Raw diets are rapidly growing in popularity among pet parents. Many feel raw is a healthy alternative to processed kibble and other refined foods. Health-conscious humans are interested in raw diets for their companions because they want to nourish their pets as much as they nourish themselves. Proponents for raw food diets point to the many benefits: allergy relief, natural control of weight issues, better management of diet-related diseases (such as diabetes, kidney issues, and urinary tract issues), as well as healthy teeth, gums, skin and coat. Raw diets are natural, biologically appropriate and can be tailored precisely to the needs of one's pet.
Kibble, canned food, and treats are often flavored and may have sugars added to enhance palatability. Those added sugars can affect pets sensitive to sugar. Because raw diets are based mostly on animal protein, they tend to have a very low glycemic index (the effect of carbohydrates on blood glucose levels). And because proteins help the body to regulate blood glucose levels, many pets do not get the sugar rush and subsequent crash that result from eating sugary foods and treats.
Pet owners switching to raw often see a remarkable change in the behavior and moods of their pets. Steadier blood glucose levels lead to less moodiness and lethargy. Also, it has been discovered that in carnivorous pets, chewing and gnawing on a raw meaty bone releases endorphins. Raw feeders often comment on how once-destructive pets calm down significantly after being switched to a raw diet.
Many make the switch to raw hoping to decrease their pet’s allergies. Grain-based pet foods, even limited-ingredient diet foods, are a departure from the largely carnivorous diets these pets would have eaten in the wild. Pet parents who are trying to treat their pets’ diet-related allergies might consider feeding raw as it is truly a limited-ingredient diet in every sense.
Is there a down-side?
With all these benefits, why doesn’t everyone feed raw? Part of it is lack of knowledge about good options. But the biggest worry most people have over feeding raw is the likelihood of salmonella, e. coli, or other bacterial infections making them or their pets ill.
First, let’s address concern over your pets: The likelihood of a dog, cat, or ferret contracting salmonella or e. coli from a raw diet is low. Carnivores naturally have highly acidic digestive tracts, evolved specifically to kill food-born pathogens. And if that isn’t enough to protect them, carnivores have much shorter time-frames from input to output. Salmonella and e. coli both require a period of about 8 hours to create a colony in the lower intestine, so, quite frankly, any vectors of infection from food are likely to be eliminated before they can cause a problem.
It is, however, possible for a human family member to contract salmonella or e. coli through unsafe food preparation or poor washing. For these reasons, it is suggested that raw foods are served in stainless steel or glazed ceramic and the leftovers removed once the pet has finished eating. Wash all bowls well with hot, soapy water after every meal, and be sure to wash hands thoroughly after handling raw foods. Remember to always was hands as well when cleaning up feces, as pathogens can still be shed with bowel movements even if your pet is not ill.
Many commercial raw food companies, such as Stella and Chewy's, Nature's Variety and Bravo, utilize a unique pressure process which kills any harmful bacteria in the foods. Stella and Chewy's then also tests each batch to make sure they are pathogen-free, and posts the results on their website. Each package includes a lot number which pet parents can use to access that batch's specific results.
Another worry people have about feeding raw foods is over the safety of raw bones. Bone, when raw, is a porous material that is easily crunched up and digested for the calcium, phosphorus, and other minerals it naturally contains. Feeding appropriately-sized bones will avoid choking hazards. Remember that the ancestors of your pet dogs, cats, and ferrets all were predators that ate the entire carcass of their prey, including bones. For cats, ferrets and smaller breed dogs, chicken wings, necks and frames are all perfect sizes! Larger breed dogs can benefit from larger bones: lamb, bison, beef and pork.
Once a bone has been cooked it changes the chemical structure of the bone, and that is when bones become highly dangerous. Cooked bones splinter and a splinter shard from a cooked bone can easily puncture the esophagus or stomach of your pet. Most commercially freeze-dried and frozen foods contain finely-ground bone particles as they are an important source of easily-assimilated nutrients.
We hope that you have found this Ask the Experts article informative. Be sure to check out our Raw Diets 102 article for more information on how you can switch your pet to a raw diet.
You can count on our support at Pet Life if you choose to change your pets to a raw diet. Whether you go with commercial raw products or do it yourself, or team of experts is ready to answer your questions!