Answer to common questions regarding feeding raw.

 

There are many pet guardians who, for their own reasons and by their own choice, feed their pet a raw diet.  I for one am very big on education, understanding and most of all, choice.  I think it is important for pet guardians to understand the varying options for feeding our pets, including a raw diet, so they can be confident the decision is right for them and for their pet.  Sadly, it is all too common for only one perspective on feeding to be presented- commercial kibble diets.  While this may be a choice made by some, for others there seems to be a lack of accurate information presented by health practitioners on other options available.  I wanted to discuss a few of the most common arguments often made by some practitioners, to deter pet guardians from feeding raw foods:

 

1.  “Studies of home prepared diets have found them to be nutritionally inadequate and dangerous to the health of the pet.”
True.  Studies have indeed found this is certain situations.  I believe that pet guardians must be thoroughly educated in the specific dietary needs of the canine species, prior to choosing a home prepared diet, including raw diets.  Our dogs have a very different need for many nutrients and it is critical to make sure these needs are met.  However, this does NOT mean it cannot be done.  What it does mean is that pet guardians must make sure they educate themselves and if necessary seek guidance from appropriate persons to aid them in the process.  There are many veterinarians, consultants and long term raw feeders that can aid pet guardians in this process and the resulting diets are not only safe but also meet or can exceed our dog’s dietary needs.  Because we are  discussing the dangers to health:

The British Journal of Small Animal Practice published a paper contending that processed pet food negatively impacts oral health and thus suppresses the immune system and leads to liver, kidney, heart and other diseases.  “Periodontal disease is rare in nature but widespread in domestic dog and cat populations.  Unnatural diets are known to facilitate the build up of oral microbial communities which then interact with host-immune defenses giving rise to periodontitis”, Periodontal Disease and Leucopenia, T. Lonsdale, JSAP 1995, 36, 542-546.

 

2. “Raw food diets have been found to contain harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and E. Coli.  This is potentially dangerous to public health and the pet’s health.”
True.  But, commercial kibble diets are in fact  likely to contain salmonella (and other more deadly contaminants) as well and we see this too often with many pet food recalls.  But more importantly, the key word in his statement is “potentially” harmful. Animals with poor immune systems are much more susceptible to all illness and care should be taken in those situations.  The vast majority of animals who consume a raw food diet will not show any signs of illness, but actually show signs of improved health; despite the fact there may be bacteria in the food they eat.  The digestive systems of healthy animals are more than capable of digesting the food quickly, thus removing the concerns of bacteria fermenting and causing illness.  The connection to public health is a popular rationalization that raw food is a poor choice for our pets because it is a danger to humans.  But, the vast majority of the public, especially in North America, is NOT vegetarian and consumes animal products in their own homes on an often daily basis.  These people are thus required to touch raw meats, prepare them for consumption, take appropriate food safety measures and ensure adequate clean up regularly.  These households seem to have no problem with this, but somehow the notion of giving raw food to our pets is touted as “more dangerous” to humans.  Raw feeders are often more conscious about food safety than the average person and certainly ensuring proper clean up and care is something I encourage.  To play devil’s advocate, if raw meat is a public health concern, should stores really be selling raw meat for human consumption? Should meat only be sold already cooked, done so in specialty sterilized factories? I am not suggesting retailers remove the raw meat sections from their stores of course; but I think you get the point here, which is that this argument lacks any logic to me.
3. “Dogs fed raw food diets shed the bacteria in their stool in much higher numbers compared to dogs fed commercial dog foods.” 

