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Raw Food vs Commercial Diets

The Real Story

By Vet Jane Nichols

Dr Nick Cave, head of Companion Animal Nutrition at Massey University, states that there is currently insufficient scientific evidence to support the claim that raw food is better for pets than commercial biscuits and canned foods.

As vets, our prime concern is our patients’ welfare and we recommend a balanced diet that includes all the nutrients the pet needs for its age and lifestyle. The raw food trend has been extrapolated from the human market where vegetables, fruit and unprocessed foods in their natural state are healthier for us. So the public assumes that this must apply to all those packages of cat and dog food biscuits that we see on the shelf. After all, dogs and cats eat raw food in the wild don’t they?

Ninety per cent of home-prepared diets on the internet are nutritionally incomplete.

Raw meat is not a balanced food – it is deficient in some vitamins and many minerals. In the wild, the hunter will often consume the whole animal.

Raw poultry in NZ may be contaminated with campylobacter bacteria. You are then at risk as you have to handle the food and litter trays. Possum meat is popular, but these animals can carry tuberculosis and leptospirosis.

As well as bacteria, there are parasites in raw sheep meat that affect dogs. Regular worming of your dog is not enough as a single tapeworm sheds thousands of eggs in the faeces. This increase in parasite occurrence could open the door for hydatid disease to recur which can be passed to humans.

A healthy gut has a stable and varied bacterial population. A healthy diet with the right amount of fibre results in less gastro-intestinal disease. A raw food diet contains little fibre.

Dental health can suffer on raw diets as they are soft and lead to a quicker buildup of tartar. This leads to gum disease and potential diseases of the heart and kidneys. Additional dental chews and homecare are needed on such diets.

There are no reported cases of reactions to food additives in commercial pet foods. Gluten allergies are very rare in cats and dogs. So grain or gluten-free is just a marketing ploy with no scientific evidence behind it!

For those pet owners still wanting to feed a raw diet, the brands Ziwipeak or   Canine Natural are recommended. Avoid feeding raw chicken. Raw sheep meat should be frozen first, then defrosted thoroughly before feeding.

We sell many good quality dry and canned pet foods in our clinics. Our staff can advise you on the most appropriate diet for the age and breed of your pet.

A nutrition service is run at Massy University if you are concerned that your home prepared diets are not balanced. They can advise you accordingly.