A Natural Food Idea
Biologically Available Raw Food for Your Pet
We have always known that food loses nutrients when it is cooked because many essential amino acids, fatty acids, and vitamins are heat sensitive. Recent studies show that much more nutrition is lost in the cooking process than previously suspected, especially when making kibbled and canned food because these products are made to have a three or more year shelf life. Researchers are finding that many of the chronic progressive diseases we had been blaming on old age, breed, or just bad luck are actually due to long-term nutritional micro-deficiencies or excesses.
Examples of a few of the diseases that respond to nutritional therapy are:
- Heart disease
- chronic skin problems
- chronic ear infections
- seborrhea and dandruff
- cognitive dysfunction
- rear end weakness
- joint pain
- and obesity
Most pets thrive on raw diets—which isn’t surprising—after all, it’s what they were evolved to eat. Rabbits and mice don’t come char broiled in the wild, and they also don’t come with a side dish of rice or corn. The typical commercial diet is both heavily cooked and high in starches for two reasons; 1) fresh meat and vegetables don’t last long on the shelf and 2) starchy foods like rice, corn, or wheat, are cheaper than meat. Herbivores also do better on fresh foods than processed—good quality long stem hay and fresh veggies are healthier than dried pelleted grains and ground up hay by far.
Every pet is an individual and the perfect diet for one animal may be the wrong one for another pet. For pets that cannot handle raw diets due to individual weakness or disease, fresh food can be gently cooked (in a crock pot on low, for example) to keep most of the nutritional benefits while making the food easier to digest. Which diet is the right one for your pet is best answered by a veterinarian who is familiar with raw diets and knows your pets health status and issues.
Here are answers to some common questions about raw diets:
Q: My pet has trouble keeping slim—aren’t these raw diets high in fat?
A: New research is showing that low fat diets are not the best way for our meat eating pets to lose weight, and they often create cravings that cause pets to overeat. Low fat diets are typically high in starchy vegetables and grains. Starch turns into sugar as it is digested and sugar stimulates the body to release insulin. High insulin levels are associated with increased hunger, obesity, infertility, heart disease and a long list of other medical problems. Carnivores like dogs and cats are evolved to eat a low starch diet. Pets on a low starch diet can generally eat until they are satisfied and lose fat without losing muscle. (Some pets will still need to be restricted—especially at first if they are “stress eaters” who eat for reasons other than hunger.)
Q: Aren’t bones bad for my pet?
A: Actually, that depends on what kind of bones you feed. Veterinarians have been warning pet owners for decades about the dangers of feeding pets bones because undigested bone chunks can cause intestinal blockage, sharp pieces can cause perforations, and large hard bones can cause tooth breakage. However, it turns out that most of these problems come from cooked bones. Something happens to bones when they are cooked that basically turns them into rock. They become hard and brittle and do not digest. You can even see pieces of bone moving through the intestinal tract by x-ray—and they come out the other end looking just like they went in. So not only is there no nutritional benefit to feeding cooked bones, but it is actually dangerous.
On the other hand, if you feed small easy to chew raw bones like chicken backs or necks, these bones do get digested (generally in less than 24 hours) so your pet can get the nutritional benefit of the bone and joint materials s/he can use for building strong bones and joints. We buy several pounds of chicken backs and wrap them individually in cellophane before we put them in the freezer. Then we just take them out of the freezer, unwrap them and give them still frozen to our dog as doggie “pup-cicles”. You should see our dog dance in front of the freezer!
Q: But what about Salmonella or other bacteria?
A: In spite of all our breeding plans and genetic meddling, dogs and cats are still carnivores. In the wild they not only don’t refrigerate their prey, but may bury or hang prey to “ripen” for a day or two. Their intestinal tract has evolved to handle the carnivore lifestyle, and in fact Salmonella can be cultured from the stool of 30% of perfectly normal dogs that have been fed nothing but cooked diets. Of course, pets can get Salmonella the disease, but something has to go wrong with their digestive tract first. This is just like the staphalococcus bacteria that we humans have on our skin. Normally we live in harmony with our skin bacteria – in fact they even protect us in some ways. But if our skin is damaged (burned for example) then we may get an overgrowth of our normal skin bacteria—and at that point we say we have a staph infection. Normally dogs and cats live in harmony with Salmonella and other intestinal bacteria. After all, they were born to eat raw prey—bacteria and all. In addition, properly frozen and handled raw diets are very low in bacteria as the freezing process kills most bacteria.
