By Diana Bocco
Raw food diets might be the oldest form of pet food; after all, they are very close to what ancient dogs used to eat. As more people become aware of the benefits of raw food diets for humans, more pet owners are switching their dogs to raw diets, as well, for a variety of reasons.
“As pet owners investigate what builds their own good health, they realize good food applies to the whole family—including the four-legged family,” explains Dr. Cathy Alinovi, DVM, a holistic veterinarian who is also certified in Veterinary Food Therapy and Chinese Herbal Therapy.
In fact, many dog owners switch to a raw diet because their dogs have health problems. This is exactly why dog owner Jessica Winstead put both her Chihuahua mixes on a diet of raw food mixed with canned pumpkin and sweet potato, even though the diet has had different, though positive, effects on the dogs.
“My older dog moved in along with my boyfriend about five years ago and he was slightly overweight, but the raw diet leaned him out,” Winstead says. “He also seems to have more energy.”
Her other dog, a four-year old rescue, went on a raw diet to address hair issues. “He was missing hair on the back of his spine and was slightly underweight, but since he's been on the raw diet his hair has evened out and he even gained a little weight,” Winstead says.
“Our older chi-mix weighs about five pounds more, so we feed him a half portion more than our other mix—but he still leaned out and our smaller guy still gained weight!”
Switching to a raw diet, however, is not always that simple. Here are five common mistakes owners often make when switching their dogs to a raw diet.
Mistake #1: Not Understanding the Basics of Nutrition
In simple words, a raw diet consists of uncooked meals. In reality, though, it's a bit more complicated than that.
“Some pet owners consider throwing a pound of raw hamburger in the bowl as being a raw diet,” says Dr. Judy Morgan, DVM, who is certified in Acupuncture and food therapy and is a member of the Botanical Veterinary Medical Association. This type of feeding, however, doesn't provide complete nutrition and can lead to health problems later on.
Ideally, a raw diet consists of uncooked meat plus what Alinovi calls additives.
“The additives range from bone to organ meat to vegetables and supplements,” Alinovi says. In addition, raw diets can also include some cooked grains or veggies. “And many people combine freeze dried products (base mixes of veggies, vitamins, and minerals) with raw meats,” explains Morgan.
The one problem with raw diets, according to Alinovi, is that there are no vitamin/mineral standards established for them.
“The 2006 NRC (National Research Council) guidelines are based on a dry dog food diet,” Alinovi says. “The possibility exists that supplementing a raw diet to meet NRC standards for kibble may provide excessive, possibly dangerously so, nutrients that may build up in the dog's body.”
What exactly does that mean for pet owners? It means that owners who are interested in raw diets should talk to a professional rather than just feeding their dogs uncooked meat.
“The difference is not so much in how a nutritionist and an owner define raw, the difference is more in what is considered balanced,” Alinovi says. For example, some dogs lose too much weight on raw food diets and might need the help of a nutritionist to figure out what to add to the mix (such as cooked grains or additional fat) to solve the problem.
Next: Raw is More than Meat