Raw Pet food: Dangers and Benefits

the dangers of raw pet food

In our last article in our pet food safety series, we discussed a few dangers of packaged dry food contamination.  Today, we’re going to be covering the dangers and benefits of raw pet food.  This extends to both the pre-packed raw diets provided by companies, and the raw diets made at home by owners.  My intent is to make it clear that there are dangers in both options, not to state that raw feeding is any worse than any other. However, in a base test of packaged raw foods performed by the FDA, 24% of them tested positive for contamination with Salmonella or Listeria. This means that raw food is also no better in regards to contamination than the average packaged dry food. Pet owners need to be educated about the facts of raw food as equally as they are about the packaged dry foods.

As discussed in my guest article on the basics of pet nutrition, we are all in agreement that high protein, moderate fat content, moisture, fiber, and as few carbs as possible (minus the ones needed for fiber) are the best earmarks of a good diet. In many cases, a raw diet can fulfill these needs far better than a dry diet.  In the wild, animals feed almost solely off of fresh-caught raw food.  While this concept is sound, please also bear in mind that wild animals are often lacking in beneficial nutrients provided by packaged or home-made foods, are more prone to parasites and diseases than our domesticated pets, and often live a far shorter lifespan than an animal kept at home.

[Those of you who wish to skip the part on dietary analysis of raw pet food, please jump on over to the article on Salmonella, Listeria, and E. Coli]

Before I delve into the specific bacterium, let’s take a moment to break down some of the misconceptions of raw feeding. Science says that the digestibility of the protein in a diet is more important than the actual protein content. Both dogs and cats have specific enzymes and bacteria in their systems designed to break down proteins and help absorb them into the body. For example:

If we feed a dog a diet based purely off of corn protein, he lacks the essential enzymes to adequately utilize and absorb it.  Only about 50% of the protein will actually make it to his system.  So while this diet could boast even 100% protein content (in our imaginary pure protein world), the actual nutritional value still only comes out to about 50%.  For a diet that contains 30% protein (which is where it sits in the real world),  this would mean that our corn protein diet is only 15% nutritional, which is below AAFCO standards.

Eggs, meat, and organs are the proteins our pets can most efficiently digest. Milk products are up there, but due to lactose intolerance, this makes milk and cheeses less pet-friendly.  Sorry kitties, initial tests on the digestibility of fish indicates that it’s not as easily processed as muscle meats (when compared to rabbit).

This would make the average consumer lean towards a raw diet because even the grain-free and “high-quality” diets contain ineffective proteins such as peas. These additions serve to artificially pump-up the protein content on a food label, making them appear to have far more protein than the “minimums” kept by other companies, when in reality if the numbers were adjusted to reflect the digestibility of the proteins in all the diets, they would all be about equal.  There is no such thing as a “carb-free” dry kibble, since the crunchy kibble itself is made up of so many carbs.  And so, even the highest rated quality dry pet foods don’t aren’t too much better in terms of digestion.

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This makes raw pet food the epitome of ideal in the view of pure nutrition.

However, there are hidden dangers that lurk in the nuances of processed raw diets, home-cooked raw diets, and uncooked raw diets:

Uncooked/Undercooked raw pet food

Many people function on the belief that cooking a food results in a loss of nutritional value.  While it is true that proteins break down when exposed to heat, feeding a purely raw food opens the door to other issues.  Ignoring the obvious problem of bacterial contamination, (to which  dogs and cats ARE susceptible, despite popular myth), not all raw foods are safe for pets.

Looking at egg whites, the one protein that dogs can digest and process in full, the addition of raw eggs to a dog’s food actually does more harm to their systems than it does good for their nutrition.  Raw eggs contain an enzyme called “avidin”, which inhibits the absorption of vitamin B7, which can be seriously detrimental when eggs are consistently fed to pets.  Not only does B7 help prevent allergic skin reaction and provide coat quality, a deficiency of B7 due to feeding raw eggs can cause digestive problems, anemia, and inhibition of the formation of muscle.  While raw eggs are a big no-no, even cooked eggs should only be used in moderation.

Home-cooked “raw” pet food

If you feed a raw diet at home, I applaud you.  This practice, (though time consuming and sometimes expensive), gives you the most control over what goes into your dog’s body.  This is not the route for the average consumer, however.  The people who are doing this right have read extensive information on their pet’s nutrition.  If you choose to embark on this path, please ensure you brush up on several things:

There are some nutrients that animals require that they are unable to produce on their own. Food companies put these additive into their pet formulas, so any home feeder should ensure they’re adding the proper amounts (no deficiencies, but also no overdoses – the formulation can be hard, so don’t fear asking for help)!

