Raw Diets for Pets

I have covered the raw diet debate since the beginning of this blog, and the evidence has been remarkably consistent:

  1. There is no evidence to support claims that raw diets are healthier than cooked commercial foods.
  2. There is consistent evidence that raw diets are contaminated with potentially harmful bacteria.
  3. It is not yet clear what the likelihood of infections in people or pets from these bacteria.
  4. Raw bones, often included in raw diets, may reduce calculus and periodontal disease risk, though this isn’t clearly demonstrated. However, they also present a real danger of injury, including broken teeth.
  5. Most homemade raw diets, and some commercial raw diets, may have significant nutritional deficiencies.

The bottom line so far is that there are not convincingly demonstrated benefits to feeding raw, and some potential risks, though it isn’t clear how serious these risks are. Most of the claims made for why raw diets are better are myths and nonsense or based entirely on anecdote. Overall, there seems little reason to feed raw when there is more evidence of risk than benefit.


Raw Diet Posts

Raw Diets for Dogs and Cats

Give a Dog a Bone (Not!)–FDA warns of dangers of feeding bones to dogs

Raw Meat and Bones Diet for Dogs: It’s Enough to make you BARF

Raw Pet Diet and “Natural” Pet Product Recalls

Raw Diets for Pets: Still No Evidence of Benefit but a Real Risk of Harm

Salmonella and Other Risks of Raw Pet Diets

Cooking increases the caloric value of meat and starches

Veterinary News Network (VNN) Video Discussing Raw Pet Diets

Raw Pet Diets Often Contaminated with Dangerous Bacteria: Campylobacter

Misleading Advertising for Raw Pet Food (again)

Raw, Cooked, and Dry Cat Diets–A New Study Examined

New Study on Raw Diets for Dogs Adds Little to Ongoing Debate

FDA Study Shows Raw Pet Diets Contaminated with Potentially Deadly Bacteria Much More Frequently than Cooked Pet Foods

Evidence Update-Review of the Risks and Benefits of Raw Diets for Dogs and Cats

More Evidence of the Risk of Infectious Diseases Associated with Raw Pet Foods

Yet Another Study Shows the Real Dangers of Raw Diets for Dogs

Actually, Raw ChickenLikely Can Lead to Paralysis for Dogs

New DogRisk Study Compares Risk of Allergies in Dogs Associated with Raw and Processed Foods

Are Unconventional and Raw Diets Becoming More Popular?

From SkeptVet TV- Raw Diets for Pets

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44 Responses to Raw Diets for Pets

  1. Pingback: Evidence Update-Review of Risks and Benefits of Raw Meat Diets for Dogs and Cats | The SkeptVet Blog

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  4. Edward Cummings says:

    One is having flash backs to my animal science degree. Do you do book recommendations if so is their any related to companion animal nutrition?

  5. skeptvet says:

    I enthusiastically recommend Dog Food Logic by Linda Case.

  6. I just came across this on FaceBook, from a rescue group’s post, while looking for something completely unrelated:

    “It is with a heavy heart that I bring a bittersweet update on our very loved General Patton. Please note his before and after images.
    GP passed by choking on his raw food diet. Similar situations have happened to me and I have nearly lost a couple different dogs. I wanted to take this opportunity to remind us of a few tricks and rules we can live by to prevent sudden and tragic food related death.
    1) Feeding a Raw Diet is the best thing you can do for your dog from a nutritional standpoint. Dogs can get pretty worked up over raw diet, so its important to feed them small, manageable bites to prevent choking.
    2) Bloat, or gastric torsion, is a common killer of deep chested dogs like boxers and mastiffs and can be prevented by feeding our dogs at least an hour before or after exercise. And, if you can, limit their water intake after exercising. This can help prevent water from causing dry food to expand which can increase probability that the stomach can become disturbed and turn over on itself, causing bloat. A good preventative for dogs like Great Danes is to actually have their stomach tacked and fixed in place to prevent bloat. Sounds extreme but it eliminates the problem.
    3) Canine CPR, rescue breathing and airway clearing is very much the same in dogs as in is in humans. I actually took a several week long course to become a certified trainer, which has saved several dogs lives along the way. Here are a few links:https://youtu.be/VJGlsYHI9cU

    So, apparently choking is a very real risk with raw diets.

