Is raw food really the best choice for your dog’s health?

There is an ongoing debate whether raw foods are better or if they unnecessarily expose your pets to disease pathogens. Although there is some evidence that raw foods may be slightly better for your pet’s digestive system, most veterinarians would advise against it1.

Why then does the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) strongly discourage this? They have stated that their main cause of concern is the risk of contamination2. They have also warned that both humans and their pets are at risk of being infected by disease pathogens such as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria etc.

Though owners should rightly be concerned about this, it is well known that pets are not as vulnerable to bacteria as humans are. There is an argument that since their genetic ancestor ate and still continue to eat a protein diet without any health complications, then a return to their true diet would improve the health of domesticated animals.

Wolves and wild dogs eat almost every part of the animals they hunt, and not only the parts of the animal most humans deem appropriate. This is not the case when some pet owners decide to switch to the raw food diet. The nutritional level of the raw food they provide their pets is very low and imbalanced, their pets develop health complications immediately or later in life.  Don’t forget, wild animals also consume the organs and bone marrow of the animals they kill. Moreover, they hunt different animals every day. Though the number 1 component is still protein, different animals contain different levels of the other minerals and nutrients needed. They would also steal and eat the eggs of other animals if they can reach it. This variety is what enables them to attain a more balanced diet, plus their constitutions are a lot more attuned to these types of food.

After a dozen millennia of gradual evolution, dogs are now more equipped to handle starchy foods than wolves.  This is because their constitution has evolved after thousands of years of living with humans. The genes and bodies of dogs have adapted to produce more amylase which enables them to better process starchy foods. Dogs now have more copies of the gene that is responsible for the secretion of amylase than their ancestors did3. As a result, even if their should diet contains mostly meats, it’s okay to mix in some fibers and starchy food in their meals. This is the argument that the some of the veterinarians and scientists at the AVMA are making.  Below we are going to discuss the dangers, benefits and proper way to handle raw food should you decide to switch.

Dangers of the raw food diet when handled or done incorrectly

Though there are benefits to feeding your dog a raw diet, if done improperly you could be risking not only the health of dogs but that of you and your family. Before you switch diets be sure to consult your veterinarian doctor to inquire about the nutritional needs of your pets as different breeds vary. You should also ask for a comprehensive list of foods that are poisonous to dogs. For instance, chocolate and certain types of fruits are toxic to dogs and can cause liver and kidney damage. Here is a list of some of the dangers of feeding your dog a raw diet.

Accidentally poisoning your dog: For those who decide to make their dog’s meals, there is a risk of accidental poisoning. Hence the suggestion to request a comprehensive list from your veterinarian before switching. The digestive system of dogs is different from humans and cannot tolerate some of the foods we consume. This is the main reason dog owners are discouraged from feeding their pets scraps off their plates.

Health complications as a result of nutritional imbalance: Lots of dog owners who switch their dogs to the raw food diet fail to take the proper nutritional balance into consideration. Feeding your dog a pound of a raw hamburger is not sufficient nutritionally to sustain your dog in the long run. Often times, dogs that are fed this way develop serious health conditions and this can lead to a shorter life span. Their meals should always contain a mixture of lean meat, organ meat, muscle meat, raw eggs, egg shells, crushed bones, and some dog safe vegetables and fruits4.

Health risk for humans and their furry friends: Be sure you know what food safety standards of your raw dog food provider or prepare their meals yourself while following a strict high standard of hygiene. According to the FDA, raw pet food has a higher percentage of being contaminated with salmonella and listeria5. Antibiotic-resistant E. Coli have also been found. You can reduce the risk of this by using only organic protein meat sources for your dog’s raw food mixture. Even if your dog does not get sick from low levels, you are still susceptible to these bacteria. Those who do not have a high standard of hygiene when preparing and sterilizing the utensils used to make their dog’s food will likely be affected more by this. You should also be careful when you pick up after your dog; this is because a high levels of salmonella has been found in their feaces5.

Benefits of the raw food diet when done properly

There are advantages to feeding your dog a raw food diet, and for some, these advantages are well worth the risk. A list of some of the advantages has been provided below.

Glossier coats: Dogs that are fed a raw food diet have been noted to have glossier coats. This is due to the fact that the raw food diet contains more fats in them. Consequently, the more fat there is in your pets diet the nicer their coats would look.

Easier on their digestive System: Raw food has been shown to be slightly easier on the digestive system of dogs. This is probably due to the fact that their original diet consisted of raw foods alone, and as such their digestive systems are more suited to these types of foods. You should also note that in the initial stages of the transition, your dog might have diarrhea. This is normal and would stop after a few days. If this continues, it is an indication that you need to find the right balance of fibers and proteins. Try adding and removing different types of veggies until you find the right mix. Remember, every dog is different and what works for one dog might not work for another. Hence, you dog’s mix should be personalized and discussed with a Vet, not copied from the internet or borrowed from a friend. Also, you can ease them into this transition by slightly cooking the raw meat for a few days before completely switching to the raw diet.

No preservative or chemicals additive: Choosing this diet means you avoid some of the most controversial preservative included in a lot of processed pet food. Some examples of these preservatives whose safeties are still being debated are BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin4. In addition to this, you would have total control of what your dog consumes and in essence his/her health.

What you need to know before/after you make the switch

If you have gone through the risks and decided you still want to switch to the raw diet, then you should contact your veterinarians and ask for his assessment of the nutritional needs of your dog. A list of things you should know before switching to the raw food diet has been given below.

  • It is not advisable to make the switch if there are children, elderly or immunocompromised individuals living in the same environment4. This because they have weaker systems and are more vulnerable to food borne pathogens.
  • Make sure you have a comprehensive list of foods that are poisonous for dogs.
  • After you make the switch, you should wash and sterilize all utensils used before and after every meal preparation.
  • Immediately store or dispose after-overs.
  • You should avoid adding canned fruits as they contain large amounts of sugar.
  • You should take care not to touch your face when you are making your pet’s meal.
  • You should immediately wash your face or hand if your dog licks it.
  • Do not kiss your pet’s face, especially after their meals.
  • Do not defrost their food on the counter. Defrost only in a microwave or fridge.
  • Be very careful when handling raw food as cross contamination can easily occur from contact with the juices.

Making the switch can be difficult, time consuming and stressful, but determining what’s best for your entire family should always be the most important factor. Visit our website midoricide and subscribe to receive more information on subjects that impact your pets.

References:

  1. Calderone Julia. “Should You Feed Your Pet Raw Food?”. Consumer Report. 10th February, 2018. https://www.consumerreports.org/pet-food/should-you-feed-your-pet-raw-food/. Accessed 10th October, 2018.
  2. Cima Greg. “Raw Food Policy Draws Debate”. American Veterinary Medical Association. 5th September, 2012. https://www.avma.org/News/JAVMANews/Pages/120915q.aspx. Accessed 10th October, 2018.
  3. Pappas Stephanie. “Starchy Diets May Have Given Ancient Dogs A Paw Up’’. 23th January, 2013. https://www.livescience.com/26513-starchy-human-diet-domesticated-dogs.html. Accessed 10th October, 2018.
  4. Klein Jerry. “Raw Food vs. Dog Kibble”. American Kennel Club. 5th June, 2018. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/vets-corner/feed-my-dog-raw-food-or-dog-kibble/. Accessed 10th October, 2018
  5. “Get the Facts! Raw Pet Food Diet can be Dangerous to You and Your Pets”. U.S Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/animalveterinary/resourcesforyou/animalhealthliteracy/ucm373757.htm. Accessed 11th October, 2018.

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