One topic frequently arises in the discussion of dog health is whether or not feeding dogs raw meat can make them aggressive. This issue has been debated among dog owners, veterinarians, and animal behaviorists for many years.
While caring for our dogs involves ensuring they get the training, exercise, socialization, and products like beds to calm them down, we always need to consider diet. Especially when dealing with everyday issues like mean Chihuahuas or the much-vilified Pitbull.
Raw meat diets for dogs, also known as raw food or BARF (biologically appropriate raw food) diets, have grown in popularity in recent years. The proponents of this diet argue that it is a more natural and healthy way of feeding dogs, as it more closely mimics the diet of their wild ancestors. However, opponents of raw meat diets claim they are unsafe for dogs and can even make them aggressive.
So what’s the truth about raw food and aggression?
The short answer: Does raw meat make a dog aggressive?
So, does raw meat make dogs aggressive? The short answer is that no clear evidence supports this claim. While some dog owners have reported changes in their dogs’ behavior after switching to a raw meat diet, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that raw meat is the cause of aggression in dogs.
Many factors can contribute to a dog’s behavior, including genetics, upbringing, socialization, and training. While diet can undoubtedly affect a dog’s health and behavior, it is only one piece of the puzzle. Therefore, it is essential to consider all factors when evaluating a dog’s behavior rather than attributing it solely to their diet.
However, diet may play some role in a dog’s behavior, which we will touch on below. A high-protein diet can also be essential for old dogs who are losing weight.
That being said, some risks are associated with feeding dogs raw meat. Raw meat can be contaminated with harmful bacteria, such as Salmonella and E. coli, which can cause illness in dogs and humans. Therefore, handling raw meat properly and taking appropriate precautions to prevent the spread of bacteria is crucial.
Additionally, a raw meat diet may not provide all of the necessary nutrients that dogs need to maintain optimal health. While proponents of raw meat diets argue that they are more natural and nutritious than commercial dog food, there is limited scientific evidence to support these claims. Therefore, working with a veterinarian or animal nutritionist is important to ensure that a dog’s diet is balanced and meets all of their nutritional needs.
Why do people think raw meat makes dogs aggressive?
1. People are afraid that raw meat might encourage blood lust
One reason people may believe this is due to the misconception that dogs are naturally carnivores and, therefore, feeding them raw meat will make them more “feral” or “wild.” However, dogs are omnivores and can survive on a balanced diet that includes meat and plant-based ingredients.
2. Dogs sometimes seem aggressive when we give them raw meat
Raw meat is extremely exciting to dogs. Much more than boring, dry kibble. So if you throw a giant steak at a pack of dogs, you may see a fight break out. However, this happens because a fight may break out if you toss a group of children a new PlayStation; there’s bound to be some bickering. We will discuss below what to do if your dog or dogs seem aggressive when they get a chunk of meat.
This does not mean that dogs can’t eat raw meat together, only that it takes an experienced owner who can successfully manage pack dynamics like in this video:
Remember, we do not recommend this for the average dog owner.
3. The science behind how diet affects a dog’s behavior
This final reason is not one that many people understand or know about, but it is the only reason that raw meat may have any effect on whether a dog is aggressive, anxious, or hyperactive. It’s got to do with how amino acids in proteins turn into neurotransmitters that affect a dog’s mood.
Briefly, serotonin, the happy, feel-good neurotransmitter, comes from an amino acid called Tryptophan. Tryptophan is a large amino acid, and 90% of tryptophan synthesis happens in the gut. Tryptophan also needs carbohydrates to reach the brain.
This is why L-tryptophan is listed as one of the active ingredients in prescription dog foods like Royal Canin Calm for stressed dogs.
The problem is that a dog’s body absorbs amino acids like tyrosine before it absorbs tryptophan. Tyrosine is what the body uses to make epinephrine and norepinephrine. These are used for stress; too much can make animals aggressive, anxious, or hyper.
This is one reason feeding meats high in tryptophan, like Turkey and Tuna, does not make a difference, as these meats are even higher in tyrosine, and the dog will absorb the tyrosine more than the tryptophan.
However, the chemistry of how hormones and neurotransmitters are made is highly complex. For instance, GABA is another neurotransmitter formed in the gut from a healthy gut microbiome. It also helps keep people and animals calm. Dogs on a BARF diet of raw meat showed higher levels of GABA in their systems.
Raw meat and diet changes that can help dogs with aggression
So raw meat has no reason to make your dog aggressive (although we do not recommend tossing a leg of lamb among a pack of Pitbulls). But what dietary changes can we make that may help dogs who struggle with aggression and anxiety?
Firstly, adding an L-tryptophan supplement to your dog’s food, as well as healthy carbohydrates like oats in moderate amounts, can help boost their serotonin. Another great supplement is a protein called alpha-capsazepine which comes from the milk powder product casein. An study showed that alpha-casozepine and L-tryptophan help reduce stress indicators in dogs.
Other natural supplements you can add include:
- MCT oil
- Rosemary extract
- Pomegranate extract.
The omega-3s in fish do have some anti-anxiety effects on dogs and promote gut and brain health. They also reduce inflammation. Therefore, looking for fish-based dog food is a good step to helping promote the well-being of your furbaby.
One study showed that a gluten-free diet with hydrolyzed protein helped reduce aggression in one dog. Hydrolyzed proteins are not raw meat (it’s proteins broken down chemically to amino acids), but this does support that there is no link between meat, protein, and aggression.
There is no reason not to feed dogs raw meat, so long as it is part of a properly balanced diet.
Will raw mean make a dog wild?
Raw meat certainly does not make a dog go wild. Dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years, and raw meat can no more make them go wild than eating raw Sushi, or rare steak can make humans go wild.
Why is my dog aggressive when he eats raw meat?
If a dog seems aggressive when they are eating raw meat, it does not mean they are aggressive. Because dogs love raw meat so much, it is a much more high-value food item than ordinary kibble. This can make some dogs more prone to resource-guarding it or growling if they think someone will take it away from them. Resource-guarding food is not the same as aggression.
Resource guarding is really anxiety over losing something very important and it is primarily genetic. If a dog resource guards, they likely had a parent who did it too. If your dog is possessive over their yummy raw meat, make sure they are able to eat in peace, away from other dogs or people who may try to take it away from them.
It’s difficult to deal with resource-guarding raw meat because one of the best ways to stop resource-guarding is to trade a dog what they have for something even better. Since there isn’t much a dog likes more than raw meat, it’s a bit trickier to persuade them not to be possessive over it.
Nevertheless, the video below gives a good outline of what to do if your dog is too possessive over their raw meat:
In conclusion, while there is no clear evidence to support the claim that raw meat makes dogs aggressive, there are some risks associated with feeding dogs a raw meat diet. Therefore, it is essential to handle raw meat properly and take appropriate precautions to prevent the spread of bacteria. Additionally, it is important to work with a veterinarian or animal nutritionist to ensure that a dog’s diet is balanced and meets all of their nutritional needs.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.
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