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Feeding Them What Comes Naturally
Keeping Our Pets Healthy With a Raw Food Diet
by Cheryl Davies

Keeping our pets health with a raw food diet
Photo Shutterstock

Over half of us share our lives with pets. But although we take care of ourselves by eating well, exercising, employing stress-relief techniques and limiting exposure to cigarette smoke, alcohol and such, many of us forget to extend that level of care to our pets. Of special concern is their diet.

Perhaps you buy high end commercial pet food and feel that this will ensure that your dog or cat is eating the optimum diet. But that’s just not true.

Veterinarian Dr. Donald Ogden says that even the most expensive, high quality pet food can have its nutrients altered, adulterated, devitalized and destroyed by heat, processing, coloring, preservatives and other chemicals. Therefore, feeding your pet such food on a regular basis causes waste toxins to accumulate in their blood, lymphs and tissue, which contributes to a weak immune system and renders the animal susceptible to chronic diseases.

But there is a way to prevent such a dismal fate for your pet and it’s called the Raw Food Diet (often referred to as the species appropriate diet). Raw foods have become popular amongst ultra-healthy humans, and the concept isn’t so different for our pets. Think about what wolves and panthers eat in the wild; they don’t likely have a lot of starchy carbohydrates at their disposal, nor do they cook the meat of their prey on a stove before they eat it. Carnivores thrive on raw meat.

Commercial dry pet food contains approximately 40 percent carbohydrates (CHO), while cats in the wild only eat between two and six percent carbohydrates. In contrast, dogs require a slightly higher percentage of carbohydrates than cats. Dogs are also considered to be more omnivorous than cats, while cats are basically carnivorous. Domesticated cats have the same dietary requirements as wild cats, and overfeeding carbohydrates is detrimental to their health. And carbohydrates are what constitutes the meat-flavored cereal that we’re feeding our dogs and cats, sabotaging their health along the way. Despite what you may think, their bodies have not adapted to the carbohydrate-driven foods and cooked meats that we’ve been feeding them for so many years.

In Australia and in parts of Europe, it is commonplace for pet owners to feed their cats and dogs raw meat and bones on a regular basis, so it would seem that North Americans are somewhat out of the loop, and our animals are suffering.

“We are seeing disease conditions in animals that we did not see years ago. Many of these may be traced to nutrition as the source,” says veterinarian Don E. Lundholm. And many experts wholeheartedly agree with him. In December of 2002, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) published an article entitled “The Carnivore Connection to Nutrition in Cats” by Dr. L Zoran, DVM, PhD, DACVIM. Dr. Zoran discusses the feline’s unique nutritional biochemistry, writing that “cats are strict carnivores that rely on nutrients in animal tissues to meet their specific and unique nutritional requirements…[Cats] have limited ability to spare protein utilization by using CHOs instead. Nevertheless, commercial diets are formulated with a mixture of animal- and plant-derived nutrients, most commonly in dry kibble form that requires CHOs for the expansion and cooking process, to provide easy-to-use food for domestic cats. And although cats have adjusted to most manufactured diets, the limitations of substituting animal-origin nutrients with plant-origin nutrients in foods formulated for cats are being increasingly realized.”

"Dogs and cats diagnosed with unsolvable problems (arthritis, diabetes, a wide range of gastrointestinal problems, allergies) often recover completely when eating a properly prepared raw food diet."

Given the copious amount of information that we have available about the huge benefits of feeding pets a raw diet, many experts are confused as to why the diet isn’t more widely acknowledged as the correct way to feed pets. More specifically, many veterinarians are frustrated by the fact that the diet isn’t strongly endorsed by all veterinarians.

Lisa Pierson, DVM, endorses an open letter that is available on the website, which asks for veterinarians to promote the raw diet when consulting with pet owners. She says, “As a practicing veterinarian whose eyes have been opened in recent years to the illogical practice of feeding a high carbohydrate, water-depleted dry food diet to obligate carnivores, I am increasingly disheartened by many of my colleagues who continue to (at best) disregard or (at worst) ridicule the growing body of scientific data that validates common sense when it comes to feeding carnivores.”

Hundreds of veterinarians, as well as breeders who are using raw food diets like the BARF diet (BARF being the acronym for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food), are reporting multi-generational improvement. They are witnessing thinner, fitter animals with cleaner teeth, less aches and pains, reduction or elimination of “allergic” symptoms, reduced flea problems and happier dispositions after switching to raw food. Dogs and cats diagnosed with unsolvable problems (arthritis, diabetes, a wide range of gastrointestinal problems, allergies) often recover completely when eating a properly prepared raw food diet. Many skin and coat problems are a direct result of a lack of raw animal fat in the diet – fat which humans often believe is bad for their pet. Animals need at least 30 percent raw fat, and without it there are a higher and higher number of pets suffering from skin and coat problems.

