Raw Food Diets – Are They “More Natural” or Dangerous?
Raw food diets are an attempt to mimic a ‘more natural’ diet for dogs, one that is supposedly similar to a wolf’s diet. A raw food diet is still somewhat controversial among veterinarians, breeders, dog owners and other authorities. While dogs may have been wild carnivores in the past, that was a long time ago and it does not necessarily follow that the diet of a modern dog should be identical or even similar to that of their ancestors.
Common sense would suggest that a diet close to what would be consumed in nature is healthier for any animal than the alternatives, and the experiences and reports of dog owners who have put their animals on raw food diets seems to verify this assumption. Advocates of a raw food diet claim that this approach delivers all kinds of health benefits. The alleged positive effects of the raw food alternative include:
- Healthier skin and fur
- Cleaner teeth and gums and the amelioration of “dog breath”
- Weight loss in obese dogs
- Better digestion and easier stool
- A reduction in the symptoms of arthritis
- Longer lifespan
Many who have put their dogs on a raw food diet did so only after their animal began to suffer from some kind of physical malady and a good portion of these dog owners have reported amazing results. Commercially prepared foods, in addition to their over reliance on grain and their use of chemical additives also lack moisture, which may explain why so many dogs eating exclusively dry dog food are plagued by digestion problems and constipation. The physiology of the dog makes him a natural carnivore and eating foods raw is completely normal behavior even for an animal far removed from the wild. Therefore, it is not surprising that changing to a raw food diet could help restore sick dogs to good health.
RISKS AND CONCERNS
There are, however, a number of valid concerns that need to be considered before making a decision.
1. Raw food diets are TOTALLY UNREGULATED and therefore you are relying solely on the integrity of the manufacturer. Many are small operations and provide excellent quality pet foods. However, not all suppliers are meticulous in their production. As there aren’t any standards, some of these foods are poor or variable quality. Some are not produced in appropriately sanitary facilities.
2. Nutrient content – Raw meat contains very little calcium. The calcium source in these diets comes from ground bone or other supplemental sources. When analyzed, raw diets are often found to be seriously calcium deficient. They also contain very high levels of protein and phosphorus that will be detrimental to any dog with chronic kidney disease.
3. Raw foods often contain increased numbers of pathogens such as Salmonella bacterium. Freezing the food will not kill most pathogens. Although healthy young dogs are often (but not always) relatively resistant, sick, elderly or otherwise debilitated pets are at significantly more risk of infection. As noted above, many pets that are switched to a raw food diet are already struggling with a health issue. Be cautious about starting a raw food diet if your pet is already ill or experiencing chronic illness.
4. Pets eating raw food diets have increased concentrations of bacteria and parasites in their stools. Food dishes may become heavily contaminated. Passage of bacteria through the gut of pets can result in an increased resistance of these organisms to antibiotics. Humans who feed their pets raw food diets will have increased exposure to these bacteria.
For these reasons, we do not recommend the feeding of raw diets.
However, if you choose to do so, we recommend that you have the diet analyzed by a qualified nutritionist and follow these safety guidelines:
- Avoid feeding raw food diets to elderly or otherwise immunocompromized pets.
- Do not feed a raw diet if young children, pregnant, chronically ill or otherwise immunocompromized individuals live in your home.
- Practice safe food habits. Daily thorough washing of food dishes and other food preparation utensils and bleaching on a weekly basis will help to reduce, but not eliminate the presence of bacteria on these surfaces.
- Designate separate cutting boards and follow safe storage of raw food items, etc.
- Also note that raw bones are not digested any better than cooked bones. They are less brittle, but may still break or splinter into sharp shards. Follow the same guidelines for feeding bones to your dog whether they are raw or cooked.