Along with recalls of wet and dry pet foods earlier this year, two raw meat diets were also recalled. Wild Kitty recalled four flavors of its raw cat food (chicken, turkey, duck, and tuna), and Bravo! recently recalled three lots of chicken and turkey pet food. Routine testing found Salmonella in the Wild Kitty foods, and both Salmonella and Listeria in the Bravo! foods.
Let’s look at this issue in more detail. First, we should remember that the recalled raw foods are vastly outnumbered by the hundreds of canned and dry foods that sickened or killed tens of thousands of dogs and cats. How many animals got sick from the raw foods? Zero. On the other hand, the benefits of a raw meat diet are many. Skin, ear, digestive, allergic and immune-related diseases usually improve on a good quality, balanced raw diet. Weight issues will also improve, since a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet is what dogs and cats should be eating—not heavily processed, high-carb kibble containing synthetic chemical ingredients that pack on the pounds. Obesity itself contributes to many serious and even painful diseases such as diabetes and arthritis.
But there are always two sides to any story, and raw food has its potential drawbacks as well as benefits. Bacterial contamination and lack of balance are the ones most frequently invoked by veterinarians to prevent pet guardians from trying a raw diet. Let’s talk about bacterial contamination first.
The bacteria Salmonella is the most commonly cited danger from feeding raw meat. However, even though this bacterium is a common contaminant of meat, eggs, and soil, it is not a significant threat to dogs and cats, due to the carnivore’s shorter gastrointestinal tract and faster transit time (compared to humans). Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warnings typically emphasize the risks to frail people like infants, the elderly, and immune-compromised people (e.g., those with autoimmune diseases such as Lupus, or those on immune-suppressing drugs like steroids or chemotherapy).
However, according to experts—including the FDA—Salmonella does not pose any real threat to healthy animals. In fact, it’s estimated that 30% of normal healthy dogs and 18% of healthy cats (virtually all of whom eat processed commercial pet food) are already carriers. One study showed that, even when 80% of meat samples were positive for Salmonella, 70% of dogs eating that meat tested negative, and none got sick. The vast majority of human cases are completely unrelated to dogs and cats. It is prudent, however, to avoid feeding pets non-organic raw ground beef, due to severe contamination problems in the meat packing industry.
Listeria is another common environmental bacteria. The vast majority of Listeria cases in people come from processed foods, like hot dogs, cold cuts, cheese, and raw vegetables. It is a fairly rare disease, since healthy people (and pets) are resistant and don’t usually become ill from this bug.
Common sense says that handling raw meat diets for pets is no different from buying raw meat at the grocery store to make hamburgers for your family. By always following safe meat-handling procedures with all raw animal products, you’ll virtually eliminate the risk of illness for your pet and your family.
Lack of balance is another concern cited by those who are against raw feeding. While it is not difficult to make your pet’s food at home, it does involve education and commitment. For instance, plain meat is not a balanced diet, and can cause serious health problems. There’s also something called “diet drift”—you might run out of a supplement and forget to buy more, and after a while, the diet really does go out of whack.
Even without making meals from scratch, there are easy ways to make sure your pet’s diet is always fresh and balanced!
1. Pre-made raw meat diets. Only Natural is proud to offer more than a dozen raw meat diets for dogs and cats! There are both frozen and dehydrated diets that are easy to use, and great for your pet. Nature’s Variety, Raw Advantage, Primal Pet Foods, and Northwest Naturals, and FarMore are the high-quality brands you can find here.
2. Complete supplements for raw meat. These products are easy to use; all you do is add fresh meat. There come fresh, freeze-dried and dehydrated; and with grains or without. Only Natural carries many excellent products from Sojourner’s Farm (“Sojo’s” to many), Honest Kitchen, and Dr. Harvey’s. They’ll save you time and effort, yet still allow you to control the quality of the most important ingredient, meat. Wysong’s Call of The Wild supplement is also available for balancing raw meat diets.
Raw diets aren’t for every pet. Animals with Inflammatory Bowel Disease and those taking immune-suppressing drugs should not be fed raw meat until the system has time to heal. You can cook raw meat or even raw complete diets without losing essential nutrients. As your pet’s health improves, cook the meat less and less until your pet is ready to transition to raw.
Many raw recipes and diets are grain-free, but some dogs seem to do better with some grain. Cats typically do better without grains. Either choose a food that contains grain, or add a little cooked rice, couscous, or oatmeal. Food-allergic animals should avoid wheat and corn; animals with suspected gluten intolerance should avoid barley, rye, oats, and wheat. Experiment with alternative grains like amaranth, buckwheat, millet, spelt, quinoa and teff.
If you haven’t fed your pet raw meat or “people” food before (or it’s been a long time since you did), be sure to make all dietary changes slowly and cautiously. The whole digestive system has to restructure itself to digest the new food properly. To ease the transition, extra digestive enzymes and probiotics are helpful. Of course, these supplements are beneficial for all pets, no matter what they eat! Only Natural carries a wide variety of probiotics, enzymes, and combination products for you to choose from. To name just a few:
Even if you don’t want to feed a raw diet full-time, adding a little fresh meat to your pet’s regular diet a few times a week, or feeding part raw and part regular commercial food, will go a long way toward better health for your pet.