Close your eyes and imagine you are on the savannah. You can feel the heat and the soft sand and dirt under your feet. The trees are full and green. Several hundred yards away you see an antelope leisurely drink from the local oasis. Hiding behind a tree you see a cheetah focusing in on the antelope and you know in seconds that this majestic creature will be the great hunter’s meal.
It can certainly be upsetting to think of the violence that exists in nature but the point of this story is that that large relative of your household feline just ate REAL meat. They weren’t served a bowl of dry kibble. This diet is its natural diet and believe it or not your domesticated feline is craving the same!
Finally, the most controversial diet out there. This raw food diet features raw meat, organs and bone. There are options both for buying premade diets as well as making your own that follow various models.
In a survey of 110 participants 2.3% feed their companion a raw diet. Keep in mind this can include owners that feed home raw meals in addition to another type of pet food (i.e. freeze dried, dry etc.) The most popular reason owners choose to feed their companion a raw diet includes recommendations made by breeders, pet store recommendations and ingredients involved. Other reasons include veterinarians and personal research.
Out of the total participants 27.1% believed this diet was good for their pet. Of those that explained the most popular reason why this diet was good was that it was the most natural for their companion. Other reasons included there is no artificial ingredients or preservatives and that it was not processed. Furthermore, it was better for weight management, ill companions and especially cats. On the other hand, 25.2% of participants believed this diet was not good for their companion. Of those that explained their answer participants said it was not good mainly because of bacteria contamination concerns. Other reasons include cost and time concerns as well balancing the diet properly. Finally, 46.6% of participants were unsure if a raw diet was good or not. Reasons included that is was good for cats who are carnivores but for dogs it depends on the ingredients because there are some ingredients dogs can’t eat. Other reasons included that it was ok only if it was just fruits and veggies but not commercially bought meat. Most people were just unsure entirely.
This diet is best explained by addressing several myths surrounding this type of food.
Myth #1 What about Salmonella and other bacteria?
Cats and dogs actually have shorter digestive tracts (1) with a much more acidic hydrochloric acid stomach content than humans (2) so although our companions can contract these bacteria it is rare. In most cases bacteria is destroyed by the stomach acid. Some further worry about shedding in the feces of their companions. One study shows that 44% of dogs shed salmonella but these studies are actually performed on canines that eat dry kibble diets not raw diets (3). In fact, there are more pet food recalls on dry foods than other types of diets (4). Safe practices are always suggested regardless. For example, just as you would clean up with disinfectants and wash any utensils that raw meats like chicken touch, it is important to follow suit when preparing your companion’s diet. In addition, sanitation practices such as clearing your yard of waste as well as cleaning your feline’s litter box daily is important whether your pet is on a raw food diet or not. In the same study of 110 participants, participants were asked what they did as safety precautions when making or preparing food in general regardless of food type. Responses included 17.4% who said “I wash my hands”, 7.5% said “I wash the preparation surfaces”, 23.7% said “I clean my companion(s) bowls”, 23.4% said “I store food in an air tight container”, 13.5% “I use bag clips or can tops”, 12.3% said “I freeze or refrigerate food” and 2.1% said none. A majority of these participants used multiple cleaning methods.
Myth #2 Raw food is bad for the teeth
Cats and dogs do not have significant amounts of the enzyme responsible for breaking down carbohydrates (5) which then are left to sit and decay the teeth (6). However, they do have the enzyme to break down protein and bad bacteria in meat (7,8) . In addition, chunked raw meat actually does help the teeth stay clean due to the grinding and chewing action on the meat. A raw diet that includes chunked meat and raw meaty bone keep the teeth pearly white, free from plaque and tartar and even keeps the breath fresh!(6)
Myth #3 Raw food is really expensive
Just like any food human or companion can be inexpensive or costly, but there is a middle ground and one does what they can to make things work. For example, you don’t have to get the chicken that is organic rather get the antibiotic and hormone free chicken. There are many comparison out that show raw diets actually are less expensive than even the lowest quality pet food! Also again keep in mind the long term effects and savings you will incur like fewer veterinary bills because your pet is healthier or less cat litter because your feline isn’t producing nearly as much waste.
Myth #4 Domestic companions have adapted to a cereal based diet.
Although it sounds like a few thousand years is a long time it has not been long enough to truly change the physiology of our companions. Just think, it took human beings millions of years to be who and what we are today. Furthermore, dry pet foods only came into our society 70 years ago after World War II (9). This is certainly not long enough for an animal to anatomically change its physiology (10) to effectively consume a dry cereal like diet. Both dogs and cats are merely surviving on these diets, but they are not thriving.
Myth #5 Humans are terrible at balancing raw diets
All of the resources are out there to create a balanced raw food diet including books, websites, veterinarians and animal nutritionists. Believe it or not there are even premade raw diets that you can buy already balanced and complete.
