Raw Food Diets – Are They Right for Your Pet?


This article was provided to Pet Guardian Angels of America by Kevin Davies


Let me say up front that I’m not going to tell you whether you should or shouldn’t feed your pet a raw food diet. I am going to tell you that, if you do elect to feed raw, you should do fully advised of all the controversies surrounding raw diets as well as the benefits.

I also want to say, up front, that there are many different ways to provide good nutrition for your pet. Raw diets are one option but only one of many. While a raw diet is a viable option, you should not feel pressured into believing that you cannot provide adequate nutrition for your pet through other methods of feeding, including home-cooked diets and commercial diets. Though some proponents of raw food diets might have you believe otherwise, there is no evidence to suggest that raw food diets are superior to these other options. They are simply another option to consider.

Let’s talk about some of the pros and cons of feeding a raw food diet.

Arguments for a Raw Diet for Your Pet

Many of the people feeding raw food diets are extremely passionate about the diet. They feel that a raw food diet more closely resembles the “natural” diet of our pets’ ancestors. Though I don’t necessarily agree that this is a valid reason to feed a raw diet, I do understand that, for some people, it is a strong incentive.

Many, if not most, people that feed raw diets report that their pets do well on the diet. I personally have seen pets and currently know pets that are doing well on raw diets also. So, I don’t doubt that, at least for some pets, raw diets can be a valid choice. Many of these diets are higher fat diets and your pet’s skin and hair coat often reflects this externally by appearing shiny, glossy, and healthy.

Safety and Risk Factors Relating to Raw Food Diets

Despite the fact that raw food diets are a viable option for your pet, there are safety and risk factors inherent in this type of diet of which you need to be aware. Raw food proponents sometimes try to gloss over them as being insignificant but these factors exist nevertheless. The wise pet owner makes educated decisions about their pet’s care and weighs all advantages and disadvantages before making a decision. This is what I’m asking you to do if you’re considering feeding a raw food diet.

Raw food diets, like any other diet, can be unbalanced diets. The diet may not contain all of the necessary nutrients that your pet needs or it may contain excesses of specific nutrients that may be dangerous for your pet. It is important to understand that a raw food diet is not synonymous with a raw meat diet. Diets consisting entirely of raw meat are not balanced for either dogs or cats. To a large extent, this risk factor can be mitigated by working with your veterinarian and/or a veterinary nutritionist to formulate a balanced diet for your pet. Alternatively, there are now commercially available raw food diets that have been validated through feeding trials to meet AAFCO standards. Be sure to look for a statement such as: “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that ABC Dog Food provides complete and balanced nutrition for (insert life stage and species).”

The other significant risk factor surrounding raw food diets is that of safety. Contamination with Salmonella is a legitimate concern with these diets. Yes, commercial diets are recalled at times for Salmonella contamination also. But the risk is much higher with raw food diets by virtue of their very nature as raw food. It’s no different than the danger facing people who eat improperly cooked meat. This risk factor can be offset to a large extent by following strict hygiene precautions. Many of these precautions are things you should already be doing, such as using separate cutting boards for raw meat and fruits/vegetables, washing and disinfecting all surfaces contacting raw meats (including food dishes and other utensils used for preparation), and washing your hands after handling raw meat as well as before eating or drinking any foods or beverages.

Granted, many of the precautions for handling raw foods are common sense. But still, it’s easy for many of us to forget or become lax.

Another thing to remember about Salmonella is that your pet can become a carrier, passing the bacteria in the feces, without seeming to be ill. Such was the case with one of my clients that was feeding raw food. I won’t go into great detail for reasons of privacy and confidentiality. Suffice it to say that this client ended up in the hospital for a fairly prolonged period of time and became very ill. The source was traced back to the raw food diet her dog was eating. So, yes, there is risk.

There are a few populations that are particularly at risk. Young children often have less than exemplary sanitary habits and may be placed at risk. Immunocompromised individuals also are at higher risk, for obvious reasons.
Another population that not many people seem to talk about in relation to raw food diets are pregnant women who live with cats. Toxoplasmosis can be passed to cats through the ingestion of raw meat. This is a disease that can cause abortion and birth defects when an expectant mother is exposed during her pregnancy. In my opinion, this is a risk not worth taking if a woman is pregnant or planning to become pregnant.

Another danger associated with raw food diets containing bones is that of damage to your pet’s teeth or intestinal damage/obstruction caused by ingested bones. For some pet owners, this is an acceptable risk. That’s a decision you’ll need to make for yourself.

Do I Feed Raw Food?

I do not feed my cats raw food. I fall into the category of being immunocompromised as a result of an immune-mediated liver disease for which I take prednisone, an immuno-suppressive medication. For me, the risk to my health is higher than I’m comfortable taking. In addition, I simply don’t like the idea of dealing with raw foods in my cat’s food dishes, etc. This is a personal decision. If you’ve decided something different for your pet, I don’t condemn you for that.

If you would like to read more, this reference is a review of the subject that was published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal: Raw food diets in companion animals: A critical review.

I’ve tried to present a balanced view of this very controversial topic. For those of you who are interested in the opinion of professional organizations on this topic, this FAQ page published by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) goes into detail about why they adopted a policy discouraging the feeding of “any animal-source protein that has not first been subjected to a process to eliminate pathogens” (i.e. raw food diets): Raw Pet Foods and the AVMA’s Policy (FAQ). The document explains how and why the policy came to be and offers insight into the views of other professional organizations and/or groups focused on public health such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA-CVM), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American College of Veterinary Nutritionists (ACVN), and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), all of which also discourage the feeding of these diets.

Okay, now it’s your turn. Feel free to comment, share your thoughts, experiences, or other facts. However, please respect the opinions of others and keep the conversation civil.

This article is written by Kevin Davies at petloverguy.com