Is it safe to feed my dogs a raw food diet?

Last night, I sat down with dog food nutrition blogger and author of A Novice’s Guide to Raw Feeding for Dogs, Kimberly Gauthier.

For over 5 years, Kimberly has been feeding her dogs a raw food diet. Her story begins when her Border Collie-Great Pyrenees Mix, Rodrigo, started having health problems such as skin allergies and joint disease. She was told that he would not live a full life.

It was then she started seeking information about raw food diets. Today, Rodrigo is happy and healthy and he has lived well beyond the veterinarian’s estimate. At eight years of age, he enjoys running around Kimberly’s five acres and he is very healthy and active.

If you have been paying attention, the raw food diet has gained much attention in the last few years.

I first learned about raw food diets back in 2013 after reading Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs by Ted Kerasote. This book was a major eye-opener for me.

As a former veterinary technician in the Army, I realized from reading this book that a lot had changed in the 10 years since I had worked in veterinary practice. I discovered that the prevalence of cancer in pet dogs was on the rise; dogs as young as three years old were being diagnosed with cancer.

Kerasote pointed out several reasons for the rise in cancer among pets.

  1. Exposure to chemicals
  2. Overvaccination
  3. Nutritionally inappropriate foods

Exposure to Chemicals

We rarely think about the chemicals in our environment but they are everywhere. From furniture to dog toys to dog beds to feeding bowls not to mention household cleaners and lawn chemicals and pesticides, we figuratively swim in a chemical ocean according to Kerasote.

As for our furry companions who sit low to the ground, their exposure to chemicals is 500 times more potent than our own.

From phthalates in plastic bowls and dog toys to preservatives like BHA and BHT, chemicals are everywhere and they wage war daily on the immune systems of our pets. It’s no wonder why they are being diagnosed with cancer at an early age.

Overvaccination

Vaccination saves lives. There is no question about it. But are we overdoing it when it comes to our pets?

Vaccines contain adjuvants, powerful substances that enhance the immune system’s response to the antigen in a vaccine. Unlike humans, who receive a series of vaccinations up until their young adult years, dogs and cats receive yearly vaccines.

Because they receive annual vaccines, dogs and cats end up being vaccinated many more times over humans. As the number of vaccines adds up, the risk of developing cancer also increases.

Thankfully, new protocols are rolling out. Some annual vaccines have now been replaced with three-year vaccines, which reduces the number of vaccines our dogs and cats are receiving but Kerasote points out that his research found vaccines like the Distemper cocktail is effective for up to 15 years (that’s usually the life of the animal) and the Rabies vaccine is effective for 7 years.

Holistic and integrative veterinarians are beginning to promote the practice of titering pets.

A titer test is when a blood sample is drawn from your pet to evaluate the immunity level of vaccines. When I was a vet tech, I had to be vaccinated for rabies. A few years ago, I had asked my doctor to titer me for rabies and I am still immune. Unfortunately, because rabies is a public health risk, I do not foresee laws being changed to allow one vaccine over the life of an animal. On a positive note, you can elect to have your dog titered for distemper. As long as the level is good, there is no reason to revaccinate.

Nutritionally inappropriate foods

For the last century, marketers have done a great job convincing veterinarians and pet owners to buy kibble. Kibble is promoted as the only food your dog will ever need. It is convenient, it has a long shelf life, and best of all, it is inexpensive. Who wouldn’t want to feed kibble to their dogs?

The problem with kibble, in my opinion, is the fact that it is mostly carbohydrate based. Main ingredients used in making kibble are wheat, corn, and gluten.

How does raw food stack up to kibble?
Download free pdf courtesy of keepthetailwagging.com

Wheat and corn are allergens to dogs. Gluten, plant-based protein, is also an allergen to dogs. Besides that, carbohydrates like wheat and corn are starches. The problem with starches is the fact that dogs do not produce amylase to be able to break down carbohydrates.

Dogs do produce the digestive enzymes protease and lipase, which break down proteins and fats respectively. As it turns out, our furry companions are carnivores that are designed to eat meat.

This is what led me to get in touch with Kimberly.

We talked for almost twenty minutes about her experience feeding her dogs a raw food diet.

Is raw food expensive? Can someone on a budget feed raw?

Kimberly taught me that raw feeding can be expensive but there are ways to save money when it comes to feeding your dogs a nutritionally appropriate diet.

She explained that feeding premade raw is what can be expensive. However, it can be a timesaver compared with preparing your own fresh food.

When it comes to saving money, she recommends getting in touch with local raw food co-ops.

If you can buy in bulk, there is also a good chance to lower your costs.

How do I get started feeding raw? What’s the best way to transition?

Kimberly offered the following advice:

  1. Start out feeding premade raw to transition.
  2. Establish a “light meal” day
  3. Add bone broth to kibble.
  4. Start with something easy like chicken or duck wings and chicken quarters.

When she started feeding raw, she described how she fed two meals a day, one being a kibble meal in the morning and the second meal being premade raw.

Another strategy she suggests is starting out by making dog treats. There are lots of ideas online about making fresh treats for your dogs.

At the end of our discussion, it is my opinion that feeding a raw food diet is the best way to feed your pets. While there is much division in the veterinary profession when it comes to raw feeding, it still provides optimal nutrition for our pets.

For more information on transitioning your dogs to raw, buy Kimberly’s book, A Novice’s Guide to Raw Feeding for Dogs.

You can connect with Kimberly by visiting her blog, keepthetailwagging.com.

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