Are All Raw Food Diets Created Equal?
One of the the fastest growing aspects of veterinary medicine is holistic medicine, and along with that comes an increasing number of pet owners wishing to feed a more natural or species-appropriate diet. Many are willing to explore the topic of raw feeding, but have no idea where to start. Sometimes they find a raw feeding group on social media or buy books on raw feeding, but it can seem too complicated, leaving them at a loss. Some raw feeding groups are filled with people with very strong ideas about how to feed raw "correctly", resulting in hurt feelings and misunderstandings. For those afraid to try their hand at making their own raw pet food for their dogs and cats, turning to an already-prepared diet can be a great option. Unfortunately, navigating the raw pet food market can be just as confusing as navigating the kibble or canned food market.
Because pet food is a huge market generating billions of dollars in annual revenue, there are many small start-up companies looking for a way to make a quick buck. Yes, they are all supposed to be regulated by the FDA and they are supposed to meet AAFCO standards in order to be sold as complete diets. However, since FDA requires a kill step to negate pathogens in pet food, there are really very few, if any, raw foods that meet their standards. FDA has state regulators pulling packages of raw food from pet store shelves for testing, resulting in many recalls for "adulterated" food if pathogenic bacteria are found. Let's face it, dogs eat roadkill, so I think their stomachs can handle some bacteria, but this is how the big pet food companies are "influencing" regulators to make life difficult for the raw pet food companies.
Many raw food companies, particularly some of the regional or small companies, are selling "pet food" that is neither balanced or tested for nutritional value. A smart raw feeder will know whether the product comes close to having the right proportion of meat/bone/organ, whereas a new raw feeder may blindly assume the diet is fine for long term feeding with no supplementation. A good company will have a specific proportion of each ingredient that will be the same in every batch. If they cannot tell you the percentage of meat/bone/organs and fat/protein/moisture, as well as vitamin and mineral content, they have not done the testing and do not know.
I had a client come in saying she was feeding a raw pork product recommended by her agility trainer. The product was pork muscle meat only. No bones, therefore no calcium to balance the phosphorous. No organs to add necessary vitamins and minerals. The dog's coat was a mess and the dog developed cancer within a year. While the food may not have caused the cancer, the lack of proper nutrition left the immune system in a state of disarray, unable to fend off disease.
For those wishing to change to a raw diet, I recommend finding a reputable company that makes a complete product, as a starting point. Years ago, I started with Ian Billinghurst's BARF diet, which is no longer available in the United States. That enabled me to see how my dogs would fare on a raw diet. The results were dramatic, with more energy, better stool, better coats, and overall better health. I was encouraged to start researching and experimenting with my own raw formulas, leading to my ability to formulate menus for my dogs.
If you are new to raw feeding, start with a high quality complete diet. Once you feel comfortable feeding raw, it becomes much easier to start making your own food. Not everyone has the desire to make their own raw food and there is no reason you need to, with the huge number of reputable formulations available. Be sure to ask questions. Not all companies make the best quality.