We love our fur children. We want the best for them as pet parents and the healthiest lifestyle we can provide. We emphasize giving them plenty of exercise, socialization with other humans and animals, vitamins and supplements, and, of course, the best nutrition and food diet(s) as possible. Throughout the years, numerous “trends” have evolved for our pets that, as their parents, we jump on to ensure our beloved babies have the healthiest life we can give to them.
Recently, a newer and popular trend is switching our pets to a raw food diet. But, what exactly is a raw food diet? Is it the best option for my pet(s)? Is it safe? Is it time consuming to prepare? Is it expensive? When should I make the switch? How should I switch them? And, the questions keep going…until now. Here is the low down and what you need to know.
A good diet can contribute to a long and healthy life and even psychological well-being for our pets.
Most of us give our pets the traditional dry and/or canned food as their meal. When the organic versions of these foods released, you may have started giving your pet this “healthier” option. Lately, there has been a newer option available- Raw Food. A raw diet is a more “natural” diet for our pets. There are two major types of raw diets: commercial and home-prepared. Commercial raw diets, which may be fresh or frozen, supply all of the dog’s requirements and are typically in a meat patty form.
Home-prepared raw diets usually consist of raw meat and bones, with veggies, fruits, supplements, and added grains. These diets may not be balanced each day but, if designed properly, should meet the dog’s requirements over the long term.
A raw food diet for our pets is controversial, however, the popularity is rising amongst pet owners. Raw food diets consists of raw meat, bones, fruits & vegetables. There are positive benefits like shinier coats, healthier skin, cleaner teeth, smaller stools and higher energy levels.
A raw food diet typically consists of muscle meat (often still on the bone), organ meats such as livers and kidneys, bones (whole or ground), raw eggs, vegetables like broccoli, spinach & celery, apples and other fruits, and some dairy such as yogurt and cottage cheese.
Over the past couple of years, there have been a number of pet food recalls. When preparing your dog’s food at home, you have total control of what you include in your dog’s food and where those ingredients are from.
Raw diets (especially home-made diets) allow you to meet your dog’s specific needs. Raw diets can be prepared to avoid foods that your dog is allergic to and can be made to meet your dog’s specific nutrient requirements. The high water content present in raw food may allow you to feed more while still keeping the calories low for your pet.
Processed foods often have added preservatives that enhance product shelf life. Food that has been freshly prepared and has not been processed or had preservatives added is commonly considered a healthier choice. Commercial raw diets are usually frozen, which means they don’t require added preservatives.
The bones that are part of the raw diet are anecdotally considered to be good for dental hygiene, which can be good for overall health.
Feeding a raw diet may provide your dog with a natural outlet for their chewing tendencies; this may help to improve her overall behavior.
Some pet owners prefer to purchase these items and make their own meals for their pets. Whereas, others may prefer to purchase commercially processed raw food diets that are frozen or freeze-dried and/or combination diets that use blends of grains, vegetables, and vitamins that are mixed with raw meat purchased by the owner at the grocery store. For most pets, it is more beneficial than processed foods.
Feeding raw food is expensive and time consuming. The cost of a raw dog food diet varies with the ingredients used and how it is prepared. For a 30-pound dog, a one-day supply of one variety of a frozen, commercially available raw chicken diet costs about $2.50; others may range up to $5 a day. A super-premium, commercial dry dog food costs about $1.
The preparation of balanced meals for your dog every day can be a challenge to fit into a busy lifestyle. As a rule of thumb, if you are eating out more than three meals a week, you are likely too busy to properly prepare meals for your dog, so a homemade raw diet may not be the best choice for your life schedule.
However, there are some risk factors associated with feeding a raw diet to your pet.
Raw diets have been found to contain Salmonella, Escherichia coli, Clostridium botulinium, and Staphylococcus aureus, all of which are known human and canine pathogens. These bacteria are shed in dog stools and may be transferred to carpets and furniture as the dog moves around the house. These pathogens usually only pose a serious human risk to the immuno-compromised, the elderly, and young children; however, this is a very important consideration if you are feeding a raw diet and have people in these risk groups living in your home.
In addition, there is a potential risk to dogs from certain pathogens found in raw foods, such as Neospora caninum, found in raw beef, Nanophyetus salmincola, found in raw salmon, and Trichinella spiralis, which is found in raw pork and wild game such as deer, elk, and moose. All of these pathogens can make your dog sick and are potentially fatal.
Feeding bones can cause choking, intestinal blockage or perforations, and chipped or broken teeth.
Because it can be difficult and time consuming to adequately balance a raw diet, nutritional deficiencies, especially in vitamins and minerals, are a significant possibility. To complicate the matter even further, some nutritional deficiencies take many months to show up and you may not see the problems with feeding a particular diet until the animal has been eating it for months or years.
Raw vegetables are often poorly digested by dogs. Most of the nutrients in raw vegetables are rendered more available when they are lightly cooked and then ground.
Much of the existing research on raw diets surrounds the microbial risks of raw meats and is very important to take into consideration. Also, a raw diet is not beneficial with puppies or kittens and more for the “older” pet. If you don’t get the calcium and phosphorous ratio right, you can have bone deformities and growth issues.
Needless to say, if you are on the fence about switching your pet(s) to a raw food diet, or you know you are ready to do so, it is best to discuss with your veterinarian FIRST before taking the plunge. Your vet knows your pet’s health the best and will be able to advise if the switch would be beneficial and safe for them. They will also give instruction on how to safely make the switch for your pets and will educate you on this type of diet geared for your fur baby.