On the other hand, we have people that have inherent disdain for veterinarians, quickly dismissing the unique understanding of canine and feline physiology that comes from years of intense study and research. They insist on notions like domestic canines are really the same as wolves and should be fed as such. They state falsehoods like the hyper-acidic gastric pH of the wolf (about 1) that enables effective digestion of bone, parasites, and raw meat pathogens is the same in dogs – so we thus need not worry about feeding uncooked chicken wings fed to dogs, nor should we have any concern about raw meat pathogens. I have also heard from people of this same ilk that the digestive flora (complex of living microbes in the gut that are essential in the digestive process) of the dog differs greatly from that people, and that takes all risk out of raw feeding.
I can speak to these type of pet owners until I and blue in the face that the real scientific truth is that the pH of dogs is not acidic as the wolf, but falls somewhere between that of dogs and people, generally 2-2.5 and watch as they roll their eyes. I can also tell them that the bacterial digestive flora actually is quite similar to that of people, with Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Proteobacteria, Fusobacteria, and Actinobacteria constituting more than 99% of all gut microbiota. Of course the rebuttal I receive to this is that I am simply regurgitating pseudo-facts that were spoon fed to me by a pet food company funded veterinary curriculum. Even when I tell them that as a clinical student at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, I actually did in vivo measurement of a canine’s gastric pH, as well a culture of small intestinal gut flora that substantiates all of this; it falls on deaf ears.
Thus, my message to veterinarians dug in the sand against raw feeding, would be to un-dig yourself, agree to disagree about the justification of the risk, and help those committed to feeding their pets in this manner to do it as safely and nutritiously as possible. To those committed to raw feeding, I advise that you be wary of the convictions of those without medical or physiological training specific to dogs and cats, and seek the advice of a growing number of veterinarians that are willing to help you in your endeavor to feed raw.
The Right Way to Feed Raw
To begin with, lose the notion that dogs are merely domesticated wolves and should be fed that same. While dogs retain a lot of the character of their ancient wolf ancestor, they are a very different species. In the process of cohabitation with people that began 100,000 years ago (based on wolf bones found along with human remains from about that long ago) that continues to this day, the species vastly changed. This article describes a recent study that strongly suggests that the domestication of dogs was as much dietary as it was the ability to get along with people:
This process led to the dependence on a more varied omnivorous diet similar to that of people, than the more predominantly carnivorous diet of the wolf. Whether fed a cooked meat diet, raw diet, or kibble, I see the health effects of loading dogs with pure protein, while sacrificing other key nutrients, such as anti-oxidants, insoluble fiber, and complex carbohydrates. These health effects include gall bladder disease, pancreatic disease, and digestive distress.
Thus, dismiss the notion that your dog is a carnivore and must be fed 100% meat. Protein should not comprise more than 50%-60% of your dog’s daily nutrient intake. The other 40%-50% should be a combination of fats, insoluble fiber, and complex carbohydrates. Most meats will satisfy the fat requirement, with vegetables providing insoluble fiber and complex carbohydrates, while also providing beneficial anti-oxidants that slow the aging process and protect cells and tissues from damaging oxidation. While most dogs will not eat green, leafy spring mix salads, many dogs enjoy carrots, squash, green beans, sweet potato, and apples. Regarding vegetables, steaming them or juicing them to a pulpy consistency often makes them more appealing to dogs of they will not eat them in the raw form.
Unlike our canine friends who are more omnivorous, cats are in every sense, pure carnivores. Physiologically, felines can synthesize any nutrient they require from protein, including fats and glucose. As such, a pure meat diet is not only appropriate for cats, it is preferable. One of the biggest mistakes of the pet food industry has been to feed cats similarly to how we feed dogs, a miscalculation that has led to obesity, diabetes, pancreatic and gall bladder disease, and urinary tract disease in cats. Thus, if you are reading this and not a proponent of raw feeding, then seek kibble or canned diets that are high protein, ultra-low carbohydrate for your cats.
Some cats crave and thrive better with some insoluble fiber in their diet. Thus, if your cat likes fiber or has digestive issues where fiber may be beneficial (e.g., constipation, loose stools, or hairballs), you can buy “cat grass” at pet stores for your kitty to graze on. There are also seed kits you can buy to grow your own organic kitty grass garden.
Safest Raw Meat Sources
Always remember that dogs and to a lesser extent, cats, are susceptible to raw meat pathogen food poisoning. As such, just like when I make the conscious decision to engage in my twice week sushi habit I understand I carry a higher risk food poisoning, know that raw feeding carries an increased risk as well. Likewise, just as I endeavor to minimize my risk by choosing clean, reputable sushi restaurants, you too should choose the best raw meat sources to minimize your pet’s risk for raw meat food poisoning.
Considering that raw meat pathogens do not come from the meat itself, but from the handling of the meat, do not feed grocery store bought raw meat to your pets. Grocery stores have meat that has been handled by far too many entities, from the slaughterhouse, to the meat packing plant, to the butcher, to the worker putting out the food. Purchasing directly from a butcher takes some of the handling out of the process, but still carries more risk.
A good source of raw meat is meat that is frozen and shipped frozen. The freezing process has a bacteriostatic (bacterial growth inhibiting) effect, while the nutrients in the meat remain largely unaffected by the freezing process. Delivered frozen, the meat can conveniently be stored in your own freezer and thawed out as needed. There are several companies on the web that offer this kind of service, but be sure to read reviews online before committing to any particular company.
Another safe source of raw meat is dehydrated raw meat. Dehydration also offers a bacteriostatic effect without significantly impacting the integrity of the nutrients. All that one needs to do to feed in this manner is add water to the packaged dehydrated raw meat and it is quickly ready to serve. Another benefit to this type of feeding is that many companies will also include dehydrated vegetables mixed in with the meat, which resolves the need for preparing a separate vegetable component to your dog’s needs.
Don’t Live In Denial
As I stated in my previous raw food post, there is not one diet that works for every pet. While I will not hesitate to tell you that I have observed many pets thrive better on raw fed diets than on kibble or canned diets, I have also seen the opposite. Thus, if your pet has poor hair coat and/or skin quality, digestive issues, or chronic recurring disease while being fed a raw diet, then be open to trying other options.
Most importantly, there are health circumstances, acute and chronic disease, where raw feeding is contraindicated, and would be poised to cause harm to your pet. In my next and final post in this raw feeding series, I will discuss these conditions and explain why raw feeding is not advised, as well as summarize conclusions and talking points I would like pet owners to take away from my series.
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