What is a raw diet?
Raw diet is defined as a home-cooked or commercial prepared diets containing raw meat with or without bones intact.
What are the potential benefits of feeding a raw diet?
There are no currently no scientific studies documenting benefits of raw food nutrition. All information is anecdotal and based on testimonials claiming improved fur/coat quality, improved gastrointestinal or dental health and better longevity. Currently there are studies in progress comparing raw diets to formulated diets, but these are still ongoing with no results. The most common toted benefit is preserving the digestive enzymes that are present in raw meat and are typically broken down in the cooking process. These enzymes help digest food over days to weeks but food is eliminated from the body within a 12-24 hour period which likely means the pet does not benefit from their presence.
What are the risks of feeding a raw diet?
There are two documented risks associated with feeding a raw diet- nutritional deficiency and bacterial disease transmission. Based on a 2005 study, 70% of home prepared diets were deficient or unbalanced in key nutrients. A major example would be taurine deficiency which is an essential amino acid for cats that when not provided in appropriate amounts leads to Dilated Cardiomyopathy. This is a severe form of heart disease when the muscular walls of the heart become incredibly thin and weak. The changes are often irreversible leading to heart failure and death.
Raw Diets have been repeatedly documented as sources for harmful bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter. Pets can become severely ill with these bacteria exhibiting signs of bloody diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration and can be potentially fatal. Additionally, pets fed a raw diet can shed this bacteria without signs of illness and transmit the bacteria to humans. These bacteria are often linked with food recalls and serious illness especially in children, elderly or immune compromised adults.
How can I ensure the food I feed my pet has been evaluated for nutritional accuracy?
Look for an AAFCO (Association of the American Feed Control Officials) nutritional adequacy statement on the bag of food you buy. This is a group that evaluates the nutritional content of food ensuring what is on the label is accurate as well as what the formulated diet is designed to support- growth (puppies/kittens), adult maintenance or all life stages. This statement is often found on the back of the bag in small print beneath the percentage breakdown of nutrients.
If you elect to home-cook a diet please ensure you seek a veterinary nutritionist who can formulate a balanced diet. Do not deviate or alter any part of that recipe as everything is in a proportional balance to provide the correct nutrition. Even small changes or omissions in a recipe can have disastrous consequences.