Just like our other family members, we want to feed our pets a complete healthy diet with wholesome ingredients. A recent trend in the past 10-15 years has been the feeding of raw meat diets, either purchased commercially or prepared at home. These diets have been marketed as being similar to what dogs’ wild ancestors would eat. There are many reasons that raw food diets are not well suited to feeding our pets.
- Although there are a few raw diets that meet the minimum AAFCO standards, there are concerns that many raw diets are not nutritionally complete. This is especially true in growing puppies and kittens. Inadequate calcium phosphorus balance could contribute to problems with growth and bone development. Some diets can be deficient in several vitamins and minerals and contain excessive amounts of others.
- Many raw diets contain bones or are supplemented with bones. These can cause intestinal foreign bodies or can puncture through the intestinal wall. Dogs could also break their teeth when chewing the bones.
- Raw diets can harbour internal parasites (“worms”) and these can infect your pet. Some of these parasites are also transmittable to people. Pets being fed raw diets should be dewormed monthly.
- Raw diets are often contaminated with illness-causing bacteria, such as Salmonella, Ecoli and Listeria. In one study, 25% of raw diets tested were positive for one or more of these bacteria. These bacteria can cause sickness in dogs and cats like vomiting, bloody diarrhea, dehydration and sepsis (blood infection).
- The bacteria in raw diets can also pose a threat to pet owners. They can be transmitted to people through the handling of raw food, the dishes and the area the pet is fed (ie. floors). The bacteria is also present in your pet’s mouth after eating and in their stools. This is especially dangerous for young children, the elderly, pregnant women and people who are immunosuppressed. This is why most hospital and care home visitation programs do not allow pets to visit who are being fed a raw diet.
If you still choose to feed a raw diet to your pet, please discuss this choice with one of our veterinarians so we can help you with strategies to address any nutritional and zoonotic concerns.
With such a wide variety of good quality diets available for dogs and cats, raw food diets are rarely the best option for our pets. Although dogs are related to wolves, there are key differences in the two species that make domestic dogs better suited to commercial dry and canned foods. Studies have shown that the domestic dog has evolved to digest starch much better than their wild counterpart. As well, since our dogs and cats live closely with us in the home, feeding raw meat can be dangerous to the people who live there.
Every pet is different and it is important to select a diet for your pet that meets all of their needs. Our team members at Arrowhead Veterinary Center are well trained in pet nutrition and would be happy to help you select a great diet for your pet.