Pet Nutrition: A Plug for Raw Foods© by Natasha Kassell, VMD

(Reprinted with permission from Dr. Kassell)

During veterinary school, I was taught that the most nutritious way to feed dogs and cats was to open a bag of Science Diet, pour it into the bowl and let Fido and Boots have at it.  This did not surprise me.  It was how everyone I knew fed their dogs and cats, myself included.  I did not question why it was the best way.  I merely accepted that it was.

I have since learned that eating a diet based on fresh, whole, organic foods is just as important for your dogs and cats (and guinea pigs and rabbits) as it is for you.  For guinea pigs and rabbits that means lots of fresh fruits and veggies.  For dogs and cats it means a diet based on raw, meaty bones.

“Why raw meaty bones?” you might ask.

Because that’s what dogs and cats would eat in the wild.  The entire carcass of the prey: muscle, organs and lots of raw, meaty bones.

Why feed raw as opposed to cooked? 

Many holistic veterinarians are of the opinion that feeding raw foods increases the general health of our patients and may help prevent disorders ranging from dermatitis to autoimmune diseases to cancer.  Raw meat, bones and organs contain proteins and fats in their natural forms, as well as vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other nutrients that are not found in cooked foods––especially if they’re cooked at the extremely high temperatures that dry and canned pet foods are cooked.

Isn’t it dangerous to feed dogs and cats bones? 

We all know never to feed our pets cooked chicken bones.  Raw bones have a completely different property.  They do not splinter into dangerous shards the way cooked bones do.

Won’t my dog or cat get sick from bacteria in the meat?

While this is a possibility, I have not seen it happen.  Dogs and cats digest bacteria, including E. coli and Salmonella, more effectively than humans.  Most holistic vets feel that the health benefits of feeding a raw diet outweigh the risks of our pets getting sick from the food.  Toxoplasmosis is one food-born disease that I have seen, and though it was only once, it does concern me.  The good news is that freezing meat for 72 kills Toxoplasmosis.

How do I feed my dog or cat a raw diet? 

There are two options.  The first is to prepare the food yourself using chicken or turkey necks and backs, some organ and muscle meat, and a bit of pulverized vegetables to simulate the material found in the prey’s gut.  It’s important to get the ratios right.  For dogs, there’s an excellent little book that outlines how to feed a balanced raw, meaty bone-based diet called Raw Dog Food: Make It Easy for You and Your Dog, by Carina Beth McDonald.  Some of the other titles on my shelf are Dr. Ian Billinghurst’s Give Your Dog a Bone and The BARF Diet: Raw Feeding for Dogs and Cats Using Evolutionary Principles.  (BARF is a less than charming acronym for “biologically available raw foods”.)  These books are available locally through the Big Blue Marble Bookstore and can also be found on Amazon.com.

For cats and small dogs, this diet works best if you grind the bones or find someone to grind them for you.  Or you can purchase the food.  This is exciting news.  Complete, frozen, raw meaty bone-based diets are now available from health food stores, some veterinary offices and pet stores, including Weavers Way Pet Store and The Bone Appetite in Chestnut Hill.  Some of the many high quality brands are Steve’s, Bravo! and Nature’s Variety.  Weavers Way and Bone Appetite both carry an excellent brand called Primal.

For dogs, another option is to purchase foods through a company called Top Quality Dog Food.  I’ve recently learned of this company.  I’m excited about it as a) the meats do look to be of excellent quality, b) price-wise, they’re more affordable than other raw meaty bone-based diets, and c) the company is relatively local (based in Maryland), and their meats come from relatively local sources.  To check out their products and place an order, google TopQualityDogFood.com.

No matter where you get your food, the most important thing is to feed your pets as Mother Nature intended, using as many fresh, whole and raw ingredients as possible.  The payoff will be a friskier Fido, a bouncier Boots and fewer visits to the vet for all of you.