Is a raw food diet better for dogs?
vetirinary dental X-ray
"I was dismayed to see the raw food diet listed as a dog myth. I have two senior dogs on a premium dog food - but raw food - and they are quite healthy and happy. I agree that meat alone is an "imbalance" in the diet, but the raw food diet mixes healthy vegetables and some fruits with meat, and none of the grains and fillers that are found in commercial diets.
"Additionally, Hill's, makers of Science Diet, has spent tons of money for years funding university veterinary schools. No wonder vets like them, and promote their dog food!"
- Angie's List member Nancy M. of Los Angeles, in response to "Are these 5 veterinary myths true or false?" as featured in the February 2014 issue of Angie's List Magazine.
I appreciate your feedback and your concern about nutrition in dogs. There are many high quality dog foods available in the marketplace today, and it is important for dog owners to be aware of what they are feeding, the science behind canine nutrition, and what research is finding in the field of veterinary nutrition.
Dogs, like people, are individuals, so no one diet is the absolute best for all dogs. As a veterinarian, if I see a dog that is lean with good muscling, has a beautiful shiny coat, and is active and healthy, I will likely not recommend any different food for that dog. If, on the other hand, I see a dog who is overweight or obese, has a dull coat, or has a medical condition that can be treated through nutrition (such as food allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, and more) then I will broach the subject of higher quality nutrition for that pet.
I personally like brands such as Purina, Iams, Royal Canin and Science Diet because I actually see less of these medical issues (especially obesity) in dogs fed these brands. That is just my clinical experience. Another reason why I recommend these brands is because of the research these companies perform to ensure that their products are high quality. They spend millions of dollars each year to provide our pets with a product that is trustworthy (there are very few recalled foods with these companies) and with the nutrition these pets need to thrive. These companies, in my opinion, advocate for the pets’ best interest and not just to make money off of a product.
There has been a marketing campaign in the past few years targeting big brand name dog foods trying to imply that they are low quality, poor foods to feed our dogs. The research to date has not shown this to be true. Remember – pets (and any living thing) need nutrients to survive, and they can get these nutrients through a variety of different ingredients.
I reviewed the Dog Food Advisor website you mentioned in your response to my article, and wanted to quote an important sentence from the website’s creator and manager: "Please be advised that I am not a veterinarian.For this reason, this website was never meant to be used as a substitute for sound professional advice.”
As a veterinarian, I went to medical school for 4 years, and nutritional courses were included in that extensive education. I also receive a minimum of 17 hours of continuing education yearly, and nutrition is always a part of that continuing education for me because I believe that it is an important part of a therapeutic regimen for many different medical conditions. I will continue to recommend nutritional products based on the advice I receive from board certified specialists in the field of veterinary nutrition because their opinions are based on research and hard facts, not on personal opinion.
I want to address several points that I hear consistently as reasons why owners should not feed these brands of dog food, and the answers I give them:
1. Meat needs to be the first ingredient in the food list
Once again, a dog needs nutrients, not ingredients, to live and thrive. Dogs, being omnivores, can actually metabolize proteins from plant-based sources like grains as well as animal-based protein sources from muscle meat.
Also, pet food labels can be misleading. You have to compare foods on a dry matter basis, with all the moisture content removed, instead of on an “as fed” basis, which is how most pet foods are labelled. Since different foods have different moisture contents, and moisture does not contribute to the protein, fat or carbohydrate nutrients that the pet can metabolize, moisture cannot be a factor in comparing two foods.
For example, take a dog food with whole chicken listed as its first ingredient and a whole grain listed as its second ingredient.Whole chicken has a high moisture content.When this moisture is removed, we actually find that the grain is the first ingredient by weight instead of the meat, which usually falls to the third or fourth ingredient on the list when comparing foods on a dry matter basis.
2. Dogs should not eat foods with grains because they are bad for dogs.
Grains are a source of vitamins, minerals, fiber and energy for dogs. Dogs are technically omnivores (like people), and they are efficient at digesting grains and metabolizing the nutrients from them. There are dogs with food allergies to wheat and other grains, and these dogs should not be fed foods containing grains.
3. Corn is just a filler and has no nutritional value for dogs.
Corn is well digested by dogs, and contains protein, proteins and beneficial fatty acids.Like wheat and grains, it gets a bad rap and the scientific findings do support corn as a highly digestible ingredient in dog foods.And just like with wheat and grains, dogs can have corn allergies, so those dogs should not be fed diets with corn as an ingredient.
4. Byproducts are bad and should not be a part of dog food.
The definition of a byproduct is an ingredient that is left over from animal carcasses once the meat has been removed. Byproducts include the liver, intestines, heart and other organs that contain high quality nutrients that are actually beneficial to animals. If you watch wild canids such as wolves, it is actually the higher ranked pack members that are eating these vital organs (which are rich in vitamins, minerals and nutrients), and the lower ranked members (that don’t live as long) that eat the muscle meat.These lower ranked members then have to spend time chewing on bones to balance the calcium and phosphorus ratios in their system and in doing so fracture teeth.This is why they only live a few years while the higher ranking members, eating the so-called “byproducts”, live eight or more years in the wild.
In response to the controversy on raw food diets, I would like to explain why I do not recommend them to my clients. In order to feed a raw food diet safely, there needs to be extreme attention to detail on the quality of meat that is being fed as well as consulting with a veterinary nutritionist to make sure the diet is completely balanced. Most clients (I say most, not all) are not able or willing to put the time in to make sure the diets are safe for their pets.When wild animals make a fresh kill, they do not have to be concerned with Salmonella or E.coli overgrowth that we see in our market meats. These bacteria can cause serious illness in both pets and their owners. They also do not have to be concerned with a balanced diet, because they are also eating the liver, intestines, and other internal organs that balance out the rest of their diet. I have seen several dogs near death because of inappropriately fed raw food diets, and for that reason I do not recommend the raw food diet to my clients. If a client truly wants to know more about raw food diets, I send them to a board certified veterinary nutritionist so that they can get more information.
My job as a veterinarian is to advocate what I believe is the best medicine and care for your pet and to educate clients as best I can on the science behind my recommendations, be it nutritional, about a medical illness, or a treatment plan. It is important for me to help my clients come to a decision that they believe is also in the best interest of their pet. The bottom line is that you need to feel comfortable with the food you are feeding your pets.
There are many different choices available, and most of those choices are good, high quality foods that your pet will thrive on. All I can do is offer my professional opinion based on my education, continuing research, and clinical experience. If you want to research veterinary nutrition on your own, I recommend visiting websites such as the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, or find information through veterinary school websites. These are the sites that will offer science-based facts about animal nutrition.
Disclaimer: The above information is regarding dog food only. Cats have completely different nutritional requirements as they are obligate carnivores, and require high protein, moderate fat, low carbohydrate nutrient profiles for their foods.