Helpful or harmful? How the Raw Food Diet Affects Pet Health

Helpful or harmful? How the Raw Food Diet Affects Pet Health 41 logo

SOUTH COURSE (WWJ) – Veterinarians and pet owners can agree: feeding our cats and dogs a nutritious diet is essential for a healthy and happy pet.

But the popular raw food diet remains a controversial topic.

Veterinary professionals noted that raw food diets (RFDs) have become increasingly popular among pet owners in the US in recent years. The move aims to get rid of commercially manufactured kibble and return cats and dogs to what their ancestors originally ate in the wild.

While supporters argue that RFD is the most biologically appropriate food for dogs and cats, American Veterinary Medical Associationthe FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all say that raw foods do not provide a nutritionally balanced diet and are not safe for pets or their owners.

Dr. Rachel Caballero, a Veterinary Associate for five years, said the RFD trend could stem from a phenomenon that is becoming more common in veterinary medicine.

“I think there’s a false mindset that pet owners like to think of their dogs as little wolves when unfortunately that’s not the reality,” she explained. “They need a more balanced diet than carnivorous diets.”

Caballero also said that dogs and cats that eat uncooked meat, bones and organs can contract infectious diseases such as salmonella, listeria, E.coli and campylobacter, which can make them very sick, or even kill them.

“Any human who handles raw meat is potentially putting themselves at risk and there is a huge risk factor for public health,” he explained. “Every time the pet goes outside to use the bathroom, they potentially excrete that same bacteria into the environment.”

Caballero said that if feces are not picked up, they can run into waterways and expose other animals and people.

Salmonella, E.coli and Listeria can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy people may experience only short-term symptoms, such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, the more serious infections associated with Listeria can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

Veterinarians and pet owners can agree: feeding our cats and dogs a nutritious diet is essential for a healthy, happy pet, but the popular raw food diet remains more controversial

Photo Credit Sophia Stemmler, Owner and Founder of The Raw Dog Rescue Boutique

Based on a study by the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM)raw foods have a higher risk of foodborne illness than any other dog food.

Caballero said the risks are not worth it.

“I try to guide them to diets that we have information on that I know has been well researched and really checks their diets to make sure it contains the ingredients, the contents, the nutrition that it claims to have,” Caballero explained.

Caballero recommends diets of royal canine, Hill’s scientific diet and certain brands of Purina Veterinary that have been rigorously tested by medical professionals in animal science for decades; Many products produced by these companies are specifically designed to help animals at various stages of life and according to their medical needs.

Cats and dogs suffering from thyroid problems, diabetes, neurological disorders and allergies can access a specially formulated food that does not present the health risks associated with raw diets, Caballero explained.

“In most cases, I don’t really see the benefit [of raw diets]… when we have other well-balanced diets that we can offer,” Caballero said.

Sonya Stemmler, owner and founder of The Raw Dog Rescue Boutique at White LakeHe said there is a lot of misinformation when it comes to RFD and it wasn’t easy to break that stigma when he started making his products from raw foods.

“Seven years ago when I started this, a lot of vets slammed the door in my face!” Stemmler said, but as the diet became popular abroad and more research emerged, Stemmler found a greater demand for raw foods.

Veterinarians and pet owners can agree: feeding our cats and dogs a nutritious diet is essential for a healthy, happy pet, but the popular raw food diet remains more controversial

Photo Credit Sophia Stemmler, Owner and Founder of The Raw Dog Rescue Boutique

The shop owner first ventured into raw food while volunteering at a local animal sanctuary that works closely with the Columbus Zoo. When her own pet got sick, she turned to zoologists, neurologists and other veterinarians she worked with for advice.

“It was kind of a perfect brainstorm of people choosing and learning about the raw diet,” Stemmler explained.

Stemmler began to doubt the quality of the expensive kibble he was feeding his pet and decided to switch to raw food, developing his own recipe in the process.

Due to a series of health issues, Stemmler said her dog had been given a week to a month to live, but ended up living for nearly a year; Stemmler attributes the longevity of his dog to the fact that he ate an RFD.

“When I lost my dog, I decided to continue making this dog food as his legacy,” Stemmler said through tears. “She was such a special dog to me and I just don’t want any other dog owner to lose her dog in that way, so it was very important to me to keep it up.”

Stemmler attributes the sudden and intense interest in RFDs to two things: an increase in pet ownership and pet owners having more access to information through technology.

“They want to give them the best, and because they can research what’s best, they’re learning some things about the dog food they’re feeding that aren’t very good,” Stemmler explained.

The key around foodborne illness is to focus on high-quality local sourcing, Stemmler explained. All of his products are made with human grade meat that is farm fresh. She said a big reason veterinarians tended to shy away from RFD in the early days was because people were feeding poor quality or diseased meat, which posed many health concerns.

“If you’re someone who gets their raw dog food from roadkill that’s been sitting or buying dead animals from a farm that’s been sitting or sick, and you feed it raw to the dog, then that’s a lot different than buying human grade food.

According to Stemmler, the benefits of a raw diet can include a shinier coat, smaller, odorless stools that help a dog’s anal glands pass, healthier teeth, and the diet is naturally low in fat, which helps prevent obesity and pancreatitis.

His store employs a certified pet nutritionist who can help tailor a diet specifically to the medical needs of a dog or cat.

Veterinarians and pet owners can agree: feeding our cats and dogs a nutritious diet is essential for a healthy, happy pet, but the popular raw food diet remains controversial

Raw beef and turkey, including ground bone-in chicken cubes.

Photo Credit Sophia Stemmler, Owner and Founder of The Raw Dog Rescue Boutique

Both pet food manufacturers and animal professionals recommend that pet owners have an open dialogue with their veterinarian and address any health concerns or questions they have in order to make the most informed decision when it comes to their pet.

For pet owners who decide to feed an RFD, the CDC recommends taking these precautions to handle your pet’s food safely:

• Always wash your hands with soap and water immediately after handling pet food or treats; This is the most important step in preventing disease.

• Whenever possible, store pet food and treats away from where human food is stored or prepared and out of the reach of small children.

• Don’t use your pet’s bowl to scoop out food. Use a clean, dedicated spoon, spoon, or cup.

• Always follow storage instructions on pet food bags or containers.