Raw food diets have increased in popularity in recent years and with Dr Google playing a significant role in owner’s decisions we thought we’d provide some factual information on the pros and cons of these diets to ensure you make the best decision for your pet. Whilst many of the risks of feeding these diets have been scientifically proven, many of the benefits are yet to be comprehensively researched.
A raw diet is a diet that includes uncooked ingredients derived from food animal species fed to dogs or cats living in home environments. Raw diets can be home-cooked or commercially prepared and of those that are commercially prepared only some abide by the AAFCO nutritional guidelines for cats and dogs.
THE POTENTIAL BENEFITS:
Studies have indicated that dogs prefer high protein diets over high carbohydrates diets though specific palatability associated with raw diets has not been determined.
It reflects their ancestors diet
Although dogs share 98% of their DNA with wolves, they evolved to develop the ability to digest carbohydrates making them omnivores. Some dog breeds also display significantly different dental and jaw structure compared to wolves so lack the ability to kill and chew meat to the same extent as their ancestral counterparts. Wolves ability to digest fresh raw meat was also associated with how fresh the kill was as bacteria did not have a chance to develop on the prey that was eaten within 1-2 hours of death. Rarely are our pets given meat this fresh.
Raw diets are considered highly digestible for several reasons. There has been at least one reputable study that indicated protein in raw diets was more digestible than a kibble-based diet. Enzymes are also considered important in digestibility. When food is processed and cooked, we destroy some of the natural enzymes in the food so technically a raw diet provides the dog or cat with more enzymes. However, cats and dogs don’t actually need these enzymes for food breakdown as they produce their own! We also know that cooking meat can reduce its bioavailability which reduces digestibility. Ultimately what all this means the high digestibility of raw diets results in a smaller, firmer poo.
Generally, diets that are primarily meat based will result in a smaller stool than diets with a higher carbohydrate content. You will mainly notice this if you switch from a low-quality kibble to a raw meat diet. Most of the premium kibble diets are quite high in meat content so you may not notice a difference if switching from these foods. Whilst smaller stools are easier to clean up, they don’t necessarily mean your dog or cats gut is healthier as bulky stools may be caused by undigested plant matter (fibre) that is beneficial to the gut or they may be caused by undigested meat matter which is harmful to the gut.
Improved immune function
A study of cats fed raw food diets suggested that this may indeed be the case with the cats fed the raw diet producing a higher amount of white blood cells than those fed a commercial canned diet. However, these changes could be attributed to an immune response to the bacteria in the food so further research is needed to confirm whether this benefit is indeed true.
Raw diets reduce cancer risk
Whilst no studies have been performed to confirm this benefit, we do know that cooking food produces compounds called heterocyclic amines that in high concentrations have been associated with cancer. Generally, the concentrations of these heterocyclic amines are quite low in pet foods but further research is required in this area.
Just like humans, dogs and cats are susceptible to bacterial food poisoning which is particularly prevalent in chicken due to salmonella contamination but can involve other meats and bacteria such as Campylobacter or Listeria. By not cooking the meat this increases the risk of your pet ingesting these potentially life-threatening bacteria and even worse, shedding these bacteria which may lead to another family member becoming sick. For this reason any owners that are immunosuppressed are strongly recommended NOT to feed raw food diets to their pets (for more information click here).
Most home cooked raw diets and many commercially prepared raw diets are not considered to be adequately balanced which means your pet is not receiving the appropriate amounts of fibre, protein, energy, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and minerals. This can be life threatening as certain deficiencies can lead to severe metabolic dysfunction such as taurine deficiency causing heart or neurological disease. Studies have indicated most home cooked raw diets are imbalanced particularly with regards to Vitamin A, E, D, fat and calcium-phosphorus ratios.
Tips for feeding raw-food diets:
- If you are looking for a commercially prepared diet, look for one that abides by the AFFCO nutritional guidelines.
- If you are considering a home-cooked raw diet, seek expert advice to ensure an appropriate recipe is provided e.g. BalanceIt.
- Avoid chicken. If you are using chicken, cook it first to kill bacteria.
- Feed fresh or fresh frozen meat (i.e. defrost and use within 24 hours).
- Never feed meat that is going off or past it’s use-by date.
- Freezing fresh meat for longer than 10 days will kill some parasites such as Toxoplasmosis.
- Ensure you worm your pet every month with an intestinal all-wormer as recommended by your vet.
- Ensure your family practices good hygiene around the pet e.g. hand washing.