A feisty debate currently rages over the benefits of feeding pets a diet of raw foods versus processed pet food with some pretty fierce opinions on either side. StyleTails finds out what all the fuss is about.
Being the health conscious, tofu-munching lot we are these days (well, apart from weekends when we return to a cheese and wine diet), us humans have long understood the benefits of raw versus processed foods when it comes to radiant skin, slim waistlines and disease fighting ammunition. This trend has not been lost on our four legged friends either. The raw food movement has been growing in popularity in the US for some years and is now gathering pace in the UK. Raw prey is after all what primitive cats and dogs would have dined on and supporters claim it can deliver huge health benefits from better digestion to improved temperament. It’s not quite that simple though. It is still widely held that part of the reason domestic cats and dogs live so much longer today than their ancestors is due to the nutrients provided through commercial pet foods.
Raw Food – Why Now?
In the way that we might have been happy simply microwaving a ready meal for ourselves to scoff in front of the telly, we were also content to cracked open a tin of wet food or dry biscuits for our pets and job done. Not any more. Zaila Dunbar from Queens Park Vets explains. “People are certainly more aware of what they eat and as pets are increasingly treated as family members, owners are looking more closely at what they feed them. This is becoming more improtant to many people than cost or convenience,” she says.
Processed Pet Foods – What’s the Deal?
Questions over the suitability of processed foods stems predominantly from an evolutionary point of view. “I do suspect that we are generally feeding foods with too high a proportion of grains and carbohydrates that is out of keeping with the way animal’s digestive systems have evolved, especially for cats,” says Zaila. She does however go on to say that many good quality pet food companies have recognised this and are now tweaking their recipes accordingly.
Anna Webb, dog expert and co-host of BBC London’s Barking at the Moon is a fervent believer that processed food has a detrimental effect on pet’s health. “Food that has been cooked or processed has much fewer or none of the nutrients that dogs need to keep them healthy,” she says. “Dry food is essentially pure carbohydrates which turn to fat quickly – hence why so many pets are overweight. Also, contrary to popular belief dry food doesn’t clean teeth, it rots them,” she goes on.
Despite this, there is still a commonly held belief by the veterinary fraternity that processed foods are part of the reason for our pet’s current longevity. Harvey Locke, Past President of the British Veterinary Association explains. “Domesticated dogs and cats are not living in the environment or with the lifestyle of their more wild ancestors. Commercially prepared pet foods have been scientifically formulated to contain the optimum balance of essential dietary nutrients for each species and the specialised dietary needs of animals with a range of illnesses,” he says.
Raw Food – What’s the deal?
One vet who actively promotes natural nutrition, along with other holistic approaches to pet care is Nick Thompson, founder of Holisticvet in Bath. “My experience and the experience of thousands of vets, much to their surprise, is that raw food actually cures diseases that we would otherwise have to use drugs. Raw diets are evolutionarily appropriate, unlike the high carb factory foods” he says.
The raw food diet also has some seriously strong support from pet owners who’ve seen the dramatic benefits first-hand. Anna Webb swears by it. “Feeding a raw diet for Molly, my Miniature Bull Terrier just made perfect sense from the moment she arrived at seven weeks old. She’s ten now and some people think she’s four,” she says. Although raw green tripe might turn your stomach, Molly loves it and Anna believes it provides major health benefits. “It contains acids that clean the teeth, plus omegas and probiotics. I also like to add grated carrot, blueberries and pureed pumpkin, which ensures her vitamin C and minerals are boosted,” she says.
Janene Zakrajsek, owner of innovative Los Angeles pet store Pussy & Pooch is also a believer. “We were looking for a change in diet for our elderly dog Cosmo for help with breath and gas,” she says. After seeing the benefits first hand they decided incorporate a raw food bar into their Downtown LA pet boutique where pets can feast on raw meaty treats. “We truly believe fresh is best and that raw diets or diets supplemented with raw can provide the greatest improvement in animals health and behaviour. Raw fed pets have amazing skin and coat, increased vitality, improved temperament, better digestion and healthier teeth and gums,” she says.
So why isn’t everybody doing it?
Despite the current chorus of popularity for the raw diet, there is still lack of research into it’s benefits. “Unfortunately, the BARF (raw meaty bones) diet makes claims that have no scientific backing whatsoever such as curing ear and skin problems for life without giving any references of scientific studies to back up these claims” says Harvey Locke of the BVA. “By only providing raw foods, you may not be feeding a diet which is balanced for the nutritional requirements of a particular breed, age or size of dog. There is also the risk that uncooked diets may carry infection with pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella or Campylobacter,” he goes on. Nick however disagrees. “Few people stand to gain from studies on raw food as anyone can do it. The factory food companies stand to earn billions and still do poor studies with low numbers,” he says.
Where does this leave owners?
There is certainly evolutionary common sense behind the raw approach as well as thousands of success stories from owners who’ve seen a dramatic improvement in their pets health. “As far as I’m concerned a well balanced raw food diet makes a lot of sense for animals as it’s much more similar to their natural feeding habits. However to do this, you need to use the right balance of recipes to achieve the optimum balance of requisite nutrients,” says Zaila. Nick’s advice for those thinking of going raw? “Absolutely do it, but speak to a vet or someone who’s done it. Nutrition is not difficult if you provide a mineral and vitamin supplement and keep the variety going,” he says.
Do you feed your pet on raw food?
Have you seen any changes in their health and wellbeing?
Tell us about your experiences…………..