As a veterinarian in Alpharetta, this is a question I get asked fairly frequently and there is a lot of information and misinformation surrounding this topic. Firstly, I am neither for nor against a raw diet, having fed my dogs a raw diet in the past. Contrary to popular belief, veterinarians are not sponsored by the “big pet food companies,” we have to purchase our food just like any other pet owner out there. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about raw foods!
The arguments for feeding a raw food diet are numerous and oftentimes valid. However, there are a few misconceived notions that should be addressed when deciding to feed your pet a raw diet.
- They’re carnivores and carnivores eat meat.
This is probably the number one argument for feeding a raw diet and, taken at face value, makes complete sense. However, once you examine the diet of wild dogs, cats or large carnivores, they’re actually ANIMAL eaters, meaning that they consume almost the entire carcass. You’ll never see a wild dog kill a chicken and pluck the feathers! They eat the skin, bones, brains, eyeballs, feathers, muscle, and most importantly the internal organs and intestines.
- This is what they would eat in the wild.
Entirely true! Just not entirely accurate. While the desire to feed our pets what they may have eaten in the wild is admirable, we have to remember that they’re not actually in the wild. Our pets lead a completely different lifestyle! Imagine for instance, what the day of a wild dog or cat looks like. They wake up and spend most of their time hunting or foraging for food, all the while, fending off predators or other competition. This burns a tremendous amount of energy and there’s no guarantee of a meal! I don’t know about your pets, but my dog walks all of 6 feet in the morning to his food dish, definitely not doggie boot camp at my house!
Even with regular walks and exercise, the duration and intensity of activities are starkly different from their wild counterparts, and this needs to be factored in when deciding on a raw diet. You shouldn’t feed a couch potato like an Olympic athlete!
- Feed a pound of this, an oz of that and a sprinkling of those!
This is probably the trickiest part to feeding a raw diet: determining the amount of food required on a daily basis as well as the respective proportions of vitamins, minerals, etc. One size definitely does not fit all. The nutritional requirements of a 2 year old, 9lb mainly indoor chihuahua certainly doesn’t resemble the requirements of a 4 year old police german shepherd, or that 19 year old kitty. The addition of vegetables and other supplements is of questionable value as well, as dogs and cats have very limited ability to digest raw vegetables. In their natural environment they would obtain this vegetable matter in a pre-digested form when they eat the stomach and small intestines of their herbivore prey.
Dogs and cats have evolved to eat just a few times a week, and regardless of how adept a hunter the animal may be in the wild, nature just doesn’t provide a consistent diet on a regular basis.
It’s just not possible for wild dogs and cats to obtain the consistently high level of nutrition that we provide for them twice a day, 365 days a year. This is especially true when feeding a raw diet as the nutrition levels are much higher than a comparable amount of kibble, and there is tremendous potential for “over nutrition” if the pet’s diet is not appropriate for his lifestyle.
- My pet is much healthier on raw.
This is entirely possible, but in my experience as an Alpharetta area vet, most clients make this assumption based on external factors such as a shiny coat, reduced stools, etc. This does not necessarily mean that your pet is healthier, as a shiny coat can simply be derived from the increased omega fatty acids present in the raw diet. In certain cases, we’ve seen the increased levels of protein present in raw diets cause an overall acidification of the blood and urine, sometimes leading to bladder crystals and stones and even early onset renal disease. Always have your pet checked at your regular vet who may choose to perform bloodwork or other diagnostic tests to ensure the health of your pet.
Next time, we’ll discuss the most important factors to consider when designing your pet’s raw food diet.
Things to Consider When Feeding Pets a Raw Diet