Can a Raw Diet Help With Dog Allergies? We Find Out

Bowl with Raw Dog food and two paws

When it comes to our dogs, all we want is the best for them. Our canine companions quickly become part of the family and, therefore, should be on the healthiest diet possible. With so many dog food brands, it can be overwhelming to choose your pet’s proper diet.

A raw food diet can help with dog allergies. Many of the canned and dried kibble we often feed our dogs have a lot of chemicals and other unnatural ingredients that cause allergies for dogs. On the other hand, raw food diets are natural and easily digestible for your pet, alleviating allergies.

If your dog is experiencing allergies, a raw food diet might be the best way to get him back on track to a healthy, carefree life. This article will cover everything you need to know about raw food diets for yours, including an overview of dog allergies, what this type of diet looks like, and much more.

Dog Allergies

If you notice your pet has been itchy or sneezy lately, he may be experiencing allergies. This section will explore the various causes of allergies in dogs and their symptoms that will, hopefully, help you identify them. The three leading causes of skin allergies in dogs include flea bites, environmental allergens (such as pollen, dust, or mold), and food allergies.

Symptoms

Being able to identify your dog’s symptoms will help you pursue the proper treatment. For example, if your pup is experiencing flea bite allergies, it might not be practical to adjust your pet’s diet. Ultimately, the best way to treat allergies is to avoid the culprit that is causing them in the first place. Many of the symptoms they experience are similar to those humans deal with, such as itchy skin, sneezing, swelling, or hives.

An allergic reaction to flea bites is not uncommon and makes the infected area extremely itchy for your dog. If flea saliva is the cause of your pet’s allergic reaction, you will likely notice other signs of fleas on them, such as flea dirt or the fleas themselves. The most common area of irritation from fleas is at the base of the tail. It becomes exceptionally irritated, scabbed, and inflamed due to the extreme itchiness your pet is experiencing.

If your dog is experiencing environmental allergens, the symptoms typically present themselves as itching. The most commonly affected areas include the ears, paws, skin, under the arms, joint areas, around the eyes, and in the groin area.

However, you can rule out other causes if the allergies come at the same time per year. Commonly, just like in humans, environmental allergies affect dogs during particular seasons, making them more easily recognizable.

Food allergies will also cause some skin irritation for your pet. While many of the symptoms will resemble other allergic reactions (primarily itchy ears and paws), the most significant difference is the accompaniment of gastrointestinal (GI) issues. The combination of GI issues (diarrhea, constipation, or vomiting) with itchy ears and paws is a good indication that your pet has a food allergy.

Why Does Kibble Cause Allergies?

Your pet’s digestive system is designed to thrive on a diet predominantly of meat and bone, yet we have shifted towards feeding them almost exclusively kibble. Commercial dog food kibble is exceptionally high in grains and starches, which is not exactly easy for them to digest. Other significant components of kibble include lower quality protein or plant-based protein, which is not satiating or nutritionally balanced.

Don’t fall for the advertisements – all kibble is mass-produced and includes countless toxins, chemical additives, colors, and ultra-processed ingredients. Our domesticated companions have shown a rise in allergies, cancer, and deadly diseases that can be at least partially attributed to their unhealthy and unbalanced diets. Imagine how our bodies would react if we ate fast food for every meal.

Raw Food Diet: An Overview

There are a few different types of raw food diets, on which we will elaborate more later. This section is just a brief history followed by a few benefits and drawbacks to consider if you are thinking about adjusting your dog’s diet.

History

The foundation of the raw diet philosophy lies in the fact that dogs have eaten raw meat for years, dating back thousands of years. Prior to the extreme rise in commercial pet food sales, domesticated dogs were fed table scraps and raw meat and bones. Before then even, our domestic house pets’ ancestors hunted and caught their prey. Then devoured the entire animal raw, skin, bones, and fur included.

It should not surprise anyone that dogs are made to thrive on a raw diet. However, in the early 1900s, commercially canned dog food became extremely popular. Even then, manufacturers were trying to hide the actual ingredients by listing them in tiny font on the back of the can.

During this time, dogs’ diet began to shift away from raw foods and towards a more processed diet. By the mid-1900s, in response to World War II, kibble was created and advertised as the healthiest option for dogs.

More natural diets of raw meats and bones made a comeback in the 1990s and early 2000s. A veterinarian named Dr. Ian Billinghurst began to question whether what he learned in school – that dogs should be fed scientifically designed diets – was accurate.

He experimented with his dogs by feeding them raw meat, bones, and other table scraps to see how they reacted. He was amazed to see immediate improvements in their health. He reported that his dogs’ bowel movements became less frequent and less stinky, their skin problems dissipated, as did their eye, growth, and reproductive issues. He began recommending a raw diet to his patients and saw similar success in their pets.

