As pet owners, we want only the very best for our four-legged family members, and ensuring that they receive a healthy diet is one of the most important decisions we make on their behalf. But, with so many options available it can be challenging to make an educated choice.
Some believe a raw food diet is best for our canine companions and others believe that commercial dry or canned food is the better choice. There are pros and cons to each and your decision will be based on your particular circumstances, personal beliefs, and your pet’s specific dietary needs.
Proponents of the raw food diet claim that raw foods are more natural and align better with what canids eat in the wild. The theory is that wild canids eat a diet of raw meat and bones, and as pet owners, we should try to mimic this diet when feeding our pets.
While this theory seems to make sense, it is important to remember that most domestic breeds no longer share many of the physical traits evident in their wild cousins. Today’s domestic canines come in a huge variety of breeds, each with different physical builds, activity levels, and nutritional needs.
Many who promote a raw food diet claim that it promotes cleaner teeth, shinier coats, and better overall health. However, there is very little scientific research about raw food diets and many of these claims are based on individual experiences and non-scientific observations. Still, if you are considering a raw food diet, here are a few things you should know:
RAW FOOD OPTIONS
There are only two options when it comes to raw foods for your pet; you can prepare your pet’s meals at home with raw meats, bones, and vegetables of your choosing, or you can buy commercially produced raw foods which typically come in convenient frozen patties or freeze dried packages.
Home prepared raw foods can be challenging as you will be responsible for ensuring proper nutritional balance. It may help to ask a pet nutritionist and/or your veterinarian for advice on how to properly prepare raw foods for your pet. For some animals, the effects of nutritional deficiencies can take months or even years to become evident. This means that if you fail to get it right the first time, you may be subjecting your four-legged buddy to unintended health consequences.
Another risk associated with home-prepared raw foods is pathogens. Raw foods have been known to contain Salmonella, Staphylococcus, Botulism, and other pathogens that can be harmful to pets and humans alike. This is of particular concern if you or someone in your household is very young, very old, or otherwise immunocompromised.
It is important to understand that preparing a raw food diet at home can be expensive and time-consuming, and may require appliances not typically found in the average kitchen (think meat grinders and deep freezers). Also, due to the risk of harmful pathogens, you must be fastidious when cleaning up after preparation and feeding to mitigate the risks of cross-contamination.
While there are risks, costs, and conveniences to consider where home preparation is concerned, there are benefits as well.
When preparing your pet’s food at home you know exactly what is going into their food. You choose the meats, bones, vegetables, and grains and mix them to the proportions that you feel are best. There are no preservatives, colorings, additives, or fillers unless you choose to add them.
Having total control over your pet’s diet also gives you an advantage with pets that have specific nutritional needs. With homemade meals, you can tailor your pet’s food to meet certain dietary requirements that are unique to your pet. Again, we strongly encourage you to speak with your veterinarian and/or a nutritionist to ensure proper nutritional balance.
Sourcing your raw food from a commercial provider can help mitigate many of the disadvantages associated with preparing foods at home. Commercial providers are required by law to meet certain nutritional benchmarks that help ensure that your pet is getting all the nutrients and vitamins he/she needs. This means that you are less likely to inadvertently neglect certain nutritional requirements.
Commercially sourced raw foods are typically packaged in individual servings, either frozen or freeze-dried. This generally makes for easier storage and mealtime preparation. It also eliminates much of the mess associated with preparing raw foods at home.
Still, commercially sourced raw foods come at a premium when compared to kibbles and canned dog foods, and they may not be available at your local grocer or pet store. Also, despite the quality control measures that commercial providers enforce, there are still risks of contamination and unwanted pathogens – raw food is still raw food.
It should be noted that the American Veterinary Medical Association opposes the use of raw food diets. Their policy states: “The AVMA discourages the feeding to cats and dogs of any animal-source protein that has not first been subjected to a process to eliminate pathogens because of the risk of illness to cats and dogs as well as humans.”
CANNED FOOD AND KIBBLES
Let’s face it when it comes to convenience kibbles and canned foods are an easy choice, but are they healthy for our pets? If you listen to raw food proponents you will likely hear about fillers and preservatives, mystery meats, additives, and dehydration. Many of these arguments have merit, but not all commercial pet foods are created equal.
Ingredients in both dry kibble and canned foods vary by brand, but all commercial pet foods are required by law to provide balanced nutrition for your pet. The FDA requires that they be safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances, and be truthfully labeled. A proper listing of all ingredients must also be provided on the label in order of prevalence.
It is important that you understand what ingredients are in the dry and canned foods that you choose for your pets. The first (most prevalent) ingredient should be real protein, not a grain. The best foods have a single source of protein like chicken, beef, lamb, or salmon.
While grain should not be the most prevalent ingredient in your pet’s food, it is still a viable ingredient that adds wholesome nutrients and energy-producing carbohydrates. There are also grain-free alternatives which may be better if your dog suffers from food allergies.
It should be noted that your pet’s nutritional needs will evolve throughout its lifetime. The nutritional needs of a puppy are quite different than those of an adult dog or senior pet. Be sure to choose age-appropriate foods for your pet. Your veterinarian can be very helpful in selecting the right food.
In the end, it is up to you and your veterinarian to decide what foods are best for your pet, and regardless if you choose a raw food diet or commercial kibble, the end goal should be to ensure a balanced and nutritional diet.
Do you have an opinion on raw vs commercial dog foods? We would love to hear about your experience in the comments below.