Many pet owners are fearful of feeding raw diets because of a number of opinions that circulate in the animal health industry.  Some of these are founded in reason, and others not so much.  Here are a few commonly raised questions regarding raw feeding:

Q: Aren’t bones dangerous?

A: Bones can be dangerous, when fed to an animal that doesn’t have the appropriate digestive environment to handle them. Pets eating processed pet foods that contain carbohydrate (which is essentially any pet food that comes in a bag with the exception of Ziwi Peak and Frontier Pets foods) have a less acid gastric environment and so are less able to break down fat and bone.  This can lead to issues like vomiting up bones, or constipation at the other end.

Bones can also be dangerous when an inappropriate bone is fed.  Bones should be large enough that your pet has to work to gnaw and bite pieces off rather than swallow them whole and risk choking.  Avoid chicken necks, these are the perfect choke hazard.

Beef bones can also be dangerous as they are such a hard bone.  They can cause slab fractures of the teeth, or wearing down of the enamel exposing the delicate pulp and leading to infection of the exposed root.  They are also too hard to be digested adequately, and in many animals will cause constipation.

Cooked bones are also dangerous.  They can block or perforate intestines.

So in summary, bones can be dangerous, but in an animal that is on a raw food diet, if appropriate bones are fed, they are an important component of a balanced diet providing many physical, nutritional and mental benefits.

Q: Which bones are safe to feed?

A: Soft, meaty edible bones.  Bones from animals who are small and young when slaughtered, such as lamb, turkey, chicken, quail and rabbit.  Readily available bones can include chicken carcasses, lamb necks or ribs, turkey necks, or kangaroo tails for dogs, or chicken wing tips for cats.  Bones should be roughly the size of your pet’s head.

Q: Isn’t the bacteria on raw meat dangerous to my pet?

A: There is certainly bacteria on raw meat, even human-grade meats come with a massive bacteria load. Humans don’t have a digestive tract that is designed for meat (we are anatomically frugivores) and so we have to cook it or we will very likely get sick.  In carnivores, however, their digestive tract is set up to handle raw meats, even meat that contains pathogenic bacteria such as E coli or Salmonella.  A raw fed pet will have highly acidic gastric secretions that are able to kill any pathogenic bacteria and a rapid gut transit time that prevents bacterial colonisation.

A pet who is still eating processed food, however, or has excess carbohydrates included in their diet, will likely not have a stomach acid that is strong enough to kill bacteria on the meat, and will have a sluggish transit time that is more likely going to allow time for harmful bacteria to colonise.  This is why we recommend that when transitioning your pet to a raw diet, it has to be all or nothing.  You can’t mix standard processed pet foods with raw foods as you may risk causing a bacterial gastroenteritis in your pet.  Get your pet off the carbohydrate-laden food, and within a week their gastric acidity levels will have recovered and be able to handle bacteria that may be present on raw foods.

Q: Is the bacteria on raw pet food dangerous to me or my family?

A: Not if normal kitchen hygiene practises are followed.  Clean all utensils and surfaces with warm soapy water and always wash your hands after handling raw meat.  Don’t leave uneaten bits of meat or bone lying around the house or yard, especially if there are children around.  If there is an immunocompromised person in the household, please talk to us about safe food handling practices before feeding your pets a raw diet.

Q: Can I just feed chicken carcasses and table scraps?

A: No.  This is not a balanced diet for a dog.  Neither is an all-meat diet.  Dogs need an appropriate balance of a variety of meats, organ meats, bones, leafy green matter and good fats, and cats need the same.  Dogs can also handle a proportion of carbohydrate in their diet if fed separate to meat meals and no more than a few times a week.  Feeding bones everyday will likely cause problems in older animals with a weakened digestive function as well.

Q: Isn’t it messy to feed this way?

A: It can be.  It is certainly messier than feeding a processed dry food out of a bag poured directly into a bowl. But if you are visiting our site we trust that you will put your pet’s health first.  Ways of minimising the mess include feeding dogs outside on a grassed area or on a tarp that can be washed down, and feeding cats either in the bathtub or shower recess or on an old towel that can be washed in a confined area.  Crates can also be utilised.

Q: Won’t my pet become aggressive if I feed a raw diet?

Dogs may sometimes resource guard foods such as meat and bones as these are foods worth guarding, unlike dry foods that taste like sawdust.  If you have a multi-pet household, we recommend feeding pets in separate areas, in crates, or tethering during mealtimes.

Resource guarding is not a sign of aggression, however, but rather just the dog trying to protect essential resources.  Understand their motivation and react accordingly by setting them up for success.  Do not leave bits of bone around in the yard for pets to fight over, and never leave pets unsupervised when feeding meat or bones.

Q: When should I feed my pet?

A: Cats are best fed twice daily.

Most adult dogs are happy on a once daily meal plan, but if it fits better with your lifestyle to feed twice daily then do so.  Generally adult dogs are best transitioned to a once daily feed plan once their gut has adjusted to raw feeding, as digestion and detoxification are optimised when fed only once a day.  Feed raw for 2-3 weeks to be sure the digestion has adjusted before transitioning to a once daily feeding plan.

Q: How much should I feed?

A: This often comes down to art rather than science, and will depend on many factors including life stage, health conditions, activity levels, body weight and condition.  As a starting point, adult dogs usually need between 2-3% of their bodyweight daily, but may eat up to 4-6% during puppyhood, or if following a Gorge and Fast model of feeding.  Cats usually require around 3-4% of their bodyweight daily.

If you have any further questions regarding raw natural diets, please visit us at the clinic, or book in for a nutrition consult with our trained nurses.