Dietary options have come a long way in recent years. Vegetarian and vegan options are popping up on menus all across the country. Once upon a time if you were gluten sensitive you had no safe choices when going out and now there are countless restaurants becoming certified by the Celiac Foundation. If you have a special diet there has never been a better time to be alive.
The same is true for our pets. Not that long ago, there really wasn’t much choice as far as what to feed our pets. There were some specialty brands sold at high-end pet stores and some medical brands marketed directly to veterinarian clinics and the rest was your standard wet and dry brands. But it’s 2020 now, people, and our options are seemingly endless.
Not only are there more options amongst the big pet brands, but now we are seeing refrigerated pet food, gluten-free pet food, and even, raw pet food. We are going to focus on raw feeding today. Its practice is relatively young and there are many pet owners who may not even be aware of the trend yet. So we’re here to give you the quick rundown on raw feeding for your pets.
What is raw feeding?
Raw feeding is the act of serving your pets food items that have not been cooked or prepared. The basic idea of raw feeding is to provide your pets with as close to a natural diet as possible. This just means feeding your pet a similar diet as what they would eat in the wild.
What are the benefits of raw feeding?
The raw food pet diet came about in the early 1990s after a book was published by an Australian vet named Ian Billinghurst. He got the inspiration after learning that Greyhounds and sled dogs were fed this way.
He suggested that eating this way promotes healthier skin and coats as well as higher energy levels and smaller, more manageable stools. Other raw feeding enthusiasts claim it has a number of other health benefits. One of the largest arguments for raw feeding is the nutrient content.
Raw ingredients are not cooked or processed; therefore, all the naturally occurring nutrients are fully intact. When feeding your pet kibble made from the exact same ingredients, the nutrient bioavailability (meaning your pet’s ability to absorb the benefits of the food’s nutrients) will be far less. By eating raw, your pet will be able to digest and use more of the nutrients in their food.
Another significant benefit to raw feeding is a lower level of inflammation and/or endocrine fatigue. The argument being, all processed pet food, even “grain-free” pet foods, contain starches. Starches can impede your pet’s digestion and overwork their endocrine system.
Are there any risks to feeding your pet raw?
While the diet can offer many health benefits to your pet, there are a few potential risks to consider. Most of the risks associated with the raw food pet diet are in regard to cross-contamination. Anytime you are dealing with raw meats and bones, there are concerns of foodborne illnesses.
Whenever working with raw foods, especially meats, be sure to keep them separated from all other food. Wash your hands frequently. Disinfect all surfaces that come in contact with raw food. And never, ever ever save leftovers that have been set out for your pet to eat for later. You are just asking for all kinds of nasty, unfriendly germs.
Dogs and cats are much less prone to foodborne illnesses but those of us feeding them (humans) are not.
The other main concern with raw food is in regards to dietary balance. Some argue that prepared pet food is tested against nutritional and safety guidelines and raw food is not. When a pet food is made, a certain amount of all necessary vitamins and minerals are present, even if less digestible. Specific raw food ingredients may only contain a percentage of all the vitamins needed.
There is a simple way to remedy this, however, by making sure your pet is given a variety of different foods to ensure they are eating a well-balanced diet. Steak for every meal may be appreciated by your pooch’s taste buds but not so much by their overall health.
What should you feed your pet?
Before switching your pet to a raw food diet, it is important to first speak with your vet. Raw feeding may not be for all pets. There could be certain medical conditions that would affect their success on the diet. Your vet will be able to answer all of your nutrition and safety questions, allowing you to start your raw feeding journey with confidence.
Veterinarians and raw feeding
It’s important to let you know that, in general, the raw feeding community and traditional veterinarians are currently at odds. Most traditional veterinarians did not study raw feeding as it wasn’t overly common. As a result, they are often wary of this diet and will, often, sway you away from it. Do your own research. Be your pet’s biggest advocate. Ask your vet before moving forward, and if you’re at all unsure about their response, seek out a second opinion.
As mentioned before, you will want to be sure you feed your pet a balanced diet. This means feeding your pet a variety of fruits, veggies, meats, and dairy products.
Some good pet-safe options include:
- Muscle Meat
- Organ Meat
- Raw Bones
- Sweet Potatoes
- Fish and Fish Oil
Note: When feeding your pet bones always be aware of the choking hazard. Make sure all foods given to pets are pet safe and prepared in a pet-safe way.
While you can make your pet’s raw meal yourself, thankfully, there are plenty of amazing raw food brands on the pet food market.
Get to feeding
Now that you know everything you need to know about raw feeding, let’s review the top takeaways. First, as always, consult your vet before starting a new diet. Second, the raw food diet is a much more natural approach to nourishment than the off the shelf pet food path. It can provide your pet with numerous health benefits and contribute to an overall more enjoyable life for your pet.
It is very important to be sure anything you are feeding your pet is pet-safe. Always wash your hands and keep raw foods separate from all other foods. Foodborne illnesses are real and really not enjoyable.
And finally, we owe a BIG thank you to the time gods for allowing us to live in a time when better nutritional information is readily available. Because if there is one thing that our hearts can’t take it’s unhealthy pups.
If you’re ready to learn even more about raw feeding for your pet, both Dr. Karen Becker and Rodney Habib are a wonderful source of information. They are the leaders of the raw feeding movement in the pet world and provide raw feeding pet parents with advice, educational information, and even, recipes to follow!