Why Are Vets Against Feeding Dogs Raw Food?
UPDATE: Why I've reversed my opinion on feeding raw meat to dogs.
I will leave this article up here for archival purposes.
The practice of feeding dogs and cats raw food, whether it is a preformed commercial product or butchered cuts of meat and vegetables prepared by the owner, is rising in popularity but is still controversial with many veterinarians and pet owners.
Food and nutrition is one of the most fundamental aspects of animal husbandry and is essential for longevity, prevention of illness, and may possess the ability to even cure ailments by strengthening the immune system and maintaining the vitality of bodily functions.
We constantly make jokes about our companions craving a nice big juicy steak or raw fish, but for some reason, some don't see the need to feed pets natural, whole foods. The logic behind raw feeding is simple —dogs evolved from wolves, and wolves, just like all other animals including humans, are designed to consume food in its whole form.
It is true, however, that dogs are not wolves, and are closer to omnivores than their wild counterparts. I find one thing inarguable however; dogs have not evolved to eat commercially processed food pellets.
- Free-Range and Humane Pet Food Options
There is now a demand for more ethical and sustainable agriculture, and pet foods are among the products that you should consider upgrading to promote healthier pets and humane treatment of livestock. There are a few commercially available choices to
The consumption of processed food has even been shown to be detrimental to humans who have also not evolved to consume it, and that issue has been given less attention than the naturally occurring nutritional scapegoats that are animal fats and foods with high levels of cholesterol.
Not everything that is ‘natural’ is automatically good, but some elements of food processing such as heating and rendering alters the essential components of food at a chemical level, including imperative enzymes and proteins.
These default cooking techniques clearly exist for the convenience of people and are economically feasible, but they are not for the benefit of health. Humans and animals may seem to tolerate processed foods, but it is still essentially an experiment and may contribute to problems down the road.
Why are veterinarians hesitant with raw?
To most proponents of raw feeding, the diet seems obvious and logical. However, newcomers to the diet may be surprised when they mention to their pet’s doctor that they are pursuing this ‘radical’ change. Many vets do not recommend it, and may even discourage their clients from feeding this diet. Many vets also recommend not only kibble, but brands such as Science Diet, Beneful, and Eukanuba, which are known among many pet nutrition-focused circles to have questionable filler ingredients such as corn and low quality by-products. This is even more concerning now that in terms of prepared diets, there are much healthier alternatives available.
In many cases, these brands of pet foods sponsor vet schools and even have a heavy influence on what is taught in the classroom. It's a good guess that these classes do not teach or recommend raw feeding which is of no economical gain to these companies.
While I find the lack of focus on nutrition with many vets disappointing, there are more reasonable reasons that vets are hesitant to support or recommend raw diets. Feeding raw requires research and is more involved than filling your pet's dish with ground beef twice a day.
Commitment to this diet requires that the owner become educated on what, how much, and how often to feed certain food types so that the diet remains balanced. For one example, when it comes to meats, all parts of the animal do not have the same nutritional content. Feeding mostly muscle meat can cause vitamin deficiencies in pets and could be very harmful.
Most dry kibble brands are more likely to be 'balanced', and is a safe route for vets to take when suggesting foods.
Many vets also worry about the potential for animals consuming raw meats to be negatively affected by bacterial contamination, however just like their wild ancestors, dogs tend to have sufficient immune systems to withstand potential damage. Animals that have compromised immune systems may be a bigger concern.
How to balance meat portions
Bone chewing has helped clean my dog's teeth
Enrichment Value of Raw
I believe that not much thought is given to a dog’s psychological needs outside from nutrition. Pets are living, thinking animals like us, not throbbing cells in a petri dish with simplistic needs for nutrition no matter what the form. Dogs enjoy foods with different textures and flavors as one would expect from an animal evolved to consume whole prey.
