The Beef on Raw

Blogging about diet almost seems to be a rite of passage for those who focus on dog-related topics.  Every dog blogger does it eventually, and they do it with vigour and enthusiasm.  It solidifies your status as “that kind” of dog person.  And now it’s my turn.

Perhaps the enthusiasm stems from the notion that feeding your dog a raw diet is controversial and ground-breaking.  I disagree.  On the surface maybe it does seem somewhat controversial because raw-feeders appear to be the minority, but dig just a little deeper and the whole thing – to me at least – seems pretty obvious.  The soapbox issue here is pet owner education (or the lack thereof).

The reasons behind feeding your dog a raw diet are pretty straightforward.  Dogs are primarily meat-eaters and therefore should be fed meat.  Thus, raw food is good for your dog; grain-based kibble is not.  In fact, the commercial kibbles are so bad that they are responsible for most pet allergies (due to the wheat and soy ingredients), periodontal disease, skin issues, and even some behavioural problems.  It makes sense – these kinds of things can happen to an animal when fed an insufficient diet.  So why the debate?

Well, giving pet owners the benefit of the doubt and assuming everyone wants the best for their animals, it must be that people just aren’t aware of this or don’t read ingredients labels.  Someone has to be buying the big name grain-based foods for their pets or the folks selling them wouldn’t be in business.

Unfortunately, those selling poor-quality, mass-produced, grain-based kibble appear to dominate the market.  Their frequent, high-budget, cutesy commercials and print ads can be found nearly everywhere, and their products are sold in pretty much every big name grocery and pet store.  They speak to your love for all things furry and tell you “if you love your dog (or cat), you will feed them [insert brand here], because we love them too and only want to give them the best”. 

They’re lying, of course.  Considering over one-third of Canadian and American households have a pet dog, there is a large market for pet food,[1] and these companies exist to turn a profit.[2]  And they certainly don’t do so by filling their foods with the quality ingredients your dogs and cats should be eating.  This, of course, has resulted in many pet food recalls in recent years, such as the infamous 2007 Menu Foods recall that involved dog food sold under 53 different brands and cat food sold under 42 different brands, including the familiar labels Iams and Eukanuba.[3]

But marketing dominance is not the only problem.  The lack of education does not only plague the average pet owner, but also the person they often turn to for advice: our trustworthy neighbourhood veterinarians.  The majority of vets are insufficiently educated about nutrition.  There.  I said it.  Firstly, this is because the average veterinary degree only requires that 40 hours/one week of study be dedicated to the subject of nutrition generally, out of a total three years of schooling.  Secondly, I did a quick search on companies that sponsor many nutrition education programs for vets in North America, and guess what names came up.  Hill’s.  Purina.  Great, so our “experts” are taught by the bad guys. 

Before you write this off as the least interesting conspiracy theory ever, think for a second: what brand is often found on your vet’s shelves?  Hill’s Science Diet, of course.

Using my favourite website on this issue, www.dogfoodanalysis.com, take a look at the breakdown of Hill’s Science Diet Canine Maintenance Beef and Rice.[4]  The analysis gives this food the lowest possible rating.  Its sole meat ingredient (beef) isn’t properly accounted for because they’ve included water content in the weight which is removed as it’s made into kibble.  The next three ingredients by volume are grains: brewers rice (low quality by-product); rice flour (grain fragment, filler); and corn meal (difficult for dogs to digest and thought to be the cause of allergies and yeast infections).  Tell me, when exactly was the last time you saw a wolf or dog (or cat) down a cob of corn in the wild?  The next two ingredients are soybean meal (low quality protein, cause of canine allergy problems) and chicken by-product meal (by-products are low-quality unidentified meats, usually rejects from human food processing that could not be used elsewhere).  The several remaining ingredients are more unidentified by-products, beet pulp (cheap filler, thought to be responsible for allergies and kidney and liver problems), and chemical preservatives (possibly carcinogenic).

So why does the vet sell or promote this junk food?  Either they don’t know any better, or they do but would rather profit from sales-based incentives from selling the food and getting business from ailments that plague our pets as a result of the food.  Ahh, the old debate of ignorance v. malevolence

I’ll pick ignorance as the perpetrator, because I really don’t (want to) think most vets are inherently evil (although Blofeld did have that cat…).

It’s simple.  Look at the ingredients in the kibble analysed above.  Why would you feed that stuff to your pet?

Dogs and cats are biologically carnivores.  Consider their teeth, jaw and neck muscles, stomachs, colons and other internal organs – they are anatomically designed to be the eaters of raw meat.[5]  Because (some) humans have been feeding their pets grain-based kibble in recent decades does not change that, and just because they can “get by” on a sub-par diet doesn’t mean they should.  You shouldn’t eat Doritos every day for dinner, either.[6]

My favourite fanciful objection to raw diets (I’ve even heard it cited by a vet[7]), and one that misses the point entirely, argues wolves and dogs are actually omnivores, meaning their natural diet is made up of primarily both plants and animals.  This often is supported by the suggestion that wolves eat the stomach contents of their prey – the prey having ingested a diet of primarily herbs and grains.  Thus, the wolf is getting its necessary corn, wheat, or grain intake from the deer/rabbit/whatever’s stomach.  And because your dog isn’t out there eating stomach contents, his everyday meal should be a kibble made of cheap corn and wheat.

To answer this – and pretty much any other objection you may have heard about raw diets – I recommend a visit to http://www.rawfed.com/myths/.  They look to biologists and other wolf experts to explain the carnivorous activities of wolves:

Wolves do NOT eat the stomach contents of their prey. Only if the prey is small enough (like the size of a rabbit) will they eat the stomach contents, which just happen to get consumed along with the entire animal. Otherwise, wolves will shake out the stomach contents of their large herbivorous prey before sometimes eating the stomach wall.