I know of dozens of animals, that have been initially close to death, living far past predicted survival times with excellent quality of life on raw food diets. One local woman knows firsthand the benefits of the diet. Eva, a volunteer with a cat rescue organization, took in an insulin-dependent foster cat. She was certain that the cat would not be adopted because of her ailment, and that her only hope was to be taken into Eva’s loving home where she would be loved and cared for. After a few weeks on a complete, raw diet the cat no longer required insulin. Years later, the cat is thriving insulin-free. It seems that all she needed was the right diet and a chance at a new beginning.

According to Dr. Zoran, “approximately 65 percent of all diabetic cats have type-II (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes. However, these cats may be transiently, or permanently, insulin-dependent at the time when the condition is diagnosed.” She goes on to write, “High protein, low-CHO [carbohydrate] diets and low-fiber diets are highly beneficial in the management of cats with diabetes, resulting in a reduction of 50 percent in the amount of insulin required in eight of nine cats in one study. In another study, complete cessation of insulin administration was reported for one-third of the cats.”

healthy dog

Another raw food diet testimonial comes from a woman named Mary Schurr, who explains that she has been feeding her dogs the raw diet for six-and-a-half years. While her dogs had always been “healthy” they began to have a host of health issues as they aged – things like bad skin, colitis, lameness and stiffness and “general lack of the bursting good health I wanted.” She says that she began her search for answers in earnest when her new puppy developed debilitating symptoms of colitis. “He had never-ending loose stools, he could not keep weight on and he hated to eat. I spent hours in the kitchen hand feeding him, both of us crying (me in frustration and poor Rem in pain). I was terribly worried that I would lose him at an early age. I spent thousands at the vet, and we still had no real [diagnosis to explain] why he was like this. The vet diagnosed general colitis ‘that’s very common in [German Shepherd dogs], you know’ and suggested a kibble diet I could only purchase through their office, [as well as] life-long doses of steroids that would suppress the symptoms enough so he could eat.”

Not satisfied with her veterinarian’s diagnosis, Mary hit the Internet, talked to a host of breeders whom she trusted and spoke with a fantastic wholistic veterinarian. After doing some more research, she switched her three dogs to raw food and has never looked back. Rem, her puppy who had suffered with severe colitis, miraculously became a happy and healthy dog. He competes in the very highest level of obedience competitions and has not been back to the vet for anything more than yearly exams since beginning the raw diet. The two older dogs, Andy and Matti, lived long, happy lives and were active until the end. “He is the love of my life,” says Mary, proudly gushing over her German Shepherd dog, Rem, who once stood very near to being at the brink of death.

So why have we altered our pets’ diets so drastically, deciding to feed them as though they’re herbivores? Well, frankly, because it’s easy. And because we’re bombarded by advertisements telling us that it’s OK. Via multi-million dollar ad campaigns, commercial pet food companies have led us to believe that their food is 100 percent complete and we, the pet loving consumers, have bought into it. What is not broadly publicized is that feeding our pets a natural, raw diet can be a remarkably easy and cost-effective undertaking. The diet is inexpensive, costing roughly the same as a commercial diet (sometimes even less). And the benefits of a natural, species-appropriate diet – like significantly lower vet bills – will certainly pay off.

There are companies throughout North America that sell ready-made, complete raw meals for dogs and cats that can be bought frozen, either online or at the local pet store. You simply thaw the packaged food in your refrigerator and serve it as you would any commercial canned or dry food.

Another viable option is to make your own raw cat or dog food, from several well researched recipes available on the Internet. This option is more time-consuming, but it may be more fulfilling for some pet owners to make the food from scratch. A final alternative is to order the food online and have it shipped directly to your front door. This option can be slightly more expensive but is by far the easiest.

If you’re anything like me, the initial thought of feeding your little furry friends a diet of raw meat makes you recoil in disgust. As an avid raw meat feeder to my two cats, I can assure you that you will get used to it. Even strict vegetarians like me should be aware that, while we may choose not to eat meat for one or several reasons, dogs and cats require meat to sustain a happy, healthy existence. Depriving a carnivore of meat is almost certainly giving out a death sentence. Even The Vegetarian Society cautions against feeding a vegetarian diet for dogs and cats, pointing out that they “require certain nutrients from meat that cannot be obtained in sufficient amounts from plant foods. These include taurine, arachidonic acid, vitamins A and B-12.”

