Should My Pet Switch to Raw Food?
Switching your dog or cat to raw food can bring positive benefits to your pet — often within 2-3 weeks. Pets who switch from kibble to raw frequently experience cleaner teeth, smaller and firmer stools, improved gut health, and healthier skin and coats. However, switching from packaged food to a raw diet can be intimidating. Unfortunately, some vets don’t like their patients eating raw food (I’ll cover that in a minute) and pet food manufacturers hate the competition. Plus, there’s no shortage of misinformation on the pros and cons of raw food vs. kibble. There’s also limited information available about how to make the transition easy for your pet’s digestive system. Before we decide if a raw diet is right for your dog or cat, let’s better understand what a raw diet is.
Raw Diet 101
Raw diets typically (should) include a combination of meat, skeletal muscle, organs, cartilage, soft bone, pet-safe vegetables, fruit, and supplements. These diets can be commercially prepared (like those we offer at NorthPoint Pets) or made at home. Whether you feed your pet fresh or frozen food, a well-balanced raw food diet includes all the nutrients your pet needs to thrive.
Why do people switch their pets to raw diets?
While science continues to improve the nutritional value of dry pet food (kibble), it has only been around for about 100 years. As kibble use has increased, there is no argument that nutrition-related disease in our pets has risen. Many experts in human health and nutrition attribute these diseases to the consumption of processed food. It is logical to suspect much of the same is happening in our pets.
Pet owners switch to raw because they want to know exactly what their pets are eating, but also to be able to reduce the amount of processed food consumed. With processed options like canned wet food and kibble, nutrients and beneficial components like antioxidants and enzymes diminish or get lost altogether. Vitamins and minerals are usually supplemented through vitamin packs.
A responsibly formulated raw diet typically consists of a balanced blend of muscle, fat, connective tissue, organ, and bone. Therefore, raw diets are popular with those who prefer to avoid excess carbohydrates, preservatives, artificial colors, and flavors.
In a nutshell, raw diets mimic what our dogs and cats would eat in the wild.
Why doesn’t my vet like raw food diets?
Most pet owners prepare their pets’ raw food meals at home, and this practice often raises concerns among veterinarians.
These concerns stem from two primary factors: the potential for bacterial contamination and the risk of unbalanced diets leading to essential nutrient deficiencies. These worries arise from the fact that the regulations for human food allow the presence of pathogens like Salmonella.
In the absence of experience or professional guidance, individuals who prepare raw food meals in their kitchens can unintentionally jeopardize their pets’ well-being. This highlights the importance of considering commercial raw food alternatives or collaborating with a qualified, board-certified nutritionist to design a homemade raw diet.
Second, ensuring food safety is a critical aspect of a responsible diet for our pets, regardless of whether it’s kibble, raw, or a combination of the two. Commercial foods, including kibble and canned options, offer a heightened level of safety and assurance from a veterinarian’s perspective. These products are meticulously formulated by animal nutritionists to provide comprehensive balance. Additionally, they undergo production in facilities that implement robust safety measures and pathogen prevention techniques.
Experienced veterinarians await scientific literature to substantiate the efficacy of specific nutritional approaches. Large pet food manufacturers finance research for their products, which has led to documented studies on manufactured pet food. However, a considerable knowledge gap remains, leaving many questions unanswered about various types of pet diets. Therefore, even determining the ‘optimal’ nutrient levels for most pets or specific breeds remains an ongoing challenge.
Science Takes Time
Reputable institutions, both universities and manufacturers, are actively conducting numerous scientific studies on raw and fresh diets. Notable contributors include DogRisk at the University of Helsinki, Finland, Instinct Pet Foods, the Companion Animal Wellness Institute, and the University of Georgia. Some of these studies have already been published. They cover compelling topics such as the reduction of inflammatory biomarkers, advantages for atopy (skin issues), and alleviating arthritis. Furthermore, ongoing research explores the impact of different food processing methods on disease risks and other related aspects.
However, it’s important to note that a significant portion of the available information regarding raw diets primarily originates from personal experiences rather than from extensive scientific research. Consequently, such anecdotal evidence may not carry significant weight within the veterinary community.
Despite the dedicated efforts of researchers at institutions like CANWI, UGA, DogRisk, and the University of Helsinki, there remains a scarcity of published research substantial enough to sway veterinarians’ opinions. Nonetheless, ongoing work continues to bridge this gap, reflecting a commitment to enhancing our understanding of raw diets.
This is precisely why many highly educated veterinarians may not readily embrace the idea of transitioning their patients from processed kibble to naturally balanced raw foods. To make a well-informed decision about your pet’s health and longevity, it’s crucial to seek guidance from an experienced nutrition professional. Engaging in a discussion with this expert allows you to thoroughly explore the pros and cons of raw diets and understand the essential elements of food safety. By doing so, you can confidently chart a path towards improving your pet’s overall well-being.
*This article is for informational purposes only. It is not meant to provide medical advice or replace the advice of a qualified veterinarian.
About the Author:
Nicole is the founder & owner of multiple-award-winning NorthPoint Pets & Company, in Connecticut, USA. She has completed undergraduate work in biological sciences, business and holds an M.S. in Nutrition. Currently, Nicole is pursuing a PhD in Comparative Biomedical Sciences (Canine Nutrition/Metabolomics) at the prestigious University of Georgia in the USA.
Her background includes experience in the pharmaceutical industry on multiple R&D projects, which allowed her the privilege to learn from leading figures in the human and pet health industries. Nicole’s involvement in police canine nutrition within the USA, helps to improve the modern care and feeding of working dogs. Her interests include working dog nutrition, raw feeding, pathogens, metabolomics, and nutrition’s relationship to disease in humans and canines. Her current research involves the exploration of the canine urinary metabolome and the relationship to diet.
Cammack, N.R., Yamka, R.M., and Adams, V.J. (2021). Low Number of Owner-Reported Suspected Transmission of Foodborne Pathogens From Raw Meat-Based Diets Fed to Dogs and/or Cats. Frontiers in Veterinary Science 8. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2021.741575. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2021.741575/full