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Raw Food Diet

Chihuahuas and Raw Food Diets

Overview

You may wonder if feeding your Chihuahua a raw food diet is a good idea and based on the amount of emails that we've received asking about this, it is a popular question for many owners. This goes way beyond just feeding a bit of raw meat to your puppy or dog once in a while (though we will touch on that as well).

Keeping a dog on a strict diet of only raw foods is often referred to as the BARF diet. This stands for Bones and Raw Food, although the alternative acronym is Biologically Appropriate Raw Food.  

The idea of offering raw food to pets (and the acronym of BARF) is credited to Ian Billinghurst, who was a veterinarian in Australia. In 1993, he proposed that this practice that had been done for a long time with sled dogs and other types of working dogs and would best meet the needs of today's pets. 

And this sort of diet for dogs is certainly not without controversy. Some owners feel strongly about the benefits of raw food for their dogs, though there is only anecdotal evidence of health benefits; just as many people (and vets) warn about how this can be detrimental with some studies that do show several risks.
This article will help sort this all out and see how this all relates to the Chihuahua breed, the smallest toy breed in the world.  

This section will cover:

• Why raw food is seen as an alternative and how this pertains to the Chihuahua breed
• Different Types of Raw Food - Home cooked VS Manufactured
• The purported benefits of a raw food diet for Chihuahuas
• Cons that are involved, including some potential dangers to be aware of
• Foods that are incorporated into this sort of diet plan
• Safely feeding raw food to your Chihuahua
Chihuahua with smile on face
Milo, 2 years old
Photo courtesy of Ralph Amato
If Raw Food Even Makes Sense

The basic principle of raw food for dogs is based on the fact that the dog's ancestor, the wolf, has thrived for thousands of years eating uncooked animal meat including bones along with wild grasses when scavenging, and that therefore this is what is best for our pets. However, it should be noted that researchers have found that canines are more closely related to each other than they are to wolves…and this leads them to now believe that canines and wolves separately descended from an unknown 'wolf like' animal that existed anywhere from 9000 to 34000 years ago.  

Did that 'wolf-like' animal only consume raw meat? Yes… however wolves and dogs developed separately along different lines and as soon as the dog was domesticated, his wild omnivorous diet of only grasses and raw meat changed quite quickly to some raw meat but with cooked table scraps and so forth. 
Additionally, since they are different animals, there are 36 genomes of the wolf and dog that are different and 10 of those are related to digestion and metabolism. This means that how food is digested and how it is turned into energy is quite different for wolves and today's modern pet dog. 

What Early Domesticated Dogs Were Fed

While there are different theories about how long canines have been domesticated, scientists believe that it was somewhere between 18,800 and 32,100 years ago. This means that for at least 18,800 years, some sort of cooked food was most likely given to dogs as well as raw food.  
Scripture from Europe, 37 BC, shows that humans encouraged feeding dogs well; it mentions giving them whey. Scrolls from 70 AD mention that dogs should be fed barley and whey if available and if not, spelt (a type of wheat) should be mixed with the juices from cooked beans. In texts dating from 224 to 651 AD, giving milk to dogs along with fat and meat is mentioned rather often. And throughout the 18th century in England, quite a few books refer to the best type of diet for dogs with a deer's heart, blood and liver a popular choice when mixed with milk, cheese and bread. Therefore, for at least 2000 years, domesticated dogs did not eat as if they were wild animals. 

The first commercial dog food was invented in 1860 (it was a biscuit) and in the 1930's the first canned dog food was introduced in the US and it consisted of cooked horse meat. 

What Early Chihuahuas Ate

The Chihuahua is thought to originate from an ancient dog in Mexico called the Techichi, which was a companion dog of the ancient Toltec civilization. If this theory is true, based on what we know of how dogs were fed in Europe long ago, it is a safe assumption that the Chihuahua's ancestors (that were admired and well cared for, based on carvings found on urns and so forth) were also fed scraps of food, both raw and cooked, and perhaps soon-to-spoil vegetables… and essentially any food that could be spared without severely cutting into one owns supply of sustenance as was done in Europe.

Another more recent theory suggests that tiny dogs resembling Chihuahuas existed in America long before any Chihuahuas were brought in from Mexico. 
Remains of these dogs have been found in ancient graves in the state of Kentucky and date back to 3000 BC. If those are the Chi's dynasties, those pets (revered enough to be buried) would likely been fed the same sort of diet.
The bottom line: Chihuahuas are not technically descendants of wolves (though if you go back far enough - about 30,000 years - wolves, coyotes and canines came from a wolf-like animal and then split off into different sub-species) and for thousands of years, pet dogs have been fed much more than bones and raw meat from slaughtered animals. Pets in the US have been fed cooked meat (albeit horse meat for a while in the beginning) for roughly a century.

