This is such a polarizing topic and it really not need be. Like in most other areas in life where there is a lot of ongoing debate – like politics, for example – it is extreme positions on either side that are driven more by their own passionate stances on the subject, than by really examining the facts that cause all the trouble.
On one side, you have the raw feeding advocates that opine that feeding a kibble, canned or any other version of processed diet is the root of all disease in dogs and cats, and that for whatever ails your dog, feeding raw will cure it.
The truth from a dietary perspective is that most disease in canines and felines are genetic, infectious, or traumatic in nature, with the exception of a handful of conditions. The other truth from a dietary perspective is that there is not a one diet fits all reality in nutrition or medicine. I have seen some pets do very well on raw fed diet, and seen several instances where I have seen a reduction in skin allergies and obesity in raw fed pets. On the other hand, I have seen some pets that have showed no appreciable increase in their overall health when fed raw, or do not thrive as well fed raw.
On the flip side of extreme, you have a lot of my own brethren, fellow veterinarians, that are convinced that if you feed your pet raw, it is not a matter of if the pet will become infected with raw food pathogens, but when. The flaw here is that these veterinarians are paying more attention to industry journal articles highlighting occasional cases of raw food toxicity than they are to their own clinical experience.
Realistically, in 12 years of practice, I have known around 100 plus pet owners that feed raw, yet have only come across a small handful of confirmed cases of raw diet toxicity. Two of those were special cases that were immune compromised animals – 1 dog who had had her spleen previously removed 1 and dog that was under treatment with chemotherapy.
In addition to this, I am willing to bet that a good number of these veterinarians that are dead set against feeding of raw meat to dogs and cats, enjoy a good sushi meal every now and again. Veterinarians maintaining that raw meat feeding equates to death in waiting for pets, while themselves consuming raw fish, is being a bit dismissive of reality.
Nutrition for each individual pet really is often a matter of trial and error in finding which diet the pet best thrives on. There is no one diet fits all for every pet in the world, and anyone who insists otherwise is either delusional or trying to sell you something.
If you have followed my media work for some time, you will note an evolution of my stance on raw feeding. As a younger veterinarian, I was dead set against raw feeding because of a clinical experience I had early in my career.
A lady had brought in her very sick 3 year old Cairn Terrier who she had been feeding raw chicken wings to. The dog had a very high fever, was severely depressed, and had severe abdominal pain. I briefly discussed with the owner the danger of feeding bone to dogs, to which she answered – rather smugly I must add – that I really needed to read outside of the pet food company funded veterinary curriculum (my favorite veterinary conspiracy theory) and I would learn that only cooked bone is an obstruction and perforation hazard, that raw bone is fine, and the way she feeds is absolutely not what is wrong with her dog.
An x-ray of the abdomen quickly proved this owner – and whatever it was she read – was wrong. The dog’s small intestine was jammed up with chicken bones. Even clearly seeing this on the x-ray, the dog’s owner was still not completely convinced, feeling that there was something else that was making her dog sick, that bones were simply seen because they were undergoing the normal digestion process.
I pointed out that the breaking down of food by in large occurs in the stomach, whereas the small intestine is responsible for absorption of nutrients. The bones were stuck, and they were not going to be broken down any further in the small intestinal location they were seen. The other compelling evidence that the bones were obstructed, was that all of the gut behind the bones was dilated with air, an observation we term a dilatatory pattern; which is a hallmark finding in case of gut obstructions.
When I explored the abdomen surgically, I found that not only was the gut obstructed, it was also perforated and leaking intestinal contents into the abdomen, which led to a life threatening complication called peritonitis. The gut was so badly damaged, that I had to remove 9 inches of bowel and re-attach it (called an intestinal resection and anastomosis). Luckily, the dog ultimately survived, but the owner having walked away having learned a very expensive lesson.
I have since softened my stance on raw meat feeding, but I will never soften on the completely untrue notion that dogs can digest whole bone, whether fed raw or cooked. Experience has clearly taught me otherwise, to the detriment of an innocent little dog.
However, done correctly, I have seen many dogs and cats not only do fine on raw feeding, but I have also seen some pets live healthier lives when fed this way. Like when I eat sushi I know that I run a higher risk of raw meat food poisoning, I want every pet owner thinking about raw meat feeding to understand that dogs likewise carry an increased risk of raw food poisoning when fed raw meat. This risk is overblown by many veterinarians, but conversely, it is underplayed as a non-existent risk by many raw feeding proponents. Make no mistake, there is an increased risk meat feeding comes with, but that risk seems overall low in the big picture. Depending on the source and handling of the meat, the risk is also variable, something I will be addressing in my next post.
Thus begins my 3 part series on raw feeding of dogs and cats. My next installment will deal with the proper way to raw feed both dogs and cats based on their unique physiological needs, and in terms of safety. I will conclude with health conditions where raw feeding should be avoided.
Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne, FL, Chief Editor of the Veterinary Advice and Information Website, Web-DVM, and founder/CEO of Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care