Deciding what to feed your beloved pet can be a confusing decision. In this age of internet, there is so much information from so many different “expert” sources to filter through. Discussions can be found about this diet, that diet, allergies, homemade, gluten free, corn free, and yes, even the RAW diet.
Over the past 10 years or so, the idea of feeding dogs and cats a raw diet has become increasingly popular. It is a controversial topic between, and is a conversation that comes up frequently online and in the exam room.
What is the attraction to raw diets?
One attraction to raw diets is related to how we eat today. People are straying away from “processed” and “refined” foods in their own daily diets, so naturally, our pets follow suit. Many claims have been made about the “benefits” of raw diets in pets such as; fewer digestive issues, better coats, fewer allergies, strong teeth, better coat, and no by products or chemicals.
Another argument for raw diets is that these types of diets are the same as the wolf would eat. The idea is that domesticated dogs are the same as the wild wolf therefore they should be eating the same type of food. The same can be said for cats; whose relative are wild cats like lions and bobcats, which ate raw meat therefore “kitty”, should be eating raw as well.
That sounds great, so what is the issue?
The issue is that there is no factual evidence to support any of these arguments. There are currently no published studies done on raw food diets that prove or support any of these claims. There are no scientific studies that prove raw diets aid in digestion; prevent or improve allergies, or coat health.
What about the argument that our domesticated furry family members are direct descendants of their wild counterparts such as the wolf and wild cat? There is some truth in that argument. Yes, our pets are descendants of wild animals; however, they are so different now than they were thousands of years ago. Thousands of years of selective breeding have drastically changed the way our dogs look, and behave. Most modern dogs and cats live in heated houses, and are given food in a dish. The modern, domestic Chihuahua or Boston Terrier is a far cry from a wild wolf. Wolves are forced to hunt for their food, and will eat whatever they can find. Meals could be a squirrel or a deer, but who knows where and when they will get their next meal. Most wolves in the wild are quite unhealthy, and have a much shorter lifespan compared with our domesticated canine friends.
Both dog and cat species have been extensively studied, and it has been found that our modern canines are omnivorous, just like humans, and that cats are carnivorous. This means that the modern dog needs fiber and carbohydrates as well as protein and fat in their diet to be healthy. Cats need primarily protein in their diet and little carbohydrates and fiber. Most raw diets do not have any supplementation in them for minerals, vitamins or added nutrients. Studies have shown that these diets are horribly imbalanced. For example, in one study, too much vitamin A was found. Too much Vitamin A in a diet can lead to liver damage, or malformation of the bones in growing animals. A big concern for our growing puppies and kittens where nutrition is so important for optimal development is the improper ratio of calcium and phosphorus in raw diets.
One of the biggest concerns with raw food diets is safety and hygiene. We all know eating raw meat, like chicken, is never a good idea! Our food needs to be cooked thoroughly to kill Salmonella bacteria. The same goes for our animals. Our pet’s digestive systems cannot kill off harmful bacteria such as e-coli and salmonella, and as a result can become very ill from consuming raw meat. Parasites, such as toxoplasma, can also be found in raw meat. Not only can the animals themselves get sick from salmonella, toxoplasma and e-coli bacteria, but they can carry the bacteria themselves and make others, including humans, sick. Salmonella and e-coli are shed in feces. Bacteria in the environment, including the home, can be contaminated and pose risk for infection. Children and elderly are at high risk for infection because of their weaker immune systems. Children and infants are famous for touching things they shouldn’t and putting anything in their mouth! People can easily contract salmonella or e-coli from dishes (especially plastic), toys, or from the mouth of the animal itself!
So, what should I do?
The best option for feeding your pet is to feed a regulated, commercially available kibble or canned food. Kibble and canned foods are tested and regulated to ensure standards for quality and nutrition are met. That being said, not all kibble and canned foods are created equal, so speak to your veterinarian about what is the best option for your animal.
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) maintains that there is “documented scientific evidence of potential animal and public health risks in feeding raw meats outweighs and perceived benefits of this feeding practice” (quote from CVMA Raw Food Diet for Pets Position; July 18, 2012).
Can homemade diets work?
Homemade diets can work; however certain precautions need to be met. All the meat should be properly cooked for the safety of the pet and persons. These diets need to be supplemented to ensure the animals are taking in the proper amounts of minerals, vitamins and nutrients. Just meat and veggies alone will not meet your animal’s nutritional requirements. Ask your veterinarian which supplements are best. Safe handling of food and dishes that touch any raw, uncooked meat is the utmost importance. Bleaching and proper sanitization of dishes, kennels, floors and toys is required as well as regular deworming of all pets in the household.
Written by Morinville Veterinary Clinic