It is my pleasure to introduce my friend Spencer, an animal nutrition consultant! She did this awesome guest blog post for me all about the benefits of feeding your dog or cat a raw and species specific natural diet. Did you know that dogs and cats do not do well with corn, soy, and wheat either? My little furbaby Finley will appreciate this!
What is a Raw Diet?
The purpose of a raw diet is to re-create the way our animal companions’ ancestors ate when they hunted for their food. A typical daily diet for a carnivore would involve catching (or finding) and eating another animal. Often this animal is an herbivore (plant and grass eating animal) like a mouse or rabbit or a deer.
Why Feed Raw?
We are feeding carnivores. Carnivores by definition:
- Carnivores have the teeth and digestive tract to deal with a diet of animal origin.
- Carnivores are dependent upon their prey to digest plant matter and convert it into usable, highly nutritious and easily digestible muscle meat, organs, bones, etc. This dependence is critical to their survival.
- Carnivores have short, simple digestive tracts. They do not have the type of teeth needed to break down plants, nuts, seeds or other non-meat sources of nutrients on their own.
When a carnivore eats an herbivore (plant and grass eating animal), it consumes some muscle meat, some bone, some organ meats (liver, heart, kidney, etc.), and a small amount of the vegetation contained in the digestive tract. It should be noted, carnivores will shake out the stomach and intestines of their prey, before they eat it. The consumption of partially digested vegetation is minimal.
The main components of a good raw diet are:
- Raw muscle meat
- Uncooked bone
- Raw organ meats
- A small amount of green vegetation
The key to good nutrition for any species is bioavailability. Unfortunately, there is very little independent, scientific research available on dogs and cats:
- Bioavailability is very different than digestibility – digestibility studies measure amount of input (food consumed) and amount of output (fecal matter). The studies do not address whether or not the food source is readily available and usable by the body.
- The key to good nutrition is not nutrients per se. It is the usefulness of the nutrients.
- A raw diet returns our pets to a diet rich in biologically appropriate ingredients.
- AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) does not deal with bioavailability of nutrients in any way.
Raw, natural, bioavailable ingredients may contribute to a longer, healthier life for many pets. An overabundance of the wrong ingredients may serve to satisfy a hungry pet, but they may also contribute to long-term health problems.
Advantages of the Raw Diet
Feeding a diet that mirrors nature can return our animal companions to a healthier state. Many of the foods being fed to our pets may sustain life, but may not promote health. Feeding a raw diet may result in:
- A longer life span
- Decreased occurrence of debilitating disease at an earlier age
- Lower veterinary bills and dental problems
- An overall increase in energy
- Shinier, healthier skin and coats
- Cleaner teeth and fresher breath
- Better weight control
- Improved digestion
- Reduction of allergy symptoms
- Smaller, less smelly stools
- Decrease in abnormal hyperactivity
- Increased mobility in older animals
How to Transition to a Raw Diet
It is important to research and understand what it means to switch to a raw diet. The process can be very daunting in the beginning.
When making any changes in food, the pet’s digestive system may be disrupted. It is always best to make a gradual change in foods. 10 to 28 days will allow the pet’s system time to adjust comfortably without upset.
Things to buy in preparation for feeding raw:
· A probiotic (acidophilus) combined with enzymes – begin adding these to the pet’s food prior to starting the raw diet. After years of consuming processed foods, the pet’s body may not be able to adequately produce digestive enzymes. The probiotic will return the good flora and fauna to the digestive tract.
· A good scale to accurately measure the raw food
· A good knife for cutting semi-thawed rolls of raw food
· Zip lock bags for storing proportioned raw food
Are Raw Diets Safe?
Handling a raw diet for your dog or cat is no different than handling the raw food you prepare for yourself. Any food that is not handled properly, stored properly or processed properly has potential health risks. Dogs and cats should not be looked at the same as humans. As humans, we can eat onions and dark chocolate – they can’t. As humans, raw meat can be very problematic to our systems. As carnivores, dogs and cats have very short digestive tracts. Food passes quickly, before the harmful bacteria has a chance to multiply and cause problems. Carnivores also have a very high level of acidity in their digestive systems. The high acidity allows them to process raw meats and bones, and creates an environment hostile to bacteria.
Cats and a Raw Diet
Our domestic cats are still very much strict carnivores – even more than dogs. They must eat animal protein in order to thrive. They have no dietary requirement for carbohydrates, so grain-based foods are less than optimal for a cat. A raw diet made with fresh, approved meats and bones provides cats with healthy, natural nutrition.
Cats can be difficult to switch to raw. They imprint, at a young age, on the specific smell, taste and texture of the food they are used to eating. The rare cat will switch quickly and willingly.
The key to success with cats is to go very slowly – it can take several months to gradually switch them to raw. CATS MUST EAT! Older, overweight cats can get into serious liver trouble if they do not eat regularly.
“Cats are obligate (strict) carnivores and are very different from dogs in their nutritional needs. What does it mean to be an ‘obligate carnivore’? It means that your cat was built by Mother Nature to get her nutritional needs met by the consumption of a large amount of animal-based proteins (meat) and derives much less nutritional support from plant-based proteins (grains). It means that cats lack specific metabolic (enzymatic) pathways and cannot utilize plant proteins as efficiently as animal proteins.” Lisa A. Pierson, DVM
What brands do I recommend?
Bravo is based in CT, Stella & Chewy’s is based in WI, both can be found at specialty pet retailers. In addition to these and several other brands of Raw Diets, there’s also Co-Ops for raw feeders. For example, theres a Co-Op based in the NY/PA/CT area called Raaw Energy. Basically, you join the co-op and the person preparing all the foods takes order requests once or twice a month, and distributes it to the co-op members who offer to host a pick-up. You’d go to the appropriate pick up spot that day and get your food.
are online retailers that sell Raw Diets. People can visit www.StellaandChewys.com
and search by zip code to find the closest retail store that sells their products, though the websites don’t specify if the stores carry the raw diets or the freeze-dried raw treats so it’s best to call ahead. For the people wanting to feed raw, but don’t have freezer space to accommodate the food change, there are convenient freeze-dried food options from Stella & Chewy’s, Primal Pet Food, and an air-dried version from ZiwiPeak (www.ziwipeak.com
) that I LOVE because you don’t have to rehydrate the food before feeding. I keep this one on hand for the days I forget to defrost my pets food (oops!)
I am a companion animal nutritional consultant managing an independently owned and operated pet supplier specializing in species-appropriate diets. I’m a primal/paleo foodie, mom to my Golden Retriever, Eli & my Bengal, Sparta and a reality TV junkie! Besides being a member of the United States Eventing Association and working with horses for many years, I’ve spent much of my time in this field volunteering at shelters, working with animal rescue groups and educating people on appropriate pet nutrition.
I live Paleo, and I would love to transition my cat to eat raw, healthy food. Thank you for all of the tips!