Pet parents today only want the best for their furry family members. Whether it comes to the medical care they receive, the toys they buy, or even the food they eat.
It is no surprise that the conversation around nutrition is changing as owners are looking to feed higher quality foods to their pets. Today raw diets are becoming more popular among many dog owners, and it is important to know the facts around this diet trend.
What is typically included in this diet?
Raw diets primarily contain the following ingredients: raw muscle meat – still on the bone, raw organ meat such as liver and kidneys, raw eggs, vegetables and fruits, dairy products and some grains.
Why are these diets appealing to pet owners?
These diets are promoted as being balanced and natural, allowing your dog to eat “what its ancestors would have found in the wild.” This diet is also promoted as contributing to overall dental health and coat quality of your dog. It is usually the result of the high fat and protein content in these diets. It may sound appealing at first, but we need to take into account that every animal has specific dietary requirements that are unique. Excessive amounts of ingredients like fat and protein may cause life-long harm to your pet. It is also important to remember that the dogs we have as companions today are much different from their ancestors. Their bodies have adapted and evolved, and their nutritional requirements have changed to meet these needs. Luckily, the life expectancy of our companion animals far exceeds those of their ancestors, with proper nutrition playing a significant role in this.
What are the risks of feeding a raw diet?
There are real risks to consider when we think of raw diets. First and foremost, we are dealing with raw meat which contains bacteria, such as Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli. The handling of raw meat in the home can put you and your family at risk of serious illness, especially if there are children or immunocompromised people living with you. It is not just the handling and preparation of this diet that is concerning. We need to consider the cross-contamination that will pass from your dog’s mouth to the faces and hands of your family members when they show affection. Your pet is also put at risk when they ingest bacteria from raw meat, and they can become ill if the raw diet is prepared or stored incorrectly. A quick way to ensure there are no harmful bacteria in your pets’ diet would be to cook the food prior to feeding.
Another risk to keep in mind would be the potential choking hazards and associated internal damage from bones included in these diets. As most raw diets contain bone as an ingredient, there is no way to guarantee the bones have been ground down small enough to avoid getting caught in your pet’s throat or puncturing the stomach or intestines while passing through the gastrointestinal tract. These injuries are considered very serious and possibly life-threatening and may require surgical intervention.
Almost every pet food available will have a claim that they are “complete and balanced” when most often this is not the case. Raw diets are usually very high in protein and fat but lack some vital vitamins and nutrients that your pet needs to survive. Unless the diet has been created by a board-certified nutritionist, there is no way to ensure the levels of vitamins and minerals in the diet are appropriate. Alternatively, if there is too much of a certain vitamin or mineral in the diet, harmful levels can build up in your pets’ system and become toxic, possibly even life-threatening.
Finally, our pets are unique and may have dietary restrictions due to allergies or various illnesses. Feeding a diet that is high in protein and phosphorus can put a lot of stress on the kidneys, which can make kidney disease worse in animals suffering from this. A high-fat diet can lead to illnesses such as pancreatitis, weight gain and associated arthritis. Proteins like chicken, beef and turkey are the most common allergens in food. Some animals need to be fed a diet with a “novel” protein source, which can be challenging to find when looking at raw diets.
What should I feed my pet?
With so many options out there, it can feel overwhelming selecting the right diet for your pet. Start by determining if your pet requires a specialty diet, this can be done by visiting your local veterinary clinic and having a nutritional consult. Many veterinary diets are explicitly created for pets with unique dietary needs, as well as great maintenance diets for animals not requiring a specialty diet. These diets are carefully made by certified nutritionists and are guaranteed to have the right amount of fat, protein, carbs, vitamins and minerals to keep your pet healthy and happy. If you are content with the raw diet, you are already feeding your pet. You can start by cooking the meat to rid it of any harmful bacteria. It will help to keep you and your family safe, as well as reducing the risk to your pet. You are welcome to ask your veterinarian if the ingredients in your raw diet are appropriate and discuss supplementation for any vitamins and/or minerals that it may be lacking in. Hilary’s Blend creates a line of veterinary recommended nutritional supplements and cookbooks that allow pet owners to cook properly balanced, nutritious and complete diets at home. You can find these products at most veterinary clinics in your area. Always contact your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns regarding your pet’s nutritional health.
Written by: Barbara Hagan, RVT