  7. Becky herrera says:

    hi there,
    Just wanted to put my experience out there with the raw diet vs commercial kibble diet. Your mileage may vary. Anyways, I’m a vet tech and have sold the dreaded hills ect. I’m not a fan of those diets just for the simple fact that they are expensive and you can spend your money on better food for less. I prefer to eat more naturally so I like to feed my pets better as well. My dog suffered from terrible skin allergies, hives and yeast no matter what food he was on. We tried all types of high end kibble, even rx diets and nothing. He was still on antihistamines and steroids and the occasional antibiotics for infection flare ups. It was horrible for months. I finally ditched the kibble and put him on a commercial raw diet. He’s small enough that I can afford to feed it without breaking the bank. Within about two months his skin cleared up, his stool was no longer runny, we took him off the pred, and antihistamines and he hasn’t been on antibiotics for months. His nails and feet that were red and crusty cleared up. He’s a different dog. All I did was switch to raw and got rid of the kibble. Mind you he was on a top tier grain free kibble and still broke out. It’s now been a year and not a single break out or yeast issue. He went in for his yearly and the vet was amazed at the transformation. Funny thing is that we always thought he might have a chicken or beef allergy, yet he can eat those proteins raw no issue. As an experiment, just a month ago, I got a small bag of his high end kibble and gave that to him. Within a week he was itchy and got his first hot spot in a year. He has since gotten better and is off kibble for good. I’m a raw convert at least for my own dog. I saw the evidence and did the trial and error and I can say with confidence that a raw diet works for my dog whereas a processed kibble diet does not.

  8. Russell says:

    its awfully lucky that domestic dogs were able to survive for the 30,000-40,000 years before kibble was created. thank god we finally have corporations that can save them.

  9. skeptvet says:

    Sarcasm aside, there is a difference between survival and health. Humans also survived for millennia without any science-based nutrition, sanitation, or disease prevention. But for all of these millennia, we were chronically ill and malnourished, most children died before reaching adulthood, and living to 40 was considered an achievement. The application of science to nutrition, sanitation, healthcare, agriculture, and other fields has doubled our life expectancy, wiped entire diseases out of existence, dramatically reduced childhood and maternal mortality, and made us much healthier. The same is almost certainly true for our pets, who likely live longer and healthier lives with modern nutrition and healthcare than they did while scrounging our garbage and table scraps, even though that was “fresh, whole food.”

  10. Darian Harrison says:

    I have had the same experience with the switch from high quality kibble to raw. All 4 of our companion animals are on raw. Diesel, our 5 year old yorkie experienced debilliating hot spots and was alway straining when he pooped and the poop was not optimum. His switch to raw cleared up his hot spots and for the most part he does not strain any longer. We still struggle with environmental issues, but the symptons have dramatically decreased. Our 13 year old cat was diagnosed with diabetes by a conventional vet and it was recommended she go on insulin. She indeed was very sick, had lost significant weight and was very lethargic. We took her to a conventional/holistic vet. Among other remedies our holistic vet recommended changing to raw. She switched to raw about 9 months ago and she is back to her old feisty self and has regained all of her lost weight. She is not on insulin. Our Maltese/Shitzu was drinking excessively and had frequent urination (still to be diagnosed), however, drinking and frequency of urination has decreased significantly. Anecdotal, yes, but it really has worked for our crew.

  11. Dori says:

    The business of manufacturing pet food in the U.S. is big business; the American Pet Products Association reported that in 2014, Americans spent $58.04 billion on our pets. And big business saw to the rise of the pet food industry because, to a significant degree, it paralleled that of the processed food industry. Today the pet food industry is dominated by some of the biggest names in food with Nestle, Mars, Proctor & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, and Del Monte being among the better known multinationals. Mars and Nestlé, the two biggest dog food companies, together account for almost half of the total global market for dog food.

    Nestle manufactures Purina One, Purina Pro Plan, Purina Veterinary Diets, Beneful, Puppy Chow, Mighty Dog, Beggin’; Mars manufactures Nutro and Pedigree; P&G manufactures Eukanuba and Iams; Colgate-Palmolive manufactures Science Diet under the Hill’s name; Delmonte’s brands are Nature’s Recipe, Meaty Bone, Kibbles ‘n Bits, and Gravy Train.

