People are increasingly concerned about where their food comes from. More people are looking into ingredients and sourcing food locally or organically. It follows that as we become more concerned with where our food comes from and what we are eating, we would also become concerned with the source of our pet’s food. Even pricey, grain free or special diet kibble comes from sometimes dubious sources, and while kibble when tested is free of parasites, one wonders if the processing also deprives it of important nutrients. For years veterinarians and scientists have been formulating the perfect dried kibbles and canned wet foods, but dogs and cats have only been eating these foods since the industrial revolution. Even after the popularization of kibble, many households continued feeding their dogs table scraps as a secondary or primary food source. Many people have always fed dogs waste products, in the form of stew boiled of innards or bones, or in raw bones. Recently we have begun to examine our dogs’ diets and make conscious choices away from kibble. The result has been a wave of home cooked food and raw food diets, which try to go back to a way of feeding dogs before the advance of industrially produced kibble and what some see as resulting health problems. The need for an alternative was intensified by the waves of contaminated kibble which killed many dogs and sickened many more.
As rapidly as the raw food diet has caught hold, so too opposition has risen. There is a raging debate between supporters and denouncers. Articles site studies finding bacterial contamination in raw foods. Meanwhile owners point to healthy pets, rid of allergies, intestinal issues, and other health problems. While there is no doubt that bacteria exists in some commercially prepared raw diets, there seem to be relatively few cases of dogs becoming sick because of this bacteria. There are, however, cases of people becoming sick from handling the food or feces of their dogs and not disinfecting properly. Veterinarians cite cases of perforation or lodging due to ingestion of bone particles, constipation or impaction due to ground bone accumulating, and calcium or other mineral deficiency due to an unbalanced raw diet.
Proponents of the raw food diet describe dogs in constant misery due to allergies, suffering ear infections and scratching their own fur off, almost miraculously cured by raw food diets. Older dogs and cats, suffering from arthritis, overweight, or unwilling to play or engage, are suddenly puppies and kittens again. Dogs with chronic intestinal issues, underweight, or with failure to thrive recover. Raw food enthusiasts point to puppies raised on raw who grow into healthy dogs that live long lives. Pets on raw are said to have stronger muscles, shinier coats, and cleaner teeth. Proponents of raw describe generally healthier animals and lead us to believe that commercial kibble may be responsible for many of our pet’s health problems.
The decision to go raw or not is personal. The fact is, not much research exists either for or against the diet at this time. Anecdotal evidence is rich, and each person must examine this evidence to decide for themselves if a raw diet is right for them and their dog. If you are thinking about going raw, it is a good idea to have a vet check your dog prior to beginning, so that you will have a comparison point as you transition.
Commercially available raw foods vary tremendously in quality. Shop carefully and choose a company that you can trust. Some companies even report the bacterial content by batch, so you know exactly what you are getting. Such companies charge top dollar for their products. Customers of top quality commercial raw diets swear by them, crediting them with their pet’s good health, and robust enjoyment of life, often after many years of sickness on kibbles and wet foods.
It is very difficult to nutritionally balance raw food you make yourself. Animals in nature would eat the whole animal, so unless you are feeding small animals and grinding all of them, it is difficult to encompass all of the necessary nutrients. Furthermore, bone chips or ground bone given incorrectly is one of the most dangerous problems plaguing the raw food diet. To be safe, remove as much meat as possible and boil the bones to make a broth for your dog. Discard the bones and supplement your dog’s diet with commercially available calcium powder. Make sure your dog gets a balance of muscle meat, fat, innards and organs, and bone broth. Give fresh vegetables as your dog wants them and supplement the fresh raw meat with dehydrated meat. Even if you are very careful, it is very possible that your dog will not get all the nutrients she needs. Have her blood levels and general health assessed frequently to make sure you are meeting her needs, especially if she is still growing.
O’Connor, A. (2012, May 23).The Raw Food Diet for Pets. Retrieved from https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/23/the-raw-food-diet-for-pets/
Macmillan, A. (2018, Jan 12). Feeding Pets a Raw-Meat Diet Can Be DAngerous for Them–and for You. Retrieved from http://time.com/5101066/raw-meat-pet-dangers/
Get the Facts! Raw Pet Food Diets can be Dangerous to You and Your Pet (2018, February 9). Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/ResourcesforYou/AnimalHealthLiteracy/ucm373757.htm
Harris, S. (2017, May 21). Vets say Raw Food Diet for Dogs and Cats is Leaving them Sick or Dead. Retrieved from http://www.nzherald.co.nz/lifestyle/news/article.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=11859169