Suzie Blunt MRCVS discusses the risks and benefits of raw food diets.

Raw food diets have become an increasingly popular talking point in the consult room, with many pet owners moving over or wanting to try them out. There are strong opinions both for or against these types of diets so we thought it might be useful to provide some information on what the diet is and put together the pros and cons that have been found in various studies.

what is a raw food diet?

A raw food diet is exactly that, a diet based only on uncooked ingredients and come in two main forms – commercial or home prepared. Commercially prepared raw food diets can be bought from supermarkets or online in the form of fresh, freeze-dried or frozen diets. Home-made diets are manufactured by the owner including any ingredient they like. Main ingredients include:

  • muscle meat
  • organs – livers/kidneys/offal
  • bones – ground or whole
  • vegetables
  • grains
  • eggs
  • dairy products

pros

Below is a list of anecdotal benefits, not necessarily scientifically proven, but observations of those using a raw food diet.

  1. better teeth and breath– Addition of bones and high fibre veg such as carrots into the diet has been thought to reduce tartar build up on teeth – however do be aware of increased risk of fractured teeth when chewing on large bones!
  2. healthier looking coat and skin – Due to the higher fat content of raw food diets, more essential fatty acids are available, which play an important role in keeping coats shiny.
  3. palatability  – for the fussy eaters, raw food diets do tend to be well received if you get the right mix of ingredients.
  4. reduced carbs – can help some dogs struggling to lose those extra pounds, however be aware these diets are usually high in fats so some may well do the opposite. This can also be beneficial in some allergy cases.

cons

  1. unbalanced diet  – Studies have shown there is a high risk for nutritional deficiencies and excesses especially in home-made diets. Even pre-purchased raw foods aren’t necessarily balanced, Natures Menu is the only UK raw food supplier registered with the Pet Food Manufacturers Association. This is particularly important to bear in mind for your pups and kittens, as raw food diets are often imbalanced in calcium and vitamins A, E and D, all of which play important roles in development and can lead to concerns in later life. Therefore, we really wouldn’t recommend it for any young or growing animal.
  2. bacterial contamination – High risk of contamination with E.coli, Salmonella spp and Clostridia. Studies have shown that up to 48% of raw food based diets were contaminated with Salmonella spp and 60% with E.coli, particularly those diets based on raw chicken. This is a concern, as more pathogens will therefore be shed in faeces of those on these diets. This leaves owners exposed to risk of infection with these bacteria, particularly affecting the elderly, young children or those with compromised immune systems. It is important to remember that bacterial contamination can occur in manufactured pet foods, however, not to the same extent.
  3. diarrhoea – Your pets can also suffer from the overload of bacteria found in some of these diets as well as the higher fat content that can lead to intestinal inflammation. Not only this but changing over onto a raw meat diet too quickly can also affect your pets gut, so if you are looking to swap then always remember to change foods gradually – that goes for all diets!
  4. risk from bones – Bones can lead to increased risk of choking, fracturing of teeth, internal damage to the gastrointestinal tract or obstructions of the GI tract.

At Molecare, we know it is important to remember that every pet is an individual and needs to be treated so. Therefore, it is not to say that raw food diets cannot be beneficial in some of our patients and really do suit some animals. However, although there are anecdotal benefits to feeding a raw diet, there are also a number of risks, and as vets, it is advised that raw food diets are not something that we would be able to recommend. We are aware many clients are very happy with their pet’s diets – be it raw or not, which is great news, but we would just encourage you to be aware of the risks involved if you are thinking about changing onto a raw diet. Please feel free to discuss this further with any of our vets or nurses if you have any questions!

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