Cindy Chick’s six-year-old German shepherd dog, Jessie, suffered health problems that included chronic skin allergies and cluster seizures. When a friend suggested raw feeding as a way to improve Jessie’s health, Chick researched the topic and eased Jessie into a raw food diet. Within three months, Chick was able to cut Jessie’s seizure medication in half; the shepherd’s skin allergies had vanished, and her coat had taken on a new, plush texture. Jessie lived to the relatively ripe old age of 11, and remained in good health, with only an occasional seizure despite the reduced medication.
Chick is one of a growing number of believers in the benefits of the raw dog food diet. Despite general skepticism from the mainstream veterinary community, not to mention the inconvenience that raw feeding entails, these dog owners are convinced it’s the best way to maintain the health of their canine companions. The massive recall of processed pet food in 2007 sparked an even wider interest in the raw feeding issue, and the number of practitioners has grown since then.
With growth comes controversy, and for every true believer, there’s an opposing view. Many veterinarians question the benefits of raw feeding, but their greater concern is for food safety. Rebecca L. Remillard, Ph.D., D.V.M., and Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Nutritionists, has written about the contamination of our meat supply that begins at slaughter and continues during handling, processing and shipping. The risk of food poisoning is dramatically reduced in cooked meat.
Raw feeding proponents argue that the dog’s shorter, more acidic digestive system leaves them less vulnerable to illness from E. coli, Salmonella and other bacteria.
“No animal would go out and cook its food the way humans do,” says Dianne Longdo of Harmony Farms, a specialty shop in La Crescenta, California that sells raw meat for humans and animals. “Given a choice of a natural, raw diet, that’s what they would eat.”
One thing both sides agree on, however, is that raw feeding takes work and commitment to do properly. Cleanliness is vital. Harmony Farms’ Longdo recommends leaving raw food out no longer than 20 minutes; if the dog hasn’t cleaned its bowl, discard the uneaten food. Then be sure to wash the bowl and any utensils in hot soapy water.
A typical raw food meal consists mostly of raw meat, ground up or in whole pieces, and includes both muscle and organ meat.
Next come raw bones (poultry necks are popular), which may provide calcium – and keep the dog’s teeth clean in the bargain. Cooked bones are prone to splintering – with serious, sometimes fatal consequences – but uncooked bones aren’t believed to carry this risk.
Raw vegetables are the third element, in a smaller proportion than the meat and bones. Finally, the supplements: usually alfalfa, kelp, Vitamin C, and a source of essential fatty acids such as flaxseed oil.
An internet search on raw feeding yields hundreds of web sites, ranging from educational groups to food suppliers. You can also find a number of guidebooks on the subject, such as Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats by Kymythy R. Schultze.
Dog owners have a choice about how to feed their four-legged friends, but it’s important to make an informed decision before taking this step.