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A sceptic’s guide to raw food – 4

01 July 2014, at 1:00am

Nick Thompson continues his series on the feeding of dogs and cats with raw food with a discussion of the many issues arising and how they should be handled.

ISSUES arising from feeding dogs and cats a raw food diet are many – most of them good. But, as with all things veterinary, things don’t always go to plan.

In this month’s instalment, I’d like to discuss how to deal with issues when all does not run as smoothly as you would want.

Usually dogs and cats going onto raw food will make a smooth transition (cats usually taking more time and work than dogs, but they are cats) and all will be well.

I have seen problems with pets refusing to eat raw, with owners worried about their pets’ reduced drinking on raw, with dogs and cats who will not eat bones/chicken wings, etc., with animals whose symptoms persist, even on raw, with animals who are fine for months on raw, then suddenly symptoms return, and with pets who suddenly go off their raw food.

Let’s go through these scenarios sequentially.

If a cat or dog refuses raw when first presented, it’s usually because it’s such a new experience that they don’t really understand what to do with the food. First get them back onto their previous diet to ensure nutrient intake. Then transition (going from wet food to raw is easier than dry food to raw) more slowly onto the raw food diet, remembering that with cats this can take months.

If they refuse even then, consider steaming the vegetables before blending and “sealing” the meat in a hot pan/wok to warm the meat and give colour and flavour to the surface of the meat, leaving the interior raw.

If they still refuse, consider changing the meat; if on meat, try sh; if on beef/lamb, try poultry; and vice versa. At a push, try adding tinned sardines or raw tripe to the food to enhance the smell.

The worried phone call from owners saying their dog and, most frequently, their cat has reduced their drinking is a common sequel to a successful transition to raw food. Some cats actually stop drinking altogether when on raw food. Anxieties are easily quelled when you explain about the new water content of the diet.

Cats and dogs who do not eat bony material is a problem. I usually suggest trying heart initially to get them chewing something. Hearts, beef or lamb usually are really good to get the pet thinking about really using their mouths, jaws and teeth.

This can be enough to then get them started on chicken carcases, turkey necks and the like, later on. If not, a hot wok and ash-frying them for seconds can be sufficient to brown the skin without cooking the bones (never feed cooked bones – they are dangerous).

Other alternatives are looking for bony material from different sources, e.g. fish, venison, turkey, duck, goose or pork can be helpful. Meaty bones are best as the meat cushions the teeth going through the bone and will make a bone more attractive to those animals who are not interested in bone/ cartilage.

If one takes a cat or dog onto a raw food diet for clinical reasons, say bowel or skin problems, and those symptoms persist, there can be a number of causes. First, one would have to question one’s diagnosis and consider re-evaluating the case. Secondly, change the raw food; change the protein and change the vegetable component and try for at least two weeks if the condition allows.

A “raw diet” is a very flexible phenomenon. As long as it is complete and balanced, you have a very broad scope to make up something that suits the patient. Make sure the owners are compliant with the diet and not giving treats out with the plan. Clients are usually motivated if they’ve gone to the trouble of converting to a raw diet, but disillusionment can set in with some if you don’t get instant results.

Symptoms returning some months after a successful change to a raw food diet, with initial miraculous results, is seen when transitioning dogs and cats. If the improvement only lasts for a few months, then the obvious thing to do is to change the protein to something that re-establishes the improvement and is appetising to the patient and acceptable to the owner.

I will always try to get even the most sensitive dogs and cats onto a number of proteins, rotating daily or weekly so as to not provoke sensitivity due to chronic exposure to a single protein. One can consider beef and tripe to have very different allergenicity. I have dogs sensitive to beef but not to tripe, and vice versa (I think it is to do with the high digestibility of the tripe).

Pets going off raw is a rare problem and usually solved with a change of protein. If, after having exhausted many new veg/meat combos, they still refuse, I will add rice, quinoa, amaranth or buckwheat to “stodge up” the food. I will also consider steaming the veg and lightly cooking the meat. This can often help some older animals, too. 

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