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Studies - The Science of Raw Pet Food

Studies - The Science of Raw Pet Food

A Deep Dive Into Our Ongoing Research & University Partnership
Study Design

University-backed research allowed us to quantify the impact of raw nutrition with dogs

The university-based DogRisk research program is studying how genetic, environmental & nutritional factors influence disease in dogs – including raw nutrition. This research is being led by researcher Dr. Anna Hielm-Björkman at the University of Helsinki. This is the only veterinary research facility in the world doing research on raw food.

More than 16,000 dogs are included in the study – all of various ages and breeds.

In December 2009, the DogRisk Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ) was launched. Developed by Dr. Hielm-Björkman and microbiologist Shea Beasly, the survey provided the researchers with a snapshot of what dogs have been eating, where, and how long they have lived prior to getting a disease. This information was taken and turned into more specific studies.

Some of the specific studies they are exploring include:


Canine Atopic Dermatitis (CAD): Aka Environmental Allergies

Essential Takeaways
  • The dogs had to be eating one of two diets – either a raw meat-based diet or a dry kibble
  • Puppies fed raw have fewer environmental allergies as adults than kibble fed puppies
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Research Paper

Read the FULL published research paper and the results.

Objective of the Study:

Identify causes of allergy that can be controlled by owners to help reduce the incidence of canine atopic dermatitis (CAD), also known as environmental allergies.

More specifically, the aim of this study was to investigate whether a non-processed meat based diet (raw) or an ultra-processed carbohydrate based diet (kibble) as well
as environmental factors and their timing of exposure (prenatal/neonatal/postnatal) may be associated with the development of canine atopic dermatitis (environmental allergies) in adult dogs.

Details/Background on Canine Atopic Dermatitis (aka environmental allergies):

  • Incurable and expensive to treat. Symptoms for pets include itching, excessive scratching, hot spots, greasy or flaky skin, hair loss, ear infections, and excessive chewing on the paws.
  • Disease prevalence is up to 27% in dog populations. Usual eruption occurs within the first 3 years.
  • While causes are complex (including genetics and environmental factors) experiences early in life appear to set the stage for developing this disease later, by ‘programming’ the immune system.
  • In human atopic dermatitis, the diet early in life (as well as exposure to other variables such as pets, the outdoors, etc.) and even before birth during the mother’s pregnancy help to determine whether allergies will develop.

Small Dog Scratching Ear

Method of the Study:

  • The internet questionnaire known as the DogRisk study, which was launched in 2009, was used to gather data.
  • The questions cover diet, vaccines, medical history, environmental history etc – all in all it generates 1,332 pieces of data per dog!
  • There are lots of purebred dogs and breeders taking part, and so information on the diet eaten by a dog’s mother while pregnant was available
  • A total of 2,236 dogs were divided into allergy prone vs non-allergy prone groups.
  • The dogs had to be eating one of two diets – either a raw meat-based diet or a dry kibble

The Results:

  • If a puppy’s mother ate raw, or the puppy’s first solid food (from 1-2 months of age) was raw, there was a decreased chance that it would have allergies as an adult
  • If a puppy’s mother ate kibble, or the puppy’s first solid food (from 1-2 months of age) was kibble, there was a increased chance that it would have allergies as an adult
  • The diet consumed by puppies from 2-6 months of age tended to be associated with the risk of developing environmental allergies in adulthood similar to above, but the results were not deemed statistically significant

We now have evidence that feeding a raw diet to puppies or to their mother before birth is associated with a lower chance of developing allergies later in life.

Why Raw May Help:

  • Raw contains microbes that stimulate and educate the immune system such that it is protected from developing allergies later in life
  • Processing changes food in a way that increases the chances of becoming allergic
  • The nutrient profiles of the raw diet (high protein, a broader range of functional compounds, and no cooking toxins) protects the immune system from developing allergies later in life

Raw Frozen Food on Counter Above Dog

Limitations of the Study:
This is an observational study which has inherent weaknesses, although for this type of study it is well controlled. One weakness is that owners were asked to remember aspects of care and feeding years previously and may not have reported them accurately. Second, some of the diagnoses and descriptions of medical conditions were based on the owners’ judgements and were not verified by professional veterinary diagnosis.


Transparency of the research and the partners we work with is important to us

The Research

Learn about the results of the DogRisk research here.

Instinct is the only raw pet food company in the US to sponsor researcher Dr. Anna Hielm-Björkman at the University of Helsinki and her ground-breaking work on raw with DogRisk—the name of their research group and program.

This multiyear research agreement is helping the DogRisk independent research group as they are making groundbreaking discoveries to better understand the role of raw nutrition in our pet's health and well-being – including raw.

Instinct has always believed raw is the best choice we can make for our pets. We've seen the changes firsthand, but now we're closer than ever to understanding why.

Dr. Anna Hielm-Björkman:

  • DVM, PhD, docent, CVA (IVAS), Principal investigator
  • Dr. Hielm-Björkman is the leader of the DogRisk research group. She works as a senior researcher, PI (principal investigator) and teacher at the department on Equine and Small Animal Medicine at the Veterinary Faculty by the University of Helsinki in Finland. 80% of her time goes to research and she works with patients once a week.

University of Helsinki:

Teaching hospital and only veterinary research facility in the world doing research on raw food.

Dr. Anna Hielm-Björkman

More to come

We will continue our commitment to raw research and its benefits for our pets

We wouldn’t be sticking to our own high standards if we stopped here. This is just the beginning of our research into raw pet food and our scientifically proven raw nutrition philosophy.