Similarly, choose the right ingredients. We already talked about eggs in the previous paragraph, and we touched on fish as well.  Make sure you’re choosing the right proteins in the right amounts for your pet’s profile (pets with kidney disease, I’m looking at you)! No, please do not add garlic to  your pet’s food.  Garlic is toxic, and it won’t repel mosquitoes.  While the amount of garlic it takes for an acute toxic reaction looks larger than what you feed, repeated chronic exposure of small amounts of garlic is also toxic and can lead to a decline in the health of your pet. I know we all want the best for our pets, but the possibility of potential benefits are not worth the known risks.

Finally, make sure you are properly handling food. The safety of a home-cooked raw diet depends almost entirely on how you process it.  While cooking your pet’s meats in butter or oils might seem more ideal to prevent the loss of moisture through the addition of oils (yes, even coconut – the risk doesn’t go away even with this new trend), this opens your pet up to diseases like pancreatitis, chronic digestive upset, and chronic diarrhea.

Processed “raw” pet food

Again, I must emphasize that the safety of the food correlates almost directly to how it is handled.  When looking at a processed pet food — who knows how they’re handling their products.  We only need to look at the FDA’s results of 24% of raw pet diets testing positive for bacterial contamination.  This tells us most of what we need to know.

Now that we’ve all brushed up on our basics, let’s hop over to the good stuff — bacterial contamination!

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36 Comments on "Raw Pet food: Dangers and Benefits"

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Nichole
Guest

Interesting read aboutraw feeding!

The Swiss Cats
Guest

Very interesting information about raw feeding ! Purrs

Carol Bryant
Guest

Although I am not a raw feeder, I know many folks who are and swear by it.

Lauren Miller
Guest

My dogs only get raw occasionally but we try to be very careful when we do feed it. Thanks for the great post!

Sarcastic Dog
Guest

I haven’t really tried raw foods with Simon, Piper and Zora mostly because meal time is already such a production with three dogs. Thank you for an interesting read about the health benefits and risks of a raw diet.

Beth
Guest

Wow, that is a pretty high rate of bacterial contamination for prepared raw food. I am still feeding my dogs kibble, but have considered switching to a prepared raw diet. I guess I have a lot of learning and thinking to do!

Ruth and Layla
Guest

I tried raw with Layla and she got sick so am staying with her diet and will not change

M. K. Clinton
Guest

I cook for my dogs and use a pre-mix. It woulds great for us and we do cook the meat before adding it to their food. Very interesting post.

Christine
Member

Thanks for the great post – as educating people on raw diets is important. I feed raw to my dogs and have for many years. I’ve tried many brands and we landed on Darwins. We’ve haven’t encountered any issues but every dog is unique!

Three Chatty Cats
Guest

Very good information here, thank you! I have never tried a raw diet with my pets but it is something I should do more research on and consider.

Dusty Desert Dogs
Guest

great post! very informative!

Cathy Armato
Guest

This is really interesting information, thank you for sharing! I don’t feed a raw diet, I don’t like to handle raw food and have concerns about safety. I do like foods that contain freeze dried raw pieces to give my dog some raw nutrition.
Love & Biscuits,
Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

Golden Daily Scoop
Guest

We are not all that familiar with raw feeding but this was an interesting read! Thanks for sharing

MattieDog
Guest

We hired a nutritionist and partnered with Darwin’s raw pet foods and we could not be happier! No more upset tummies, itchy toes, itchy eyes, etc., and our dogs were always on top-end pet food. Nothing wrong with that – just for our pups, woowhoo, what a big discovery when we went raw!

Sweet Purrfections
Guest

I don’t plan on feeding raw to the girls. I don’t have the time for the preparation and funds are limited when it comes to the expense. My vet isn’t supportive of raw feeding.

Talent Hounds
Guest

Very interesting. I am looking at mixing in some raw. Kilo seems to be thriving on his kibble but probably some benefits.

Robin
Guest
I think that nutrition, like everything else in life, is about finding the right balance. Our pets are individual creatures just like us and there isn’t a single solution that will be right for every pet. The way I look at it, if you are not going to dedicate yourself to the research, a raw diet is probably not going to work well for you (at least not a home-prepared diet). I have seen raw diets work wonders, though! I think our pets need some food that isn’t out of a box or a can sometimes. In reality, there are… Read more »
Tenacious Little Terrier
Guest

I feed various pre-made raw foods. I wash my hands and his bowl thoroughly and so far we haven’t had any issues.

Spencer the
Member

Great post, I don’t eat a raw diet besides sneaking some table scraps! 🙂

Sadie
Guest

We are very careful with storing Henry and Reese’s raw food. This is great information for people thinking about a raw diet and for those who already do.

Maueen
Guest

Thanks for shairng all these interseting points. I add a little raw to my dogs kibble so they don’t get bored with it. They love the added treat and it seems to really satifsy them. I could never feed complete raw though, it’s just not that important to me

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