Emma the Vet

Passionate about animal welfare

The raw food debate

Dogs are not wolves

On Facebook I recently shared a video from a programme by friend is involved with. They had looked at whether feeding raw foods to pets had any issues. The share sparked quite a bit of discussion on my page and I don’t have time to go through and answer every single question so I thought I’d write a little bit about it here to clarify my position. I’m not intending to enter into a debate about it. The people with opposite views are plenty and we will never see eye to eye I imagine. If you want to berate me or disagree that’s fine, just do it on your own pages!

Many of the proponents of raw feeding say it is because it’s more natural and it’s what dogs would eat in the wild. There are many problems with this. Here are my thoughts on the subject in general;

Dogs are far removed from wolves and evolved alongside man eating our scraps. There are peer-reviewed studies that show that dogs have genes for digesting carbohydrates that wolves do not have. Wolves can digest carbohydrates but dogs have genetic changes that show they can thrive on carbohydrate-rich diets.

It is very difficult to balance a diet properly, especially for growing puppies that have very specific needs for certain fatty acids for brain and retina development and specific levels of calcium and phosphorous to help prevent growth and joint problems.

Many people supplement raw diets or home-made diets with human vitamin and mineral tablets. Human vitamin tablets, especially in Northern Europe have high levels of vitamin D because of the lack of sunlight. This can cause big problems for animals, especially growing ones, because of the effect it has on calcium balance.

We are starting to see increasing cases of vitamin deficiencies in dogs fed grain free diets. Grains are an excellent source of fibre and vitamins and they help promote healthy gut bacteria through the production of short chain fatty acids. The incidence of true grain intolerance is extremely low in dogs.

Food intake is all linked to calorie requirements. Wolves need to eat around 3-4 times more than domestic dogs every day. They are consuming much higher volumes of the vitamins and minerals in their natural diet so their overall intake is adequate. If you feed a dog like a wolf you will either kill it through morbid obesity or you are at real risk of malnourishing it for some essential nutrients.

Raw foods pose a significant public health risk. Meats for human consumption (which are also used in the making of cooked/processed pet foods) have a relatively high level of bacteria like campylobacter and salmonella. These levels are tolerated by the food industry because it is accepted that the food will be cooked prior to consumption. Even if you exercise good food hygiene you will not stop these bacteria being consumed and then shed into the environment. Even if your own animal doesn’t become ill you are posing a threat to other animals and also children, the elderly and immuo-compromised humans.

Many people say vets like me only recommend cooked pet foods because we make money. This is offensive and it makes my blood boil. I recommend for my clients’ animals what I do for my own. They are vaccinated, treated effectively for parasites and fed premium pet foods. I can assure you that the vets and companies jumping on the bandwagon of raw feeding are not doing it for free.

Yes, there are occasional issues with pet foods and product recalls. This is because they have to meet extremely exacting controls and monitoring so they can identify issues and respond quickly.

Pet foods that comply with the proper standards are balanced for the lifestage of the animal after years of research into what those needs are. Medical diets, in some diseases, are the only means of increasing longevity. Scientific fact.

Of course you may want to tell me that your own dog has thrived on raw food. That’s great but a) we know that some dogs all over the world can survive on appalling diets and b) it’s anecdote. In reply I can tell you anecdotally that I have seen categorical unnecessary suffering in some animals fed raw meat and bones and I’ve seen thousands of dogs and cats in practice thrive on commercial foods.

For me, saying we should feed dogs raw meat and bones because they descended from wolves is like me saying I’ll feed it to my kids because that’s what cavemen did. It’s nonsense. I will continue to feed my animals pet food and I will continue to recommend it to friends, family and clients. You are all very welcome to make up your own minds but please refrain from telling me I am uneducated or corrupt. My job for the last seven years has been medical nutrition so I tend to keep up to date with science not internet hearsay. I hope this helps explain my position

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