dr. ian kupkee

The Raw Emotions Over Raw Pet Food

Pet parents who have researched raw diets probably know this is a hotly debated topic in the veterinary field

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Several weeks ago, I listened as one of our front desk team members booked an appointment with a new client. As the call was wrapping up, the client had one more thing to add. “Make sure the doctor knows I intend to feed my puppy a raw diet. If he’s got a problem with that, or if he gives me a hard time, I’ll be taking my puppy elsewhere.” It was a nice moment for both me and the receptionist when the client was told that I too feed my dogs a raw diet.

Pet parents who have researched raw diets probably know this is a hotly debated topic in the veterinary field. In fact, the American Veterinary Medical Association has been discouraging the feeding of raw foods to dogs and cats for years. Others still have been singing the praises of raw feeding . So why all the controversy? Why indeed am I half expecting my inboxes to blow up with messages from colleagues who are convinced I have lost my mind?

In the spirit of fairness, let’s start with the objections of the veterinary community. The AVMA recommends the cooking or pasteurization of animal-source proteins to eradicate any pathogens found in said proteins. Pathogens of concern include, but are not limited to, salmonella, listeria, campylobacter, clostridium, and staph aureus. There is a risk of illness to dogs and cats If they ingest these organisms. The AVMA goes on to postulate that even if pets shrug off these pathogens, they can spread to their human companions via an infected pet’s saliva. This can sicken humans in the household and poses especially high risks to children, the elderly, and those with suppressed immune systems. While such criticism is fair, it is interesting to note that salmonella is the leading cause of dry dog and cat food recalls today. In fact, from 2010 to 2015 there were nineteen large scale recalls of dry and canned pet foods relating to salmonella, and since 2007, 132 people have contracted salmonella from those same types of foods. Of those people, half were children under the age of two. While raw foods have been subjected to recalls as well, by 2019, 76 times more kibble was recalled for salmonella than raw food. This despite the fact the FDA concentrated heavily on raw diets during that same period of time. Additionally, while the FDA permits allowable levels of salmonella in the meat chain for humans, it is not permitted at all in raw pet foods.

Other experts express concern that raw diets may not provide complete and balanced nutrition for companion animals. To be fair, this is a valid concern when dealing with diets which are prepared at home by inexperienced pet parents.  This can be easily rectified by purchasing a reputable, commercially prepared raw diet formulated under veterinary supervision. Pet parents who would rather prepare their own raw diets at home are advised to us supplements, and follow recipes recommended by professionals.  And while many point to the fact that kibble is regulated by the USDA and the FDA, the same can be said of raw diets. And because of their growing popularity, raw diets are often subjected to greater scrutiny.

While critics of raw food diets are quick to point out anecdotal evidence as the main argument in favor of feeding raw, I’m going to throw in my two cents nonetheless. Most of my raw fed patients  come to see me for wellness visits only. When I switched my own dogs to a raw diet, their health improved dramatically. When we adopted our female dog, Grendel, she had a long list of medical issues. We figured with excellent care, we could keep her going for about eight years. Raw feeding gave her seventeen. Her chronic bladder infections disappeared, her liver shunt was a non-issue, and the congenital problems that cause orthopedic pain and joint degradation in so many dachshunds never affected her quality of life. At nine and a half, our younger dachshund, Zohan is in the throes of middle age. HIs coat shines, he has the energy of a puppy, he no longer limps after extreme play, and his bloodwork is perfect. The allergies that caused him to scratch until he bled are a thing of the past.

While I respect the opinions of my kibble feeding colleagues - including the ones who feel I have lost my mind - I am sold on the benefits of a raw diet, and I wish I had made the switch years earlier. And horrible pun intended, that’s the raw truth.

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