Whilst I strongly believe a raw diet is far superior to a cooked and processed diet such as commercial pet food, there are certainly good and bad raw diets.
Healthy raw diets depend on the quality of the ingredients, the variety of the contents, how the food is prepared, a complete diet achieved over several meals, knowledge of the supplements required, which type of bones and meat produce are suitable, the source of the ingredients, the digestibility of the chosen proteins and the quantity of food and supplements given.
The majority of Veterinarians and pet owners are in full support of processed commercial pet foods. My criticism of this tunnel vision view comes from the fact that the incredible support of pet food companies is from a place of ignorance and blind trust rather than from intelligent choice.
I know, I was in this position myself only several years ago. Most people don’t question what they should feed their pets (cooked or raw); it’s not even a choice that enters their mind. The supermarket has entire isles dedicated to the pet food industry. Every Vet Clinic I have ever took my pets to, also display an array of brightly coloured bags and cans of pet food, which advertise health and longevity.
Coincidently, the pet food companies are training veterinarians in pet nutrition. Only recently I found out that veterinary students at The University of Melbourne are trained by IAMS pet food. No wonder most veterinarians frown upon homemade, raw diets, when they have been brainwashed by the market leaders in pet food.
As a result, pet owners are being advised by their Vets to buy commercial food as its 100% balanced and complete, unlike homemade diets. Is this what they are taught by the pet food companies?
The supermarkets also cater specifically for pet owners on behalf of the pet food companies, so where is the choice? The only pet food advertisements I have ever seen on the television have been marketing campaigns for commercial, cooked, heavily processed foods.
Whilst there are many advocates of the raw diet, the popularity of the billion-dollar pet food industry is without doubt a powerful force and influence. It will take some time to break through the tunnel vision views of the majority but slowly, I think it’s happening.
Commercial pet food is cooked, processed and packaged for a long shelf life. The pet food companies have made feeding a pet incredibly easy, very convenient, quick and pet owners don’t have to worry about the diet being balanced or species appropriate. Labels clearly tell pet owners the product is ‘complete and balanced’ and pictures of healthy, happy pets on the advertisements install faith in the buyer without a second thought.
When I, on occasion, had my doubts about this type of nutrition, my Veterinarian would assure me that this was the best way to feed my pets. I was told homemade diets can be very dangerous, difficult to balance and can, long term, cause serious health problems due to deficiencies.
I don’t believe Veterinarians are saying this to sell more pet food. They are giving this advice, as they truly believe homemade diets are bad and that commercial pet foods are indeed the best choice to ensure healthy animals. This is, no doubt, what they were taught at Veterinary School.
However, times are changing and pet owners are becoming more empowered by slowly learning that homemade raw diets can in fact be a healthy choice. Raw pet foods are on sale now in pet food supply outlets such as ‘The BARF Diet’ by Dr Billinghurst and ‘Big Dog Barf,’ a family owned Australian business. Slowly, they are gaining popularity with both dog and cat owners. There are also a staggering number of informative books available on how to feed our pets a raw, species appropriate diet. Whilst there are several texts that make the task of creating a raw pet diet quite daunting, there are texts such as ‘The Barf Diet,’ which simplifies the preparation and is very clear in all aspects of this method of feeding. (Billinghurst 2001)
In support of the raw food movement is Dr Jones (a Canadian Veterinarian and author). In his years of practice he has observed vast improvements in cats and dogs after switching from cooked, processed diets to homemade food. Improvements include shinier hair coat, no more bad odours, improved muscle mass to fat ratio, fresher breath and cleaner teeth, reduced itching, urinary tract health, less infections, reduction in arthritic symptoms, less allergies, less hairballs in cats and a decrease in stool volume. (Jones 2009)
In addition to the above credits given to the Raw Diet, author of ‘Whole Health for Happy Cats, claims there is an elimination of gastro-intestinal problems, the urinary tract maintains itself at a species appropriate pH of 6-6.5, the immune system gets stronger, long haired breeds shed less and in the long term its cheaper than commercial pet food. (Arora 2006)
The greatest fear of switching to a raw diet by most owners I have spoken to; tends to be that raw animal produce contains pathogens, which are potentially harmful to our pets. Author of ‘Food Pets Die For,’ agrees with this. Raw food can contain huge amounts of E. Coli and Salmonella that even freezing can’t kill. (Martin 2008)
Chicken and organ meat in particular carry contaminants dangerous both to us, and our pets. Domestic cats and dogs are very different from their wild relatives who have long fasts between meals, which allow the toxins to be eliminated from the body. (Brown 2006)
If these claims were true then why have my pets over the last several years of feeding raw food never been sick from the diet?
In fact all I have seen is massive improvements in health. I totally disagree that raw food can cause more harm than good.
To answer the question is author of ‘Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs.’ Dogs (and cats) digestive tracts are very short, their stomach contains highly concentrated hydrochloric acid, which breaks down not only fat, but also protein, bones and harmful bacteria such as E. Coli sometimes found in raw food.
“The canine digestive tract is developed to kill germs and stop them from multiplying.” (Olson 2010)
Dr Pitcairn, Veterinarian and author, claims that in 15 years of recommending a raw diet to his clients, he has never saw a case of salmonella or E. Coli poisoning in any of his patients. In total support of raw food for cats and dogs, the key ingredient missing from heavily processed, cooked pet food is the,
“quality found only in fresh grown uncooked whole foods: Life Energy!” (Pitcairn et al 2005)
Cooked foods are dead foods. Their enzymes, proteins, vitamins, fats and plant produce are all either altered or completely destroyed in the heating process.
