“Raw feeding will make pets bloodthirsty and aggressive” is a common myth associated with feeding dogs and cats a raw diet. This misconception about raw feeding often scares many pet parents. Therefore, they do not switch their pets onto a raw diet because they do not want their pet to become aggressive, which is a very natural reaction! No one wants their pet to become aggressive towards themselves, their family, friends, or other animals, but a complete and balanced raw diet will NOT cause aggression in dogs or cats.
Raw feeding as a whole will not make a dog or cat aggressive, but there are additional factors that need to be taken into consideration when discussing aggression and raw diets:
Aggression can be a symptom of a medical condition and all pets exhibiting sudden aggression should be examined by a veterinarian.
A raw diet lacking in essential amino acids can cause dietary-induced aggression.
Raw food is inherently high value to pets. Therefore, some may find the need to protect their food resources.
Once these additional variables are identified, it helps provide a clear picture of aggression and raw diets.
The first course of action to take when a pet is displaying aggression is to rule out medical conditions. Many medical conditions could cause a behavior change in dogs and cats, such as:
If the pet suddenly begins to display aggression, it is highly recommended to have a full veterinary exam to rule out a possible medical condition that could be causing the aggressive behavior before pursuing other avenues. Ensuring the dog or cat is physically healthy is step number one!
Dogs and cats have recommended allowances for essential amino acids to support healthy biological functions. This amino acid must be supplied daily, in sufficient amounts, because the body is unable to synthesize the amino acid and does not store the excess.
Excess protein and amino acids are utilized for energy, and the excess is stored in the body as fat. Therefore, the excess amino acids do not accumulate within the body as fat-soluble vitamins or minerals do.
Diets low in tryptophan have been clinically shown to cause depression, anxiety, and aggression. If a raw diet does not supply sufficient amounts of the essential amino acid tryptophan, aggressive behaviors can begin to display. However, this can be easily corrected by ensuring the diet supplies sufficient amounts of tryptophan amino acid.
Recommended Allowances for Tryptophan
Tryptophan is an amino acid needed for normal growth and nitrogen balance for adult maintenance. The body uses tryptophan to synthesize niacin, melatonin, and serotonin.
Niacin (Vitamin B3)
Niacin is one of the eight essential B vitamins and plays a role in converting food to energy, maintaining healthy skin, and nerve function.
Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep and wake cycle.
Serotonin is a monoamine neurotransmitter that has a wide variety of functions in the body. It is called the “happy chemical” because it contributes to wellbeing and happiness.
0.28g minimum allowance
0.35g recommended allowance
0.45g minimum allowance
0.58g recommended allowance
0.33g recommended allowance
0.33g minimum allowance
0.40g recommended allowance
4.25g maximum allowance
Foods High in Tryptophan
Tryptophan is an amino acid found abundantly in lean muscle meat, and a raw diet can be naturally abundant in tryptophan if the appropriate ingredients are fed. Below are some examples of raw foods that supply the highest amount of tryptophan per ounce (28 grams).
1oz (28g): 0.117g
1 large egg (50g): 0.084g
1oz (28g): 0.082g
1oz (28oz): 0.074g
1oz (28g): 0.071g
1oz (28g): 0.067g
Ensuring tryptophan is met in daily recommended allowances is important for optimal health. A raw diet that includes quality lean muscle meat and organs will provide a sufficient amount of tryptophan amino acid.
A raw diet is naturally a high-value resource, which means it is not uncommon to see a display of resource guarding behavior when a dog or cat is fed a raw diet. Not all pets will display this behavior, so this is not to say it will happen in all scenarios. However, resource guarding behavior is often attributed to the raw diet turning the dog or cat aggressive.
The following behaviors are common with pets who exhibit resource guarding behavior:
Hiding to Eat Food
Running away with food to hide and eat is a mild sign of resource guarding. The dog or cat does not feel like the current environment is safe enough to eat their food. Hiding in a safe place provides the security to eat their food.
