Raw Food Diets for Pets
Weighing the Pros and ConsAs with their own food, dog and cat owners are reading pet food labels more closely these days to evaluate ingredients and their sources. American pet food companies may outsource to foreign manufacturers, sometimes with disastrous results. Various brands of dry dog food (kibble) and treats have been recalled for melamine contamination or other problems—even brands manufactured here have been recalled for salmonella contamination.
“You can spend money on vet visits or on better food.”To ensure that what we’re serving our dogs contains a proper balance of protein, vitamins and minerals for overall health, the Dog Food Advisor rates dog foods and treats by brand name, explains the ingredients, including byproducts not fit for human consumption, and recommends the best options. Owners can sign up for emails about recalls and other alerts at DogFoodAdvisor.com.
~ Veterinarian Laurie Coger
Other reasons to read labels include potential allergic reactions to foods, especially chicken and corn, common ingredients in kibble. The educational website notes, “Corn is an inexpensive and controversial cereal grain of only modest nutritional value to a dog.”
Homemade MealsTo have more control over what the family dog or cat eats, many owners turn to home-cooked meals, but know-how is key. “A big risk with home-prepared diets is that they are almost always nutritionally inadequate for long-term feeding, even when using published recipes,” advises Dr. Brennen McKenzie, president of the Evidence-Based Veterinary Medicine Association. “Consult a board-certified nutritionist for the unique nutritional needs of the pet, based on age, breed, health condition and other factors. Don’t substitute ingredients.”
Cooking for pets can be time-consuming. Some owners have found dehydrated foods like those from The Honest Kitchen, made in the United States using human food-grade ingredients, both cost-effective and easy to prepare. While the purchase price can be higher than other options, the food rapidly rehydrates to four times its original weight by adding warm water. A meatless variety allows owners to add their choice of raw meat, meaty bones or cooked meat and can be suitable for sensitive dogs, raw feeders and dogs that need a unique protein source.
“Dehydrated foods are also a good way for a squeamish owner to start a raw diet for their dog,” remarks Dr. Laurie Coger, an associate veterinarian at the Bloomingrove Veterinary Hospital, in Rensselaer, New York, who also offers consultations through TheHonestKitchen.com. Coger suggests, “First, determine what a dog or cat needs in his diet, then transition gradually from kibble to a cooked or raw diet. Cats may resist change, while dogs can be more flexible.”
Pet food maker Steve’s Real Food is another option as it does not use lamb, pork or venison. Each poses a greater risk of carrying toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease that can be passed on to pets, especially cats.
“If you decide to incorporate raw foods, find a wholesale meat supplier so you can buy in bulk. You’ll need a freezer to take full advantage,” suggests Coger. “Feeding raw is not an all-or-nothing proposition, so mix and match. Cook when you have time, feed raw several days a week and use high-quality dehydrated or dry food when traveling.”
Safe Pet Food Prep
- To handle raw meat and bones safely, follow the same guidelines as when cooking for family members.
- When shopping, keep meat, seafood and poultry separate from other foods—double-bag them to keep juices contained.
- In the fridge, store meat products in sealable containers on the lowest shelf, so that potential drips won’t touch other foods. Fridge temp should be 40° Fahrenheit or lower.
- Use one cutting board for meats and another for produce.
- Wash hands before and after handling meat. Sanitize countertops, wooden cutting boards and knives with white distilled vinegar (5 percent), undiluted, heated to 130° F and left on the surface for one minute; then dry with a recycled-paper towel or air dry. It will kill 99 percent of germs. Plastic cutting boards go in the dishwasher.
- Deep clean wooden boards by scrubbing with natural coarse salt and lemon juice (the second half of the lemon face works as a scrubber); rinse with hot water and dry upright. Keep wood from drying out by periodically applying beeswax or walnut or almond oil.
- Refrigerate or discard any uneaten food, wash dog bowls after every feeding with soap and hot water, and then let air dry or wipe with a recyclable paper towel.
- Sponges hoard germs. If used, sanitize them in the microwave at least every other day. Make sure the sponge is wet, not dry. Two minutes will kill 99 percent of most disease-causing germs. Let it cool before handling.
Dr. Cathy Alinovi, owner of Hoof Stock Veterinary Service, in Pine Village, Indiana, found that switching to a raw diet solved an itching problem with her mixed-breed dog. She reports that, “Eighty percent of the reasons my clients bring their pets to me are cured by changing to better food.”
Alinovi points out two drawbacks of serving raw food: “You can’t leave it out all day and it can be a challenge to transport home on a hot day.” But she’s found that the benefits are many, “Dog and cat furs shine and shed less; even their behavior improves.” Dog owners also note cleaner teeth, with no tartar buildup, cutting down on trips to the vet.
Not Everyone AgreesFeeding a raw food diet is not without controversy. The American Veterinary Medical Association voted last summer to advise veterinarians to recommend clients against feeding raw meats and bones to pets. Pet Partners, formerly known as the Delta Society, which registers pets as therapy animals, has instituted a policy that states, “Animals may not be fed a raw protein diet. Animals previously fed [such] a diet must be off it for at least four weeks before registering them.” (See PetPartners.org/rawdiet.)
Deciding which foods to feed our pets requires extra research and meal preparation time, as well as money, but motivated owners like the results they see in their pet’s health.
Missourian Sandra Murphy may be reached at [email protected]