Pets are family members. We take care of all their needs, from food to hygiene to shelter. All these play a vital role in keeping the pets happy, but most important of them all is the diet, as it can affect their health.
There’s a lot of debate on the kind of food one should fed to their pets. Some people believe that feeding raw food is good for pets, but some seem to be vocal against the idea as they believe that raw food can harm an animal.
The idea of raw feeding pets was introduced in 1993 by an Australian vet called Dr. Ian Billinghurst. He fondly named the diet the BARF diet, short for Bones And Raw Food.
Dr. Billinghurst was of the idea that raw food could provide animals with vital nutrients and keep them healthy, however not many agree with it.
In this article we are going to discuss the pros and cons of raw feeding your pets. Let’s start with the benefits of raw feeding your pets:
The Pros of Raw Feeding Pets
Most pets thrive when they’re given raw food because obviously it provides them with much-needed nutrients. In fact, most animals are designed to consume raw foods.
Raw foods have no added preservatives, chemicals or synthetic products. Moreover, since raw food isn’t cooked, the nutrients are preserved. On the other hand, commercial pet food for both cats and dogs may lack many essential nutrients, unless you come up with a balanced diet plan for cats and dogs. In fact, there are some commercial non-raw foods that may even cause deficiencies in pets.
However, raw foods alone cannot provide your pets with all the nutrients that they need as they usually lack certain vitamins and minerals. Plus, there’s little to no diversification in case of raw food.
Cats and dogs are used to digest raw food thanks to their acidic digestive systems. Many people assume that digestion works quite the same way in animals as it dos in humans, but that’s not true.
The digestive system of both cats and dogs is meant to digest food quickly and easily unlike humans which is why feeding them with raw food won’t hurt their stomachs.
Dogs are believed to be related to wolves, hence have similar nutritional needs. Just like wolves, they are naturally designed to fulfill their body’s needs by consuming raw food that includes meat, bones. Cats, too, are carnivores and can digest raw food easily.
On the other hand, when you feed your pet with a kibble diet (wet, canned or grained), digestion takes more time because their system isn’t used to digest it.
Unlike humans, cats and dogs don’t have the amylase enzyme to help them digest food, which is why digesting non-raw food can be a problem for them. This causes problems in their pancreas because digesting such food exerts a lot of pressure to break down food.
Non-raw foods also absorb a lot of water to get digested properly, hence, they can contribute to chronic diarrhea or an irritated bowel functioning.
However, there is a downside to it. While dogs can eat bones without a problem, there is a choking hazard if proper attention is not given.
Some pet owners think that excluding bones from the diet can help. It sure does, but then pets will more likely develop periodontal diseases, because meats often contain bacteria that may cause plaque formation. Chewing on bones helps animals remove the plaque, hence completely removing bones may not be a good idea.
So if you include bones, there is a choking threat, not to mention they may get stuck in windpipe, the esophagus or even in the stomach. If you exclude them, periodontal diseases may attack the teeth and gums
Periodontal diseases are very common among pets. In fact, about 80% of domesticated dogs and cats are said to suffer from it at some point in time.
The foods that pets eat often gets stuck to their teeth and gums, which can cause plaque to form, leading to periodontal diseases. However, this risk is reduced when they eat raw food as it requires chewing bones and tearing meat, which prevents food from getting stuck.
When they chew on hard food, it scrapes off the plaque, both from the gums and the teeth and cleans them. Moreover, chewing also massages their gums and promotes blood circulation.
So, if your pet is giving off a bad breath then it is more likely suffering from dental issues. Switching to raw foods can help prevent the spread of periodontal diseases.
The FDA has given several warnings against feeding raw food, especially bones, to pets. Many vets are also against the idea of feeding bones to dogs as they not only contain bacteria but can also harm their teeth.
Pets who consume raw food tend to produce less stool. This is because raw food is not only easy to digest but it also digests completely unlike non-raw food such as kibble food.
Less poop produced by your pet means less effort needed to clean it. This saves you time and energy.
This is because a large part of raw food gets digested and only a little of it is passed on as waste, hence less amount of stool is produced.