Against raw diets and a strong supporter of cooked foods for cats and dogs is Veterinarian and author, Dr Schenk. Placing a heavy emphasis on ‘foodbourne illnesses’ she claims, “The practice of feeding uncooked diets should be discouraged.” She advises, any pet on a raw diet should be checked by a Veterinarian every 6 months. As the book is an advocate for homemade cooked diets it gives a massive number of recipes and an enormous amount of detail in regards to each and every ingredient in the diet. However, the task of switching from commercial pet food to her dietary advice is somewhat overwhelming. The author even after writing the book specifically for pet owners to follow, writes,
“Formulating a homemade diet is a difficult task.” (Schenk 2010)
Thank goodness this wasn’t the first animal nutrition book I read, I would surely have given up the task of switching diets immediately.
After seeing the benefits (I never thought possible) of the raw diet for the last several years in my own cats and dog, there are still several small drawbacks to making our own raw diets at home that need to be considered.
-Time required for preparation
-Freezer and refrigerator space needed
-Providing a variety of foods to ensure an overall balance in the diet
-Initially costly to buy supplements, oils, high quality produce
-Meat grinding machine (if necessary for non-bone eating pets), it takes up space in the kitchen.
-The fear of not getting quantities of ingredients correct and causing deficiencies or toxic overload
-Fussy pets addicted to commercial pet food!
However, as practice makes perfect, it really doesn’t take that long to work out a system that’s good for our pets and that fits into our lifestyle. The sheer pleasure of seeing healthy, happy animals with a high quality of life is truly rewarding.
Now, for all those pet owners who remain faithful to the pet food companies….
There is a general consensus between animal nutritionists, (whether they support the cooked or raw homemade diet) that most commercially prepared foods are not providing our pets with health and longevity.
Cooked, processed, long-life pet foods:
-Contain too much fibre in the way of cheap fillers
-The protein is poor quality which is taxing on the liver and kidneys
-The cooking process destroys nutrients including enzymes and amino acids. As a result, the overall quality of the protein suffers (Olson 2010)
-Full of cheap grains
-Too many meat by products which lack integrity
-Toxins e.g. pesticides, herbicides, hormones (from cheap animal factory farmed produce)
-Produce that would not be considered suitable for humans
-Lack of regulations when compared to the human food industry
-There is no such thing as one meal being complete and balanced (Jones 2009)
-Dry pet foods adhere to our pet’s teeth and gums and with a large amount of sugar from all the grains; generate periodontal disease (Hodgkins 2007)
-Too many grains in cat food when they are obligate carnivores
-Dry food is unnatural for cats. They are required to drink more. However, as they naturally do not drink a lot of water, this places strain on the kidneys causing concentrated urine, urinary crystals, stones, renal failure
-Have an alkalizing effect on the urinary tract which should naturally be acidic
-Can lead to obesity (pets will crave more due to the food being deficient in real quality nutrients)
-Are misleading a trusting public as to the ingredients in their products
-The source of ingredients is a scary thought
-Are of low quality, most company costs go into advertising and marketing campaigns
Unfortunately I find most pet foods to be unethical. Knowing what most of the ingredients in their products actually are, I’m not surprised the Vet Clinics are busting at their seams with sick cats and dogs.
“only about half the actual contents of the pet food are listed on the label due to minimal legal regulations in the pet food industry.” (Martin 2008)
According to Veterinarian and author Dr Jones, pets on commercial, cooked, processed diets are being taken to clinics with bad allergies, skin and gum disease, arthritis, kidney problems and autoimmune diseases.
“Many of the chronic diseases we see today are directly attributable to poor quality food…” (Jones 2009)
In conclusion I do believe pet owners are waking up and starting to question why their pets have so many allergies, diseases, ongoing problems that require expensive and ongoing veterinary care.
As we are questioning the source of our own food, we are also questioning the source of our pet food. Bad practices in the world of food produce are now thankfully being exposed.
Factory farming of animals, in particular, pigs and chickens are now relatively well known, thanks to organisations such as Animals Australia and the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals. Slowly we are learning that nicely packaged animal produce in supermarkets are products of pain, suffering and contain a massive amount of chemicals used in the food industry to keep profits high and sale prices low.
The popularity of free-range food labels and organic plant produce is thankfully increasing. This is evident when we go into the supermarkets and each year, more and more space is taken up by free-range eggs, rather than the eggs from caged birds.
As the consumer drives the food market, not the farmers, it is up to each and every one of us to make more ethical, kinder, more healthy and as a result more educated choices both for ourselves and for our pets.
Arora, S 2006, ‘Whole Health for Happy Cats.’ Quarry Books USA
Billinghurst, I. 2001, ‘The Barf Diet.’ SOS Printing Pty Ltd, Australia
Brown, A 2006, ‘The Whole Pet Diet, Eight weeks to a Great Health for Dogs and Cats.’ Celestial Arts, USA.
Hodgkins, E.H, 2007, ‘Your Cat, Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger Life.’ Thomas Dunne Books, USA.200
Jones, A. 2009, ‘Veterinary Secrets Revealed,’ Four Paws Online Ltd, Canada
Martin, A. 2008, ‘Food Pets Die For, Shocking Facts about Pet Food.’ NewSage Press, USA.
Olson, L 2010, ‘Raw & Natural Nutrition for Dogs, The definitive guide to homemade meals.’ North Atlantic Books, USA.
Pitcairn, R. H. & Pitcairn, S. H, 2005, ‘Dr. Pitcairn’s guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats.’ Rodale Inc, USA.
Schenck, P. 2010, ‘Home Prepared Dog and Cat Diets Second Edition.’ Blackwell Publishing, USA.
Animals Australia, The Voice for Animals. http://www.animalsaustralia.org/
Big Dog Barf website. http://www.bigdogpetfoods.com/about