No, dogs and wolves are not omnivores.  They are “facultative carnivores”, which means while they are primarily meat-eaters, they do occasionally eat a non-meat meal.  Note the emphasis on occasionally, meaning that their diet should still consist primarily of meat, not corn or wheat.

On the other hand, as a feline, your cat is an “obligate carnivore”, and a meat-only diet meets his nutritional requirements, and housecats actually lack the physiology necessary to effectively digest plants and vegetables.[8]  So not only is a raw or meat-based diet the best for Felix, too, this also means that grain-based kibbles can have an even more detrimental effect on your feline friends.

So the topic sums up as follows: to feed your pet a diet most suited to his natural needs, and closest to what he would eat if left to his own devices, is to feed him a raw diet.  It is more appropriate and healthier, and many pet owners report a variety of improvements in their pets once having switched to a raw diet, including better dental and digestive health, a reduction or even complete elimination of allergies, and better coat and skin health.

And I should note that to feed your dog or cat a raw diet doesn’t mean you have to fill your deep freeze with an entire cow carcass (although you could if you wanted).  There is a tonne of selection when it comes to raw diets, you just have to look.  Sure, you can purchase your own raw meat in bulk and add fruits and vegetables at meal time,[9] or there are many brands that offer convenient pre-packaged and prepared raw patties – fruit and veggies included.  All you need to do is thaw the food and give it to your dog.  It can be as simple or as involved as you want.  Granted, the cost does increase when you switch your pet to a raw or otherwise quality diet, compared to feeding your dog cheap, commercial garbage kibble, but it’s a matter of proper diet and the overall health of your pet.  The advantages are worth the expense, and so is your pet.

And, of course, if you simply can’t stomach feeding a raw diet, there is a decent middle-ground compromise of high-quality kibble, which you can supplement with fish oil and the occasional raw bone or turkey neck, as you are willing or as is necessary.  To find a suitable brand of food, simply examine the ingredients.[10]  Look for foods that include actual meat as the first ingredients:  beef, bison, turkey, chicken, eggs, pork, salmon, etc.  Potato is an acceptable ingredient and is a good source of carbohydrates.  Ensure the food you select is void of grains, but look for fruit and vegetable ingredients (pumpkin, carrots, turnip, apples, etc.), which do provide necessary nutrients alongside meat.

And if you’re ever unsure or concerned about your pet’s diet, just think back to that ingenious Wendy’s ad campaign from the ‘80s and ask yourself: where’s the beef?


[1]  To see where I first mentioned these stats in more detail, visit https://backalleysoapbox.wordpress.com/2010/09/20/in-defence-of-big-dogs/
[2]  Really?  Daschund-specific kibble?  Terrier-specific kibble?  There’s a scam if I’ve ever seen one.
[3]  The pet food sold was responsible for poisoning 471 animals and 104 deaths.  The related litigation in Canada and the US recently settled for US$24 million.  See: http://www.menufoods.com/Recall/
[4]  http://www.dogfoodanalysis.com/dog_food_reviews/showproduct.php?product=125&cat=7
[5]  http://rawfed.com/myths/omnivores.html
[6]  Sorry.
[7]  Score one for ignorance.
[8]  If your cat is in the back yard eating grass, they’re probably just trying to induce vomiting.  Hairball, anyone?
[9]  Not corn, soy or wheat.
[10]  Or visit www.dogfoodanalysis.com and look for brands given the highest (6 star) rating.

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About ThatJenK
Writing from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. 90% pictures of my dogs; 10% miscellaneous opinions nobody asked for.

3 Responses to The Beef on Raw

  1. Anne says:

    Good article and interesting for me to read after just having a close family member (who is a vet) tell me my dog is severely underweight which came as a shock since I have only ever thought/been told by other vets/nutrition specialists that my dog is an ideal weight. He is definitely lean and perhaps, he could gain 1 – 2 pounds (debatable) and no where near the 10 pounds the family member suggested.

    I feed my dog raw food as well (after doing a lot of my own research I decided to switch him from a higher quality kibble, origen, to only raw). The aforementioned family member is adamantly opposed to raw food diets something I have known long before I made the switch. However, her most recent point against raw food is that it is hard for dogs to gain weight on raw food diets hence the reason she feels my dog is underweight. I have not been able to find anything to support her claim and am wondering if you have come across this in your research?

    • thatjenk says:

      It’s funny you mention it, because if you want a first-hand account of a dog gaining weight on a raw diet, check out my most recent post. As you know, my dog is raw fed, and he’s recently packed on some pounds unexpectedly.

      I’ve come across many conccerns about weight loss after switching to a raw diet, and it’s often because the higher protein content and loss of the excessive carbs many kibble diets are full of.

      To combat that, it’s mostly just an issue of watching how much you feed and your dog’s weight and adjusting accordingly. If you want to maintain your dog’s weight, you should be feeding them about 3% of their body weight daily. More, obviously, to fatten them up, and about 2% if you’re trying to slim them down. And, of course, making sure that bone, fruits and veggies are included in the raw diet, so it’s not just meat only.

      Experience has taught me that people and “experts” have a wide range of appropriate weights for our dogs. Some would tell me mine is too skinny, and others that he’s just right. Keep in mind many dogs are overweight and people often compare to their own pets. To tell and decide for yourself, ensure that you can easily feel your dog’s ribs when he/she is standing up. But you don’t want to be able to count each rib just by looking at your dog from the side – that would be too skinny. Activity also plays a role – people involved in agility often keep their dogs on the thin side compared to other dog groups (obedience, conformation, etc.).

  2. Pingback: My 7 Links: Blog Introspection « Back Alley Soapbox

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