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Beginning Raw Feeding – Why Feed Raw?
There are only two ways that energy enters the body. The first is breathing, the second is by eating. Since we cannot control the air we breathe, what we eat is our focus in achieving good long-term health. In all living things, good health begins with a proper diet. I am a strong advocate of a healthy, species appropriate raw diet for dogs and have been feeding it for several years. I have dogs of various ages who are all on a raw diet. They enjoy eating it, and their health is excellent. Their waste is half, they go less often, and it’s a lot less to take. I tried feeding kibble to my dogs intermittently, and after continuous digestive issues I went back to raw, and wondered why I ever stopped.
WHAT DO HOSTS EAT?
“What should dogs and cats eat?” For most people, the simple answer is “dog food” or “cat food.” Let’s take a closer look at this, it’s a notion that deserves to be questioned. How did this happen, and who exactly tells us what is best for our pets? The processed, extruded “junk food” pellets we know have only been around for about 55 years!
“Animal food” caught on in the early 1900s, before that, dogs existed on whatever food their owners chose to give them, such as scraps of meat and bones… you know, “real” food. One of the first dog foods was introduced in 1922. It was canned horse meat and scraps. During and after WWII, dry pet food took off as a way to use cheap by-products and grains as a source of income to sell to consumers who now wanted the convenience of dry pet food. In the 60s, the now giant pet food industry began a campaign to get people to stop feeding their dogs anything but packaged dog food, warning against real food like table scraps.
By that time, the first extruded pet foods were on store shelves. Extrusion is the process of cooking a mixture using pressure and steam-heat in an extruder to form a dry, hard crust. Because these products are processed at high temperature, heat-sensitive ingredients such as enzymes and vitamins can be damaged or destroyed. Pet food manufacturers add synthetic vitamins/minerals to compensate for this deficiency. Do you eat processed junk food, then pop a multivitamin pill with every meal you eat? Ideally, you (and your pet) should get your necessary vitamins from real whole food sources, and from varying your diet to be balanced over a period of time. I believe that nutrition comes not from a bag or a can, but from whole, real foods that I can see!
If you choose a raw diet, you will join a large following in the US and Europe, of pet owners, nutritionists, trainers, holistic veterinarians and breeders who have discovered the endless benefits that a raw diet offers. Raw food eaters have reported everything from resolution of allergies, improved immune system, reduced stool volume, improved digestion, improved dental health, lean body mass and amazing overall health and vitality. There are some diseases and conditions that can be eliminated, or at least improved, with a proper diet. It also provides a solution for animals that do not tolerate grains well. Essentially, we choose to feed a diet that does not simply provide our pet to “survive”, but to “thrive”!
DOGS, CATS, AND DOGS ARE CARNIVORES
Look into your dog or cat’s mouth. You will find that these teeth are an indication of the diet they were meant to have. Their jaws have limited lateral movement (side to side) for chewing like ours do. They have fang-like canines, and teeth intended for biting, tearing and shearing flesh. Even my little Yorkshire Terrier can tear through a chicken quarter and crush the tender bones with his teeth! This action also helps to clean the teeth. Kibble doesn’t clean the teeth any more than eating hard crackers would clean your teeth. Cats and dogs also have the digestive system of a carnivore – a short small intestine and a lack of enzymes (such as salivary amylase) that break down carbohydrates.
Dogs have been reclassified scientifically as Canis Lupus Familiaris, making them a subspecies of the wolf (Canis Lupus). I would like to be clear that dogs are not wolves, and are different in many ways. However, no matter how cute and fluffy your dog may seem, his internal physiology is similar to a wolf hunting prey. So we look at the natural diet that a wolf has evolved to thrive on to give us an idea of what dogs can eat. Their digestive systems, stomach acids and short digestive tract are suitable for a carnivorous predator diet.
But dogs and cats aren’t the only ones- I’d like to mention grumps too. Along with cats, they are “obligate carnivores,” and both thrive on a raw, grain-free diet. Ferrets require a highly digestible diet rich in animal protein. Many game owners have switched to raw to meet these needs, and to replicate the natural diet their ancestors would have eaten, rather than feeding commercial cat or ferret food, which may contain fillers, chemical preservatives and other less desirable additives.
What you feed your pet is a personal choice, and by no means is raw your only option, as each animal has individual factors or health issues that may make other diets, such as kibble or homemade cooked, a better choice. Choosing and planning a raw diet for your pet requires self-education, research and common sense. Just because it’s raw doesn’t mean it’s nutritionally balanced or healthy. You have several options, which are briefly reviewed below.
