Recent years have seen an increase in pets being fed raw food as their primary source of energy and nutrients. It has blossomed into an industry of selling raw food diets under various brands and even stores that sell raw food for pets exclusively. I believe that this trend has come about with the belief that homemade and/or raw diets can provide health benefits above and beyond those provided by good quality life stage pet foods.
Some of my lifelong clients have been feeding their dogs, raw based diets, and some have had success with its use. In the case of certain medical conditions whereby conventional treatments and diets have not resulted in satisfactory results, occasionally raw or homemade diets have worked a little bit better for that particular case. These cases are rare, but I occasionally see them. Do you have a pet that could be best served by a raw food diet? The answer is… not likely.
My concerns with raw food diets are multifactorial. Nutritional imbalance, microorganism contamination, zoonotic disease and physical trauma are among these concerns. In general, these diets are incomplete and not balanced. Excess or deficiencies in specific nutrients are of concern, especially for growing puppies and kittens as well as seniors. This could be calcium affecting growth or taurine affecting cardiac function. Also, many raw diet recipes suggest feeding bones which can cause fractured teeth or obstruction of the intestinal tract. I have seen many cases of fractured teeth and have performed many surgeries to remove bones from the intestinal tract.
Contamination of raw foods with bacteria such as Salmonella, E.coli as well as many others can lead to illness in pets that needs to be treated aggressively. Parasites in raw fish or pork are not uncommon either. These microorganisms can be a source of infection for people in contact with a raw fed pet. Bacteria, in particular, can and does become transmitted from raw fed pets to others.
In summary, homemade and or raw pet food is a trend seen based on the perception that this type of feeding is healthier for your pet. This is rarely the case. The reality is this: it is more of a source of poor health for pets and the people they contact.
Written by Rob Doucette, DVM