    Feeding kibble and canned food to dogs became a popular way to feed our pets following WW II, despite the fact dogs became domesticated about 12,000-15,000 years ago. In the years since manufactured dog food first appeared, it has established such a grip on us that many consider feeding kibble or canned dog food is the only way to feed pets.

    Pet food manufacturers devised a two pronged marketing approach with one prong targeting consumers.

    Putting pet food on grocery store shelves and spending huge amounts of money advertising pet food to consumers helped convince pet owners that manufactured food was the way to feed pets. Purina executives, for example, decided that instead of distributing their pet food via their nationwide network of feed stores, the company would sell their pet food through supermarkets. By the late 50’s Purina Dog Chow was the best-selling dry dog food in the world.

    The second prong targeted veterinarians.

    Vets are trained to perform surgery, diagnose and treat disease, and prescribe drugs. They typically receive little meaningful training in animal nutrition in vet school because there are no degree or certificate programs related to the specific field of canine nutrition. And what they do learn is often from sales reps who work for the multinationals that own the pet food companies. Despite these facts, vets are considered by many to be authorities on what to feed our pets.

    What this means for us as pet owners is that asking the typical vet for advice on what to feed your dog or cat is about as helpful, say, as asking your dentist why your leg hurts or your shoulder is sore.

    The degree to which the pet food manufacturers focus their attention on vet students is clear when you look at some of the top vet schools in the country including Cornell University, The University of California – Davis, North Carolina State, Colorado State University, and Texas A&M University among them. This is unfortunate given the fact that many popular brands of dog food contain ingredients in significant amounts that many would find surprising including beet pulp; brewer’s rice; corn; rice, soy, and wheat flour; sugar; and vegetable oil.

    Each year a fourth year vet student at Cornell is awarded the Hills’ “Buddy” Award, bestowed by the manufacturer of Science Diet, Hill’s Pet. The Canine Reference Family DNA Distribution Center at Cornell is a collaborative arrangement between the university and Ralston Purina. Purina also sponsors research done by faculty at vet schools including at Cornell, sponsors residency clinical training programs at schools like North Carolina State University, and Nestle sponsors seminars throughout the year for vet students.

    Hill’s pledged $510,000 over six years to sponsor nutrition education programs at the UC Davis, and Nestlé Purina funded, designed, and installed nutrition centers at several veterinary teaching hospitals including those at UC Davis, Michigan State, and Colorado State.

    At vet schools the kibble manufacturers fund the student chapters of the American Veterinary Medical Association. For example, at Colorado State, Hill’s provides Science Diet formulas and Prescription Diet products to veterinary students/faculty/staff at a very reduced cost. Hill’s donates all products, and the generated funds from sales help support the student chapter of the AVMA, as well as a scholarship program for veterinary students.

    Hill’s has a similar program, College Feeding Program, at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. NCSU is ranked third among the nation’s top 28 colleges of veterinary medicine by U.S. News and World Report.

    The manufacturers also are major sponsors of student clubs and societies; Nestlé Purina, for instance, is a major sponsor of the Comparative Gastroenterology Society at Texas A&M.

    On the wall of the Nutrition Support Service at The William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, UC, Davis is a plaque noting the center had been backed by money from the Nestlé Purina PetCare Company and Hill’s Pet Nutrition Inc.

    It’s hard to be surprised that vets are often biased in their advice that kibble is what to feed our pets.

  12. skeptvet says:

    Several points here.

    1. Yes, pet food is big business, and businesses are interested in making money. This, in itself, does not prove anything about the health and safety of commercial cooked diets, commercial raw diets, or homemade cooked or raw diets. You can’t simply assume that making your living from something makes you an amoral person uninterested in scientific evidence or the truth. Veterinary medicine is big business, herbal remedies and supplements are big business, holistic and alternative medicine is big business, and all of the people working in these areas make their living selling advice, services, and products. The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association and its affiliated foundation have scholarships, student clubs, and student representatives at vet schools too, and their money is sued to influence students and veterinarians in favor of alternative medicine, including raw diets, just like that of the pet food makers. Such financial interests do lead to bias, but that holds for all the players in these debates, financial bias is not the only kind of bias, and the whole purpose of scientific research is to get at the truth by compensating for human bias, so simply pointing out the potential for bias doesn’t prove anything.

