The question of what to feed our pets is one that veterinarians get often. There are so many options around and, just as with human diets, there are many studies out there showing the ‘benefits’ of different crazes so the information is constantly changing. One of the most popular diets that many people turn to is the raw food diet. Some people believe that raw food diets are the best way to feed their pets and while there can be some advantages, there are many potential hazards also associated with eating raw foods that owners need to be aware of. A few of the most important ones to consider are:
Ensuring a Balanced Diet
Just like us, our pets need to eat a ‘balanced diet’. What does this mean? It means that there is a ratio of different micro and macro nutrients that need to be eaten to ensure they stay healthy and do not develop any nutritional deficiencies that can result in sickness. Unfortunately, homemade raw food diets are not necessarily balanced. Formulated diets that we buy have undergone intense feeding trials to ensure their nutrient content, digestibility, and supplementation levels are what your pet needs. If owners want to make their own pet food at home then some research needs to be done. By ensuring they are incorporating all the macro and micro nutrients that their pets need they can avoid the potential for diseases caused by nutritional imbalances.
The easiest way to ensure your pet is getting all of the macro and micro nutrients they need is to feed your pet a diet that is mostly made up of a food that has been accredited by the Australian Standard: Manufacturing and Marketing Pet Food AS 5812:2017. How do you know? On every pet food package there should be a feeding guide and near this there will be a statement that reads: “This pet food is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) dog food nutrient profiles for <life stage of pet>”. If there is no feeding guide or this statement is not present on the packaging, then that food has not met the Australian standards and should be avoided as there is no way of knowing if it contains a complete diet for your pet. There are definitely some formulated raw food diets out there and your local veterinarian can point you in the right direction for the best formulated diets that meet your desired feeding plan and budget.
Avoiding Pathogenic Bacteria
Raw foods, by nature, are contaminated with pathogenic bacteria that can possibly be dangerous for our pets but also for owners who prepare their food or are in contact with their food bowls. By feeding our pets raw foods there is a chance that they could be affected by pathogens such as Salmonella, Campylobacter and E.coli. Strict hygiene practices can help to decrease this risk but if we are not cooking the food, the potential for sickness is much higher and in the emergency room we have definitely seen how disastrous these infections can be for pets and their owners.
Another thing to keep in mind is that our pets may not necessarily become sick from the bacteria themselves. Studies have shown that raw meat can pass through the digestive system and become a public health issue when these harmful bacteria pass into the animal’s stool. Specifically, one study looked at the presence of pathogenic E.coli strains in the stools of dogs fed raw diets and have found it to be connected to pathogenic E.coli infections in people.
There was a recent study published that has linked the feeding of raw chicken to the onset of a disease called Acute Polyradiculoneuritis (APN). Acute polyradiculoneuritis, also called ‘Coonhound paralysis’ is a debilitating disease that causes a creeping generalised paralysis due to nerve inflammation. Unfortunately, this disease is becoming a lot more commonly seen in our Pet ICU. It causes dogs to lose the ability to walk, can affect their ability to go to the toilet and can progress to an inability to breath due to respiratory muscle paralysis. This is not to say that all dogs who eat raw chicken will end up with APN but they are at a much higher risk of developing this nasty disease.
The above are just some of the risks that owners need to be aware of before choosing to feed a raw food diet. The main take-home points of all of this information are that no matter what you decide to feed your pet, the main focus should be that they are eating a balanced diet and that good hygiene practices are in place to ensure that everyone stays healthy.