Dogs and cats love to pull, gnaw, chew, crunch, and rip apart whole prey, as this provides essential enrichment. Kibble offers one texture, one flavor, and absolutely no variety. Raw feeding done correctly should be varied, and can include different types of animal parts, vegetables, eggs, bones, and even additional foods like cottage cheese and sweet potato.
Compare that to dry uniform pellets with questionable composition, and maybe some canned wet food added occasionally. It simply doesn’t compare. When you consider this, it's actually amazing that dogs can subsist on kibble as their owners chomp away on 'human food' that leeches enticing smells from above. It is likely that many dogs 'boycott' their food for this reason, and are incorrectly assumed to not be hungry. Some animals, such as chameleons in captivity, will starve themselves to death if not offered variety, and it is simple luck for pet food companies that dogs and cats do not.
Commercial, Balanced Raw Foods
If you are not confident with your ability to balance your pet's meals, there are many wonderful frozen and freeze-dried raw foods available. Here is a partial list of prepared foods with high quality ingredients.
- Stella and Chewy's
- Primal Pet Foods
- Nature's Variety Instinct Frozen Foods
- The Honest Kitchen
A good book on raw feeding is a good way to avoid mishaps and confusion
Raw bones also carry out the extremely important function of cleaning teeth, unlike kibble, as it is so often falsely claimed. Kibble cleans teeth like cereal cleans teeth for people. I certainly wish that commercial products could alleviate my dog's bad breath, but it never did.
For years, out of all my attempts to clean my dog’s teeth with brushing and manual debridement with scaling tools, raw bones resulted in an obviously superior cleaning job. Dogs with significant tater buildup may need dentistry annually that requires potentially dangerous anesthesia. It is a massive benefit to avoid this risk for such a simple issue.
Fillers in Pet Food
Even high quality kibble contains cheap binding agents that are usually grains or starches (these ingredients also replace expensive meat-based ingredients to make the protein percentage higher). These fillers may be corn, tapioca, rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, wheat, grain, barley, or oatmeal. Some are better than others.
Unfortunately, and even with food produced for humans, dealers will try to cut corners as much as possible for economic reasons and 'play with wording' to make sales. Researching dog food brands and finding the truth about the ingredients utilized can be difficult. Grain and starch ingredients may contribute to weight gain and the formation of tumors in older pets.
While it could be a challenge to meet a dog's nutritional requirements, mistakes can always be amended. This is why variety for most pets is extremely important. Feeding a varied diet with nutrients from many sources decreases the chance that a nutritional demand isn't being satisfied. Human nutrition is also complicated, but would you feed yourself a 'perfectly balanced' pelleted human food?
Raw food has many other benefits, such as taking the guesswork out of the quality of ingredients used in the food (if you prepare it yourself), as well as the quantity or percentage of the ingredients used. Raw foods have higher moisture content which can be life supporting when pet's become older.
Should Everyone Feed Raw?
It is understandable that this diet won't fit into everyone's lifestyle or desire. Unfortunately, our society is very much used to feeding kibble-type foods to domesticated pets. When animals such as exotic pets are kept, it seems more sensible to people to feed these animals a natural, species-specific diet, yet that logic hasn't fully made it to many owners of dogs and cats.
Kibble can still be supplemented with bones occasionally to aid in teeth cleaning (after acclimating a dog to it, as dogs raised eating kibble tend to try to swallow whole pieces), and mixed with meats as well. Owners with concerns about not meeting the nutritional needs of pets without kibble can use kibble to supplement any diet.
There are many commercial products available that offer some raw nutrition in frozen or freeze dried forms that can also be added with kibble or used as the bulk of the diet. Dogs and cats tend to appreciate the added wetness (with cats, wet food may aid in warding off kidney problems) and tastes to their routine feeding if the owner cannot feed only raw.
The diet of your pet doesn't need to stop at a vet's opinion recommendation, and it's perfectly OK to ignore a vet if you don't sense that they are properly informed on nutrition.
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