    2. I’ve answered the claim that vets know nothing about nutrition before. What gets left out of this claim is the fact that whatever limitations on vets’ nutritional training, it is still greater than that of pet owners, so vets are still a useful resource for information. It is also true that alternative vets promoting raw and other alternative diets have no more training and no more intellectual independence than the rest of us. Developing your own theory and looking stuff up on the internet doesn’t make you more of an expert than going to vet school. And there are, actually, degrees and specialty certifications in veterinary nutrition. The American College of Veterinary Nutrition is the recognized organization for veterinary nutrition specialists.

  13. Dori says:

    The digestive system of any living thing is designed to wring nutrients from food and permit the circulatory system to access those nutrients. And, while there are 184 breeds registered by the American Kennel Club ranging in size from the Chihuahua (the smallest) to the Irish Wolf Hound (the tallest), all of them have teeth, jaws, and digestive tracts that function the same.

    A dog’s teeth are designed for tearing and ripping meat and shearing and crushing bone.

    The help them do this, their incisors are short and sharp. Their canines are long and sharp. Blade-shaped molars are sharp and jagged. Their teeth are set in jaws that cannot move from side to side. The jaws of dogs only move only one way-they open up.

    Dogs gulp and swallow their food and do so easily because they have a wide esophagus. Lacking digestive enzymes in their saliva, digestion for them only begins when food enters their stomachs. To ease passage of food into its stomach, a dog has four salivary glands whose function is to get the food wet enough to make swallowing easy.

    The stomachs of dogs are highly acidic, having a pH of 1 to 2, and occupy about 70% of the total capacity of their gastrointestinal tracts. Since meat is easily digested because it lacks fiber, the small intestines in dogs are short–roughly five to six times their body length–and are optimized for protein and fat absorption.

    The acidity of a dog’s stomach is another evolutionary adaptation. When wolves bring down something as large as a moose, it takes a long time for the animal to be consumed. There’s a chance by the time the moose is entirely eaten, its meat is “off.” The acid in the wolves’ stomach prevents the animals from getting sick by killing off the likes of Salmonella.

    Look at the arrangement of mouth, teeth, and gastrointestinal tract of the herbivore, say, that of a cow. The striking difference is because their diet is different–completely different.

    Cattle evolved to handle a diet of grasses and other plants, beginning with their tongues.

    attle wrap their tongues around plants, pulling them up by tearing them up. Cattle lack canines and they do not have incisors on the top of their jaw. Their bottom incisors are flat and jut outwards. Cattle have a tough pad of skin instead of top front teeth. Molars on top and bottom of the jaws are flat for chewing tough plant material. Set closely together, their incisors make for efficient cropping and biting and their upper and lower molars provide surfaces for crushing and grinding.

    Cattle methodically chew their food, pushing the food back and forth onto the surface of their grinding teeth with their tongue and cheek muscles, moving their jaws from side to side. Cattle chew cud, or regurgitated, partially digested food, for up to eight hours each day.

    The small intestine of cattle and other plant-eating animals tends to be very long–greater than 10 times body length–to allow adequate time and space for absorption of the nutrients.

    Unlike the dog’s single stomach, the stomach of cattle are complicated, divided into four separate compartments. Rumen, reticulum, omesum, and abomasums, each playing a different role in the digestive process. The digested food is also passes through the intestines that work similar to the dogs’ intestines.

    There is simply NO getting around the fact that kibble is a fairly recent development–after all prior to the mid-1800s, people fed their pets table scraps and home-prepared meals. And wild canids have been eating meat-based diets for millenniums.

    Feeding your dog bowls of grains, cereals, and vegetable by-products makes as much sense as feeding your cow or goat or sheep or pony buckets of meat.

  14. skeptvet says:

    1. You completely ignore all the evidence that we have selected dogs for many traits that distinguish them from wild canids, including the structure and function of their teeth and GI tract:

    Dogs are not wolves 1
    Dogs are not wolves 2
    BARF diets

    2. You also assume that kibble is not nutritionally appropriate because it doesn’t look to you like what you expect carnivores to be eating. That too ignores the enormous body of research showing the nutritional appropriateness of commercial diets and the fact that our dogs are healthier and longer-lived than any wild carnivores or dogs scavenging human waste, which is how they ate for most of the last 10,000 years.

