This site would be remiss if it did not include something anti-raw sites purposely exclude: an honest, open discussion of what is being promoted, with a look at BOTH sides of the issue. So here goes...
Why feed raw? Dogs have been fed kibbled foods for the past fifty or so years with what seems to be great results. Dogs are not dying outright from starvation or malnutrition, and seem to be happy and fairly healthy. You certainly can get dogs with glossy coats and healthy bodies (healthy being used loosely) that live well into their teens while being fed kibbled foods. Yet the veterinary community has been seeing increases in things like cancer, obesity, diabetes, unilateral hip dysplasia, dermatitises, food allergies, kidney problems, pancreas problems, and liver problems (and their medical techniques and methods have evolved tremendously to deal with these; many veterinarians are very capable people who mean well and can be quite good at treating illness and disease). Just about every system in the dog has been affected in some way, shape, or form by some disease or problem that did not 'exist' prior to the advent of kibbled foods or was not recognized as a big issue. Part of this increase is due to the fact that more people own dogs today and that illnesses are more quickly diagnosed nowadays, but many of these diseases have been shown to have strong links to diet—particularly in human research (like adult onset diabetes and obesity and cancer, for example). Many of our pets' body processes parallel our own, so who is to say that processed food will not affect them similarly?
But on the whole, most people are happy to feed their dogs kibbled food and coexist with smelly dog turds and stinky dog breath. Dogs are dogs; they are supposed to smell, right? Within the past 10-15 years or so it has finally been recognized that stinky breath is a problem for dogs because it underlies a bigger problem: periodontal disease. The pet industry has played off of this tremendously, bringing about an era of pet chews, dental bones, toothbrushes, toothpastes, plaque-scraping foods and chewies and toys, etc. More things to spend your money on because your dog needs them to be healthy, right? The problem of big smelly dog turds has everyone up in arms, as these turds pollute our parks, sidewalks, streets, and communities. It is the responsible owners who have to suffer, as the turd problem has resulted in stricter leash laws, dog ownership laws, and in some communities an outright 'dogs are not welcome' attitude, plus a plethora of 'quick fixes' to help manage the problem: pooper scoopers, waste digesters, special scooping baggies to carry with you on walks, extra enzymes to add to the dog's food so it will digest more of it. Has anyone ever questioned why they do not treat these problems at their source instead of just dealing with the symptoms as they surface?
Yes, people have questioned this as well as the whole idea of pet food; hence, raw feeding has been 'resurfacing', so to speak. People call it a 'fad' without realizing that raw feeding has been around a heck of a lot longer than kibbled foods: one million years of raw to only 100 years—at the most—of kibble. Pelleted, processed food is the fad that has somehow managed to integrate itself into every single aspect of our pets' lives: medical care, training, leisure, nutrition, showing, breeding, you name it. This is, by and large, the way people feed their pets. It is easy, convenient, relatively cheap, and provides a much-needed outlet for all the waste products we as a society create (yep, waste products. That is exactly what goes into kibble.). Some entrepreneurial person—James Spratt—got the idea of feeding "biscuits" to our dogs as a meal, and the very first dog kibble was born (click here to read more about it). These biscuits then evolved into foods that contained all the meats and by-products that were no longer fit for human consumption (particularly after the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the 1906 Meat Inspection Act, which created the "meat dichotomy" of 'fit for human consumption' and 'unfit for human consumption'. Something had to be done with all that 'unfit' meat...), and thus modern commercial foods were created. Kibbled pet food is simply a by-product of our industrial era that ushered in modernity and the desire to do things cheap, easy, and fast. It is no wonder that many of the big-name brands of dog food are made by companies that create a lot of other food products—Nestle, Mars, Colgate-Palmolive, etc. They have easy access to cheap ingredients made by their own factories.
