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Is a raw food diet right for your pet?

Labrador retriever puppyCommercial pet food has only been around for about 100 years but animals have hunted prey or scavenged for millions of years. Unfortunately, many commercial pet foods contain lots of carbohydrates in the form of corn, wheat, rice or potato, which our dogs and cats find difficult or impossible to digest.

Over the years, an increase in the number of health problems in our pets such as itchy skin, allergies, dental problems and sore ears to name a few, were thought to be related to what our pets were eating.

In 1993, Australian veterinarian, Dr. Ian Billinghurst, published his groundbreaking book, Give Your Dog a Bone, which is said to have started the raw food diet movement. Now, with some science under our belt and much anecdotal evidence, feeding raw seems to be gaining momentum with both veterinarians and pet guardians.

What is a raw food diet?

A raw food diet usually contains bones, muscle and organ meats, vegetables, fruit and other whole foods. The theory behind feeding raw food is that our pets’ ancestors ate raw meat and bones, and represents a more natural diet for our dogs and cats.

These days there are several different types of raw food diets including frozen raw and freeze-dried. As with all pet foods, some are better quality than others, so make sure you do your homework to ensure you make the right choice for your pet.

What are the benefits of feeding a raw food diet?

Just some of the benefits of feeding a raw food diet include:

  • Cleaner teeth and fresher breath
  • Low stool volume
  • Healthy skin
  • Shiny coat
  • Fewer arthritic symptoms
  • Higher energy levels
  • Improved circulation

What health issues are known to respond well to raw diets?

Raw diets, with additional Vitamin A may help prevent cancer. Cancer cells feed on carbohydrates, which are not present in a raw diet. Organ meats, which are part of a raw diet, are an excellent source of Vitamin A, which is also thought to prevent the growth of cancer cells.

Most kibble-fed dogs have a tendency to develop tartar and plaque that can lead to periodontal disease. Dogs do not produce the enzyme amylase, normally present in human saliva, which helps break down carbohydrates and prevent tartar and plaque build up. A raw diet contains few, if any, carbohydrates, minimizing the risk of tartar and plaque build up and dental disease. Other health issues that may respond well to a raw diet include diabetes, obesity, epilepsy, allergies and gastrointestinal problems.

How much raw food should I feed my dog?

The amount to feed will vary from one dog to another depending upon age, activity level and size. Generally you will feed adult dogs 2 per cent to 2.5 per cent of their body weight, active dogs 3 per cent and puppies 5 per cent per day. Overweight or senior dogs need 1.5 to 2 per cent of their body weight per day. Let your dog’s activity levels, appetite and body condition be your guide!

Is raw food safe?

Preparing raw pet food is no different than preparing raw meat for your human family. Raw pet food from a reputable manufacturer that takes safe food handling seriously combined with safe food handling at home poses no bacterial threat to your pet or your human family.

What about salmonella?

Salmonella is found in about 40 per cent of healthy dogs and about 20 per cent of healthy cats regardless of whether they are fed a raw diet or not. Salmonella is a normal part of a pet’s gastrointestinal system and they naturally shed salmonella bacteria in their feces and saliva.

There is no risk to humans of being infected with salmonella from pets who are fed a raw diet. The risk of getting salmonella poisoning lies in how raw pet food is handled. As when preparing meals for people or pets, you need to wash your hands before and after handling any raw meat or other foods. Make sure to disinfect counters, bowls, cutting surfaces and utensils that came in contact with raw pet food. Also, wash your pet bowls often.

Can I feed my cat a raw diet too?

Cats are true carnivores and need a meat-based diet. Cats derive the same benefits as dogs from a raw diet. In fact, raw meat is one of the best sources of essential amino acids pets need to grow healthy and strong.

Hunting cats will eat the contents of their prey’s stomach and small intestine. This provides them with a source of dietary fibre and nutrients like Vitamin E that are available primarily from plant sources. In order to mimic this, you can give your cat access to some natural greens like cat grass and supplement their diet occasionally with Vitamin E.

How much should I feed my cat?

Adult cats should eat about 5 per cent to 8 per cent of their body weight per day, depending on their activity level. Also, it’s best if cats are fed two or three times a day — do not leave raw food out for cats to graze on. Kittens require about 8 per cent to 10 per cent of their body weight per day (Weigh your kitten each week and adjust the amount fed accordingly). This amount should be split into three to four small meals daily. As kittens reach their full adult weight around 10 to 12 months, you can gradually reduce the amount and times per day you feed to adult levels. These percentages are meant to act as a guide only — every cat is different. Adjust the amounts to keep your cat at a healthy weight.