 

 

Yes, raw fed dogs have been shown to shed bacteria in their stool (just like kibble fed dogs can).  Most importantly these studies showed that although the dogs did shed various bacteria such as Salmonella, they showed no sign of any illness and no transmission to humans was found.  In addition, is the issue here actually the shedding of bacteria or is it the number of bacteria? What number would be acceptable then? This popular argument even admits that kibble fed dogs can and do shed the same types of bacteria.  What’s more, bacteria such as Salmonella exist primarily in the outside environment naturally, because of wild animals.  These animals shed bacteria in their feces on a regular basis.  The notion that raw fed dogs stool presents a danger makes no sense to me.  We don’t go around our yards carefully cleaning up wild bird feces, but we do carefully pick up and dispose of our dog’s feces; which in my opinion reduces the concern.  This still doesn’t address the high numbers present in the environment by wild animals, yet we don’t hear concerns about that and warnings to stay out of our yards and to deter birds and other wild animals from visiting them.
4. “A recent study showed that food bowls that contained raw meat and Salmonella still showed signs of the bacteria, even after disinfection and cleaning.”
True, I am familiar with this study.  What I find interesting here is that those who oppose feeding our pet’s raw foods, continue to ignore the fact that humans expose themselves to the very same bacteria in their own homes through their own diet.  Here is a typical example from a typical home: take a steak from the fridge,  put it on a plate.  Carry that plate to the BBQ for cooking, remove the steak, then place the contaminated plate into the dishwasher.  The dishwasher cleans the load of dishes, dirty steak plate and all, and once the cycle is done it is unloaded and all the dishes placed back in their rightful place, including the plate that had the steak on it.  This plate finds itself back into life relatively soon after.  Using the logic in question, I should throw that plate out or not use if for several weeks again, because it could carry some bacteria still; and according to this study, likely does.  We don’t do that and people seem to have no associated health problems.  So, why then is this study so relevant to our pet’s diet, yet not to our human diet? Well, here are the actual findings by the researchers involved:

“The clinical relevance of Salmonella spp. contamination of food bowls, at any level, in terms of animal and human health is unclear, and it is possible that reduction in numbers, not complete elimination, is the most important factor in most households. High numbers of Salmonella bacteria are generally required to cause disease in healthy individuals; therefore, the risk of contracting salmonellosis from handling contaminated bowls is likely low for most people. This study does not confirm the risk of transmission of Salmonella spp. in households where raw diets are fed.  Further study is required to better evaluate the real risks to humans and animals from the feeding of raw diets to pets.  If raw meat diets are fed, care should be taken in handling the raw foods and any in-contact items, including food bowls.”

 

5. “The potential public health risks associated with handling and
feeding raw diets may be of greater importance than actual disease in animals.”

 

I have already touched on why I have issue with this line of thinking.  Why is handling food for our dog so dangerous when the vast majority of North Americans are NOT vegetarians?  People don’t stop buying raw meat to eat themselves and there are no public health bulletins suggesting we should; despite the MANY recalls of meats in the human food chain, such as the most recent XL Foods.  People continue to purchase meats, in their raw form, for consumption themselves, thereby handling meat and creating a public health risk in THEIR OWN DIET! This logic seeks to makes us fearful of feeding a carnivore raw meat, but then minimizes these risks in the human diet; which would be the more appropriate place to discuss them. Again, proper food safety prevents health risks.
6. “There is currently no objective evidence indicating any health benefit to feeding raw food diets; with all of the risks involved, and no evidence of any benefit, it is difficult to make a case for the feeding of raw foods.  Commercial kibble foods are safer for pets and people and many have some objective trials and analysis done to prove their nutritional adequacy.”

 