    3. Finally, you think that what is “natural” must be what is best, which is a fallacy. It may be natural to eat raw bones, but when a feral dog breaks a tooth on a raw bone and gets an infection, it is also natural for them to die, whereas we can both treat and prevent such a problem in our pets.

    None of these theoretical arguments are sufficient to support the claim that raw diets are healthier than commercial diets. They might be, but this needs to be proven through direct clinical research, not just on the basis of these sorts of assumptions, fallacies, and half truths.

  15. Nonya says:

    @ Dori — keep on drinking the Kool-Aid and completely ignoring the established fact that our food supply is seriously contaminated with food-borne pathogens that heating destroys. It is mind-boggling to me that those who feed raw refuse to acknowledge that the periodic GI upsets their animals experience could very well be caused by food-borne pathogens — as though they’ve got some magic bullet that solves those issues . SHM. And, don’t get me started on the nutritional INadequacy of so many of the “recipes” passed around amongst those who pretend they know anything substantive about the nutritional needs of the various life stages of companion animals. Flatly irresponsible IMO.

  16. R says:

    I tried the raw meaty bone thing, ended up at the emergency vet x2, the ground up bone material calcified and caused a blockage. I was lucky, my dog didn’t need surgery. Similar experience with another dog.
    If raw food works for you, great. I know I’ll never try it again.
    Brushing my dogs teeth once a day (see YouTube for how to videos) has provided excellent results, regarding dental care.

  17. Dori says:

    A hypothetical narration about a feral dog breaking a tooth on a raw bone and getting an infection, a [hysterical] response that “our food supply is seriously contaminated with food-borne pathogens…”, an anecdotal report of two dogs getting a blockage from “the raw meaty bone thing” are not deterrents. Sadly for millions of kibble-fed dogs, benefits of raw diets being healthier than commercial diets will not likely be “proven through direct clinical research”–because there’s insufficient financial incentive/benefit. It’s acceptable–even good–that doctors encourage their patients to eat more whole foods and less processed foods; why do so many dog owners tenaciously believe that 100% processed foods are 100% acceptable?

    I fed kibble for decades. I switched to a biologically appropriate diet for my dogs in 2007 (at the advice of my vet). I’m delighted I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid and I’ll keep “drinking the Kool-Aid”; my regret is that I fed kibble for as long as I did.

    Each of us has done our own research. Each of us has thought through the research we’ve done. Each of us has clearly arrived at decisions with which we are comfortable and satisfied about what’s best for our pets.

  18. v.t. says:

    Dori: Sadly for millions of kibble-fed dogs, benefits of raw diets being healthier than commercial diets will not likely be “proven through direct clinical research”–because there’s insufficient financial incentive/benefit.

    Uh-huh. Just like Big Supplement, Big Homeopathy, Big Holistic, Big Quackery. You would think once, just once, someone in those multi-million dollar industries would be so bold as to actually prove their product is superior and earn the trust and respect of the paying consumer.

    Now what was that you were saying?

  19. David Rowland says:

    Dogs breaking teeth on bones and those teeth becoming painful and/or infected is not a hypothetical. Speaking as a veterinarian, I treat many of those every year.

    I’ve seen several dogs do just fine on raw diets. I’ve also seen hundreds live long, happy lives on commercial kibble – including stuff like Alpo, Old Roy, Kibbles & Bits, which I would generally consider the canine equivalent of a McDonald’s diet. None of these observations constitute evidence of anything.

    Dogs do not produce salivary amylase, true. They do, however, produce much higher amounts of pancreatic amylase than wolves. This is so they can digest carbohydrates. Don’t blame me. Blame evolution.

    I do agree that a couple of anecdotes (about blockages or anything) does not constitute evidence for anything, however. Which is why I find it so frustrating trying to talk to folks who believe fully in the power of this or that to make their dog better based on “personal experience.” Conversely, it’s why stopping by this site from time to time seems to have a positive effect on my personal blood pressure.

    But that’s just my personal theory based on limited experience. It’s not a fact.

