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Posted on 03-01-2017

What is Considered a “Raw” Diet?

A raw diet is exactly what it sounds like, raw food materials fed to your pet. These include raw meat, bones, fruits and vegetables. The idea of feeding raw food to pets isn’t a new idea, though it has been gaining popularity in recent years with more commercially available raw foods.

Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst proposed the idea of feeding family pets a raw diet back in 1993, calling his feeding suggestions the BARF diet, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. He proposed that grain-based commercial pet foods were actually harmful to a dog’s health. Unfortunately, many veterinarians as well as the FDA disagree due to risks associated with feeding raw diets based on studies published in veterinary journals.

Kibble Controversy

Many who are pro raw pet food would argue that the kibble we feed our pets today was created to be cheap and convenient. While partially true, the creation of kibble was also a way for pets to receive a balanced diet with appropriate amounts of vitamins and minerals. The concern that many veterinarians have about owners feeding a homemade raw diet is the balance of the nutrients it will provide. Since a homemade diet isn’t regulated, the availability of vital elements such as calcium and phosphorous could be massively scarce.

On the other hand, all kibble isn’t created equal either. See our blog What Brand of Pet Food Should I Buy for more information.

What Are The Risks?

We typically caution owners who are considering a raw food diet about food safety and the risk of E. Coli and Salmonella. Any surfaces raw food touches could potentially be contaminated, including your pet’s face, mouth, and feces. This becomes a particular concern for households with small children, pregnant women, and immunosuppressed individuals.

An unbalanced diet has the potential to cause severe health problems if fed over an extended period (which would be the case for an unbalanced kibble diet as well). If whole bones are part of your pet’s raw diet, there is a potential choking risk as well as the increased risk for broken teeth or an internal puncture.

Pets who consume a raw food diet are at an increased risk for parasites. Talk with our veterinarians about your pet's parasite prevention recommendation, they will likely advise giving a de-wormer on a regular basis, specifically for tapeworms.

What Are The Benefits?

Raw food supporters claim their pets have more energy, healthier coat and skin, cleaner teeth, and smaller stools to name a few. In my personal experience with raw food, I know of an owner who started feeding raw to help treat anxiety and hyperactivity successfully. She also claimed that it helped decrease symptoms her dog was experiencing from the disease Pannus. In a WebMD featured article regarding the risks and benefits of raw dog food, one pet owner claims fewer digestive problems for her dog with chronic issues. She also reported fewer “old-age” issues with her senior pets that ate a raw food diet.

What Kind of Raw Food is Available?

It used to be if you wanted to feed a raw diet, you had to buy all the ingredients and make it at home, but these days there are several commercially available raw foods in easier to feed, convenient forms. Foods come in freeze-dried patties, frozen patties, or frozen nuggets. The freeze-dried foods recommend rehydration before feeding, and the frozen foods need to be defrosted using safe food handling practices. My pets have tried the Stella and Chewy’s freeze-dried patties for dogs, as well as the Primal Pronto nuggets for cats. I have also heard good things about Steve’s raw pet food, but have yet to try it.

I don’t know enough about making homemade raw food to give informed advice, however, I would recommend that if you go that route to research thoroughly before starting. Dr. Karen Becker provides a three part video series about her opinion on the common myths and truths surrounding raw food diets.

If you are considering a homemade diet, our veterinarians recommend NEVER using raw sheep meat due to the risk of echinococcus granulosus disease and its potential effects on humans.

Let’s Get Real

This is the part where I drop a truth bomb. If you were to perform an Internet search regarding raw pet food, you could find countless sources in favor, as well as countless sources against. It becomes maddening trying to figure out who is “telling the truth” about pet nutrition these days! The food specialists at pet stores may or may not have adequate education regarding nutrition, and veterinarians can’t research all of the new available diets on the market.

While reading the article from WebMD regarding raw food, there was a veterinarian against raw food, as well as one in favor of raw food. One of them had research funding from a large pet food company, the other had ties to a raw food company. I bet you can guess which was for and which was against. This is the problem that plaques the pet food industry right now. The research being performed isn’t trusted because the large pet food companies are funding the projects.

So… What Should I Do?

I will give the same advice that I gave in my last post about pet food. Do what you have found works for your family, budget, and most importantly your pet! Raw food is expensive, that’s why I seldom feed it to my pets and it is usually paired up with a kibble. Ask your veterinarian for advice, and when you do, come armed with information and honest questions. Take the time to become informed and educated because knowledge is power!

Our veterinary team is here to help you and give you the best information they have available for your pet. If you are thinking of feeding a raw food diet and your veterinarian isn’t on board, ask them specific questions about why and see what their personal experiences with it have been.

Our hospital has Nutritional Advocates who have received certifications and continuing education through several different organizations. Feel free to schedule a complimentary nutritional counseling appointment for in depth information about your pet’s nutrition.

There are a few cases where most veterinarians agree that a raw food diet wouldn’t be appropriate. Due to the high protein content, pets with late-stage kidney or liver diseases shouldn’t consume a raw diet. Pets with pancreatitis or other digestive issues need to take precautions when considering a raw diet and transition slowly at a time when no issues are present. Pets with cancer, on chemotherapy, or other immunosuppressive disease shouldn’t eat raw food, and in general neither should puppies.

What Does Brutus Eat?

I chose to feed Brutus Hill’s Healthy Advantage Mature Adult as his primary base diet. I also mix in other higher calorie meat first foods such as Taste of the Wild, Acana, or Zignature. Lastly, I add a raw food topper to his food, just enough to give it a little flavor and variety.

While this is what I feed my pet, it isn’t necessarily appropriate for every dog. I will also be honest in saying that I receive a discount on Hill’s products as an employee at Sugar House Veterinary Hospital, but I chose his particular food based on my own standards. 

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