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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Nutrition Week, #2: Raw Foods, Bones, Meat

Continuing our discussion on pet nutrition....
Myth #4:  Raw food diets are better than commercially prepared diets
Raw foods carry a significant risk for bacterial contamination.  Studies have sown that 20%-35% of raw poultry and 80% of raw food diets for dogs tested positive for Salmonella, while 30% of stool samples from dogs fed these diets were positive for Salmonella.  While a healthy dog may be able to cope with some dietary bacteria, others cannot.  There is also a significant human health risk of exposure to dangerous bacteria.  Numerous parasites can be found in raw food, presenting a risk to the health of the pet and their human families.  Raw diets have been consistently shown to contain imbalances in the Calcium:Phosphorous ratio, excessive Vitamin A and D, and other mineral imbalances.  There have been no controlled, scientific studies that have shown raw diets to be better for the health of pets than commercially prepared foods.  As with grain-free diets, any perceived benefits are likely due to a higher fat content and lower fiber content rather than the issue of raw versus processed foods.
(also see previous discussions here and here)
Myth #5:  Bones are good for dogs and cats
Studies of wild dogs and cats have shown no differences in the rate of dental disease compared to pets, even though wild carnivores chew on bones frequently.  Bones are very hard and are a frequent cause of fractured teeth, which can be very painful and require dental extractions.  Small or splintered bones cause a risk of obstructing or puncturing the esophagus, stomach, or intestines.
Myth #6:  Meat should be the first ingredient
The ingredients are listed on pet food bags by pre-cooked weight.  So the first ingredient weighs more than the second before they are processed, and so on.  Meats contain a high level of water, which is removed during cooking and processing.  Water is heavy, so the pre-cooked weight is not a good indication of the percentage of nutritents that actually come from that food.  "Chicken meal" as the third ingredient, may actually contain more protein than "Chicken" as the first ingredient because the meal has been ground and dehydrated, removing the water.  So ingredients on the list are placed lower merely because they weigh less, not because they carry fewer nutritents or contribute less to the diet.  If "chicken", "poultry meal", and "corn gluten meal" are all included on an ingredient list, there is no way to tell from the packaging which ingredient actually contributes more protein than another, since the ingredients are listed by weight and not by nutrient density.  A perception of the seeming benefit of "meat" may be the fact that this ingredient contains more fat that "meal", which as discussed above can result in a glossier coat but doesn't mean the nutrition is better.
(also see previous discussion here)


  1. Myth #4 - Alternately, there are no meaningful studies that show that a commercial, processed diet is better than feeding raw. There are also no studies that show that raw fed dogs regularly experience nutritional deficiencies.

    I would be interested to have a comparison study between a dogs average raw diet and the meat that humans handle in preparation for their own food - I am sure the levels of bacteria would be almost identical, considering most raw feeders source their meat from human grade meat sources (not always of course). As far as spreading bacteria, the same safe handling protocols for handling meat for human meals should be sufficient to protect owners from any bacteria on the meat.

    Kibble also contains a certain level of salmonella - in fact, recent (last 5 years or so) recalls on kibble, a few had been recalled SOLELY because the salmonella concentrations were high enough that they worried NOT about the average dog consuming it, but they worried about the owner who may not practice safe handling practices (for meat) after serving kibble to their dogs. They were also concerned about immno-compromised individual dogs.

    With a dogs stomach acid only slightly less acidic than battery acid, for a normal, healthy dog, the bacteria found on the meat will most likely not affect the dog.

    Dogs who are immuno-compromised or who are owned by people who are immuno-compromised may not be suited to a raw diet, and should also be very careful feeding a commercial processed diet. Also, dogs having undergone surgery or treatment requiring antacids to be given, should also refrain from feeding raw food, as the stomach will be less acidic, affecting ability to process bacteria and bones.

    There is also no scientific proof that raw fed dogs experience nutritional deficiencies. In fact, I would think that they would be LESS likely to experience nutritional deficiencies when fed a well prepared, balanced diet, as the nutritional sources for bio-available nutrients is higher in dogs fed so much variety. Again, assuming the owner has done their homework.

    I would think the likelihood of deficiencies would be higher in a dog fed the EXACT same food their entire lives. All commercial foods contain synthetic vitamins, which have been shown to block receptors, making uptake of natural vitamins harder (I believe this was a human study, but I think still accurate).

  2. Myth #5 - I once had to give my Pomeranian the Heimlich maneuver after he began choking on a very small piece of kibble, about the size of a pea. He has never once choked on raw, not that it couldn't happen. There are risks to feeding any diet, mitigating those risks, understanding them and accepting them is all part of being the advocate for an animal IMO.

