August is also known as Rawgust in the raw pet food community. Raw food for pets has been a multi-million dollar industry since the late ’90s. It has been somewhat controversial, especially with veterinarians, but has been more widely accepted and preferred lately as the healthiest alternative way to feed our pets. Read on to decide if it’s right for your pet.
History of Pet Food
Really, dogs and cats have been eating raw food since their existence, when they weren’t as domesticated, which started in the mid-1800s. They mostly ate bread, raw meat and table scraps. Kibble and highly processed pet food were only invented about 100 years ago, driven by the desire for convenience. In 1922, KenL-Ration developed the first canned dog food, made of horse meat. In 1956 the first dry food was produced by Ralston-Purina. The amount of processing that goes into kibble and canned food is a lengthy topic, best saved for another blog, but to familiarize yourself with the topic, and the serious health implications of processed commercial pet food, please watch the documentary “Pet fooled”. Since I’ve been pet sitting, researching canine nutrition and feeding raw diets since the mid ’90s, I believe kibble to be a major factor in the significant rise in cancer in our pets. I call it “cancer in a bag”.
What is Raw Food?
Raw food was popularized in 1993 by veterinarian Dr. Ian Billinghurst’s book ” Give Your Dog A Bone” (which I highly recommend, and it gave me my start on the raw food journey). He found as a veterinarian, more and more dogs were getting sicker and sicker being fed a commercial diet. So he decided to experiment on his own dogs, feeding them a “new” diet, but really it was the old, original way of feeding….raw meat, bones, and household scraps. These dogs were more healthy and had much less disease. He literally wrote the book on the topic and started a revolution of sorts. He coined the diet “BARF” diet…Bones And Raw Food, and later it came to be known as Biologically Appropriate Raw Food diet. Back in the ’90s, people would buy the meat, bones and veggies and make their own diets for dogs, using Billinghurst’s recipes. Later in the ’90s more enterprising pet food companies started creating raw food diets that could be frozen in nuggets, patties or chubs, and were sold at some higher-end boutique pet shops. Now, you can find these diets in almost any pet store, even big-box retailers. The convenience of frozen food is still there, plus the pets are getting proper nutrition, and customers love it.
Cooked Food Is Not As Great
The only time Dr. Billinghurst would recommend cooking pets’ food is if the owner didn’t or wouldn’t feed raw, or if the pet does better with cooked food due to age, or if the only food available is contaminated with parasites such as tapeworms. Cooking kills many of the important enzymes and nutrients. He feels with immune-compromised pets, raw food speeds the return to a more normally functioning immune system.
The Disagreements on Raw Feeding
Many vets (who are typically not educated on pet diets in vet school) do not agree with raw feeding. They feel that it can carry parasites or bacteria. For this reason, they suggest anyone with a compromised immune system in the house, like children or the elderly, should not be around or handle a raw food diet. Other vets, who are open to the idea of BARF diets think that dogs who are very old, weak with chronic illness, have severe bouts of pancreatitis or bowel problems should have cooked food instead of raw.
Transitioning to Raw
If you want to give raw food a try, most suggest doing it gradually, like any other food change in the past. Follow instructions on the label, maker or from the retailer. Sometimes pets take to it right away, sometimes not. Give your pet a good three months for a fair trial to see if there are behavioral/health changes for the better. Yes, raw food is typically more expensive than commercial dry or canned, but you will save money over the long term in vet bills.
True holistic pet care takes each animal into consideration. Raw food might not be for everyone, but I feel it’s been the best diet for my dogs, who have lived to be very old with very few health issues.
For local raw food retailers in our area, I recommend Tigertail Foods in Encinitas, Pupologie in Encinitas or Pet Nutrition Center in Carlsbad. All staff at these shops are very knowledgeable and helpful. Tell them I sent you and best of luck on your raw food journey!