This success fueled his interest in dogs’ nutrition. He began researching, studying case studies, and discussing nutrition with his fellow veterinarians, eventually writing his first book, which kicked off a raw dog food diet movement in the United States. It continues to gain popularity, though it is hard to say just how many pet owners practice a raw diet.

We made this table so you can glance at all of the benefits and drawbacks of choosing to feed your pet a raw food diet.

Benefits

Drawbacks

It replicates what your dog might eat in the wild

It is more expensive

It avoids chemicals and additives that cause allergies

It is more time-consuming

Your dog will be healthier in all aspects of his life

It can be dangerous for households living with children

It is easier for the pup to digest

There is a risk of the pet owner not providing the proper nutrients

Your dog will live longer

It requires a lot of freezer space.

Benefits

You will find that there are many great reasons to consider switching your dog’s diet to a more natural, raw diet.

  • It replicates what your dog might eat in the wild. Dogs’ digestion systems were originally only meant for processing whole, raw foods. It wasn’t until the commercial kibble became popularized that dogs began living on dry and canned dog food. Switching to a raw diet is perfectly safe and will help your dog thrive.
  • It avoids chemicals and additives. Many of the ingredients in commercial dog foods are synthetic and processed chemicals. They can be difficult for your dog to digest, cause allergies, and often do not include the proper nutrient values that dogs need to thrive. Raw diets include only fresh, whole ingredients without all of the processed additives.
  • Your dog will be healthier in all aspects of his life. Many of the improvements that Dr. Billinghurst recognized in his dogs included a shinier coat, healthier skin, fewer and less smelly bowel movements, and cleaner teeth.
  • It’s easier for the dog to digest. As mentioned, dogs’ digestion system is designed for raw foods. Since they’re better equipped for absorbing nutrients from natural foods, they’ll be healthier and stronger on a raw diet. Most raw diets have lower (or no) quantities of grains, which are also difficult for dogs to digest. You’ll notice a difference in the size, frequency, and smell of their poop soon after switching to a raw diet.
  • Your dogs are likely to live longer on a raw diet. As we become more attached to our pets, we want them to live as long as possible. Evidence suggests that dogs that are fed natural, raw diets live nearly three years longer than dogs who eat a processed diet of commercial dog food. While they appear to be healthy for the first part of their life, they quickly develop cancer and other diseases that can shorten their lifespan.

Drawbacks

Despite the numerous positives that come from feeding your dog a raw diet, you should also consider whether the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. It will be different for everybody. Here is a deeper dive into the potential disadvantages.

  • It is more expensive. Everyone knows that quality fruits, vegetables, and meats are more expensive than processed, boxed alternatives. Well, in this case, kibble is the processed, boxed food. Switching to a raw diet means that your dog is consuming multiple pounds of fruits, vegetables, and meats per week. You will definitely notice an increase in your grocery bill.
  • It is more time-consuming. Particularly during the beginning stages of adjusting to a raw diet, education and preparation can take a long time. Learning about all of the macro and micronutrients is a time-consuming but essential task. Once you have figured out the proper breakdown of nutrients, you must spend time each morning night preparing a well-balanced meal for your pup.
  • It can be dangerous for households living with children. Handling raw meats will always include some risk, but that risk is higher when there are children or immunocompromised people living in your home. Children often get curious and poke around in the pet’s food. If you opt for the raw diet, ensure children are kept away during feeding time.
  • There is a risk of the pet owner not providing the proper nutrients. As we mentioned earlier, dogs require a specific breakdown of nutrients for a healthy and well-balanced diet. The owner should be well informed about what their dog needs and what foods will provide those nutrients. We will break down the various components of a balanced diet in the next section.
  • You need a lot of freezer space. No matter which raw diet model you choose from (more on that below), the diet will likely require that you freeze a lot of the food. Even if you shop for your dog on a weekly basis, the raw meat and maybe even vegetables won’t last for the full seven days. This might not be an issue for pet owners living in rural parts of America, but it is definitely a challenge for urban dwellers in New York or LA.

What Does a Raw Food Diet Look Like?

It is essential to be informed about the nutrients your pet needs in his diet and how to get them. Dogs need many of the same nutrients humans, including proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, as the most significant ones. They also need supplemental nutrients such as vitamins, amino acids, and minerals.

There are a few different types of raw food diets, but this section will cover the two most common ones. Each part will detail the components of a raw food diet that will ensure your pup is getting all of the nutrients he needs for a healthy, happy, and playful pet. Keep in mind that these percentages are basic guidelines. You can and should make adjustments to fit with your pup.