    Feeding weight bearing bones (Femurs etc) can definitely cause dental issues in dogs who try to crush those bones, so I would not recommend feeding them. Raw meaty bones, which form part of the diet, not for recreational chewing, can be ground if the owner wants to avoid feeding whole bones.

    Raw bones rarely splinter or cause obstructions (unless there is too much bone fed, or incorrect size for the dog was fed). My dogs digestive systems have obliterated some bones that I was certain would kill them when I started feeding raw, it took me a while to trust in my dogs' bodies. After only a few months, I felt completely comfortable feeding something like a chicken quarter or even a chicken back or turkey neck (Gasp! LOL)

    I can say from 9 years of personal experience, my dogs teeth have never been cleaned by a vet and are plaque and tartar free. Even one of the vets who is against raw feeding had to admit my 10 year old dogs teeth were in perfect condition, despite never being professionally cleaned. Genetics could have played a role - I have no clue, he was a shelter mutt.

  3. Myth #6 - I am glad you posted this one. People think seeing a named meat "meal" on a dog food bag is a bad thing - its not at all! I try to always choose a kibble with a named meat meal (Chicken, Bison etc) as the first ingredient, followed by a meat, then the other ingredients.

    I also take into account where Salt falls on that ingredient list - as all ingredients following are added to the bag in such a small quantity that they play no major role in delivering nutrients through the food. Often times the food companies that play up the "grain free", will also play up the "contains this rare berry, and this healthy legume". But when you check the label there is barely a sprinkling in the bag.

    I am enjoying these posts and thank you for allowing me to share my ideas. I am glad people have a place to come read about nutrition and think about how they can provide the best nutrition to their pets to ensure they can enjoy them for years to come :)

  4. Niomi, I kind of thought we might disagree on the raw food issue. :) First of all, a dog's stomach acid is the same pH as ours, and vice-versa. Salmonella can survive that, otherwise nobody would ever get bacterial poisoning from food. So a dog's stomach acid does NOT keep them safe from bacteria. Believe me, I've diagnosed many cases of bacterial or parasitic gastroenteritis over the years that came from ingesting contaminated sources. Have there been prepared foods that have had salmonella conamination? Definitely! But again, if stomach acid will protect against bacteria on raw food, why won't it protect against bacteria on prepared food? Also, if stomach acid kills salmonella, we wouldn't be able to culture it from feces after the food has passed through the stomach.

    Is there bacteria on raw human foods? Absolutely. And I agree that it would be similar to what we find on raw animal foods. This is why people are cautioned about where and how they handle and prepare raw foods. Cooking will kill most of those bacteria, and if people eat undercooked meat or prepare other foods on a surface that had raw meat there can be problems. The issue is the potential for bacteria on raw foods in general, regardless of who it is intended for. Yes, careful handling and washing will prevent much of the risk, at least for human infection. But the risk is still there, and is still greater than with prepared foods.

    Actually there have been studies showing deficiencies or hypervitaminosis in raw food diets. That's why I mentioned that information. I just didn't go into great detail since I was more interested in giving a summary rather than a disertation. :)

    Is it possible to feed a raw diet that is appropriate, balanced, and safe? Believe it or not, I will give a qualified "yes". Niomi, of all the people I've talked to over the years on this issue, you are the first one that I would feel confident in allowing to feed a raw diet. You're reasonable, not a "fanatic", and are well educated on the issue. But can you say that about most people trying BARF diets? Probably not. And that's the real issue. It's much easier to "mess up" a home-made or raw diet than a prepared one.

  5. Now onto bones.....I do agree that dogs who chew on bones seem to have much less dental disease, even though at least one study comparing them to wild animals showed no difference. There is a myth that the body will dissolve bones, which is absolutely untrue. I've taken numerous radiographs with bones passing through the digestive tract without changing. And I've had to surgically remove bones that had been in the digestive tract for several days without changing. Sure, small bones will pass through fine. But I've seen far too many dogs break teeth on bones or get obstructions to feel comfortable recommending them. Grinding bones for the calcium is certainly not a problem at all, and avoids the dangers. Most dogs will probably be okay with bones, but as I said, I've seen too many avoidable problems because of bones. And as I mentioned in the previous blog entry, much of my opinion is formed by people with far more expertese in this area than I have.