  20. AJ says:

    I’d like to chime in if I may. I have tried my dog on premium kibble, home cooked diet, commercial prepared home cooked diet, and raw. To be honest, I don’t see a difference in any of them. He is healthy on each one and one diet is not better than the other. He currently is on raw diet now but I’m thinking about putting him on premium kibble again because raw is a pain in my butt.

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  23. Cat says:

    My puppy was on a high end brand of LID kibble. But, from day 1, he had watery diarrhea like poo. Poo was tested several times, no giardia, nothing was found. We tried the digestive aid in a tube from the vet with little help. On top of that, my puppy had very little interest in his kibble. We tried switching to other flavors slowly with the same results. At 5 months old, out of desperation, we tried raw and haven’t looked back since. He now gobbles down his food and is healthy. He goes to the vet only for his annual checkup and he is not fat like many dogs I see. All I want to say is, we are constantly being told to eat fresh food not processed food. So, why are we giving our dogs processed food? I am not here to convince anyone. If kibble works for you dog great. It certainly does not on mine.

  24. skeptvet says:

    As I’ve pointed out before, the concept of “processed food” is quite different in human and veterinary medicine. Foods marketed for taste and visual appeal to people, with no consideration of nutritional content, are not the same as commercial pet foods regulated and designed with nutrition in mind. And, unfortunately, not all the signs of the health effects of food are obvious external ones, so the fact that your dog seems healthy is great, but it doesn’t really tell us if the diet he is on is the best one for him or not. In any case, as you point out such anecdotes don’t help us decide on general principles for feeding, so hopefully one day we will have some real science to evaluate raw diets.

  25. Cat says:

    My boy gets annual blood and urine tests…so far so good. All I have are anecdotes from people I know (i.e. my brother fed his dogs what he eats, his dogs lived to ripe old ages). That is way I feel what works for your dog is the important thing. I do hope there will be a scientific study to compare kibbles vs home cooked vs raw. But, then you have to look at who is funding the study.

  26. skeptvet says:

    you have to look at who is funding the study.

    True. On the other hand, you can’t just ignore data because you are suspicious of the motives of the investigators or funders. And funding bias is just one of many kinds of bias. A true believer in raw feeding is just as biased as a believer in conventional diets, regardless of where they make their money.

  27. Paul says:

    I’ve had great success in moving dogs to raw diets but I am not a fan of raw diets that aren’t formulated to be complete and balanced or have done feeding trials (obviously). I’ve also had great success with dogs that have tummy issues on a LID and adding a fiber supplement to their food as well. Most poop issues are easily fixed with a bit more fiber as long as it is idiopathic. The NRC recommends at least a DM content of about 12% of fiber in their diet for them to be “optimal poopers” and most dry foods don’t get there.

    What I would love is for my raw companies to do a digestibility study on their food but that takes a bunch more money than just feeding trials for complete and balanced.

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  29. Marston Gould says:

    I completely agree with you that raw dog food benefits are based completely on myths and in general can do great harm to dogs. I purchased several different brands and paid to have them tested at a local food testing lab. Everyone one of them came back with one or more active forms of potentially deadly bacteria. I do believe that there are different grades of kibble – just like there are different grades of human food as well. Try living on McDonalds. I have been feeding my dogs food from Champion for some time – in addition to what some might consider a hyper hygienic protocol (brush dogs teeth every other day, make sure to keep ears/eyes/paws/beard/skin clean and soft I have had several large breed dogs live well into their later teens. My old Megan, a chocolate lab was just over 20 when she passed and was healthy until she had a stroke – all on high grade kibble.

  30. Mark says:

    “There is consistent evidence that raw diets are contaminated with potentially harmful bacteria.”

    How many kibble recalls have there been for harmful contamination?

    There’s risk for either.

  31. skeptvet says:

    Yes, there are risks with any food. The issue is balancing risks and benefits. The risk of bacterial contamination is unquestionably higher for raw than cooked food. This is not really controversial. The unanswered question is whether there are any benefits to feeding raw that would make the extra risk worth taking. So far, there is no scientific evidence that these benefits exist.

  32. Jenny says:

    For millennia, yes, humans have barely survived and not thrived. And as our food supply has moved farther from “all-natural,” our lifespans and overall health have increased dramatically.

