Sunday, 16 September 2018 11:26

Raw versus Cooked Food Diets for Pets

The debate over which type of diet is best for dogs and other pets to live healthy lives and thrive is unlikely to be resolved in the near future.  Should it include raw meat or cooked meat? Should the meat be grass-fed rather than grain-fed?   What about fish? What about the need for some vegetables and fruit in a complete diet? And finally, the latest pet food scare around the world – what about taurine levels in certain types of dog foods and the possible connection between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), which is also known as canine heart disease (CHD).

If you’ve stopped feeding grains to your companion dog because of this recent issue, please think back to the many reasons why you stopped. It could be to prevent the “leaky gut” syndrome, to help curb food sensitivities or intolerances to a particular grain, to maintain optimal weight, etc.

Proponents of raw food diets cite numerous benefits, including:

  • Closely mirrors the evolutionary diet of wolves and wild
  • Dogs are carnivores (actually, cats are truly carnivores and dogs have evolved to become obligate omnivores) -- designed to consume raw meat, bones and
  • Dog caregiver controls ingredient selection and
  • Higher in enzymes, vitamins and minerals than cooked
  • Greater nutrient availability than cooked
  • Improved skin and coat.
  • Reduced or eliminated ear infections.
  • Improved
  • Fewer, less bulky, less foul-smelling stoo
  • Increased energy
  • Reduced incidences of chronic
  • Enhanced immune function and overall optimum

Opponents of raw food diets cite negatives, including:

  • May expose humans to higher bacterial
  • Lack of documentation that raw-fed dogs live healthier, longer
  • Exposes vulnerable dogs to dangerous
  • Home-prepared raw meat-based diets are often unbalanced, with deficiencies and/or excesses      of certain nutrients.
  • Unbalanced raw diets are of particular concern with regard to growing
  • Bones, even raw, pose risk of obstruction and

Proponents of fresh, home-cooked diets cite numerous benefits, including:

  • Dog caregiver controls the ingredient selection and
  • Fresh, whole foods provide higher levels of nutrients than processed commercial
  • Nutrients contained in fresh foods are more bioavailable than those contained in processed commercial foods.
  • Fresh meat, fruits and vegetables are more species-appropriate than commercial food.
  • The next items are those listed above as the last 7 for raw diets.

Opponents of fresh, home-cooked diets cite numerous negatives, including:

  • Are nutritionally unbalanced and can contribute to long-term vitamin/mineral
  • Are often those invested in the mass-market commercial pet food industry.
  • Many mainstream veterinarians are also opposed to home-prepared
  • We believe the vast majority mean well and base their beliefs on information provided by the commercial pet food industry.

The main objection veterinarians typically raise regarding raw meat-based diets has more to do with human food safety issues than the validity of the diet for the animal. It goes without saying that proper food handling and safety techniques should be used when feeding a raw meat-based diet, just as they should when handling raw meat prior to cooking. In addition, vulnerable individuals, such as young children, the elderly, sick or immune-impaired people, young puppies or ill dogs should not be exposed to raw meat due to potential health risks. Common-sense precautions can greatly minimize the potential of bacterial contamination from raw food.

In our view, neither a raw nor cooked diet is inherently “better” than the other. We work with many dogs that thrive on raw food diets, and others that do not do well on raw foods but thrive on freshly prepared cooked foods. As we keep coming back to, every dog is an individual, and we believe that individual needs should outweigh a devotion to any one way of feeding. od diet is far superior to the highly processed, species-inappropriate

What About Food Recalls

Many of us prefer to believe that the foods we and our pets eat are healthy and safe, even if we and they overeat fatty foods or those with a high glycemic index (high sugars and starches).  However, both the human and pet food industries have more recently been inundated with food recalls for contamination with microbes including bacteria, viruses and parasites. Every food type has been implicated, even candies.

Bacterial, Viral & Parasite Contamination

Food recalls in human and pet foods have primarily concerned contamination with Salmonella (many sources from animals, fish and plants), Listeria (mostly from bovine species), and Campylobacter bacteria, Hepatitis A virus in undercooked shellfish, and parasites like tapeworms.

The most recent pet food recall in the United states was for a cat food that was contaminated with both Salmonella and Listeria spp. and caused acute illness in 2 kittens and one died. It should be noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) quoted a study from 2004 and stated, “Although L. monocytogenes can infect many animal species, dogs and cats rarely get listeriosis and they usually don’t show signs of disease. One reference mentions only six reported cases in dogs from 1947 to 2000, and the dogs showed a wide range of signs.”

Campylobacter spp. are now considered to be major triggering agents of an acute immune-mediated peripheral nerve disorder in dogs that shares many similarities with Guillain-Barre syndrome in humans. However, there is little information about its relationship to Campylobacter spp. in dogs. Potential risk factors were investigated, particularly consumption of raw chicken in 27 client-owned dogs suspected of suffering from it and 47 healthy dogs, client- or staff member owned. Where fecal samples were collected within 7 days from onset of clinical signs, the clinical cases were 9.4 times more likely to be positive for Campylobacter spp. compared to control dogs. Further, a significant association was detected between affected dogs and the consumption of raw chicken (96% of cases; 26% of control dogs). Dr. Frieda Jorgensen, Public Health England, states 90% of Campylobacter cells are killed slowly by freezing, making it much less likely that the bacteria will be passed to humans. The temperature range for growth is 30- 45°C, with an optimum of 42°C. Survival at room temperature is poor, but Campylobacter can survive for a short time at refrigeration temperatures – up to 15 times longer at 2°C than at 20°C.

Escherichia coli is a common fecal contaminant that can be found in many consumed human and animal foods.

Selected Reading

Dodds WJ, Diagnosis of canine food sensitivity and intolerance using saliva: report of outcomes. J Am Hol Vet Med Assoc 2017/2018; 49:32-43.

Dodds, WJ, Laverdure, DR. Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health. 2015. DogWise Publishing, Wenatchee, WA, .323 pages.

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