Frequently Asked Questions
“What is a raw diet?”
There are many types of raw diets but the most fundamental principle you must understand is that a raw diet is a completely uncooked diet. Many people see raw diets in the freezer and assume you cook them but this is not the case. Raw diets can be frozen, freeze-dried or air dried but I will focus this blog only on the frozen variety. Raw is often sold in a chub, nugget, or patty form and to feed a raw frozen diet you would simply thaw out the required portion and feed as is. What goes into any specific raw diet will vary by manufacturer. Generally speaking, raw diets consist of raw meat and organ blends, along with raw fruits and vegetables.
“Why should I feed a raw diet to my pet?”
The simplest answer is because raw diets are what dogs and cats were designed to eat! Dogs and cats have not evolved their physiology to thrive on grain based diets, which the majority of grocery brand pet foods are. Their bodies are designed with teeth to tear meat, and their short, highly acidic digestive tracts are conducive to breaking down raw proteins, not complex carbohydrates. They are carnivores, and only recently (speaking in a historical sense) have dogs and cats been exposed to and fed grain based diets.
Raw foods are full of enzymes, proteins, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and beneficial bacteria. The cooking process that most food company’s use (extrusion) alters, weakens, and destroys many of the original nutrients from the ingredients listed on the label. Many of the larger companies then have to fortify their food by spraying extra nutrients onto the kibble to entice pets to eat it, and to boost the nutritional content from what was essentially cooked out of it. Cooking also destroys beneficial bacteria that are present in raw foods and a deficiency can lead to an imbalance of bad bacteria throughout the digestive system. Raw diets are responsible for better overall health because pets are getting a food that caters to what they were originally designed to eat. People who feed raw diets almost always have enthusiastic testimonials attributing the change in diet to the following benefits:
· Cleaner, healthier teeth and gums
· Firmer, less abundant, and better smelling stools
· Decrease in shedding hair
· Increased energy and muscle tone
· Elimination of skin hot spots
· Less body odor
· Less gas
· Fewer ear infections
· Fewer trips to the veterinarian
· A decrease or elimination of symptoms relating to food allergies.
· Reduced tear stains
“Is raw safe?”
The answer to this question is the catalyst for all of the controversy surrounding raw diets. If you ask many of the grocery store brands and even some veterinarians, they will say that raw has the ability to make your pets ill from bacteria and parasitic infections. Furthermore, they will say that raw can make you and your family ill due to cross contamination. This may sound scary, but to me it comes down to using common sense. Is raw human food safe? Relatively speaking, if everything is handled responsibly of course it is. This applies to raw dog food as well. The best response to the question is, yes, it is safe…at least as safe if not safer than canned and kibble based diets.
Treat raw pet food the same way we treat the food we eat. Many of us (including myself) also enjoy sushi, steak tartare, oysters, and many other raw human food products. As long as you limit opportunities for cross contamination and source your product from a reputable raw food provider, everything should be just fine.
Proper handling tips include:
· Washing hands after handling any raw food.
· Wiping down counters with an anti-bacterial cleanser.
· Using stainless steel bowls, and washing those bowls after each use.
· If you buy bulk raw and process it into daily portions like I do, I would also suggest designating a cutting board just for the raw dog food.
· Lastly, follow all guidelines put forth by the manufacturer.
“How much do I feed?”
There are many variables to finding out the correct amount of raw food to feed your pet, some of which include the current weight of the pet, the desired weight, the age, the activity level, and the overall condition that your pet is in. Most manufacturers recommend feeding a specific percentage of the pet’s body weight. You will need to use this as a gauge as the percentage method is not an exact means of finding the optimal amount. There will be a fair amount of trial and error at first before you figure out what works best for your pet. Start with the recommended amounts and go from there. Most manufacturers suggest feeding 2-3% of your pet’s desired body weight per day. If you feed twice a day, you would just divide the amount for two servings. This is a very general guideline, and does not include an adjusted portion if you were to feed or supplement any raw meaty bones or any recreational bones.
“A raw diet will work for your pet…but will it work for you?”
Ultimately, it comes down to doing your homework and then giving it a try. There are many reasons that raw diets aren’t for everyone. You will have to get over the convenience of kibble and cans and deal with food that looks relatively unappetizing to us humans. You will have bloody juices on your hands at some point (but you can wear gloves if you are squeamish to these things) and if you feed raw green tripe it will smell. Feeding raw is not a diet of convenience. You will need to thaw and portion meals twice a day. Some nights you may forget to take a portion out of the freezer to thaw and you will wake up with a hungry pet staring at you with sad eyes. It is easy to reach for a scoop of kibble or a can of food. Resist the easy temptation, make them wait and keep with it. Your pets will thank you with better overall health and lower veterinarian bills in the long run.
In part two, I will answer more frequently asked questions such as how to choose a raw diet, where to buy a raw diet, how to transition to a raw diet, and why high pressure pasteurization is so controversial.