You may also be wondering about the safety of feeding raw meat to your pet. Unlike humans’, the digestive systems of dogs and cats are short and very acidic so that any traces of bacteria or parasites are killed instantly. After all, those of us who own pets know that they lick themselves to keep clean and, at the risk of being too graphic, feces potentially contain more bacteria (e-coli and otherwise) than raw meat does.

"Ultimately, what you feed your pet is your decision to make. But the goal should be to feed them what they would choose themselves if they had a say in the matter."

One particular Internet group run by an animal nutritionist and devoted to discussing the raw meat diet represents between 300 and 500 pets and not one single member reports problem with bacteria. I have fed my two cats the raw diet for almost a year and have had no problems with bacteria of any kind. If you’re still concerned about bacteria in your pet’s food you can add fulvic acid to their food. Fulvic acid neutralizes toxins and can eliminate the threat of food poisoning within minutes.

Don’t begin the raw diet for your pet before doing some research. The diet involves a lot more than just raw meat; other organs, vitamins, oils and bones must also be added to provide a complete and balanced meal. (Note: uncooked bones do not splinter, they crunch and are completely safe to feed to your pet. They happen to be a great source of calcium.) The goal here is to mimic the food that a carnivore would eat in the wild. There is a lot of information out there and it’s important that you go into this as a well informed participant. Find a holistic vet in your area and ask him or her questions. Read a book. Go online.

If you do decide to switch to the raw diet for your pets, it may be necessary to introduce the change gradually, although it is not at all harmful if your pet takes to the change easily and wants to start eating only raw food. Such was the case for one of my cats, who seemed to be utterly relieved after I presented him with a bowl of raw food for the first time. My other cat, however, had a different reaction. Cats, like people, can become addicted to carbs. Start introducing the raw food gradually by mixing a teaspoon or less of the meat into their regular commercial food. Continue adding more meat to their regular food until they are eating a diet composed solely of raw food. This may take some time, but be patient. Eventually they will appreciate their new, healthy diet as much as they appreciated their old, commercial one. The difference will be that their health and well-being will benefit greatly from the new diet.

Ultimately, what you feed your pet is your decision to make. But the goal should be to feed them what they would choose themselves if they had a say in the matter. And it is safe to say that they would choose a natural, raw diet if they could. I can confidently say that those of us who have switched our pets to the raw diet would never go back to feeding them commercial food. If you decide this diet isn’t right for you and your pet, at least you will be able to rest assured that you know what alternatives are available, that you’re making the decision of your own accord and that you’re not simply buying into the incessant barrage of commercial pet food advertising hype.

As Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” We all know that our pets are continuously brimming with unconditional love for us each and every day of their lives while asking for nothing in return. May all of us treat them with the love and care they deserve.

Learn More

Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats by Kymythy Shultze (Hay House, 1999)

Raw Meaty Bones: Promote Health by Dr. Tom Lonsdale (Dogwise Publishing, 2001)

Raw Dog Food: Making it Work for You and Your Dog by Carina Beth MacDonald (Dogwise Publishing, 2003)

Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats by Richard H. Pitcairn and Susan Hubble Pitcairn

Give Your Dog a Bone by Dr. Ian Billinghurst (Ian Billinghurst, 1993)

Raising Cats Naturally by Michelle Bernard (Blakkatz Publishing, 2004) – a website filled with information and true stories about the raw food diet and its benefits – contains information about studies conducted by Dr. Francis M. Pottenger, Jr., called Pottenger’s Cats, on the subject of the raw food diet – information about feeding cats the raw diet, run by an American DVM – the basics of feline nutrition

Author Cheryl Davies is a writer and animal lover. This article was published in Natural Life Magazine in 2006.

* * * *

Editor's Note, 2018:

New research from Utrecht University in the Netherlands raises a concern about pathogens such as bacteria and parasites in raw pet food.

Writing in the journal Veterinary Record, the researchers describe how they analyzed samples from 35 raw meat diet products across eight brands available in the Netherlands – a country where more than half of dog owners are thought to feed their dog, at least in part, with raw meat. The results reveal that 23 percent of the products tested contained a type of E coli that can cause renal failure in humans, while 80 percent contained antibiotic-resistant E coli. Species of listeria were found in more than half of the products tested, while salmonella species were found in 20 percent, species of sarcocystis in 23 percent, and Toxoplasma in six percent.

While parasites are rendered harmless by freezing, bacteria are not. As well as calling for increased awareness, the authors suggest that commercially prepared raw meat diets should be labeled to highlight the risks to pets and owners alike.


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