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A sceptic’s guide to raw food – 2

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01 April 2014, at 1:00am

Nick Thompson continues his series of the feeding of dogs and cats with raw food with a discussion of the practical considerations and the need to ensure that clients understand what they are doing

IN an ideal world I would have every healthy dog and cat in the country on a raw meat-based diet.

If my, and many colleagues’, experience is anything to go by, the number of dogs with chronic pruritic conditions would plummet, the gut, skin and dental health of our small animals would soar and the pharmaceutical consumption of the nation’s small animals would drop in inverse proportion to an obvious widespread welfare boom.

I realise this is a pipe-dream as many people can hardly feed themselves, let alone take on the responsibility of storing and defrosting food overnight. However, cost, which used to be an argument against raw, is no longer valid as most raw feeders’ food bills are reduced when they move fully onto raw compared to mid range processed foods. Obviously raw food is more expensive than super-economy products and will never be able to compete with this “food”.

Swapping dogs from kibble or tinned food is relatively easy. Most dogs will convert to raw in one to seven days. Some owners have stocks of food they need to run down, so changing over a month is also fine.

I find only 1-2% of dogs will actually refuse a raw meat-based diet. This is usually overcome by lightly sealing the food in a hot wok or frying pan before feeding for a few weeks. I do not give bony material to animals until they have changed over to raw completely.

Cats, on the other hand, are a completely different matter. My experience is only 10-20% of cats will convert over as easily as dogs. The rest require a bit of work. I find about 40% will convert over using the principles above, but just taking a little longer and being careful to avoid foods the cat dislikes, warming food, using sardines in tomato sauce, etc.

Rewarding

Moving kibble cats gradually onto wet food, then from wet to raw over the months can be rewarding. The remaining 40% require the above and a tonne of patience. Some can take 6-12 months to change over. Some, few, will never leave the safe haven of their kibble or wet foods.

Clients may need support with the changeover. In addition to a 30-60 minute consultation to initially guide and educate them, I give preprinted diet and fact sheets to help. I also give a bibliography of books, starting with the most basic (Clare Middle’s Real Food for Dogs and Cats) to more in-depth tomes (Home-Prepared Diets for Dogs and Cats by Donald R. Strombeck – he who wrote the textbook on small animal internal medicine) and many more besides.

Clients want to understand what they are doing and reading allows this. The vet is there to help guide them with the many questions that arise from this research; a good example of vet as health promoter, not disease manager. 

More information (too much, frankly) is available online. Many clients find the raw feeding groups on Facebook very useful, but I warn them that most opinions come from an “it worked for my dog” perspective. Companies supplying raw diets usually have a lot of information to download and knowledgeable support staff at the end of a phone line. 

For cat owners, www.feline-nutrition.org offers good advice; for dog owners, there are a plethora of sites, all with good and bad aspects. Going with veterinary- approved advice is a good guideline.

Quality meat is easy to find these days. There are a number of companies producing meat/mince and combined meat/veg products. For greatest peace of mind re nutritional content and bacterial vigilance, you can send clients to those producers who are working to the guidelines of the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, the PFMA, whose members conform to the European FEDIAF nutrition standards.

Salmonella and bacteriological contamination will be part of every introductory conversation with clients wanting to investigate raw food. Responsible raw meat producers are regulated by EU law.

There are strict microbiological standards for both Salmonella and Enterobacteriaceae in raw pet foods contained within the EU Animal By- Products Regulations. These regulations are enforced in England by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratory Agency (AHVLA). The full details are contained in Annex XIII Chapt II. 6. of EU Regulation 142/2011. Thus, Salmonella should be absent from raw pet foods and the Enterobacteriaceae level is lower than for most human meat products. 

The “bones question” will always raise its head at this point. My approach is to state that feeding wet and kibble foods will cause the build-up of tartar and periodontal disease, even in animals as young as three years.

This can be helped by cleaning teeth, but most people aren’t good at this and the result is ongoing periodontal disease (associated in humans with low birthweight babies, cardiac, renal and hepatic disease, among others).

Dentals will clean teeth, but there is risk in all anaesthetic procedures and the periodontal disease will be back on its way within a few weeks. The very small risk of foreign body blockage in mouth, oesophagus or gut in the bone/carcase eating animal is, in my opinion, comparable, if not less than the more usual continual barrage of bacteria and surgery. 

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