Fast and frantic eating is a behavior often overlooked when discussing resource guarding simply because many pet parents do not associate the speed of eating with resource guarding. However, many pets who exhibit fast and frantic eating often have resource guarding tendencies. These pets often feel they need to consume the food as fast as possible to prevent the food from being stolen.
Hovering Head or Body Over Food
This trait is often noticed by pet parents when their dog or cat has resource guarding behavior. The pet will hover its body or head over the food in attempts to body block the food resource from all others in the environment.
Growling, Vocalizations, Teeth Baring, & Biting
These behaviors are widely known and associated with aggression. Dogs and cats who exhibit growling, vocalization (i.e. barking or hissing), and teeth bearing when raw food is present are high on the resource guarding behavior scale and will escalate to biting if they feel their high valued resource will be stolen.
If a dog or cat exhibits any of the behaviors above with a raw diet, it is crucial to understand the root emotions associated with resource guarding.
“I am worried my delicious raw food will be stolen from me!”
Resource guarding behavior lies within the stress associated with losing a valued resource. The feeling of losing a highly valued possession stresses some dogs and cats to the point of visual displays of aggression. The animal feels they must protect the resource based on feeling concerned and fearful of losing the resource, and in terms of raw feeding, these pets are protecting the food they find highly valuable.
“I do not trust others around my delicious raw food!”
In addition to feeling concerned and fearful of losing the valued resource, there is an underlying feeling of distrust when the pet exhibits resource guarding towards the pet parent even if the pet parent has no intention of removing the resources from the pet. Additionally, these feelings of distrust can be felt towards other pets within the home and not exclusively towards the pet parent.
If a dog or cat displays resource guarding around raw food, this does not mean they cannot eat raw food. Feeding routine adjustments are needed to help improve the behavior and change the mental state of the dog or cat:
When dealing with a dog or cat who displays resource guarding, the first step is to create a feeding routine that does not push the dog or cat to the point where they feel the need to engage in resource guarding behaviors.
Resource guarding behaviors are inherently reinforcing and the more the pet has the opportunity to engage in those behaviors, the stronger those behaviors will become over time. If the pet perceives a person as a threat to their meal and they display aggressive resource guarding behavior causing the threat to leave – they have done their job in protecting their resources and self reinforces by continuing to eat its delicious raw meal.
Establish a feeding routine that works for each pet so they do not show any signs of resource guarding behavior. This usually involves allowing the pet to eat in a calm and quiet environment with no other animals or people around to be perceived as a threat.
Once a solid feeding routine has been established to stop the problematic resource guarding behavior from being displayed, a behavior modification training protocol is necessary to help build trust between the pet parent and the pet when it’s raw food is present.
The dog or cat will need to learn the pet parent’s presence is non threatening and that the pet parent is there to provide more valuable resources versus take away the pet’s possessions.
A qualified dog trainer experienced in positive behavioral modification with resource guarding is highly recommended in this instance due to safety concerns. Resource guarding can escalate to a point where the aggression is not safe and the assistance from a professional dog trainer is warranted.
Jean Donaldson has an excellent book published, Mine, concerning resource guarding and expertly lays out a step by step plan on how to tackle resource guarding. This is a highly recommended book for pet parents to have in their arsenal when experiencing resource guarding with their pet.
"Complete & balanced raw diets do not make pets bloodthirsty!"
Ronny LeJeune, CertCN, CPDT-KA, CCC
A raw diet does not inherently make dogs or cats aggressive or “bloodthirsty.” There are factors to consider when aggressive behavior is displayed when feeding a raw diet. Always rule out medical conditions if the dog or cat shows aggression and ensure the raw diet is sufficient in amino acids to support healthy hormone function.
If a dog or cat is physically healthy and is consuming a diet sufficient in essential amino acids, resource guarding is the likely component of aggressive behavior. A consistent feeding routine to eliminate the display of resource guarding and behavior modification training program is needed to overcome food aggression.