    We have learned so much invaluable information about which nutrients are most beneficial, about the importance of safe-handling of (especially raw) foodstuffs. There is no doubt in my mind that applying this knowledge to our diet is essential for good health.

    Generally speaking, we know which nutrients and micronutrients we should consume for optimal health, and in what quantities, and we know how best to procure and prepare our food for safety. But as for the “raw” ingredients, aren’t we finding that “natural” is best? That once we’ve applied the basics of food safety, we find that the fruits and vegetables and meats that are most beneficial are those that are closer to nature?

    I’m sure you would agree that our scientific knowledge is not so great that we could thrive by consuming, say, potato starch + whey protein powder + “generic” vegetable oil + all of the vitamins and minerals we require via supplements. We know that we still don’t understand all of the mechanisms of nutrition—think of how recently we identified antioxidants—so we recommend getting those nutrients from “whole food” rather than supplements.

    Couldn’t this be applied to our non-human companions? What if we took the same knowledge that informs pet food manufacturers of optimal and vital nutrients, and applied those to a homemade diet?

    And while certain nutrients are better absorbed when consumed via cooked foods, aren’t certain valuable nutrients destroyed when cooked?

    I also think it’s unwise to compare the benefits of cooked food in humans (who have been cooking for millennia) to our companion animals who have only been eating primarily cooked foods in the past few decades. It’s a rather wild assumption to make at this early stage.

    My overall point being: given what we know and what we don’t know, wouldn’t the optimal diet for cats and dogs be one that is comprised of “high quality” and “close to nature” raw ingredients, supplemented by potentially absent nutrients/micronutrients? And that we can come closest to this optimal diet by procuring and safely storing raw meat (organic, grass-fed, small farms) and vegetables from our supermarkets?

  33. skeptvet says:

    I agree that there is much we don’t know about what is optimal nutrition, not only for dogs or cats as species but for individuals. There is always more to learn, and undoubtedly we will continue to improve our understanding and what we are able to do to preserve health.

    Where I disagree is with your idea that in the face of imperfect knowledge, the best choice is likely to be raw or “close to nature” (a phrase that can mean almost anything anybody wants it to mean. This is a form of bias known as the “appeal to nature fallacy,” and it has proven a false assumption over and over again in the history of human health and nutrition. Nutritional deficiencies have been the predominant nutrition-associated health problem for millennia. Only recently, since we have ensured sufficient calories and micronutrients to the vast majority of people in the developed world, have we started to see problems associated with excess of calories and other kinds of health risks associated with our diet (e.g. trans fats, excess salt, etc). These issues need to be understood and solved, but the answer is not returning to some mythical past where we ate “more naturally,” since that simply returns us to the much worse nutritional problems of the past.

    As for pets, there is no reason, based on extensive understanding of their physiology and decades of nutrition research, to expect raw food to be healthier for them even when it clearly isn’t for humans. The arguments made to support this idea simply don’t hold water.

    What we need is science-based nutrition. Proponents of raw diets make all kinds of strong claims about health benefits, but they never provide any research evidence to support these, and until they do there is no good reason to accept these claims as true or even very likely.

  34. Jenny says:

    First, sincere thanks for you response! This is a fascinating subject and one that is personally very close to my heart as a cat owner.

    I absolutely agree about the “appeal to nature” fallacy and the extremely problematic lack of research into raw/homemade diets.

    I do quibble with the absolute dismissal of “close to nature” in a discussion between reasonable, logical parties—perhaps what I meant was “food sources that have been minimally manipulated by human intervention”: e.g. fresh chicken meat and organs as opposed to “chicken meal”—certainly there’s no clear evidence that the latter offers MORE health benefits, no?

    And I acknowledge that my questions are somewhat tangential in that they are specific and your post is more about the general and vague “raw is better” argument, but what if (assuming that there is no science-based research that indicates superiority of chicken meal over chicken meat + organs) one was to apply the same science-based conclusions about nutrition to a homemade diet? If I prepared a homemade raw diet for my cats and added the same supplements that commercial pet food companies use, using a recipe that produced the same nutritional content (I.e. protein, fat, carbs, vitamins, minerals, in the proper ratios/quantities), and I made no grand statements about purported benefits of my homemade food, would you be satisfied that such a diet was at least nutritionally equivalent to commercial food? Again, it’s a highly specific question, but I’d like to hear your thoughts.

