June is Raw Food Month at Healthy Pets Northwest, and so I’ve been commissioned to write about the benefits of a raw diet for your animal, and to share the experiences of feeding our dogs raw.
I should say outright that, here at Healthy Pets Northwest, we will always tout the benefits of going raw. Our fridges and shelves are stocked with an array of raw items, such as dehydrated treats, freeze-dried and frozen foods, meaty bones, and fermented goat’s milk. However, while we believe in the raw diet, we don’t judge pet parents who are doing the best they can within budget and time constraints.
There are a lot of reasons we advocate raw. For one, if you think about pet diets, it’s only recently that kibble has become a standard meal for cats and dogs. Before, dogs and cats might have eaten table scraps and leftovers (as they still do in many parts of the world!), and often they would have hunted for small prey. Cats in particular are much closer to their evolutionary forebears in terms of diet; there’s a reason there are so many anecdotes about cats dropping off “gifts” for their owners.
And, really, I’ve always been confused about some of the logic as to why kibble is considered the nutritional default. For example, cats are obligate carnivores. It is a necessity that their diet consists mainly of meat. Cats also need more moisture from their food because their tongue is literally not made for lapping up water - it doesn’t cup liquid like a dog’s tongue does, and thus dry food doesn’t provide the needed moisture. This is why a lot of cats, especially males, have so many urinary tract issues. Finally, the idea that dry food is good for a cat’s teeth because they have to chew it also does not make sense to me. Here’s why: carbs are the quickest to go in the digestive process, and as the saliva breaks down the kibble in the mouth, the sugary bits can coat the teeth and in fact cause more dental problems later.
(Quick side note: for those who want to avoid many of these problems, but can’t afford or are skeptical of going raw, here are some solutions: try mixing warm water, bone broth without sodium, pumpkin, or other liquids into kibble to give more moisture, protein, or whatever nutritional content you feel your cat is lacking. Additionally, many brands are coming out with foods with smaller kibble sizes to avoid allowing carbs to build up in the mouth from too much chewing.)
For dogs, although their systems can handle more variety than cats, the reasoning is much the same. Kibble often lacks the nutrition that dogs need, can contain a lot of fillers, and there have been quite a few controversies in recent years regarding even the best kibbles (Healthy Pets Northwest does our best to stay on top of these issues and maintain a quality stock of products). Many customers will remember a popular brand covering up pentobarbital in its red meat kibble, while another brand was recently under fire for bad meat illegally making its way into their food via a third-party vendor. While there is a large cry on the internet about the danger of raw foods, the reality is that the pet industry as a whole has a lot of problems with regulations, transparency, and quality control.
So far I’m throwing a lot of negativity at you, but, because we’re celebrating the raw diet here, of course there are many good things to say.
The raw diet, if done right, can do amazing things for pets’ health. A higher protein content can cure those cravings, make a more active animal, and provide some of those lovely aesthetic benefits such as a silkier coat and better breath. Furthermore, if your pet has problems with yeast infections, food allergies, or UTI's, many raw foods provide complex and complete meals without a lot of the filler and with the moisture needed. Many of the foods we carry in store have high certifications in areas like food quality, sustainability, and treating animals humanely. Finally, raw food makers often use novel proteins such as quail, rabbit, or bison - perfect for the pet with a lot of allergies.
We’ve seen a huge difference in our own dogs when we switched them from kibble to raw. They stopped counter-surfing or digging through the trash - we could leave food out for a bit if we needed, without risk that it would go down the gullet of an enterprising pooch. One of my dogs, who can’t eat chicken in kibble (except for that of the brand Open Farms, which does really good work in the pet food industry) is able to eat chicken from our raw brands without getting hot spots. They really do have softer fur, smaller and less pungent stools, and more energy. My little gremlin in particular has retained her energy, even as her muzzle has been turning white.
It’s amazing seeing such a difference with the change in diet, especially in regards to the counter-surfing behavior. And, indeed, whenever I hear about a cat or dog who eats random things like toilet paper rolls or pokes through the garbage, that’s always a huge sign that something isn’t right in their nutritional content. If you find your animal doing these things, consider examining their diet, whatever it is, and trying out something new.
If you’re interested in making raw food yourself, there are many recommendations online for recipes. Whole Dog Journal and felinenutrition.org have good pieces on the raw diet, with information for feeding it to puppies and kittens, and transitioning pets from kibble or canned to raw. It’s good stuff.
Of course, we’d also love to sell you the food we have in the store. If you’re like me at all, which is constantly exhausted and short on time, I’d definitely consider checking out some of our brands (click here for a list). Our foods take into account the percentage needed of protein, fat, and bones, and many include mindful fruits and vegetables for added nutrition, and to target specific health problems. Raw treats can be very persuasive indeed, especially with dogs. Again, because cats may be a bit more difficult, I’d recommend checking out some of the articles on felinenutrition.org. Raw meaty bones can be good for the dental aspect as well as strengthening important muscles - we at Healthy Pets Northwest have our preferences for which bones are best, and which are safest. I would recommend asking one of our sales associates the next time you stop in.
As to some of the common concerns floating around the internet, I’ll confess, I don’t get the logic of some of them. One is the bevy of articles about feeding raw food being dangerous for households. I understand the concern, but feeding your pets raw is really no different than preparing a hamburger or chicken from scratch. Sanitize surfaces, and wash your hands. But, what is more, our brands in store either test for pathogens in every batch they produce, or they have an additional kill-step built into the process. Many of our brands are produced in human-grade facilities, contain hormone-free meat, and are actually cleaner than a lot of meat you’ll find in supermarkets. When there have been problems, we’ve been notified right away and been able to recall the contaminated products. And, finally, the reality is that cats and dogs have evolved to handle certain kinds of bacteria better. E. coli? Less of a threat to their shorter and more acidic digestive tracts. For immunocompromised animals, of course check with your veterinarian, but I hope I’ve assuaged some fears.
All in all, I am a huge believer in feeding pets raw. Even adding some raw elements can be really good for your pet’s health - so think about making those first steps.
We’d love to hear from you! What have been your experiences feeding raw? Do you prefer to make it yourself, or buy premade food?