This does not mean that Chihuahuas cannot be put on a certain raw food diets if safety protocols are followed, but it does somewhat dispel the myth that Chihuahuas or other breeds 'need' to eat bones and uncooked meat. 
Chihuahua dog 8 years old
Ryoji, 8 years old
Photo courtesy of Diane Berg
The Different Types of Raw Food Diets for Chihuahuas

It should be noted that raw food diets are NOT endorsed by the FDA and the majority of veterinarians do not recommend feeding these to pets. The majority of raw food guidelines suggest changing food ingredients every other day or every third day. This is due to just one recipe lacking proper nutritional value thus creating a need for a variety of foods to swap out with others.  

In order for a dog to meet his nutritional requirements and to have a balanced diet, a raw food diet must be adjusted, with food being rotated as opposed to your Chihuahua having one main food source with kibble.  

Though there are many variations of different types of raw food eating plans, these are some of the most popular types:

The BARF diet - The principle of this is to prepare meals at home using raw meat and organs (liver, kidney, tripe [stomach lining of an animal] and heart). The animal source may be chicken, turkey, beef, bison, lamb or fish. Also included is meaty bones, eggs (some plans call out for raw eggs, others will allow cooked eggs), vegetables (celery, broccoli, carrots, and some call out for Cayenne pepper) and fruit while avoiding grains. It allows for some milk products and some vitamin supplements.  

The Ultimate Raw Food Diet - This is a diet with an emphasis on raw meats and animal organs as listed above and encourages supplements of flax seed oil and large doses of vitamin C. It does not allow grains or dairy products (including yogurt which is actually very good for Chihuahuas in moderation) or raw honey. 

Raw Frozen Food - These are commercial brands that offer a mix of meat (typically chicken), along with eggs and vegetables such as broccoli (too much can make a Chihuahua gassy), celery, spinach and carrots. 

Raw Freeze Dried - Generally these have the same ingredients such as raw chicken, ground bones, and vegetables but are freeze dried which means that until thawed, the bacteria in the food cannot grow.  

Benefits

Proponents of raw food for dogs claim that it will lead to:
  • Healthier skin, coat and teeth (Note that claims of healthier teeth are due mostly to gnawing on raw bones; however chewing on bones can be detrimental for dogs, especially tiny toy breeds like the Chihuahua; more ahead)
  • Higher energy levels
  • Smaller stools (not really a concern for most Chihuahuas)
  • Easier digestion of food (apparently due to enzymes not being destroyed by cooking)
  • Better health due to the fact that chemical preservatives, artificial coloring and artificial flavoring are eliminated
White Chihuahua with blue vest
Brady, 6 months old
Photo courtesy of Christine Hart
The Risks 

The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association documented the risks of both home cooked raw food (this consisted of uncooked eggs, unpasteurized milk, raw bones, raw internal organs and raw meat from fish, mammals and chicken) and commercial raw food (fresh, frozen and freeze-dried).

The following are the reported risks:
  • Nutritional imbalances - This included:
*Very low levels vitamin A and E
*Nearly double the recommended amount of vitamin D
*Hyperparathyroidism - A high concentration of the parathyroid hormone, leading to weakening of bones
*High levels of fat (this is partly what makes the coat shiny on a Chihuahua that eats raw food, but can lead to stomach distress including diarrhea)
  • Pathogen contamination- The biggest risk is salmonella spp, which was found both in meats used for at-home raw meal preparation and in some commercial raw food brands. Freeze-drying or freezing did not remove all of the pathogens. 
One study showed a rate of 20% to 48% for salmonella spp in both home and manufactured raw foods and another that looked at 166 commercial brands found salmonella in 21% of them. 

Other bacteria found in raw food for dogs included Campylobacter spp and Toxoplasma gondii.

It should be noted that unlike cooked commercial dry food or wet food, raw food is not under the control of the FDA and therefore cannot be recalled by them if contamination is found. Additionally, despite some myths that dogs never become ill eating tainted meat due to the food passing quickly through the body, this is not true. A good majority of dogs will succumb to poisoning if the meat harbors bacteria. 
  • Fractured teeth - This is a huge concern for Chihuahuas eating raw food diets that contain bone fragments or if bones are given as treats. This breed has rather soft teeth that can break easily if the dog bites into a hard bone. There are some nutrients found in bones - mostly calcium and protein and the bone marrow contains myeloid and lymphoid stem cells (this is thought to aid with the immune system). If you want to feed bones to your Chihuahua (though not advised), grinding one up into a sand-like texture to sprinkle over food may be best.
  • Gastrointestinal issues - Bone fragments can cause partial obstruction or internal injury to a dog's esophagus, stomach, intestines or colon.
  • Hyperthyroidism - This is listed as a possible adverse effect and is a condition in which the thyroid becomes overactive. Symptoms are weight loss, anxiety and diarrhea. 
  • Risks to owners - Studies have shown a danger to owners in regard to bacteria including E coli, Salmonella, Clostridium, Campylobacter, Listeria and Toxoplasma gondii. This is due to two reasons 1) contamination when preparing the food and 2) contamination if a dog is infected and is shedding the bacteria via bowel movements.
  • Raw egg risks - When a dog eats raw eggs, this not only puts him at risk of salmonella or E. coli poisoning, if eaten on a regular basis this can an issue with the body's ability to properly absorb vitamin B.  
Owner Reported Issues

