Feeding your pet a raw diet
Over the past few years, raw feeding seems to have grown in popularity. Commercially prepared raw food is even stocked in popular pet shops.
But there are a lot of confusing arguments both for and against raw feeding that can be a real minefield. Sometimes it’s hard to know how to do the right thing for our pets, as you’ll often find strong opinions both for and against raw feeding.
What is raw feeding?
Raw feeding is exactly what it sounds like – feeding your pet raw ingredients, rather than the traditional cooked food that is more commonly available.
Raw diets usually contain a combination of raw meat and other uncooked ingredients such as certain fruits and vegetables.
Why do people feed raw diets?
A lot of people who feed their dogs a raw diet do so because they see it as being a more “natural” option to traditional dog food. However, there are no studies to support that raw feeding is better than traditional dog food.
Owners who feed their dogs or cats a raw diet often claim that they see a lot of good changes in their pet. This can range from a glossier coat and more energy, to less smelly poos! But a lot of the apparent benefits of raw diets can be easily achieved by making sure you’re feeding your pet any balanced, age appropriate diet.
What are the problems with raw feeding?
Raw feeding can pose a lot of problems, especially when prepared at home. Our vets don’t recommend preparing your own pet food – whether cooked or raw – as without help from a specialist in pet nutrition a homemade diet could be nutritionally unbalanced which can cause your pet to become ill.
Raw food, especially meat, contains bacteria, parasites and other pathogens that would normally be killed during the cooking process. So feeding raw food brings extra risks, not just to your pet’s health but also to other people in your household. Even with the greatest care, the risk of cross-contamination is much higher so you could accidentally spread around bacteria such as E.coli, Salmonella and even Tuberculosis (TB) via the food or via your pet.
Bones are also another hazard with raw feeding, especially with “Raw Meaty Bones”-type foods. We do not recommend feeding your pet bones ever, regardless if they are cooked or uncooked. Bones can get stuck in your pet’s stomach and block it, or splinters of bone can damage your pet’s delicate insides. Chewing on bones can also cause fractures in your pet’s teeth. Even if your pet is lucky to avoid these issues, bones can often cause stomach pain and constipation due to their high levels of calcium.
The benefits of raw feeding over traditional pet food have not been proven. The arguments for raw feeding are based on the experience of individual owners rather than official studies on lots of pets showing a real difference.
What do our vets say?
Our vets advise feeding your pet a complete commercial diet to make sure they stay healthy. This will provide all the nutrients your pet needs if fed correctly according to their weight and age.
Always speak to your own vet before changing your pet’s diet as they can advise you on the best course of action. If there is anyone at higher risk of infections in your household (e.g. pregnant, very young, older or immunocompromised) then it’s best not to feed raw food to your pet due to the risk of disease from bacteria and pathogens on the raw food.
Whether raw or not, our vets do not advise making your pet’s food at home yourself. If you do choose a raw diet after consulting your vet, always choose a commercially prepared one. This is because commercial suppliers must take precautions to make sure all pet food is packaged correctly to certain hygiene standards, which is especially important with raw food. Companies making complete pet foods will also have to make sure that foods will contain everything your pet needs to stay healthy.
Our vets also recommend that you choose a manufacturer of pet food who is a member of the Pet Food Manufacturing Association (PFMA) to guarantee quality. Their members must have even higher food and hygiene standards than the legal minimum, which means your pet’s food will be safer.
Feeding a high quality raw diet can be expensive compared to other high quality, commercially produced pet food. Be cautious as cheaper raw alternatives are available but may not meet the high hygiene standards needed to be safe to feed to your pet.
We also wouldn’t recommend buying meat or cheaper raw products from the supermarket or butcher that are meant for human consumption. These are meant to be cooked before eating, so are likely to have higher levels of bacteria than recommended for raw feeding.
Even taking all the precautions above, there is still a risk of infections that can affect your pet’s or family’s health. So if you choose to feed a raw diet, it’s really important to be hygienic at home as well:
- Keep everything (storage boxes, bowls, cutlery, etc) you use to prepare or handle raw food separate. Stainless steel bowls and metal or glass boxes are best as, unlike plastic, they won’t develop tiny cracks on their surfaces which can harbour bacteria.
- Always wash your hands before and after handling your pet’s food.
- Feeding a raw diet will require planning as you’ll need to safely defrost food before feeding it to your pet. Use a sealed container to allow the food to thaw in the fridge without compromising the safety of your personal foods. You can’t microwave raw diets to speed up the defrosting process as this can cause uneven thawing creating hot spots which can cook parts of the food and heat others to unsafe temperatures.
- Wash everything thoroughly after feeding. Always sanitise any surfaces you’ve prepared raw food on.
- Once frozen meats are defrosted, they must be consumed by your pet within 24 hours and never re-frozen.
- Remember that your pet’s saliva and poop can contain lots more potentially dangerous bacteria if they are fed raw food. Wash your hands after touching your pet.