But kibbled foods have come a long way since their early prototypes. They have improved much, and there are a number of smaller companies that produce holistic, organic, or premium kibbles from human grade ingredients that are of great quality as far as commercial foods go. The majority of pet owners are happy to just feed brand-name, pre-made foods to their pets because it is convenient, easy, and their animals eat the food and appear to do well on it. They are part of the consumer society that swallows slick advertisements hook, line, and sinker. And if there is one thing pet food companies have down, it is advertising. They advertise all over the place: on TV, on the web, in hundreds of magazines, in schools, at dog shows (think of the Eukanuba Tournament of Champions; free bags of the sponsor's kibble are given to the winners at many dog shows.), at zoos, on billboards, and (most importantly) in your veterinarian's office (think of all those shelves filled with Purina foods, Hill's Science Diet, etc.). Raw feeding, however, has no such advertising capabilities, because people are supporting their local butchers, ranchers, farmers, etc., and are encouraging sustainable living practices rather than paying big bucks to make people buy some commercially-produced product. Raw feeding's advertising is through word-of-mouth and through the healthy dogs and cats that are fed such a diet (although with the advent of commercial raw diets, this has changed a bit. This site, however, does not nor ever will advocate commercial raw diets.).
One can rightfully ask: why raw and not kibble? People are asking that every day, and some are coming to the realization that while their dogs may be doing well, they could be doing better. This is one of the reasons people switch their pets if their pets do not have some major health problem. They switch because they believe their dogs or cats can have better quality lives if they are fed a raw diet. Sure, the dog's coat may be shiny and it may have a fit body while eating kibble, but they believe raw feeding can make it better and healthier. Here are some of the benefits people have seen in their dogs when feeding a raw diet:
A kibble-fed dog, while exhibiting a soft, shiny coat and a seemingly healthy body will often still exhibit the following:
What about cooked food? Please see the Cooked Food myth page and read chapter 4 in Raw Meaty Bones.
Most people consider all the above-mentioned problems normal (how did we get to the point where we consider all this normal? ). Since most people have never encountered raw fed dogs, they do not know what they are looking for and do not have anything to which they can compare their dogs. They may think their dog's breath and health is fine until they smell a raw-fed dog's breath and 'see' its health, just like many people think their dog is "well-trained" (it 'sits' and 'comes' when they ask...sometimes) until they come across a truly impeccably trained animal.
Raw feeding owners have woken up to the fact that their pets could have a better quality of life if they were fed a species appropriate raw diet that nature designed for them. They realized that there is a big difference between eating enough to survive and eating well. Kibble provided their pets with sufficient caloric intake and seemed to meet all their pets' nutritional requirements, but were their animals really living well and healthfully? They said 'no', and turned to a more natural way of feeding their animals.
So what about all these arguments against raw feeding
put forward by other pet owners, veterinarians, and pet food companies?
Is there any validity to them? Since this is an honest and candid look
at raw feeding, I will be frank: yes, these claims may have some
validity to them, but the 'problems' with raw feeding are not the
problems of epidemic, drastic proportions that they are made out to be.
There are risks to feeding raw, just as there are risks to feeding
kibble. No one seems to mention the risks of feeding kibble, perhaps
because pet food companies have been very good at making people believe
kibbled food is a risk-free diet for their pets. Here are some of the
risks of feeding raw:
Yes, choking can happen with raw meaty bones. The
primary culprit is a raw meaty bone that is too small for the dog (such
as single chicken wings or necks). To prevent this from occurring, feed
big raw meaty bones. Additionally, dogs that have been eating
commercial food must learn how to chew. They do not chew their kibble
but typically "inhale" and gulp the food down; they try to do this with
their first raw meaty bone and quickly learn that they need to CHEW
their food. So choking can and does occasionally happen. However, think
of all the other things that dogs choke on: kibble, pieces of rawhide,
rocks, sticks, water, raquet balls, tennis balls, broken-off pieces of
synthetic chew bones, pieces of toys. People tell you your dog will
choke to death on raw bones, but they conveniently neglect to mention
all the other things dogs choke on, including kibble (ever hear your
pet scarf its food and then suddenly give a nice big 'HORK'? Your pet
just choked. Good thing they managed to cough it up; other dogs have
not been so lucky.). Heck, dogs will choke on their own spit!! I know
mine has. The truth of it is that any object the dog places into its
mouth presents a choking hazard. I personally have heard of more dogs
choking on and then dying from tennis balls than I have heard of
raw-fed animals choking on their raw meaty bones (let alone dying from
Intestinal Perforation and Obstruction.
