Raw food diets are becoming more and more popular these days and some may wonder about the conflicting claims regarding the advantages and disadvantages in feeding these rations. This article will attempt to address some of these concerns in an objective way so our pet-loving friends can make informed decisions about what to feed their pets.
First of all, the vast majority of our pets do fine on commercially made dry kibble and canned pet foods and there is no compelling need to change. These foods are convenient, relatively inexpensive and nutritionally balanced for cats and dogs. However, there are a small subset of pets which do not tolerate these foods and do better on alternative diets.
Cats in particular can sometimes benefit from feeding low carbohydrate diets because they are so-called "obligate carnivores", meaning they MUST have a lot of protein in their diets. (They are metabolically wasteful of certain amino acids, such as arginine, that are derived from protein.) Moreover, their natural prey species (mice, birds) contain little, if any, carbohydrate and thus their bodies are not designed to process carbs well. Some cats are afflicted with a condition called "inflammatory bowel disease", a relatively common disease, that may have several factors that contribute to its development; diet being one. Also, some cats have trouble with obesity that may be controlled with higher protein, lower carbohydrate diets. Dogs may also benefit from alternative diets to treat IBD and obesity just as in cats, and like cats, may also have allergic or other intolerances to components of commercial diets.
Raw food diets are becoming so very popular that many companies are producing them commercially. We have several pets on raw food diets, including those owned by staff members and the reports have been favorable across the board. No adverse reactions have been reported to us.
Now the opponents of feeding raw foods have some legitimate concerns, especially pertaining to nutritional balance and the threat of food-borne illnesses such as E. coli, salmonella and campylobacter. Most authorities support the premise that ALL raw meats are POTENTIAL vectors for these bacterial agents, and they recommend caution when handling raw foods using guidelines to follow. Commercially available raw food diets should be nutritionally balanced and thus remove some of the guesswork as opposed to homemade diets.
Here are some guideline that are dictated by common sense and good hygiene practices:
1) Don't leave raw food out for extended periods of time. It can become an incubator for bacterial growth
2) Handle the food the same way you would handle raw meat for your family: clean all dishes, utensils and surfaces with which the food comes into contact
3) Prepare your pet's food away from where food for humans is kept and prepared.
4) Wash your hands BEFORE and AFTER feeding your pet
5) Keep your pet's feeding area clean to avoid spreading bacteria elsewhere in the house.
6) Using stainless steel or lead-free glass or ceramic bowls eases cleaning because they are dishwasher safe and non-porous.
7) If your pet has diarrhea, we can have the stool examined for the presence of food-borne bacteria through a veterinary laboratory
8) Wash your hands after touching your pet, especially if they are sick. Make sure your children do so, too!
9) Avoid feeding these foods if anyone in your home is immune-compromised: very young children, the elderly, cancer and HIV patients.
10) Microwaving to defrost frozen raw foods may leave warm, not hot spots that can encourage bacterial growth. Thaw, covered, in the refrigerator or in warm water
11) Defrosted meat should be used within 4-5 days when left in the refrigerator
12) NEVER feed cooked bones
In summary, the decision to feed your pet raw food diets is up to you, the owner, with advice from your veterinarian. Not all pets need to be on these diets, but many can be helped substantially by them. Use good hygienic practices when preparing these foods and watch closely for signs of illness in your pet. Do your homework when making these diets yourself, or obtain them from commercial manufacturers. Use special care in choosing these foods if there are folks in your home who may be more vulnerable to infections.