As a devoted pet owner, you naturally want what’s best for your beloved companion. But, with so many opinions circulating on the ideal diet for cats and dogs, how do you know what to believe? While there is no such thing as the “best” food for your pet, you can use the following information to make an informed, science-based decision about what to feed your furry pal. Pet-food marketing often plays on your emotions, and human diet trends. You’ve likely noticed the recent grain-free fad, and now raw diets are picking up steam and gaining in popularity. Some diets have beneficial components for pets suffering from certain diseases, but not all pet foods on the market—and especially at home—are nutritionally balanced, and some can actually harm your pet. 

What is a raw food diet for pets?

Raw food diets consist of raw meat, bones, fruits, and vegetables—essentially any food that isn’t cooked. A raw food diet can include the following:

  • Muscle meat, typically still on the bone
  • Organ meat, such as liver or kidneys
  • Bones, either whole or ground
  • Raw eggs
  • Fresh vegetables, such as broccoli, celery, and carrots
  • Fresh fruits, such as apples, berries, and melons
  • Some dairy, such as yogurt

A common raw food diet misconception is that you can simply toss a raw chicken leg in your dog’s food dish and assume that’s a nutritionally balanced meal. This incorrect theory harms many pets, as raw meat is nowhere near nutritionally complete. In fact, commercially produced raw food diets are also not always properly balanced, and many are extremely deficient in calcium. 

What are the potential benefits of a raw food diet for pets?

No scientific studies back up the claims that raw food diets offer pets numerous health benefits, despite many testimonials. However, a nutritionally complete, properly balanced raw food diet may provide the following health benefits:

  • Shinier coat
  • Better breath
  • Cleaner teeth
  • Smaller stools
  • Increased energy
  • Healthier skin

A shinier coat and smaller stools are two most commonly noticed benefits, but the increased fat and digestibility of raw food diets can be found in commercial cooked diets, without the risk of raw meat. Of course, if a raw food diet does not contain the correct levels of vitamins and minerals, a shiny coat is a poor reward for organ or bone disease. 

What are the potential risks of a raw food diet for pets?

If you choose a raw food diet for your pet, you can run into some serious risks, such as:

  • Potential for bacterial contamination from raw meat, especially in immunocompromised people or pets
  • Health issues caused by feeding an unbalanced diet for an extended period of time
  • Potential for bones to pose a choking hazard, break teeth, or puncture the gastrointestinal tract

Some people may argue that preparing raw meat for your pet is no different than preparing raw meat to cook for your family, but your pet will have a whole host of bacteria riding on their tongue, when they give you a slobbery, raw-meat kiss. And, with lots of close contact, food sharing, and bed sharing you’re at risk for developing a Salmonella, Campylobacter, or Clostridium infection.

What has research shown about raw food diets for pets?

No scientific studies are currently available about pets’ raw food diets, including any studies highlighting long-term potential benefits or risks. One key criteria for choosing a high quality food for your pet is to verify that research and real-life case studies have been performed using their product, and their results have been published in peer-reviewed journals. 

Why are raw food diets for pets so popular?

Many myths abound about pet nutrition, which can make these fad diets incredibly popular. Similar to grain-free diets, raw food diets are gaining traction among pet owners. Pet-food manufacturers are highly skilled marketers, and are encouraging a diet most like what your pet would eat in the wild. While your dog may have a wolf ancestor buried deep in the family tree, wild wolves subsisting on raw diets do not live long. Therefore, the supposedly optimal nutrition for wolves is not optimal for your pet, whom we hope lives a long, healthy life. 

Are you unsure what diet to feed your pet? Proper nutrition can be a complicated subject, especially if your furry pal is suffering from an underlying disease. Call us to schedule a nutritional consult with a Mill Creek Animal Hospital veterinarian.