Yes, I suppose these could happen and have happened
to dogs. However, as one JAVMA
article put it: "the actual incidence of complications resulting from
the ingestion of raw bones is unknown" (Freeman, L.M. and K.E. Michel.
Evaluation of raw food diets for dogs. JAVMA. 218(5): 705-709).
People are claiming that this happens all the time without ever
providing evidence for these claims. Here are some other things that
will cause perforated intestines and obstructions (and always keep in
mind that dogs swallow some pretty weird things, including things like
knives, pieces of glass, needles and thread):
This happens if the dog is fed too much bone. There is
a simple solution: stop feeding so much bone, and feed more meat or
organs. If the dog has too hard of a time passing feces, increase the
meat and decrease the bone. Remember that dogs get constipated by
kibble as well, so this is not an exclusive 'raw feeding' problem.
Yes, this could possibly happen, but it is rather rare
(even in kibble-fed dogs) and usually occurs only in unwell animals
that are incapable of dealing with a population of bacteria (which,
coincidentally, is all throughout their intestines anyway): immune
compromised pets, sick pets, animals that have an underlying health
issue. As with all other anti-raw claims, you cannot take this one at
face value. You need to probe and question. What, exactly, was the
animal being fed? Were there any other complicating factors? Was the
bacteria septicemia secondary to some other health problem or following
recent vaccination (which can depress the immune system by 80% for as
long as 10 days post-vaccination)? Can they conclusively determine that
the dog got 'sick' from its food (remember, bacteria are absolutely
everywhere, and dogs often have a habit of eating anything and
everything)? The unfortunate truth of it is that many vets and pet
owners will simply blame the diet than work to find the real cause. An
example of this is on the Rawfed.com homepage: the article of the
two cats that supposedly died from salmonella. If you want a more
in-depth discussion of bacteria, see the Bacteria myth.
Additionally, if a raw-fed dog (or any dog) is afflicted with bacterial
septicemia, one must ask "Why? Why this dog? Why now?" Not EVERY dog
(raw-fed or otherwise) is afflicted with bacterial septicemia, so there
must be something going on that made this dog susceptible to an
overgrowth of bacteria.
Pancreatitis, kidney disease, and other diseases
claimed to be linked to raw feeding are in the same boat as bacterial
septicemia. What generally happens is that a) there are underlying
factors, b) there is an underlying disease, and c) the raw diet brings
these to light. With pancreatitis, it is typically kibble-fed dogs that
suffer from it when they receive a fatty meat they do not usually get.
It is also incredibly important to note that fat does not cause
pancreatitis; excess fat is simply a trigger for pancreatitis and may
start the cascade of effects in the pancreas. If ingesting a fatty meal
triggers a bout of pancreatitis, then that is indicative of some other
underlying problem with the pancreas (again, ask "Why this dog? Why
now?" Not every dog that eats raw meat or high quantities of fat "gets"
pancreatitis, so something about that particular dog indicates
"susceptibility"); the pancreatitis itself is a symptom that the
pancreas (and possibly other organs) are not well, because a healthy
dog with a healthy pancreas will not suffer from pancreatitis.
Surprisingly, many dogs that previously suffered from these diseases
while eating kibble have dramatically improved since switching to a raw
diet. Just wander around the Yahoo! Rawfeeding group and you will hear
some amazing testimonials. Just the fact that kibble-fed dogs can also
suffer horrific and deadly bouts of pancreatitis should be sufficient
to show that this is not a 'raw feeding' problem, particularly when
dogs with pancreas problems can be greatly helped from a raw diet
(since it is easier to digest and actually places less demand on the
pancreas). Can pancreatitis or kidney disease happen in a raw-fed dog?
