Raw Food Diet for Pets: Supporting Evidence in Research
Evidence Supporting Raw Food Diet for Dogs and Cats
A recent study in Scientific Reports showed that dogs fed raw diets before six months of age were less likely to have gastrointestinal issues later in life (1). When I read this study, it reminded me of the “hygiene hypothesis” in humans. This theory revolves around numerous studies in children that showed exposure to germs early in life helps develop the immune system and build resilience. Some studies show that children who grow up in very clean environments have less asthma and eczema than those in very clean environments (also likely to be pet-free homes). This exposure to bugs early in life is like being “vaccinated.” It’s a way of schooling the immune system. It also applies to teaching the immune system with the exposure that there is no need to overreact to the environment either. There is new thinking about preventing peanut allergies, and pediatricians walk families through regular exposure to peanuts early in life to decrease the likelihood of peanut allergies later. Fascinating! The study in Scientific reports also concluded that feeding an ultra-processed, carbohydrate-laden diet predisposed to gastrointestinal issues later in life. Thankfully, more studies are showing the effect of food on the microbiome. The large food companies are finally acknowledging the impact of food on the microbiome, and the gallery says it’s about time!
Another study showed that dogs fed raw revealed that owners reported fewer skin allergy symptoms. Because it was an owner survey, it was deemed flawed, especially by those opposed to feeding raw. There’s another study that is not likely to get funded, but if we extrapolate from what we know in humans, it’s plausible! Diets less likely to precipitate inflammation, such as the Mediterranean diet, have benefits such as improved cardiovascular health, healthier skin, and less inflammation. It dumbfounds me that what we know about a healthy diet in humans has yet to be translated to our pets, and we are led to believe it is even dangerous to feed anything that is not ultra-processed!
Instead, we are led to believe that raw diets are too dangerous for our pets and can potentially expose our families to dangerous pathogens. Despite the studies that show pathogens in raw diets and even kibble (and our entire food supply, for that matter), there are very few reports of severe or life-threatening consequences of feeding raw diets. In fact, in 30 years in practice (a third in conventional Western medicine) and years taking care of many pets fed natural diets, I have never seen a human or pet fall ill from feeding raw that I know of. On the other hand, I’ve seen countless pets sickened and even killed by pet foods tainted or recalled, and I know for sure!
I’m not minimizing the zoonotic risks or risks to our pets. Indeed, they are present. Knowing this, raw feeders need to use the same hygiene practices as they would if they were handling and preparing raw food at home. I feed raw intermittently to my pets. Because of the ingrained fear of what could go wrong and knowing how unsafe our food supply has become due to the overuse of antibiotics, I will only feed raw from stores that have fresh, organic/naturally reared meat. Most of the meals I provide are cooked, but I periodically feed them raw as organic is only sometimes available and can be prohibitively expensive for my budget.
Pet parents can take a proactive stance in pets under six months to incorporate raw foods into their diet. Of course, it’s essential to consider the effects of fueling growth in giant breeds especially. I recommend seeking a veterinary nutritionist’s advice to attempt feeding a rapidly growing giant breed dog a raw diet. Too much of a good thing can cause developmental issues as they grow rapidly. Essentially their cartilage outgrows their blood supply, and there can be potential issues such as elbow and hip dysplasia. More research needs to be done to understand the effects of raw diets in development.
(1) Vuori, K.A., Hemida, M., Moore, R. et al. The effect of puppyhood and adolescent diet on the incidence of chronic enteropathy in dogs later in life. Sci Rep 13, 1830 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-023-27866-z
(2) Manal Hemida 1, Kristiina A Vuori 1, Siru Salin 1, Robin Moore 1, Johanna Anturaniemi 1, Anna Hielm-Björkman 1 Identification of modifiable pre- and postnatal dietary and environmental exposures associated with owner-reported canine atopic dermatitis in Finland using a web-based questionnaire.PLoS One. January 2020;15(5):e0225675.