Pet owners are increasingly starting to provide raw food as a main diet to their pets. The claim is that a raw food diet can booster the condition of the skin, coat, immunity and overall health of your animal as well as getting rid of bad breath, reducing the amount of feces and improving energy level and behaviour.
For years, dog racing sites, mink farms, Zoos and other professional establishments have been utilizing the benefits of raw meat diets for their animals. It was assumed that these establishments were aware of the food safety and nutritional risks involved with this form of diet.
With the increasing number of common pet owners feeding raw diets to their pets, there is a genuine concern by veterinary professionals that owners are only looking at the positives offered by the raw meat diet and may not understand the harm that can be caused. The goal of this report is to educate owners about the prospective side effects of a raw food diet and the negative impact these may have on pets. Raw-meat promoters often fail to mention or just skim over the health risks involved and often owners are caught unaware when their pet’s health or their own is jeopardized.
Reports claim that raw food diets reduce the occurrence of many medical conditions including arthritis, pancreatitis and allergies. It is also pointed out that feeding an animal raw bone as a source of calcium will help to whiten teeth. Be aware however that at the current time these claims are only anecdotal. They are certainly a believable concept but not one that is supported by any scientific research or fact. Those who oppose the raw meat diet are fast to point out that feeding this diet can cause risks associated with microbial contamination (for both pets and humans), gastrointestinal perforation, choking, intestinal obstruction, as well as fractured teeth.
It is important to get the facts before making your final decision. It is also important to understand that raw meat diets and homemade diets do not always refer to the same thing. Lots of owners feed a homemade diet to their pets but that does not necessarily mean that they are feeding a “raw” diet.
There are three core types of raw food diet that are available to pet owners. These are: On the market complete raw food diets, homemade complete raw food diets and combination diets.
Commercial complete raw food diets are usually sold frozen. Due to the fact that these diets claim to be balanced and nutritionally complete, they are under regulation by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
Homemade complete raw food diets are prepared by the owner utilizing recipes found in books and on the internet. These diets are estimated to be balanced overall; however, individual meals are not guaranteed to be balanced. Also, there is nobody overseeing the regulation of this form of diet. Bones and raw food (BARF) is a popular version of this type of diet that was created by Ian Billinghurst of Australia. Contrary to popular belief, Ian Billinghurst is not a veterinarian.
Combination diets consist of a raw meat diet supplemented with commercially available grain and supplement mixtures. This form of diet is also not regulated in any way.
More often than not owners will start their pet on a raw food diet before doing an adequate amount of research on it. Before choosing a raw food diet there are a variety of important factors that must be weighed. Ask yourself these questions before starting a raw food diet for your pet.
Am I prepared for the investment in time and money that is required to obtain and prepare raw food meals for my pet? The average person simply doesn’t have the time to cook their own healthy dinner, let alone prepare a raw food dinner for their pet! Due consideration must be provided when choosing recipes, obtaining ingredients and choosing the correct supplements. Homemade diets are also considerably more expensive to procure than off the market diets.
If you make the choice to feed a homemade diet you should also be sure to consult a certified veterinary nutritionist about your choice to make sure that the diet you have chosen is balanced for your individual pet. Remember that every pet is a unique individual with specific nutritional needs. Recipes need to be fitted to your pet based on age, breed, health status and lifestyle.
If meal preparation for my pet becomes impossible for me to continue will I be able to switch back to a commercial pet food? The time and money required to provide an animal with a homemade diet is often underestimated. Also, owners are sometimes required to train friends or family on the proper preparation of their pet’s diet so that coverage is available when the owner is ill or away. Once you have started down this route however you may find it hard to turn back. Your pet may simply refuse to eat any other foods!
Are the constant consultations with veterinarians necessary to keep my pet in good health within my budget? Pets on homemade diets require two to three visits per year to the veterinarian to ensure that they are remaining in good health without any nutrient deficiency or excess. These visits often result in routine blood tests and radiographs at the owners expense.
Can I accept the risks associated with feeding my pet a raw food diet? Be knowledgeable about the short and long term risks of conditioning your pet to a raw food diet. The pathogenic agents found in uncooked meat include E. coli, Salmonella, Clostridium, Campylobacter and Yersinia. These organisms are able to infect not just the pet but also the people living and interacting with the pet. There are clearly documented cases of this type of infection. Beyond the risk of infection, there are also numerous problems in the realm of nutrient balancing. Nutrient related problems may not present themselves for years after the imbalance occurs. Finally, there is the risk of intestinal perforation and blocking related to feeding an animal raw bone.
Proponents of raw food diets will point out that this form of feeding is the animals “natural” diet. Wild dogs and cats do eat all their meat raw, but, is wild-caught meat the same thing as meat that comes from the supermarket? No. Are we certain that animals in the wild live healthier and longer lives than our domesticated pets? No. Should you or I eat the same food that was eaten by Neanderthals or monkeys? No.
Many pets do very well on raw food diets, however, just as many or more pets don’t. The same can be said about commercial and homemade diets. Like humans, each pet differs in how it digests and uses certain ingredients. Individuality must be considered when beginning a new diet. Pet owners choosing to feed their pets a raw food diet have only their pet’s best nutrition and care in mind. In the end, it is the owner who must choose if they are personally able to make the benefits overbalance the risks.