Raw vs. Cooked
At JustFoodForDogs, we've known for some time that whole foods made with real ingredients can be better than commercially processed kibble in quality, digestibility, and bioavailability. Recent scientific research now seems to support this assessment. Since raw dog food diets are sometimes marketed as fresh or frozen, some of our clients ask us about the difference between cooked versus raw dog food, and why we prefer to lightly cook our food.
JustFoodForDogs makes all their nutrition decisions based on scientific research, as well as a commitment to quality control and premium ingredients. When all of these factors are considered together in the question of raw vs cooked dog food, it is clear that balanced, fresh prepared, lightly cooked whole food is simply the best choice for our mission to make the best dog food possible.
What is Raw Dog Food?
Raw dog food diets usually include a combination of uncooked meat from animals, fish, or poultry commonly used for food. When commercially made, these diets are usually made using ingredients that are not USDA certified fit for humans, which means they could include rejected carcasses or medicated animals (ie: dead on-farm, sick, or removed from the human food chain). You may be surprised to find out that even the most popular brands, which call themselves “premium” engage in these practices. Some manufacturers will hide the fact their meat is not fit for humans and say “USA meat” or “meat from a USDA facility”; none of these statements mean USDA certified meat, so beware of these claims. These ingredients usually include flesh (muscle), internal organs, blended body parts, and bones. They may also include untreated milk or uncooked eggs.
JustFoodForDogs uses only meat certified by the USDA for human consumption because it goes through rigorous tests of quality control at many levels, and result in cuts of meat commonly found on our plates; thus raw preparations, as defined above, are not practical in our kitchens.
Digestibility Research of Raw and Cooked vs Kibble (Extruded)
Recent studies support that animals better digest whole food diets than kibble, however, the same studies have failed to show any difference in digestibility between the raw ingredients, and the same ingredients when they are cooked.  Scientists found that raw and cooked diets both have significantly higher digestibility for proteins than kibble (extruded diets). Another study on domestic cats also found a significantly higher digestibility of raw diets, compared to kibble (extruded diets), and in the same study there was no significant difference in digestibility between the feeding of the raw ingredients before and after it was cooked. 
Possible Risks & Dangers Associated With Raw Dog Food
Possible health risks that have been associated with raw diets include concerns to animals, and public health:
- Complete and Balanced: A number of studies have revealed important concerns about nutritional imbalances when raw are not formulated properly. A notable one in 2001 showed improper Ca/Phos ratios, and deficiencies in various important dog vitamins, including vitamin E.  JustFoodForDogs diets are complete and balanced and have undergone feeding trials.
- Contamination with pathogens. Raw meat can be contaminated with a variety of pathogens that can harm both animals and humans.  Most meats used in commercial raw diets may not be handled properly (ie: not USDA certified), thus they may acquire bacterial contamination from the hide, feathers, slaughter, evisceration, or processing and packing.  Salmonella spp and E. coli are of particular concern. For this reason, the AVMA and the FDA have come out against the use of raw ingredients for commercial pet food, and JustFoodForDogs only uses lightly cooked ingredients in their homemade dog food recipes.
- Possible GI injury. According to some nutritionists, raw diets can contain bones that have been implicated in hazards to the pets that eat them, including tooth fractures, injury, and perforation of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, or colon. [7-10]
Conclusion - Raw vs Cooked Dog Food
Current research supports that there are benefits to real ingredients over extruded diets and that there are no significant differences in digestibility between raw and cooked diets for dogs, whereas there may be some potential hazards in feeding raw for both the dogs and pet parent.
Therefore, for all these reasons, to abide by FDA and AVMA guidelines, and for the safety of our own employees and customers, all JustFoodForDogs ingredients are USDA certified, carefully prepared, de-boned, and handled to avoid unwanted contamination and lightly cooked fresh daily in small batches. All our food is tested and balanced to meet NRC recommendations and periodically analyzed and researched by our team of scientists. We do it this way because it is simply the best way to make dog food. Period. See our range of lightly cooked, healthy daily meals here.
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2 Vester BM, Burke SL, Liu KJ, et al. Influence of feeding raw or extruded feline diets on nutrient digestibility and nitrogen metabolism of African wildcats (Felis lybica). Zoo Biol 2010;29:676–686.
3 Kerr KR, Vester Boler BM, Morris CL, et al. Apparent total tract energy and macronutrient digestibility and fecal fermentative end-product concentrations of domestic cats fed extruded, raw beef-based, and cooked beef-based diets. J Anim Sci 2012;90:515–522.
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