Thus far in this series of posts on raw feeding, I have established that while raw feeding does carry some level of risk to pets, it is not as dangerous a risk that some veterinarians would have you believe. Also, when done safely and with the correct nutrient balance being applied, some pets can not only thrive being fed raw diet, but some exhibit better overall health.
However, I have also been clear that there are some cases where there is no appreciable difference in the health of some pets when fed raw versus a good quality kibble or canned diet, and in some cases, I have seen pets not enjoy optimal health when fed raw. Thus, there really is not one diet that is appropriate for every pet. What works best for any one particular dog or cat often is a matter of trial and error. My purpose in this final post is to educate pet owners about health conditions where raw diet is not appropriate or even dangerous, as well as review the important talking points I would like pet owners to take from this series.
I discussed in my first post that my experience with the number of confirmed raw food poisoning cases has been overall quite low, and among that low number, there were two patients that got very ill from raw feeding most likely due to underlying health circumstances.
The first one was a 7 year old Italian Greyhound that was under treatment with chemotherapy for hemangiosarcoma, a cancer that arises out of the blood vessels on the surface of the skin in this breed. We checked blood count levels before every monthly treatment, since chemotherapy can lead to immune compromise from suppressing the production of white blood cells, and can lead to anemia. This dog kept borderline numbers on the low normal side, and as a precaution, I advised the owner to minimize her contact with other dogs.
Without consulting with me, she became convinced by a groomer friend of hers that the reason the dog had cancer in the first place was because of the dog food she was fed, and that the best way for the dog to fight cancer was to feed raw. Within one week of the raw feeding, the dog was brought in violently ill, vomiting blood and listless. Stool cultures confirmed the dog tested positive for salmonella. Salmonella does not typically have the same consequences as it does in people, with signs that more commonly range from undetectable signs, to mild to moderate cases of GI disturbance. However, given this dog’s immune compromised state the bacteria opportunistically went wild. She survived the ordeal, but only after 5 days of intensive care hospitalization and a blood transfusion.
Lesson: Dot not feed immune compromised pets raw diet. Immune compromised pets include cancer patients, patients undergoing potentially immune compromising therapy, including chemotherapy or steroids.
The other troubling example I saw where a patient had mitigating health concerns where raw diet led to very troubling circumstances was an 8 year old border collie whose spleen I had surgically removed the previous year due a life threatening vascular incident that occurs in canine spleens called splenic hematoma. The dog had done splendidly post-operatively and recovered without incident.
This dog was a retired agility dog, and in her conversations with other agility trainers, she had gotten turned on to raw diet feeding. She had chosen not to consult with me about raw feeding, as she was warned by her agility peers that I would be unreasonably dead set against it. Now had she called me, I would have been dead set against it, as the spleen serves as an important blood storage organ, as well as immune system organ that helps rid the blood of potentially harmful pathogens. While a dog can live a normal life without a spleen, they live without a key immune system organ and thus are not good candidates for raw meat feeding.
The Border Collie presented to my clinic jaundiced (a yellow appearance to the whites of her eyes, skin and gums), listless and with bloody diarrhea. After a battery of diagnostics, we determined that she was in liver failure brought on by an e. coli bacterial infection in her gut that had ascended into her gall bladder and spread to her liver. The dog also developed pancreatitis, a severe disease in its own right, but especially troubling with everything else that was going on.
It was an invasive ordeal for the dog, but she ultimately survived. It was an expensive and emotional lesson for the owner. Although she survived, the dog’s liver, gall bladder, and pancreas were never the same again. She had to be maintained on a low residue prescription diet, because if she ate anything outside of it, it would set off pancreatitis. Protein, phosphorous, sodium restricted and highly absorbable, the diet minimally taxed her compromised gall bladder and liver.
Lesson: Do not feed raw diet to pets that have had their spleens removed.
Below are other chronic health conditions where feeding raw diet is contraindicated.
Degenerative or congenital liver disease
Inflammatory bowel disease
Urinary bladder stones or crystals
In conclusion of my raw feeding series, I would like you to take away these most important points:
1.) There is no one diet that is appropriate for every pet.
2.) Some pets so thrive better when fed raw diet, while for others there is no appreciable difference or have adverse issues from it.
3.) Raw diet carries some risk of raw meat pathogen food poisoning, but in my experience the risk is overall low and overblown by many veterinarians.
4.) The source of the raw meat plays a big role in the safety of raw feeding. Avoid grocery store bought meat in favor of meat frozen on site and shipped frozen, or dehydrated raw meat that water is added to prior to serving.
5.) The success of raw feeding depends on feeding species appropriate nutrition. While cats can be fed an all meat diet, omnivorous dogs benefit from complex carbohydrates, insoluble fiber, and antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables that are appropriate to feed dogs (see my previous post for specifics).
6.) If you are committed to raw feeding, find a veterinarian that is open to it and will help you accomplish your nutritional goals.
7.) Do not under any circumstances feed bone. The obstruction and perforation hazard to the gut is far too high. If you have any doubts, read about the raw chicken wing case in the first post of this series.
8.) Don’t live in denial. If raw feeding does not jive well with your pet, be open to quality kibble or canned diets. If your pet has a chronic disease, check with [your open minded] vet before feeding raw diet. Consider disease specific, prescription nutrition for conditions that are effectively managed nutritionally.
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