  35. skeptvet says:

    Sure, both raw and cooked homemade diets can be perfectly adequate nutritionally if properly formulated. Whether there is any benefit to these over commercial diets, or whether cooked or raw is better is subject to debate in the absence of much direct evidence, but I’m not suggesting commercial diets are better than an appropriately formulated complete and balanced homemade diet, only that most homemade diets can’t meet the same quality standards because they aren’t formulated by knowledgeable nutritionists and there is no ongoing testing to ensure that changes in ingredients over time doesn’t lead to changes in nutrient composition.

  36. Joe Thevoter says:

    Your arguments are true, but one thing I’ve recently found out is that in Kibble or dry dog foods is that the FDA, & USDA, is that they allow in kibble animals that were either sick or dying. That doesn’t mean just chicken, lamb, beef, turkeys, & all the other animals we consider good groups of nutrition that we would eat. I have recently learned that they also put into kibble, dogs and cats that have been euthanized. Now I can’t imagine anyone who has to make the tough decision to euthanize their pet, is done just because they got tired of a family member, I have had to make the tough decision that my dog or cat is suffering from a disease, and that it’s my duty to end there suffering. After doing so I have cried, but I have put myself in there shoes and felt, they have no quality of life. And I have been told every time I can collect there ashes & have them put into a urn. ( as much as it costs I would do so, but I have also learned by a friend who works at a crematorium, there is no guarantee that I would get my friends ashes back, it could be from some buddies else’s friend) But to find out that someone along the line, the veterinarian or crematorium takes there diseased bodies and puts them back into the food chain and the FDA or the USDA allows that to happen as long as it’s listed as animal by product. Think I’m lying, look it up on the internet. Now I have not been able to find out when this started, but since the 1970’s 50 percent of dogs now die of some form of cancer. So next time you vote for a congressman or senator, find out if they are receiving campaign money from a pet food lobbyist. And if you find out if they are receiving money from the manufacturers of animal food, remind them that we put you in office to represent us, not the billion dollar pet food industry. It was us voters who put them in office, and we the voters can kick them out.

  37. skeptvet says:

    Unfortunately, you are wrong on most of the specific points you make. The claim that euthanized pets are used in pet food is almost certainly false, and diseased animals are not allowed these products. You have been misled by internet myths and conspiracy theories. Here is more information-

    Pet Food Myths
    Nonsense about Commercial Pet Diets

    Reliable Nutrition Resources for Pet Owners
    Dog Food Logic (a great book on pet nutrition)

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  39. Leca says:

    Right, and just how am I going to afford this for my dog when I’m unable to afford it for me and my human family? Should I not have a dog as part of our family “at all” since I’m not able to “come closest to this optimal diet by procuring and safely storing raw meat (organic, grass-fed, small farms) and vegetables from our supermarkets”?

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  42. John Sinclair says:

    Can you tell us more about chronic dehydration in dogs and cats?

    I have read some articles, that recommend wet food or raw food for it’s moisture content (60-78% vs 3-11% in kibble).

    They said that kibble fed cats and dogs are chronically dehydrated, because they were used to get majority of their water intake from food. And even if kibble fed cats or dogs compensate by drinking more water, they still don’t get sufficient water intake.

  43. skeptvet says:

    The claim that eating dry foods os associated with chronic dehydration is not supported by scientific evidence. Certainly, fresh and canned and raw foods all have more moisture than kibble, and that effects other aspects pf nutrition, such as the calorie density of the food, but dogs do not get dehydrated from eating dry foods so long as thy have access to water to drink. Some studies suggest cats may not drink enough water and can benefit from higher-posture foods, but there are also studies showing this is not true, and some find higher rates of urinary tract problems in cats on canned foods, which are very high in moisture, so th issue is much more complicated that the simple idea that more water in the food is better. Here is an article specific to cats on this subject. And here is an article reviewing water needs and regulation of hydration in dogs and cats.

    Specific pets may benefit from higher-moisture diets, but overall, the idea that kibble causes chronic dehydration is a myth.

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