Most veterinarians and public health authorities condemn feeding raw-meat based diets to dogs and cats, despite the said diet gaining traction, stated Brennen McKenzie, MA, MSc, VMD, cVMA. Raw feeders believe that raw diets are healthier and more “natural” than cooked diets, thinking that commercial food is unsafe for consumption or can cause diseases.
Sadly, some veterinarians uphold these beliefs, going against the nutritional value of cooked commercial pet food. Views on raw meat-based diet may differ, particularly those who believe that “natural” diets and medical approaches are safer and more preferable than conventional medical and nutritional practices. However, such beliefs rely on questionable scientific concepts and lack of evidence.
Survey On Owners’ Motivations, Attitudes, and Practices On Providing Raw Meat-Based Diets for Dogs (2019)
Giada Morelli and colleagues of BMC, an open-access publisher of journal articles, distributed a questionnaire completed by 218 dog owners. Of those, 62 were living with people who have impaired or weakened immune systems. The owners chose diets containing raw products by searching for information on the internet (60%) or reading magazines and books (19%). Other owners fed RMBDs (raw meat-based diets) because they were encouraged by their breeders (12%) or veterinarians (9%). Meanwhile, 4% of owners gave other answers.
When asked why the owners chose to feed RMBDs to their dogs, they said it is to respect the dog’s carnivorous nature (26%) and to improve their pet’s health (24%). The respondents also said that commercial food had caused problems in the past (21%) or because they did not trust these products (19%). 6% said their dog did not eat commercial pet food while 4% cited another reason.
94% had at least one previous experience with commercial pet food. The most undesirable features of commercial pet food were scare information on the ingredients (78%), inclusion of additives (46%), and presence of carbohydrates (17%).
When asked about the health benefits of RMBDs, they cited shinier coat/skin improvement, muscle mass gain, and cleaner teeth as the top reasons. 51% said their dog did not exhibit abnormal behavior, while others noticed a calmer (35%) or livelier nature (21%). The respondents used traditional pet food because they completely eliminated commercial dry food (79%). Others still used it when necessary (12%) while 9% use it regularly.
94% considered RMBDs safe for pets while 1% acknowledged the possibility of health risks associated with RMBDs while 5% had never raised the issue. 65% said their dogs cannot get ill by consuming RMBD while 17% said it is possible but no reason for worry. 5% of owners had never heard of this possibility, but 13% said dogs can get sick by consuming RMBD.
55% of the owners interviewed never noticed the side effects of RMBD while 45% reported diarrhea, constipation, and vomiting. Most RMBDs were formulated by the owners themselves by following advice online (33%), using nutritional guidelines published in websites or in books (31%), or following no rules (19%). Only 8% consulted the veterinarian while 5% talked with a nutritionist for RMBD formulation. 1% used guidelines provided by online raw meat product sellers and 3% gave other answers.
Why People Like Raw Diets
For owners, a raw meat-based diet is more appropriate because it is a dog or cat’s natural diet, claiming that it is healthier because the animals have adapted to consuming meat due to evolution. Dogs and cats are carnivores, taxonomically speaking, though the former are functionally omnivores. The ancestors of dogs were known to consume live prey and carrion, so their diet must be as close to that of wild carnivores.
Some raw meat advocates claim that anatomic and physiological similarities between domestic dogs and wolves suggest that dogs should be fed the same diet as wolves do in the wild. For domestic cats, they should be given the whole prey as wild felines do. Some also claimed that raw meat improves an animal’s coat and stool. Others claimed that the diet helps reduce the risk of diabetes, allergies, cancer, and other health issues.
The Appeal to Nature Fallacy
Raw diets are seen as “natural” but proponents of the diet express the “appeal to nature fallacy.” This fallacy refers to the misconception that anything found in nature is inherently healthier than those made by humans. “Natural” is also not synonymous with “healthy” considering that parasites, malnutrition, and infectious disease are prevalent in wild animal populations. In appropriate captive environments, the life expectancy and health of animals are always nearly superior compared to their wild counterparts. The diet of wild carnivores consists of the food they get, which is not the most optimal diet for sustaining long-term health.
For example, wolves in the wild consume raw meat and berries, plants, etc, said Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, DAVCN, and Cailin R. Heinze, VMD, MS, DACVN, of Tufts University: Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, a veterinary school in New England. However, the average lifespan of a wolf in the wild is only a few years. The aforementioned diet may be “optimal” for wolves but it's not necessarily the best one for pets.
A species-typical diet in the wild might be optimal for the health of wild carnivores, but dogs have evolved from their wild ancestors, meaning they do not necessarily have the same dietary needs as their ancestors. As of this writing, there is no convincing evidence that suggests the health benefits of raw meat diet.
Health and Contamination Risks of Raw Meat
Like humans— particularly young, old, or immunosuppressed people— Dogs and cats can contract Salmonella, Clostridium, Campylobacter, and other bacteria found in raw meat. Raw meat also poses health risks such as gastroenteritis which may be caused by bacteria in the diet or high dietary fat levels, including raw diets that contain bones. Other risks include fractured teeth and gastrointestinal injury, though further research is needed to understand how frequent these health complications occur.
On the contrary, raw food diet ingredients are not human grade. Yes, even if they are purchased at the best meat shops. Meat sold in the best of stores can contain bacteria and purchasing “human grade” meat does not mean your pet is safe from the risks of uncooked meat. Other than that, “human grade” does not have a legal definition for pet food.
Raw meat poses risks to both humans and pets. Raw meat may be “natural” but it does not mean it aids in sustaining long-term health. Owners should consult their veterinarian if they want their pet to consume a healthy diet. Remember, “natural” does not mean inherently healthy.