When people began turning to raw diets to improve their health, perhaps it was only natural that they started to wonder if raw foods might benefit their pets, as well.
Today, raw diets for dogs and cats have a dedicated following. Success stories abound.
So are these diets all they are cracked up to be, or are they overhyped? Let’s examine both sides of the coin.
- Doing what comes naturally. Proponents of raw diets for pets do have a point—the dry, canned, and frozen rations sold today are nothing like the foods that cats or dogs would eat in the wild. For one thing, a natural diet would be uncooked. For another thing, it would contain more animal protein and less plant protein than most commercial foods offer. Finally, it would have no preservatives. Raw diets seek to replicate the natural eating habits of wild canids and felines.
- Trusted sources. Constant recalls of commercial pet foods can’t help but to shake buyers’ confidence. Many feel that they can’t afford to trust their animals’ health to these companies any longer.
- Customized pet food. Every pet is an individual and has individual needs. Raw diets offer the flexibility to meet those needs.
- Peak nutritional value. When just about any type of food is cooked or stored, it loses some of its nutritional value. Raw feeding captures the full nutritional potential of the diet. Any necessary storage is typically over short periods of time and will usually take place in the freezer, minimizing nutrient losses.
- Cut out the grains. Grains in pet foods have been accused of causing everything from allergies to diabetes in cats and dogs. However, grains are ubiquitous in commercial rations. If you are trying to eliminate grains from your pet’s diet, you may have little choice but to switch to a raw, or at least homemade, diet.
- Optimal health. Yes, there are many success stories out there. There is no question that raw diets have changed some pets’ lives for the better. Clean teeth, shiny coats, increased energy—the list of claimed benefits goes on and on.
- Happy pets. Does your dog have an insatiable desire to chew? Some owners feel that the chewiness of a raw diet has provided their pets with an acceptable outlet for the natural chewing instinct, thereby improving their manners.
- Nutritional balance. Unfortunately, while the Internet has provided many with a way to investigate raw diets, it has also proven to be a method of propagating nutritionally deficient recipes. Doing your homework is essential, but not easy. Many raw food advocates recommend the additional expense of vitamin supplements, just in case.
- Sticker shock. Raw foods are typically not cheap. You may be able to save money if you raise your own meat animals or if you are on good terms with a butcher, but you will still have to pencil it out.
- Time crunch. For a country family with a lot of other responsibilities, preparing cat and dog food can be a major chore. At least with a raw diet you won’t have to do any cooking, but you will still have to shop for ingredients, store them, and ration them out.
- Logistical considerations. Don’t forget that you will have to store quite a bit of raw food for your pets. Make sure that you have the space. Also consider what will happen if you travel. Will your boarding kennel accommodate your pet’s special needs? If you take your dog or cat with you, will you be able to bring along raw food, as well? Will the necessary ingredients be readily available at your destination?
- Disease risk. Raw meat can carry a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Even if the cat or dog does not become ill from these nasties, the pet can still pass them on to its unwitting owners. You will have to be careful to disinfect all surfaces and objects that have come into contact with raw meat juices during feeding time. Furthermore, what if your dog or cat doesn’t lick the bowl clean every single time? You can’t leave raw food sitting out for your pets, or it will spoil and potentially cause food poisoning. You will have to dispose of it.
- Special needs. Not all pets do well on raw diets. For example, puppies require precise mineral balances for proper growth, which can be difficult to find and provide in raw foods. Also, pets with existing health problems, particularly liver and kidney disease, may have difficulty digesting large amounts of raw protein.
- Sharp edges. The modern dog typically looks forward to dinner time as the highlight of the day, and may not be able to moderate his rapid food intake. If he swallows a large, sharp piece of bone, he can either choke or suffer a dangerous intestinal injury or blockage. Some people eliminate the bones from the diet for this very reason, but this also eliminates the main source of calcium in a raw diet.
- Digestibility. Many raw food advocates include vegetables in their pets’ diets to add extra nutrients, make the meals more filling, and help bones move through the digestive tract. However, cats and dogs may have a hard time digesting large quantities of raw veggies, which can lead to bloat. Those who want to offer their pets vegetables may have to depart from the rules of raw feeding and do some cooking.
Successfully feeding a pet a raw diet takes dedication. You must be committed to extensive and thorough research, as well as to purchasing and storing ingredients. As much as we all love our pets, many of us simply will not have the time and money to do an adequate job of providing a nutritionally balanced raw diet. Those who fit into this category should probably do some searching and find a commercial pet food manufactured by a reliable company, preferably one that is dedicated to research and that sources quality ingredients.
On the other hand, those of you who direct market meats may find that making pet food is quite feasible. (Some agripreneurs even sell their own natural pet food.) In this case, you will want to research pet nutritional needs to ensure that you are feeding a balanced diet, and you will also have to determine if you will feed a raw diet or one that is at least lightly cooked based on your pets’ health and eating habits, and on whether you would prefer to spend more time cooking or cleaning up.
So is a raw diet right for your cat or dog? Only you can decide.