    And on #6 we're back to agreeing! Your realization of this issue is one of the reasons I respect you and your thoughts, and you have good knowledge on the topics, even if we may disagree on a few points. As we've both mentioned before, in the end it's a decision to be made with each individual family and pet. There is no "one diet fits all", and anyone who thinks so is delusional (even if that person is a vet!). Part of good nutritional counseling is finding out the lifestyle and nutritional/medical needs of the patient, then finding a balanced diet that will fit that. Most of the time that will be a commercially prepared food. But sometimes it may be something more home-made! If you notice, I haven't said "never feed raw or bones". I may not like them as options, but that's because I believe there are better choices out there. My goal in this series is mostly to point out the fallacies in the ideas that many people have.

  6. Thanks for this wonderful dialogue Chris! I am having a lot of fun with this actually, its just nice to be able to discuss something, like adults, and not have it turn into an argument.

    Would you mind if I emailed you a few of my sources that I have used to learn about raw feeding? As far as the pH difference between dogs and humans? I teach a Canine Nutrition Portion in my puppy class (which covers how to read a kibble lable, how to add variety without switching kibbles and supplements. It also touches on raw/home prepared diets and I invite anyone interested to a 4 hour workshop I teach on raw feeding to get them started), so I want to make sure I am always giving my students truthful, unbiased advice.

    As far as the fanatics, when I started raw feeding, wholy smokes was I in for a surprise! I have always had an open mind, I like to take a step back and view situations objectively. So when I was told that kibble will be the downfall of the canine species (no joke), I couldn't help but feel like maybe I was not cut out to be a "raw feeder". It almost felt like, if I wasn't going to be a fanatic, I wouldn't be allowed in the "club".

    I notice you have identified your religion as Christian. I was born Catholic, however I no longer relate to that religion. That does not mean I can't be respectful of people who are Catholic.

    Dog "stuff" kind of reminds me of religion. Everyone is entitled to believe in who or what they want, that is the essence of faith. However, when they start making their religion "better" than another, or try to force it on others, they just come off as ignorant. Sharing a religion and using fear mongering to attempt to coerce a person into a religion are two very different things ;)

    For me feeding dogs is about the same, there are those who have an unwavering belief that raw feeding is the ONLY way to go, as long as they aren't affecting others negatively, let them be.

    I just prefer a more honest approach, because really, its my reputation on the line. I can't, in good conscience, not give my students ALL of the information that I know, whether regarding kibble, raw or the crazy vegetarian diet craze happening for pets LOL

  7. I'm also enjoying this dialogue! I completely agree that it's fun and interesting when it's a discussion and not an argument, and where both sides can respect the other. That's how we learn from each other.

    You're obviously well aware of the fanaticism in the raw food community, and I've faced many of those folks in the past. If they would have rational discussions rather than condemning those who feed kibble they'd be a lot more well received. I feel confident in my views and opinions, but I also try to be open enough to new ideas and admit when I may be wrong. Fanaticism is dangerous, no mater what the subject matter.

    I'd be happy to read any sources you want to send my way. I've looked at much of the data and some of the "fanatic" websites, as well as have talked to and read opinion pieces from board-certified nutritional specialists. I'm always wanting to expand my knowledge and try to be thorough in forming my opinions.

    I'll also share something with you that I haven't openly admitted. *shhhhh* Don't tell the other readers! I've never heard/read an opinion from a veterinary nutritional specialist that stated that raw food diets were ALWAYS bad and should NEVER be fed. The reason why I'm not vocal about that statement is it then gives the fanatics a foothold to scream "See! I told you! Nutritionists support raw diets!" Actually most of the nutritionists I've seen don't "support" raw diets, and the vast majority of them feed commercially prepared diets to their own pets. They don't see them as superior to kibble. However, they don't attest commercial foods to having better nutritional quality than raw foods. The objections that specialists bring up are related to bacterial contamination, the risks of large bones, and the imbalances that often come from feeding incorrectly. But I also see major imbalances from people trying home-made diets without consultation. Just a few days ago a client said they were feeding their dog chicken, rice, and green beans. Nothing else! We had a long discussion on the severe imbalances in that diet. So it's not just some of the raw food folks! Can the dangers be lessened or even overcome in raw diets with proper education, handling, and feeding. Yes! Yep, I agreed with that. However, the majority of people aren't doing it correctly. And I doubt you'd disagree with that Niomi. As you're probably aware, feeding raw or otherwise home-made diets takes a LOT of work and a LOT of knowledge to do it in the right way. Most people aren't going to go to this effort for the lifespan of their dog. So for the average pet owner, a high-quality commercial food is safer and better nutrition than trying to throw something together on their own.


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