Owners that decided to try a diet of purely raw food with their Chihuahuas have reported:

• Diarrhea
• Constipation
• Stool abnormalities (odd colored feces, mucus mixed in with stools)
• Bad breath
• Skin issues, itchy skin
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Pro & Con Overview

Pros: The element of having all chemical preservatives, artificial coloring and artificial flavoring eliminated from a Chihuahua's food is beneficial to his health. These compounds can cause allergy issues with canines, ranging from stomach distress to skin issues. Wholesome foods, by far, are better than processed foods. However, this can be achieved by offering homemade recipes that include cooked meat and excludes bones and raw eggs; thus removing some of the risks of raw food diets. As with any feeding plan, however, offering a full & complete vitamin and mineral supplement is recommended. 

Offering washed raw vegetables to a Chihuahua is considered safe, although most puppies and dogs do best with cooked veggies. Steamed cooking methods allow most of the nutrients to be retained. Baby carrots are one exception; many Chihuahua will love to have these raw carrots for healthy snacks. 

Cons: The chance of your Chihuahua getting sick from Salmonella or other bacteria when eating a raw food diet is a real risk. Not all dogs will actually show troubling symptoms (though it will still be shed in the stools and can be transferred to owners that way); however a good percentage of Chihuahuas will become ill if this is present in raw meats. Signs include: fever, lethargy, diarrhea, dehydration, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, swollen lymph nodes. It can also lead to weight loss and skin disease. 

In addition, a strictly raw-only diet of uncooked meats, ground bones and vegetables can lead to malnourishment or nutritional imbalances such as high levels of fat ingestion and/or a lack of proper vitamins and minerals. Chewing on bones can cause damage to the teeth and internal blockage and/or injury.   

Bottom Line: Those that choose to go this route need to make a commitment in regard to both time and effort. In regard to convenience, prepackaged dog food is the far easier choice… And in regard to safety, while there have been a few dog food recalls over the years, bacteria in raw meat is far more rampant. 

If you are feeding your Chihuahua a high quality dog food, are being careful to offer healthy snacks and your Chihuahua is thriving on his/her diet, there is no reason to switch to a raw food diet. The hype regarding this is high, yet solid proof of health benefits are lacking. 
How to Safely Feed Raw Food to a Chihuahua

If you have taken the time to weigh the pros and cons of a home cooked raw food diet for your Chihuahua and you do wish to offer this to your Chi, there are some safety tips to keep in mind:

1) Puppies should never be fed a raw food diet; these are intended for dogs over the age of 1 year old.

2) Discuss a raw food diet with your Chihuahua's veterinarian before making any changes.  

3) Some meats are safer than others. For a raw food diet, beef is less apt to contain salmonella than chicken. Ground meat is the most likely to contain bacteria. Keeping the meat cold until you are ready to serve it can help somewhat. Note that washing the raw meat will not help; you cannot rinse off bacteria and this can increase the risk of cross-contamination. 
Chihuahua in dress
CoCo Pebbles Grace, 4 years old
Photo courtesy of Richard Grace
4) Most Chihuahuas do not do well with a fast change in their main diet. Quickly switching from one food to a completely different one can cause stomach upset. You may want to start with just one meal, once per week and see how your dog does.  

5) Always give your Chihuahua a full and complete vitamin and mineral supplement; we recommend this no matter what type of food you feed to your Chihuahua. 

Raw Food Diet Recipe for Chihuahuas

We must reiterate that we do not recommend keeping a Chihuahua strictly on a raw food diet due to all of the potential risks. However, if you are looking for a recipe, this one is relatively safe due to the exclusion of bones and chicken and some slight modifications, which include cooking the egg and steaming the veggies.

Do keep in mind that with most raw food eating plans for dogs, it is suggested to swap out foods almost daily to try and create a more balanced diet over the course of the week… For example, one day would include eggs and beef and the next would exclude those yet include chicken and fruits. And again, this can cause issues since changing foods this often can cause a Chihuahua to have stomach problems. 

Example recipe:
  • 1 egg, boiled for 6 minutes (yoke will be slightly runny)
  • 2 ounces of raw beef organ meat (heart, liver or kidney) cut into small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon of whole white yogurt
  • 3 ounces of steamed vegetables (two or more of: baby carrots, green beans, sweet peas and spinach)
Mix all of the ingredients together and serve.

A Final Word

It is exceedingly important to feed your Chihuahua a high quality diet, since this will help your dog maintain good health and can even extend his/her lifespan, and therefore it is important to offer foods that are proven to be healthy for dogs and not meal plans that have unsubstantiated claims. While giving your Chihuahua a small piece of fresh raw meat every so often may be just fine, as of now, the FDA and most veterinarians do not recommend long-term raw food diets for any dogs, including the Chihuahua. 
Things you may wish to do now:

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