may also be in the diet.

But are raw diets beneficial or harmful?

BARF is not just meat; it is a collection of products designed to meet as many of the demands of the animal as feasible.

Because not all domestic cats and dogs are interested in eating offal, choosing such diets may be challenging, making vitamin and mineral shortages probable.

Raw food diets are counterproductive for animals with digestive tract problems, kidney disease and other abnormalities. Also, bacterial risks cannot be ruled out, and the choice of such nutrition is always the owner's responsibility.

The positives

  • Properly formulated diets can be balanced. But it is better to consult a veterinary nutritionist to choose the right nutritional foods.
  • Animals on such diets are more likely to maintain a normal weight.
  • Raw diets may be used in case of allergies.
  • "I can see what I'm feeding my pet!" (this is very important for some owners).

Negative aspects

  • A large number of ingredients are needed to meet all mineral and vitamin requirements. However, not all owners will be able to purchase or obtain a variety of offal. Furthermore, not all cats and dogs digest it effectively; offal can cause diarrhea.
  • Bacterial hazards, no matter how minor, must not be neglected; much research has been conducted on this subject. Several studies on the presence of Salmonella spp. and other pathogens in raw diets have been published.  The occurrence rates of Salmonella spp contamination in commercial raw diets ranged from 20% to 48%.

    Several infections are frequently found in meat intended for human consumption, including Campylobacter spp. (29% to 74% prevalence in chicken meat) and Listeria spp. (15% to 34% prevalence in chicken meat and 25% to 52% prevalence in beef and pork).

    Home-prepared diets based on raw meat meant for human consumption may therefore be tainted and, as a result, dangerous for both people and animals.
  • There is a risk of trauma and injury to the teeth and gastrointestinal tract if bones are fed to animals.


Consult a veterinary nutritionist if you want to provide your pet with a healthy diet that includes raw meat, offal, meat and bone elements, and vegetables. Another option is to pick a reputable  manufacturer of wet and dry food for cats and dogs that makes its research on food, especially in lab settings, openly available.

[1] Current knowledge about the risks and benefits of raw meat-based diets for dogs and cats. Lisa M Freeman, Marjorie L Chandler, Beth A Hamper, Lisa P Weeth.

[2] Zoonotic bacteria and parasites found in raw meat-based diets for cats and dogs. Freek P J van Bree, Gertie C A M Bokken, Robin Mineur, Frits Franssen, Marieke Opsteegh, Joke W B van der Giessen, Len J A Lipman, Paul A M Overgaauw.

[3] From Nutritional Adequacy to Hygiene Quality: A Detailed Assessment of Commercial Raw Pet-Food for Dogs and Cats. Carla Giuditta Vecchiato, Karin Schwaiger, Giacomo Biagi and Britta Dobenecker.