<< Back

PetPourri: Natural Selection – Raw Food for Your Pet

By Ashlee Verba

You may have heard a lot of buzz in the media lately about raw food diets for pets. In fact, according to a New York Times blog, pet owners spent $100 million dollars on this growing trend in the last couple of years. The idea behind a raw food diet is getting pets back to what they’d eat in the wild: fruits, veggies, even uncooked bones. Regardless of how long both cats and dogs have been domesticated, their systems are designed to handle raw meats. With shorter digestion times and increased stomach acid, animals can tolerate slight bacterial contamination in meats that humans cannot. As with any growing diet trend, there’s a great deal of speculation and praise over raw food, but research is crucial when deciding what’s best for your pet’s well being.


Pros to Ponder

Nature’s Way

For owners who’ve opted to feed their pets a raw diet, there is simply no other route to consider. Search the internet or dig into a stack of pet magazines and you’re sure to find testimonials about the benefits of raw food diets. Even many veterinary professionals have endorsed this notion, saying that if you mix a small amount of uncooked meat into your pet’s kibble, you’ll see positive results.  It makes perfect sense; if a clean diet can benefit humans, a raw diet should do the same for our animal friends. As an owner, you know exactly what your faithful companion is putting into their body without having to pronounce complicated ingredients, withstand grains and byproducts as primary ingredients, or pay top dollar for food products of unknown origin.

Better Health

Many owners report their animal experiencing positive physical benefits when switching over to a raw food diet. While the jury is still out on any kind of final, definitive results, many veterinarians and individual pet owners have claimed their pet’s skin and coat to be softer and their teeth and breath improved after adopting a raw food diet. Some have also noted that ailments caused by food allergies seem to have been reduced while others have claimed to see a decrease in aggressive or anxious behavior. Of course, all individual cases are different and many animals may not experience these same improvements, but positive results can happen.

Added Convenience

Buying raw meat in bulk and freezing for later consumption by your animal can have several advantages as well. It keeps you from making multiple trips to the store to continue restocking your dog food. Also, you can save money by taking advantage of sales or big box store discounts. Lastly, freezing the meat may help reduce the risk of contamination. And just because you’re storing food in the freezer doesn’t mean your pet’s dinner will decrease in quality. Still, frozen food doesn’t last forever, so be sure to date and dispose of food more than a few months old.

Consider the Cons

Despite the laundry list of reported benefits, many feel the risks of a raw food diet outweigh possible advantages. Furthering speculation, the benefits have yet to be scientifically proven and exist more as anecdotes. Contamination seems to be the major issue, particularly among owners who opt to prepare their own food. Salmonella and E. coli contamination in raw meat is a legitimate concern. Parasites are also an important factor, but proper handling and common sense are the best forms of prevention in this case. Think about it this way: if you wouldn’t cook and eat the food yourself, you probably shouldn’t feed it to your pet. Remember that you can cook meats if you prefer, but it may take away from the nutritional benefits raw food may provide.

One of the major concerns over going the raw food route is that you may not be giving your pet the complete diet they need. Most kibble comes fortified with the correct amounts of vitamins and essential nutrients, while raw food does not. Furthermore, necessary nutrients vary from case to case; as an owner, you’re expected to know when, what and how much your pet needs. Because of this, you may need to supplement your pet’s diet with an oral vitamin regimen.

Improper feeding can also worsen your pet’s ailments, which makes this another major disadvantage to consider. As far as portions go, research is necessary but the general rule is to feed your pet two to three percent of their ideal body weight daily. Visit www.raw4dogs.com for a food calculator that lets you input your animal’s weight and gives you a starting point for portions. Your vet can also offer a helping hand with fine tuning your pet’s dietary details.

What’s Fair to Feed?

When considering a raw diet, think basic. If your pet were left to fend for themselves, what would they eat? Certainly not wheat, grains, byproducts or anything cooked. Consider lean proteins like beef, chicken, lamb or pork. Even rabbit, venison and game birds can be on the menu for you hunters. If fruits or veggies are a little ripe for your liking, give them to your pet instead of throwing them away. Uncooked bones are a good option and help to improve dental health, but you should only give your dog beef bones as pork and chicken bones are far too brittle. Fruits and vegetables are great nutritional sources as well, but considering it’s highly unlikely your pet would dive into a raw potato or zucchini on their own, don’t go overboard with the produce.

Most raw food advocates suggest starting with chicken, as it’s the easiest for your pet to digest until their system adjusts to processing raw meats. Remember that not all pets will love all raw meats and chicken is an acquired taste. Incorporating canned or fresh fish such as salmon, tuna or mackerel once a week will help to administer essential omega-3 fatty acids. A raw egg, shell and all, is also a great source of protein. Remember to use stainless steel bowls and wash them well between feedings. If you’re still at a loss, there are plenty of brands that take the guesswork out of going raw. Companies such as Darwin’s and Blue Mountain Organics take great care in creating a balanced uncooked meal.

As a pet enthusiast, you’re going to have to experiment. Some pets may love ground turkey, while others may prefer pork or beef; some may eat around berries, while others inhale their meal; some may take to the raw diet immediately, but others will take time. A raw diet may be worth a try, but it’s not for everyone. Consider all the factors, consult with your veterinarian and see if you think it’s right for your pet. When it comes to your pet’s well being, you’re in charge.

Leave a comment