More dogs died or became seriously ill in the Menu Foods recall (a recall involving hundreds of products that were apparently safer than raw foods) than has ever been attributed to any other food borne cause. I have been waiting a long time to see the OBJECTIVE EVIDENCE that kibble has any health benefit over fresh foods.  There are no studies that examine the long term health effects of kibble feeding, nor a study which looks at long term health differences in feeding a dog a kibble diet vs. feeding a dog a fresh food diet.  Samuel Spratt spawned the sale of the first dog biscuit (for the sole purpose of using left over garbage scraps from the human food chain, to make money) at the turn of the century, which ultimately led to the commercial pet food industry.  There is no study I have seen since that time that shows directly the kibble diet has more health benefit than the diets pet guardians fed their dogs prior to this; which was table scraps, left over meat, vegetables, bones and organs. AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) only requires a 26 week feeding trial, involving at least 8 dogs, 6 of which must finish the trial, where they do not die or show obvious signs of disease or illness.  Once that is done, the food is deemed “Complete and Balanced”(this subject will be covered at another time).  This is not an indication of long term health benefits in my opinion.  In addition, pet food manufacturers revel in their own studies to purport the wonders of their food; this is not objective- what manufacturer would ever advertise “it’s not great, but it’ll do, buy me!”  These efficacy studies on kibble just don’t exist.  Kibble has only been popular for the past 60 years, yet our canine species has lived for thousands of years.  No human medical doctor would ever recommend a patient consume an entirely processed diet (especially one devoid of moisture) for any prolonged period of time; it still perplexes me how we arrived at being encouraged to feed our pets such a diet for their entire life time and those of who do not are ostracized for choosing a fresh food diet.  Why is it that those opposed to fresh foods say we lack evidence, when it is the kibble diet that is actually new and the diet lacking in evidence?  The “evidence” that is emerging is an ever increasing number of diseases and illnesses that veterinarians practicing for decades, have not come across before.  Veterinarians who encourage natural diets however have been very vocal about the observed benefits in their practices and the fact that the so called “normal” health problems experienced by so many dogs, disappeared with this type of diet.  Finally, I for one want more than mere adequacy for my pet’s diet.  If adequacy is the gauge we use, I don’t want any part of that. But, that is my choice.  And this is all about choice.  So please make yours.

 

We as pet guardians are responsible for making the decisions in our pet’s lives.  It is not an easy position to be in and it becomes even more difficult when confronted with such conflicting information.  My hope after this is that readers can become confident in moving forward and making the decision that is right for them, whatever that may be.  Please don’t be afraid to learn more, even if your veterinarian does not support it.  There are many, many well known veterinarians that are outspoken on natural nutrition for our pets: Richard Pitcairn, Paul McCutcheon (East York), Karen Becker, Ian Billinghurst, Tom Lonsdale, Christina Chambreau, Wendell Belfield, Randy Wysong, Donald Strombeck and Don Hamilton to name but a few. Feel free to read more on their opinions.

 

Thank you for reading and I leave you with these “words of wisdom”:

 

“Dogs should eat raw food – raw meat and bones, vegetables and fruit. If they were meant to eat processed, sterilized food, they would have evolved with tin openers instead of dew claws.”- Nick Thompson BSc.(Hons), BVM&S, VetMFHom, MRCVS

 

Wishing you and your pet family health and wellness.

 

Michelle Sykes, B.A., Cert. C.N
Canine Nutrition Consultant
Tail Waggin The Dog
K9 Health & Nutrition The Way Nature Intended

“It’s not just dog food; it’s food for dogs!”

tailwagginthedog@eastlink.ca

 

About the Author:

 

Michelle is the owner of a private consulting company focusing on canine health and nutrition and has had German Shepherds in her life for over 37 years.  Having completed a Certificate in Canine Nutrition through a lengthy program under the study of a registered holistic vet, Michelle has gained valuable knowledge and tools that focus on using nutrition to improve health and mitigate illnesses and disease in our dogs lives.  Additional courses through Hill’s Pet, Purina Veterinary and several other continuing education credits created for practicing veterinarians and experienced vet techs in areas of parasites, urinalysis, hematology,  GI, Pancreatitis and Thyroid disease, have provided her with a well rounded range of information to draw upon.  Michelle believes in the holistic health perspective and encourages pet guardians to do so as well.

If you are interested in locating a veterinarian that supports and encourages this approach, visit the AHVMA  or  CiVT .

 

Please read about the Rabies Challenge Fund