Yes, they could. All things are possible, particularly when one has no
control over the kind of start the dog received in life (breeding, what
the parents were fed, what the pup was fed, what vaccinations and
wormers it received, etc.). For another, more detailed discussion of pancreatitis, please click here.
Yes, this can happen, but if you are getting your meat
from a human-approved source, this is not an issue (despite people
trying to blow it out of proportion and make you think it is). Just
think about the kind of meat that goes into kibble (dead, dying,
diseased, or disabled) and you will be much happier knowing your dog is
getting real human-grade meat in its fresh form. Yes, there will always
be a minimal risk that your dog can contract some parasite from meat,
but most parasites are not life-threatening and can be dealt with
easily (did I mention there was a minimal risk?). Contrast this to the
toxic molds that caused thousands of bags of dog food to be pulled off
the shelves once dogs starting getting sick and dying. For more
information on the parasite half-truth, see the Parasite myth.
This is what it comes down to: everything has a risk associated with it. That is the way life is. Regardless of what you feed your pets, there will ALWAYS be some sort of risk. These are the main risks of feeding a raw diet, but they are minimal risks, and people who feed raw truly feel that the benefits outweigh any possible risks. Claims of 'hundreds of dogs' suffering from punctured intestines or 'a high percentage of dogs' dying from pancreatitis induced by the "high fat content" in meat are unfounded scare tactics and undocumented generalizations. Kibble has risks, as well. Even feeding your dog a premium kibble still puts it at risk for choking, bloat, cancer, diabetes, obesity, telescoping bowel, anal sac problems, joint problems, and periodontal disease (which allows bacteria and bacterial toxins to enter your pet's body and affect every single organ). Home-cooked diets also have their own set of risks: unbalanced nutrition (since cooking alters and destroys many of the necessary nutrients) resulting in a myriad of health problems (some of which are fatal or irreversible), small intestine bacterial overgrowth, and periodontal disease, for example. Everything has risks whether we acknowledge them or not.
No one is going to force you to make a decision. This is your choice and no one else's. Choosing to feed raw will put you in conflict with the majority of vets and pet owners, and you will undoubtedly be attacked for your choice by both ignorant (yet well-meaning) people and by educated people. Be informed, be educated, and be prepared. The fact that you came to Rawfed.com already speaks volumes about you: you have an open mind and are willing to read and think critically, something most vehement anti-raw people do not share with you. Personally, I cannot help but wonder why raw feeding provokes such a visceral reaction from people and why we have come to believe that dogs are supposed to eat pre-formed pellets and nothing else. 'Dogs do not need variety.' 'Do not feed your dog people food or it will become finicky and will not eat its dog food.' I wonder why!! Real food versus processed pellets sprayed with fat? No wonder dogs prefer 'people food'.
As you leave this page, I hope that you will give some serious thought to the material presented here. Remember that really learning something makes one uncomfortable because one realizes they are deficient in some way; no one enjoys coming to that realization, especially when they must present or project a particular, well-learned image to others. I encourage you to work through the discomfort and to not just dismiss everything you have read here simply because it does not fall in line with what you personally believe or practice. Be critical in your thought and analysis of EVERYTHING, not just the myth arguments. When you see pet food advertisements, question the reality they are presenting to you. What things are being left out and unspoken? Everything that is presented to you via the media has been altered in some way to represent a new reality—the reality certain parties want you, the consumer, to hear—so what other realities are being neglected and ignored? Raw feeders are giving voice to some of these neglected realities. When vets encourage and sell commercial foods, ask them why. Why and how is a processed food better for our pets than fresh whole foods? You are very capable of providing your pet with the best quality of life that you can give it; it is up to you to decide to what lengths you will go to achieve that. Happy trails to you, and may you walk a blessed path.