When we cook food, most of the nutrients are washed away which can lead to various problems such as gum infections, urinary infections, and periodontal diseases. These diseases not only contaminate your pet’s digestive system but also cause them to produce a strong smell. Plus, their stool begins to stink even more.
However, when you feed pets with raw food, their stool contains less pungent odor. This is because all the nutrient value from the food is absorbed and digested and very less amount in wasted. Plus, raw food is easily digested which is why there’s no bad odor.
Strengthens Immune System
If we compare wild street dogs to domestic dogs, we see a difference. Street dogs sure look dirty, but that’s exactly the reason fall sick a lot less often compared to domestic dogs. This is because of the diet they’re eating. Wild dogs mostly eat raw food while a majority of pet owners feed their pets with synthetic, canned, frozen or grain food.
Raw diet is said to strengthen pets’ immune systems, and to ward off many diseases.
Other than that, cooked food may sometimes cause inflammatory diseases to pets and make them ill and raw food doesn’t because it contains fatty acids and immune boosting nutrients that make up the immune system of a pet and help fight diseases.
Not only does a raw diet makes their stool less smelly but also affects their skin conditions in a positive way. According to many surveys, a lot of pet owners who were feeding their pets kibble diet experienced nasty smell coming off of their pets. This is because the diet lacks nutrients and a large part of that diet is junk food, hence, the skin of the dog is affected and is also prone to catch skin infections. So, feeding pets with raw food will help make your pet smell good and you won’t have to give them a bath more often.
A study also highlighted how feeding raw food to dogs can increase their lifespan by up to three years.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, about 40% of dogs and cats in America are overweight. This isn’t good; being overweight is as bad for animals as it is for humans. Animals that are overweight are more prone to falling sick, it can affect the reproductive system, cause urinary disorders, increase risk of mammary tumors, and several skin diseases as well.
There are many reasons why pets gain weight; one of the main reasons being processed food, causing physical weakness among other things.
A good way to control this is to turn to raw diet. This way pets receive nutrients in a natural form. There are no preservatives, no added contents and very less amount of carbs to ensure proper weight.
The right weight depends on several factors including the age, height and breed of your pet.
It is common for pets to begin to look dull with time as their fur starts to lose their natural shine. This is due to several reasons including poor hygiene and diet.
In fact, it is believed that cooked food causes animals to have dull fur, as a lot of nutrients are lost while cooking the food, and nutritional deficiencies can cause dogs to have dull fur.
However, many experts believe that high quality pet food can prevent such problems.
“With the ready availability of quality pet foods, it is very difficult for a pet to have a nutritional deficiency of any kind,” says Wendy Brooks, DVM, a diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners.
Consuming raw foods is also said to keep allergies away and reduce flaking as well. Without raw food, you will have to give additional supplements to your pets for them to have shiny fur.
Cons of Raw Feeding Your Pet
While feeding your pets raw food comes with several benefits, it has its drawbacks as well, so let’s look at the most important cons.
Raw Foods Contain Bacteria
According to a study by the Utrecht University in Netherlands, raw foods are home to many bacteria that can cause serious illnesses.
The study involved reading 35 raw products, and it was concluded that they all could cause health issues among pets:
Here’s the summary:
- 23% of them were affected with E.coli.
- 80% were affected with E.Coli which is antibiotic resistant.
- 11% had Sarcocystis cruzi, a parasite.
- 11% had Sarcocystis tenella.
- 6% had Toxoplasma gondii.
These parasites are deadly as they feed on the insides of the pets and make them fall sick by affecting their organs and the way they function. It should be mentioned that many of these bacteria die when the food is cooked, which is why many experts prefer cooked food over raw food.
E.coli is a bacterium that can end up in a pet’s stomach when they’re fed raw food. It is a dangerous bacterium as it can cause hazardous diseases including gastrointestinal issues. E.coli can compromise the digestion system of pets, especially dogs and even cause death. The disease can transfer in many ways, and can even affect humans.
If you have more than one pet, and one of them gets infected with E.coli, the others can easily catch the disease.
Symptoms: A number of complications are caused by this infection which includes severe diarrhea, vomiting, fever, sensitivity to touch, depression, dehydration, increased heart rate etc.