Q: What about the price?
A: Naturally, fresh meat and vegetables are more expensive pound per pound than starches like rice or corn, but the raw diets are surprisingly affordable. Based on an average cost of around $4.00 to $6.00 per pound for commercially prepared raw diets. For example, beef raw diet for cats and small dogs comes in 3 pound bags, containing 48 one ounce medallions, and costs about $22 ($22/48= 46 cents an ounce) and a 13# cat will typically eat 4-5 ounces a day, meaning it typically costs around $2.30 a day to feed a cat or small dog. The same formula also comes in a 6 pound bag of 12 eight ounce patties and costs about $40 ($40/96= 42 cents an ounce) and a 50# dog will typically eat 8 ounces twice daily depending on their lifestyle– meaning that it costs around $7 to $10 per day for a large active dog. Expect your pet to eat one third to one half the volume of raw food that they were previously putting away in kibble or canned.
Q: Are there any warnings we should be aware of in feeding raw food?
A: Yes, for starters, raw food must be fresh—don’t leave it out long enough to get moldy or infested with bugs. Just put out enough to last 12 hours or less. Second, if your pet should wind up at a veterinary hospital and for any reason they take x-rays, the radiologist may be panicked by the bones in the stomach if s/he is unaware of the difference between digestibility of raw bones and cooked bones. A stomach full of cooked bones could very well mean a trip to emergency surgery, but a stomach full of raw fresh bones should digest within 24 hours. (One veterinarian I know almost took his own dog into an unnecessary emergency surgery because his dogs x-rays showed a stomach packed solid with bones. Luckily he decided to recheck the x-rays before surgery the next morning (12 hours later) and discovered that they had all been digested—no surgery required! He said if he hadn’t taken the films himself he never would have believed it. Next, if your pet might “wolf” or scarf his food, be sure to train him or her to chew it up first. The easiest way to do this is to buy a whole chicken, cut off the back and wings as one T-shaped piece which will be impossible to swallow whole as it is the wrong shape.
Q: Where would I go to get this sort of food for my pet?
A: To start your pet on a fresh raw diet, you can either make it yourself at home, or purchase it premixed frozen. Cats in particular can be very suspicious of any changes to their routine. For the first week mix just one part of raw with three parts regular diet (25% raw), the next week, mix raw 50% of the diet, and week 3 make it 75%. Then you can feed just the raw food and drop the old cooked diet. You will probably need to add a bit of salt to the raw diet as most cats are used to commercial diets that are high in salt. My cats enjoy the occasional sprinkle of parmesan cheese over their raw food – possibly because parmesan is a bit salty too. Some dogs prefer their raw diet patties still frozen.
If you wish to make your own fresh diet it is crucial that you get the correct ingredients and proportions or you can actually cause nutritional diseases like Rickets or Rubber Jaw. Fish should never be fed raw as some types have toxic enzymes that can destroy B vitamins and cause seizures and death. Many dogs prefer to eat their raw diet still frozen, like doggy ice cream!
If you want to make your own food for your pet, here is a recipe you can get started with: Grind up and mix together thoroughly:
1/3 raw meaty bones: (chicken or turkey wings, backs, or necks—ground up)
1/3 raw meat: (ground chicken, turkey, or beef),
1/3 raw vegetables: (dark green and dark yellow vegetables like broccoli, spinach, squash, pumpkin, nori, or zucchini)
Don’t forget Vitamins and minerals! Good vitamins from your veterinarian based on the size & species of your pet.
Avoid starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, or grains like rice or wheat, and go easy on high sugar veggies like carrots or peas. Onions and other bulbs can be toxic. This recipe makes fresh food that will need to be frozen in convenient sized chunks using zip-lock bags and ice cube trays or patties.
Raw meaty bones can also be given as treats to help clean your pets teeth, but be sure that the bones are fresh to avoid splintering problems (a hazard with cooked bird bones) and make sure that your pet does not try to swallow the bones whole. Fresh chicken or turkey necks can be individually wrapped and frozen to keep for later, and they can be frozen in a “U” shape to discourage “wolfing” behavior. It is a good idea to feed pets separately so they do not feel pressured to eat quickly due to competition.