Raw Food for Pets – the controversy continues

Raw Food for Pets – the controversy continuesThe American Veterinary Association’s recent policy proposal, posted on their website, regarding Raw Food Diets has sparked a flurry of online comments and discussions from consumers and holistic veterinarians with many attacking the association for its stance on this controversial subject.

The AVMA states that there are scientific studies showing that raw and undercooked protein can be a source of infection with Salmonella, Campylobacter, Clostridium, E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes and entertoxigenic  Staphylococus aureus.   “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”.

As an integrative veterinary practitioner who has been an advocate of feeding whole foods to pets for several years, I personally have no objection to the AVMA’s policy proposal.   In fact I applaud their recommendations as follow:

  1. Never feed inadequately treated animal-source protein to cats and dogs
  2. Provide fresh, clean, nutritionally balanced and complete commercially prepared or home-cooked food to cats and dogs, and dispose of uneaten food at least daily
  3. Practice personal hygiene (eg, handwashing) before and after feeding cats and dogs, providing treats, cleaning pet dishes, and disposing of uneaten food

When it comes to recommending the best diets for my veterinary patients there are several factors that I always take into consideration including:  the pet’s individual constitution including age and previous dietary history, current state of health, and any known food sensitivities or allergies.  I have some patients that have thrived on Raw Food Diets while these diets are much less suitable to others especially those with a weakened digestive system (Spleen Qi Deficiency) as well as many elderly or otherwise constitutionally “deficient patients.  The majority of the pets I see in practice have done very well on quality commercial dry pet foods, including my own dog, although I do often recommend some supplementation with fresh vegetables, fruits and meats.  I have both formulated and recommended several well balanced home-made recipes for my patients and for others I have recommended specific commercially available frozen raw or partially cooked whole-food diets.

My personal concerns with “Raw Food” advocates have always been focused on food safety and properly balanced nutrition.  Why should we throw out good common sense and scientific validation just for the strong emotional appeal of feeding our pets a “natural diet” without any consideration for the former?   I have personally analyzed several “published” home-made recipes and raw food diets that have proven to be highly deficient in many key nutrients or have inappropriate Calcium to Phosphorus ratios that over time can cause serious health concerns.  I have also treated some patients with symptoms related to improperly balanced home-made diets and others with gastro-intestinal disease that appeared to be related to specific raw food diets.

This brings me back to the AVMA’s policy proposal in which I am very much in favor.  When recommending a commercially available raw food diet to my patients I recommend one that I know is pathogen free as well as nutritionally balanced according to the American Association of Feed Control (AAFCO) standards.   The new technology of High Pressure Pasteurization has made it possible to provide a pathogen free meat product without the need to cook it and I am aware of at least two manufacturers of commercial raw food diets that are utilizing this technology to guarantee pathogen free products.   There is also a new company in Ontario utilizing a specialized cooking process for their meats, followed by the addition of other non-cooked whole food ingredients, creating a frozen patty that is also certified pathogen free.   For complete balanced home-made recipes I always recommend cooking all poultry, fish and other meat products.

Whether you choose to feed a commercially available or a home-made diet, I strongly recommend you do your research and seek good veterinary advice making sure you are choosing a properly balanced as well as a safe product for your pet.

Rob Butler DVM, CVA, CVCH, CVFT