If you notice such symptoms then rush your pet to a vet to have it treated before the condition worsens. This infection is quite common among dogs since they are fed with meat on a larger scale.
This is another parasite which enters into the stomach of pets when they are fed with infected meat i.e. raw food.
This infection is deadly because there are typically no signs and symptoms in the beginning, and it may be too late by the time you notice any changes in your pet’s health or behavior.
This parasite forms a cyst in the tissues which gradually swells up. The infection soon spreads to the gut and, slowly, other parts are affected as well.
Symptoms: Some of the signs include swelling in the muscle tissues, high fever, sensitivity to touch, aching muscles, lethargic and/or aggressive behavior, and a decrease in white blood cells.
The cysts formed by the parasite vary in size but smaller or big, they are dangerous because they can travel to the brain tissues or tissues of an important organ and cause death. This parasite is one of the reasons that pets, especially dogs, die young.
This parasite resides in the lower intestine. While it may not be as deadly as the other two discussed above, it does need special care. This parasite is capable of compromising neurological and gastrointestinal functions in pets.
This infection is deadlier in females because it can transmit from them to their young ones while they’re still in the womb. This is why pregnant animal should never be given raw food.
Symptoms: The symptoms of toxoplasma gondii include weight loss, loss in appetite, high fever, eye inflammation, shortness of breath, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle weakness etc.
These are just a handful of bacteria that can transfer through raw food to your pet, but there are many more.
RMBDs Can Cause Nutritional Deficiency
Raw food often lacks important nutrients that can cause deficiencies in your pets. Consuming raw food can lead to different issues including hyperthyroidism, gut perforations and fractured teeth.
While dogs are linked to wolves, the truth is that they diverged from their ancestors thousands of years ago, and in this time period have learnt the ability to handle a different type of diet.
A research conducted in 2013 found that some breeds of dogs have a good amount of the amylase enzyme, which enables them to easily digest starches.
Risk of Choking
Feeding raw foods to pets can be threatening because it’s not just meat that their canine teeth will tear apart, it includes bones as well.
This is concerning because pieces of bones may stick to their teeth and cause infection.
It may also damage the digestive tract of pets because it is not very durable. Bones can tear the tract and affect your pet’s entire digestive system.
Moreover, some pieces of bones may enter the stomach, but not get excreted out. They can cause damage to the animals by causing infections.
A number of pets are brought to vets due to issues caused by ingesting bones. Choking is another common but serious risk. Chewing or trying to swallow large bones can block the passing of air. In addition, cuts and wounds are also common due to the consumption of bones.
In some severe cases, swallowing bones may cause your pet to bleed from the rectum, in which case you should take it to the vet immediately.
Raw Foods Are Expensive
Raw food is and will be more expensive than processed food. Something to keep in mind.
This Isn’t a Mere Discussion, It’s a Heated Debate
There is no one word answer to this question. Feeding raw food to your pets comes with both benefits and side effects. While it is true that dogs and cats were originally designed to eat raw food, the fact of the matter is, over the years they have evolved and developed the ability to digest processed food very easily.
While some experts who strongly support feeding raw foods to pets, most are against the idea. Many experts also believe that pet owners should find a balance between raw food and cooked food to make sure their pets remain healthy. But again, there is no proof as science seems to strongly oppose the idea of raw feeding.
Moreover, there is another school of thought that supports raw feeding but only properly designed diets. The big idea is that feeding raw food does not mean feeding blindly. You should create a diet plan keeping your pet in mind.
Some pet owners freeze raw food before feeding the animals. While this works to an extent, it does not kill all the bacteria and the risk is still there.
In a nutshell, you should feed your pets what works for it, but pay close attention to its health. If you have been feeding them raw foods without any issues, then continuing to do it is be a good idea, but of course, you should only provide them with healthy meat, and remove bones that can cause injury.
In a similar manner, if your pets are used to cooked and processed foods, but show no signs of weaknesses or illnesses, then you should stick to the current diet.
Michael is in love with nature and loves to spend his weekends with his pet dog at his farm where he grows organic fruits and vegetables. He’s a single parent who loves the idea of simple living.