Biologically Appropriate Raw Food Diet (BARF)

You may guess by the name that the BARF diet incorporates all critical components of a healthy diet for a pup. Dr. Ian Billinghurst mentioned previously, originally coined the term. However, he originally called it the “Bones and Raw Food” Diet. His philosophy entails only feeding dogs foods that their digestive system will easily digest. The following sections detail the various components of a BARF diet and how each part is broken down.

Muscle Meat

The meat is the most significant component of the BARF diet, making up approximately 70 percent of your dog’s meal. Just like for humans, meat is an essential source of protein, amino acids, and vitamins. This component includes all boneless meat such as chicken thighs, pork tongue, rabbits, animal fat, and stomach lining.

Bone

Soft, uncooked bones are perfectly safe for your dog to eat. In fact, they make up about 10 percent of the BARF diet as a vital source of calcium and phosphorus. Softer bones include feet, tails, necks, and wings.

It is extremely important to remember that all forms of cooked bones (boiled, dehydrated, etc.) are dangerous for your pet to consume. You should also avoid feeding your dog turkey drumsticks, beef bones, and weight-bearing bones like the legs.

Vegetables

Just like in humans, dogs can get essential nutrients from vegetables. However, at approximately seven percent of the BARF diet, they require a lot fewer vegetables than we do. We encourage you to experiment with feeding your pet all types of vegetables to see what he likes. You can feed your dog almost any vegetable, from eggplant to spinach, to beets.

Organs

This component may be the least fun for the owner, as raw animal organs can be unpleasant to look at. However, they are an excellent source of vitamins for your pet and should not be left out. Livers should make up approximately five percent of the diet, and other organs such as the spleen, kidneys, and brains should make up another five percent in this category.

Seeds and Nuts

You might be surprised to see seeds and nuts as their own category in the BARF diet, but it suggests that they make up about two percent of your pet’s total diet. Unfortunately, dogs cannot naturally digest whole seeds and nuts, so they must be soaked and ground to make them more easily digestible for your pet.

Most nuts and seeds are safe for your pet, but avoid feeding them seeds from the center of fruits such as apples, cherries, or avocados.

Fruit

Lastly, the fruit is the smallest component of the BARF diet. Your pet should only be getting about one percent of its diet from fruits. You may know that fruits have a lot of sugar in them, which is why they make up such a small percentage of this diet. However, they are still a great source of antioxidants. You can feed your dog blueberries, blackberries, apples, melon, and so much more.

Prey Model Raw (PMR)

As the name indicates, the PMR diet includes feeding your pet the entire animal, including all of the organs, blood, and fur or feathers. This diet does not include any fruit or vegetables, resulting in a nutrient deficiency if the proper guidelines are not followed. Because it consists of all components of the prey, it can make preparation much easier for the pet owner.

The PMR diet aims to replicate what your dog’s diet might look like if it were not domesticated. Thus, the muscle meat component is much more significant, and there are no fruits, vegetables, seeds, or nuts included in this diet.

Muscle Meat

Your dog should be consuming close to 80 percent of his calories from muscle meat for the PMR diet. As mentioned earlier, muscle meat is anything on the animal that does not include bone. It can consist of tongues, raw fat, breast or thigh meat, and leg meat, to name a few.

Bone

Just like with the BARF diet, your pet should only be consuming bones that are soft and uncooked. Large, weight-bearing bones such as the leg bones will be too large and pose a health risk to your pet. Wing bones, tail bones, and bones from small animals are much safer for your dog.

Organs

In the PMR model, organs make up a similar proportion in the diet compared to the BARF diet. They should be eating about 5 percent of their calories from the liver and about five percent from other organs such as the brain, heart, or pancreas. These organs are a vital source of vitamins for your pup, so do not avoid them.

Animal Based Insoluble Fiber

In the PMR diet, dogs should consume enough fiber to help them with digestion and colon health. They will get fiber from fur or feathers, so be sure that about 2 to 5 percent of the diet includes one of these components.

Premade Raw Food Diet

These days, we can buy anything on the internet, including your pet’s raw food diet. You can also buy them from your local pet store and possibly a well-stocked pet aisle at your grocery store. While these diets do not necessarily fall under a specific model, they have become popular because they have made raw diets much more accessible.

The premade raw dog foods have numerous benefits. They make feeding time much less complicated, which nulls a few of the cons we mentioned earlier. Preparation time is significantly reduced, as you can just put the premade food right into your dog’s bowl. It also makes determining nutrient values of foods much easier, as the meal is already balanced.

