As a Vet, I see the benefits of fresh food diets for many pets. Increasingly pet carers are choosing fresh food diets and some using raw food as part of the diet, or even the whole diet. If this is something you’re considering make sure you take the following into account.
Our pets rely on us to provide their entire diet so it’s essential that it’s complete and appropriate to your pets stage of growth (as in a growing kitty or pup has largely different requirements to an adult).
An incomplete diet will lead to a dietary imbalance. The most common imbalance in raw food feeding is a calcium deficiency. Others are the calcium-to-phosphorus ratio, vitamin D, potassium, manganese, zinc and iron. Too much protein is an issue for both cats and dogs too. For a commercial offering, you can check that it’s AAFCO certified which confirms that it’s balanced (it’s an American standard that we use here which provides nutrient profiles and regulates pet food labelling for growth, reproduction, and maintenance, and it will be written on the packet of food).
Another consideration is good hygiene. We know raw foods often contain bugs, especially meat (raw chicken for example, is more often than not, contaminated with bacteria such as campylobacter or salmonella). Good hygiene is needed to avoid introducing infection to your pet, and also to avoid health issues in yourself as well. You could become sick by ingesting the bacteria from the food directly OR by introduction from your pet who is now carrying the bug.
Few things to do around this:
- Raw food diets should be kept on a bottom shelf in the freezer or refrigerator to prevent contamination of other foods, or if possible – in a separate fridge altogether.
- Wash hands before and after handling the food with warm soapy water for 20 seconds.
- Bacteria can spread wherever the food is so make sure that separate food preparation bowls and utensils are used and that they are washed as soon as possible afterwards.
- Never use the utensils that you use for your pets food (cutting board included) for your own.
- Remove and dispose of your pets poop immediately (use gloves for pick-up).
Most of the above fits into the category of common sense as does things like the dangers of feeding small or fractured raw bones which could cause an obstruction, or lead to dental fractures as well. If you are a home with young children, or adults who are unwell or more prone to infection, the risk of feeding a raw food diet may just outweigh the benefits in feeding it to your pet.
Remember to always slowly transition your pet to a new diet as it takes time for their gut to adjust (I love the seven day rule for the introduction of new foods: 25 percent new food for two days, 50 percent new food for two days, 75 percent new food for two days then 100 percent new food on day seven).
Lastly, if your pet isn’t doing well on their current diet, and this is why you want a dietary change, always check with a veterinarian to assess whether a diet is appropriate to your pet.