IN THE RAW ...The Naked Truth About These Diets
Congrats! If you read my blogs regularly, you now have more dog nutrition knowledge than many vets. I would imagine you’re seeing some impressive results if you’re feeding them more nutritiously and more in line with the way nature intended them to eat. Speaking of ancestral diets, here’s my exploration with another big trend in dog food: -RAW food diets.
Every night I see commercials for a popular brand of dog food showing an Alaskan Husky running through the wilderness looking for prey. The ad asks you to feed your dog like their ancestors ate in the wild. While this made perfect sense to me for those herding and working dogs, I questioned how effective it would be with my little moppet snuggled up in a fancy, pink, rhinestone sweater, snoring on a designer Temper-Pedic heated doggie bed. My little Pug would last about as long as a Popsicle in July before she succumbed to freezing temps, gobbled up something toxic, or ended up as dinner for a predator.
Did you know the Pug is one of the oldest breeds of dogs dating back to around 400 BC. They originated in China and were bred for one purpose: To serve as a companion dog and sit on the lap of Chinese royalty. (Certainly not to roam in the wilderness and hunt for prey.) Still, their DNA very closely matches wolves and larger working dogs so it seemed logical to try out a raw food diet.
As a brand ambassador for Nulo pet foods, and a pet influencer, I’m given loads of foods and treats for pets. Although Nulo is my personal favorite for the Pugs, Frenchies, Bullies and sensitive dogs I work with, I like to offer a variety of wonderful options to meet any specific needs of pet parents.
Most pet food companies have begun offering higher quality foods with less fillers and raw options either as add-ins or complete diets. Therefore I had lots of incredible raw food options that weren’t around just two years ago. The first thing I did was toss out products containing harmful ingredients or from companies I don't trust. Everything I chose was from top-ranked, reputable sources using 100% human-grade, free-range, grass-fed meat and poultry.
Pugs for the most part LOVE FOOD above all else and my “Chief Tasting Officer” Olive, is no exception. I have yet to offer her ANYTHING that hasn’t been devoured in a NY minute with sheer delight. That being said, the next day I am often faced with a stinky, messy situation on my hands. As was the case with the raw food diet.
My experiment didn’t go over well. The first diet was raw beef which gave her bloody diarrhea. I then switched to turkey and she wound up deathly-ill with a gastrointestinal infection. I was SO confused. Here I was trying to be healthier and I ended up making my dog very sick. My trusted vets know what a stickler I am about pet nutrition but when I showed them these impressive raw food samples I got the answers I was looking for.
The vets weigh-in:
My most trusted vets who work with many smooshy-faced (brachy) breeds, seem to recommend lightly cooked diets over raw ones. However, they typically work with very ill, extremely sensitive dogs. Also, they pointed out that dogs in shelters or on diets made up of high processed dry foods need to SLOWLY transition to a new raw diet. They advised first adding more nutritious dry food with less fillers, then adding wet/moist foods, making sure the stool is firm. Then, slowly switch out dry food with wet food and then slowly add more fresh/raw add-ins. Again, using your dog’s 💩 as your guide. A great way to begin is using fresh/raw food in place of store-bought processed treats.
That brought up another major concern for me. What about these risks of Salmonella and other bacterias I hear about with raw foods? Every week there seems to be a recall on raw foods because of this. Plus, I notice when pet food reps are doing in-store demos of raw foods, they wear gloves and set timers to discard food before bacteria settles in. That seemed very risky to be possibly giving a pet tainted spoiled food?
Dr. Pablo Etchemendy (goes by Dr. Pablo) with Banfield http://www.banfield.com/our-hospitals/hospital-locations/location-pages/coa/staff/dr-pablo-etchemendy, feeds his own pets a raw food diet, and he responded,
"If you live on a farm or if you know a local butcher so you can be sure about where your meat is sourced, and you have the time and energy to safely prepare raw meats and then sterilize your kitchen, I would say by-all-means feed a fresh, raw diet. However, I wouldn't recommend it for your average pet parent. There can be too many serious risks when you’re dealing with raw meats. Not necessarily for the pet but for humans who are at risk for exposure to harmful bacteria. A dog has a different digestive system with the ability to tolerate different bacteria that make humans gravely ill. It is also extremely important a pet has a balanced diet. I have seen a lot of pets get very sick and even die from proliferated bones, contamination, or unbalanced diets. Because of the risk-reward, I recommend several commercial pet foods that offer raw varieties depending on the specific needs of the animal and the budget of the pet parents."
My take-away, although this isn't brain-surgery, it also isn't a "no-brainer!” If you’re considering a raw diet or a home-made, "do-it-yourself" diet, I applaud you but recommend you work closely with a holistic veterinarian or do your research diligently.
Integrated Veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker, who is my
“go-to” for holistic options, brings up an important point:
"I'm a big proponent of people cooking or preparing raw, fresh food for their pets. If done properly, this is almost always the healthiest way to nourish your pet (just as it's the healthiest food for you, too). The whole debate about feeding pets raw food (and many veterinarians will discourage you from feeding raw) doesn't make a lot of sense considering dogs and cats have consumed living, raw meats for thousands of years; it's what they're designed for.
Dr. Becker cautions,
“You must remember that simply feeding your pet some raw beef or chicken will in no way meet his nutritional requirements. And if that's ALL you feed him, it can be even more dangerous than offering an inexpensive commercial pet food. Well-meaning pet parents are trying to feed species-appropriate food to their dogs and cats, but what many are missing is the need for nutritional balance.”
If you're interested in preparing a homemade diet for your pets, I recommend Dr. Becker's cookbook Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats. Based on the ancestral diets of canines and felines, this book provides a rotational feeding plan and recipes for a meat-based diet that include appropriate levels of vegetables, fruits, and supplements to complete the diet, analyzed to ensure nutritional needs are met. There are actually four main categories of balanced nutrition for pets. These are:
Meat, including organs
Veggie and fruit puree
Homemade vitamin and mineral mix
Beneficial additions such as probiotics, super green foods and enzymes, that aren't required to balance the diet, but can enhance the vitality of your pet. If you decide to use a commercial pet food, Dr. Becker offers some helpful guidelines for selecting a quality food, such as avoiding the toxic preservatives ethoxyquin, BHA and BHT. In addition she notes:
"Home cooking is the best thing you can do. Second best is to know the company you're purchasing from really well so you're able to discern that the ingredients it uses are U.S.-sourced, human-grade, preferably organic, and of course, species-appropriate.
…Needless to say, you've got to really read the labels very, very well.”
I'm a vegetarian and get weak in the knees thinking about preparing raw organs and whatnot. Not only that but these diets aren’t practical for my lifestyle and travel schedule. I’m lucky to get a frozen cheese pizza made for my own dinner. Plus I’m often working with sick/compromised dogs. What has worked best for me personally, is feeding my Pug Olive, a premium canned turkey and raw toppers. I also add some fresh fish, sardines, anchovies, chicken, turkey, and/or organic fruits and veggies a few times a week. This way she has some variety in her diet, gets some fresh, raw, living, foods, and still has well-balanced, nutritious daily meals. -AND NO MORE TUMMY TROUBLE!
Whether you're adventurous or not, I encourage you to stop feeding your dog the same chicken kibble every night and have some fun. Sample and experiment with fresh foods. Just remember, SLOWLY, and one-new-food-at-a-time, in small amounts.
By adding some fresh, human-grade ingredients to a regular, balanced healthy diet you will surely see a happier, healthier dog. And while upgrading to fresh, human-grade healthier foods might be slightly more time-consuming or expensive, in the long run you’ll save thousands in vet bills as well as offer better health and longevity for your pets.