However, there are always a few cons to consider as well. Because they are commercially made and sold, there will be additives to rid the food of bacteria and make it last longer. Many companies are held to similar standards as the kibble companies, which means there is a high chance that additional chemicals and artificial colors are added to your dog’s food. It is also likely going to be more expensive, as most convenience items are.

If you are interested in test driving this option, you have several companies from which to choose. Some even offer delivery, so if convenience is more important than the cost, you might be on the right track. Raw Wild is a family-owned business out of Utah that has made it their mission to ensure your pet gets the highest quality meat available. With free shipping and a satisfaction guarantee, you can’t go wrong with this company.

Additional Note

While the raw diets described above may be the most popular, they are certainly not the only options available. Furthermore, all of the diets can be adjusted to fit your dog’s needs and preferences. Some dog owners also incorporate a raw diet into their pet’s current diet. If you are not comfortable committing to a 100 percent raw diet, a blended model will still have health benefits for your dog.

It is important to speak with your vet about switching to a raw diet, as she will be best able to speak to your dog’s health needs. She will also be able to walk you through the specific nutrients your dog needs and the foods that will fulfill those nutritional requirements.

How To Make the Switch to Raw Diet

Okay, now that you have all of the information and you have decided to make the switch, let’s talk about the safest way to do it. If you have owned pets before, you probably know that switching their food out all at once can cause stomach issues. Even though raw is what their bodies are designed to digest, the same goes for a raw diet.

The transition period partially depends on the age of your dog. Puppies and younger dogs will have more success with a quick switch, but older dogs should be transitioned more slowly.

Keep in mind that if they have been on an artificial, high grain diet for many years, it will take some time for their digestive systems to adjust to a raw food diet. It also depends on the sensitivity of their digestive system. It is essential to be patient and keep an eye out for abnormalities.

There are lots of ways to approach the transition, many of which take about a week. Check them out here:

  • The Cold Turkey Approach: Just as it sounds, for this method, you quit giving your dog kibble overnight and immediately transition them to raw food. This approach has some inherent risk, especially for adult dogs, but maybe okay for puppies.
  • The Combined Meal Approach: This is a simple and effective way to help your dog adjust to raw foods. For this method, you increase the amount of raw food every day and decrease the amount of kibble until they are fully transitioned. Start with about 1/7 raw food and increase it by that amount each day for a week. Reduce the kibble by equal parts each day. This transition should take about one week.
  • The Cooked to Raw Approach: This method is ideal for pet owners who already feed their dogs whole, natural foods but are interested in transitioning to a fully raw diet. You simply cook the food less and less until it is completely raw. It should take about 4 to 7 days.
  • The Treat First Approach: As the name implies, in this method, you begin by giving your dog raw bones and meat as treats before you transition their meals. Start by giving them one treat per day, gradually increasing the number of treats each day, and eventually transitioning to feeding them full raw meals if they handle it well.

For each of these methods, it is crucial to monitor the health of your pet. Their stool will be the most telling indicator of how they are digesting the new diet. The poop should become less frequent, less smelly, and smaller.

Other Remedies

If your pet is experiencing allergies, changing his diet might not always be the right decision. This section will explore a few ways to mitigate allergies or allergic reactions in your pet. Keep in mind that it is always a good idea to seek advice from your veterinarian before making significant changes to your pet’s diet or another component of his life.

As we mentioned earlier, the most effective way to treat allergies in dogs is to avoid the cause of the allergic reaction altogether. However, this requires determining what is causing them in the first place. For food-related allergies, this often involves a process of elimination until you have identified the culprit. It will likely require support from a vet.

If your pet’s allergies are environmental (such as pollen or dust), it might be more challenging to avoid the cause. In this case, your vet might recommend an over-the-counter allergy medication (the same ones humans use). Another potential course of action here is a prescribed allergy medication.

Final Thoughts

As with humans, dogs’ diet has a significant impact on their health, quality of life, and life expectancy. Raw diet is one possible way to improve your pet’s health, avoiding feeding them a processed diet with chemical additives. While preventing allergies is one bonus to raw diet, there is no shortage of reasons to make the switch.

If you’re considering a raw diet for your pet, we hope this article provides clarity as you weigh the pros and cons. While it’s a little bit expensive and time-consuming, adjusting a raw diet can significantly increase your canine companion’s health and well-being.

Related articles:
The Ultimate Guide to Feeding Dog Kibble and Raw

Sources

Andrew

My name is Andrew and I've been around dogs my entire life. On my profile picture, you can see me as a little kid with my family's two German Shepherds. That's how my life with dogs started and since then I've been both living and working with dogs.

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