Welcome to the first post of our PET NUTRITION series!
We know how overwhelming it can be walking into the pet store and being faced with shelf upon shelf of different pet foods to choose from. You want the best for your furry family members and hopefully this series of blog posts will help you decide just how to do that. Throughout the series we will look at a number of important topics such as ingredients, food safety, commercial diets, and raw or home cooked foods. We will also derail some common myths along the way to better equip you with the tools to make informed decisions when it comes to diet and nutrition for your pet.
Note: We will be focusing on the nutrition of young, healthy pets. There are many medical conditions that can change the recommended diet drastically. This is something best discussed with your vet as recommendations will vary on a case to case basis.
Week #1: Raw and BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food or Bones and Raw Food) based Diets
We don’t mean to start out with the negative, but we get a lot of questions about these diets. We feel it is best to provide you with our professional opinion right from the start. We do not recommend feeding your pet raw meat in any form. We find this to be a risky food option and here are some reasons why…
The risk of bacterial and parasitic infection is the absolute #1 reason we can’t recommend feeding raw meat. Although it is true that many animals survive on raw meat in the wild, our pets are not living in the bush, they are with us in our homes. The risk here is that raw meat contains harmful bacteria and parasites that could transfer to your pet, and then to you. This is especially true for small children or any family member with a weakened immune system. The fact is, humans started cooking meat for a reason- why would we not apply the same principles when feeding our pets? It is simply a safer option. Why risk infection and disease when we can avoid it.
Contrary to popular belief, freezing the raw meat does not kill the bacteria. All that it does is slow down the multiplication of what is already there. It does not eliminate bacteria that existed before the meat went into the freezer.
Raw Food Myth #1: Dog’s stomachs have a lower (more acidic) pH than humans. Supposedly this kills off potential bacteria that could be harmful to a human stomach.
This is not true; dog’s stomachs sit at a pH of approximately 2.5 – the same as ours!
When looking at raw food diets another question to consider is, are the diets nutritionally balanced? It is difficult to answer this question with a simple yes or no since there are so many different kinds of raw food diets. Generally speaking, it is difficult to achieve the correct balance of vitamins and minerals that will serve your pet best. The pre-portioned diets that are purchased as patties or frozen pucks may be more nutritionally sound but it completely depends on the manufacturer. On the other hand the home-made versions are very difficult to do correctly and take a lot of time to prepare. They usually require additional vitamin/mineral mixes to achieve that proper nutritional balance that your pet needs.
As a pet owner, the thing to look for on food labels are that the food has been formulated to meet the AAFCO standards. AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) have studied extensively over the last few decades the ideal nutrient balance your pet needs. All foods should be “formulated to meet” the AAFCO standards – this just means that they add nutrients to the batch mixture that should match up to what AAFCO set as the minimum requirements. Some pet food companies go one step further and actually perform feed trials themselves to ensure that their foods are providing exactly what it says on the label.
Raw Food Myth #2: My dog just LOVES his raw food diet – it must be good for him and be providing all the nutrients he needs!
Not true – I love chocolate bars and my husband loves Big Macs – delicious, but not good for us!
We are often asked, “is it ok to feed dogs real bones.”
Although the BARF based diets encourage the feeding of bones along with the meat, we do not recommend this. There is a very real risk of damage to the gastrointestinal tract. Real bones do not digest in a dog’s stomach. They stay sharp, which could perforate or irritate the dog’s esophagus, stomach lining, or intestine. If dogs eat large bones whole they can get stuck in the intestine or stomach and your vet may have to go in and perform surgery to remove them. In our opinion, it’s just not worth the risk (or expense – foreign body surgery is not cheap!).
Another thing we often hear is, “Raw and BARF diets are based on the dog’s ancestor – the wolf – shouldn’t this be ok for my dog as well? “
The simple answer is No. The evolutionary split between wolves and dogs happened thousands of years ago. Their intestinal tracts have changed as well as their role in our lives. Wolves survive on what they can. But we bring dogs into our families and promise to care for them the best we can. Wolves live with parasites their whole lives, they experience disease and infection and if they have eaten something they shouldn’t have, there is no one around to rush them to surgery, or give them treatment. They generally have a much shorter life span than our domestic dogs. We want to keep our dogs around as long as possible which means keeping them free of infections and making sure they get a balanced diet throughout their lives.
Some proponents of raw food try to site the fact that, as veterinarians, we are so busy learning medical conditions and surgical procedures that we get very little schooling in nutrition.
Although this is actually a fairly accurate statement, Dr. Horgan Smith has a genuine interest in nutrition and has studied it extensively. If you have questions about your pet’s diet and would like to discuss the specifics, we would be happy to book you a nutrition consult here at Goldenvale.
Overall, It is our goal to ensure the health and happiness of all pets. This truly does begin with a balanced diet. We hope that this post gave you some insight on the ins and outs of choosing a food for your pet. Thank you for reading our blog and check in next week where we will be taking a look at commercial pet foods.