Also known as the Raw Meaty Bones diet, this is a true evolutionary diet! It consists of a wide variety of meat bones, organs and offal included in the meal plan. Feeding whole meaty bones gives the animal a chance to eat as nature intended, using their teeth and jaws, and providing mental stimulation. RMB diners often buy in cost-effective bulk from butchers, cooperatives or meat suppliers. This type of diet is not new, but has been popularized by veterinarian Dr. Tom Lonsdale, who has written comprehensive and peer-reviewed books, including “Raw Meaty Bones.”
BARF diets, short for “Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods” or “Bones And Raw Foods”. It consists of raw meat bones, eggs, certain dairy products such as cottage cheese or yogurt, raw chopped fruits and vegetables, some supplemental items, and sometimes some add a small amount of grains. The BARF diet was popularized by veterinarian Dr. Ian Billinghurst, who attests to the health benefits of an evolutionary diet. He is also the author of several books on the subject, including “Give Your Dog a Bone” (published in 1993), and several others that are essential reading before starting this diet.
PREMAKE FROZEN RAW DIETS
For the person looking for convenience, or just starting out with raw, commercial pre-made diets are an increasingly popular choice for dogs, cats and dogs of all ages. They are as easy as defrost and eat! They are usually ground, looking a lot like a frozen hamburger. They are available in forms such as patties, nuggets and medallions. Some brands include meat, bones, organs, vegetables, fruits, eggs, oils and additional supplements. Look for one that is a complete balanced diet. The great thing is also the variety of proteins offered for rotation, including venison and rabbit for dogs with allergies. Some name brands include: Northwest Naturals, Nature’s Variety, Companion, Bravo, Aunt Jennies, and Primal. You can contact these companies to find a distributor in your area.
WEIGHING RISKS IN RAW DIETS
With all the options you have for feeding your pet, there are risks in each. Given all the past pet food recalls, there is no way I would consider a commercial diet 100% risk free, and I personally don’t feel “safer” eating kibble. I feel that the health benefits of a raw diet outweigh any potential risks. The two main concerns with raw diets are bacteria and bone hazards.
While foodborne bacteria such as e-coli and salmonella can exist in a raw diet (these bacteria can live anywhere, including vegetables), these risks are manageable and often relatively small. You drastically reduce any risks by choosing fresh meat from reliable quality sources to feed your pets, and storing it properly. Dogs and cats are routinely exposed to many types of bacteria and pathogens in their daily lives, and can do just fine.
Things that dogs put in their mouths would be much different to us because their bodies are equipped differently. Remember – this is an animal that can eat feces and show no ill effects! If your pet, or someone in your household is immune-compromised, you can consider this in your choice of diets, and discuss it with your veterinarian. When handling raw meat, you take the same precautions you take when preparing it for yourself or your family at home, including washing your hands and sterilizing surfaces that the raw meat comes in contact with.
Some may worry that their dogs may choke on raw bones. On the flip side, dogs also choked on grips and rawhide chews. Ask your vet how many dogs have come with rawhide locks, yet they are still widely used and sold in pet stores. However, raw bones are essential to diets, providing calcium and minerals, as well as teeth and gum benefits to the animal. Bones such as chicken bones are considered digestible. Larger bones, such as beef bones, and should be selected and sized so that the dog cannot choke on them. Common sense comes into play. Bones should be fed in the appropriate size and type for the dog, and cooked bones should NEVER be eaten as they splinter.
WHAT IF MY VETERINARY DOESN’T RECOMMEND RAW DIETS FOR HOSPITALITIES?
The simple answer may be to find a vet who does! There are many veterinarians worldwide, and growing, who fully support raw diets and even feed it to their own animals. Some have been recommending it to their clients for 20 plus years and have seen the benefits clinically. Many are holistic veterinarians with extensive knowledge of nutrition. Veterinarians may be concerned that the average person might be unable to provide proper balanced nutrition for their animals when they do it on their own – so it is essential that the pet owner be informed and educated. Research and talk to other raw feeders.
There are vets who choose to sell low-quality brands of kibble that contain animal by-products and high amounts of corn and other grains, rather than sell premium kibbles with human-grade ingredients. If they recommend the former as the best diet, it begs the question of how much they really know about nutrition. A pediatrician doesn’t tell you to only feed your child pre-made, fully balanced food from a box or bag, so why should your vet tell you to do that with your pet? There will always be people who have different opinions about nutrition, and some who are simply not educated on raw diets. Regardless of the opinions of others, it is your pet’s health, and it is ultimately your decision to make.
Starting a raw diet may seem overwhelming, but the benefits are reaped by your pet! Fortunately, there are many books available on the subject, as well as a wealth of information on the Internet. There are also message boards and online raw food groups that are there to offer you guidance and support.
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