Natural and most species appropriate diet
Healthier for teeth (6)
Better for digestion (11, 12)
No preservatives, artificial colors or flavorings
More water content
Nutrient dense (13)
Nutrients are not destroyed by heat (14, 15, 16, 17)
Less waste, less smelly stool (18, 19)
Room for variety
Great for all stages (young and growing, seniors, ill, weight maintenance, etc.)
Can reduce the use of medications
Can reduce or completely relieve many illnesses (20)
Doesn’t require supplementation (if balanced)
Must be balanced (just like any diet)
Potentially more costly (based on protein type)
Cannot be left out for more than an hour
1. The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Digestion.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 8 Apr. 2016, www.britannica.com/science/digestion-biology.
2. Beasley, DeAnna E. et al. “The Evolution of Stomach Acidity and Its Relevance to the Human Microbiome.” Ed. Xiangzhen Li. PLoS ONE 10.7 (2015): e0134116. PMC. Web. 14 July 2018.
3. Finley, Rita et al. “The Risk of Salmonellae Shedding by Dogs Fed Salmonella-Contaminated Commercial Raw Food Diets.” The Canadian Veterinary Journal48.1 (2007): 69–75. Print.
4. Thixton, Susan. “Let's Get the Facts Straight FDA.” Truth about Pet Food, 10 Apr. 2016, truthaboutpetfood.com/lets-get-the-facts-straight-fda/.
5. Kienzle E. 1993. “Carbohydrate metabolism of the cat. 1. Activity of amylase in the gastrointestinal tract of the cat.” J. Anim. Physiol. Anim. Nutr. (Berl.) 69:92–101.
6. Lonsdale, Tom. Raw Meaty Bones: Promote Health. Rivetco P/L, 2001.
7. The German physiologist Wilhelm Kühne (1837-1900) discovered trypsin in 1876. See: W. Kühne (1877) "Über das Trypsin (Enzym des Pankreas)", Verhandlungen des naturhistorisch-medicinischen Vereins zu Heidelberg, new series, vol. 1, no. 3, pages 194-198.
8. Engelking, Larry R. (2015-01-01). Textbook of Veterinary Physiological Chemistry (Third Edition). Boston: Academic Press. pp. 39–44. ISBN 9780123919090Institute, Bathroom Reader's. Uncle John's Unstoppable Bathroom Reader. Bathroom Reader's Press, 2004.
9. Williams, G.C. (1992). Stasis. In Natural Selection: Domains, Levels and Challenges. p. 128. New York: Oxford University Press.
10. Institute, Bathroom Reader's. Uncle John's Unstoppable Bathroom Reader. Bathroom Reader's Press, 2004.
11. Johnson W, Sinning C. Mr. Johnson and Dr. Sinning respond: Letter to the editor. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2001;219:434.
12. Prochaska LJ, Piekutowski WV. On the synergistic effects of enzymes in food with enzymes in the human body: A literature survey and analytical report. Med Hypotheses. 1994;42:355–362. [PubMed]
13. Dierenfeld, E. S., Alcorn, H. L., & Jacobsen, K. L. (2002). Nutrient composition of whole vertebrate prey (excluding fish) fed in zoos. Published by: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, National Agricultural Library, Animal Welfare Retrieved from purl.access.gpo.gov/GPO/LPS80845
14. Kimura, M, and Y Itokawa. “Cooking Losses of Minerals in Foods and Its Nutritional Significance.” Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1990, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2081985.
15 Peterson, Michelle E. et al. “The Dependence of Enzyme Activity on Temperature: Determination and Validation of Parameters.” Biochemical Journal 402.Pt 2 (2007): 331–337. PMC. Web. 3 Mar. 2018
16 Nishiura, James. “Effect of Temperature on Enzyme Activity.” Effect of Temperature on Enzyme Activity, Brooklyn College City University of New York , academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/biology/bio4fv/page/enz_act.htm
17. Stephen, Nimish Mol, et al. “Effect of Different Types of Heat Processing on Chemical Changes in Tuna.” Journal of Food Science and Technology, Springer-Verlag, Mar. 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3550962/.
18. Crissey, S D, et al. “Use of a Raw Meat-Based Diet or a Dry Kibble Diet for Sand Cats (Felis Margarita).” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 1997,
19. Vester, B M, et al. “Evaluation of Nutrient Digestibility and Fecal Characteristics of Exotic Felids Fed Horse- or Beef-Based Diets: Use of the Domestic Cat as a Model for Exotic Felids.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2016,
20. John W. S. Bradshaw; The Evolutionary Basis for the Feeding Behavior of Domestic Dogs (Canis familiaris) and Cats (Felis catus), The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 136, Issue 7, 1 July 2006, Pages 1927S–1931S, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/136.7.1927S