Raw Diet Debate - and alternatives!

I received an email from a production assistant for Toronto Dogcast and I was excited to connect with another dog lover who is working to educate the public on how they can help their dogs! Joe and I chatted a bit, and we had a chuckle when I said that everyone can get a Google degree. It's true!


But let's talk raw diets.


First, we need to mention that the majority of veterinarians in North America will be against feeding raw. In fact, behind the scenes, you will find veterinarians lamenting, and others cringing, when we cannot convince a client that their puppy should not be fed a raw diet. Seriously. We have a veterinary network of folks, and there are board certified veterinary nutritionists that do not want the legal implications that could come from recommending a raw diet.


So here's the scoop...


When we enter the profession, we take an oath. This includes protecting the health of the public. We have an obligation to educate pet owners when there is a risk to Public Health. For example, why does your dog need to have a broad spectrum deworming medication? We want to protect them from Echinococcus, but in reality we are trying to protect your family from Echinococcus. In another example, cats don't get Lyme disease (or rarely), so why does your indoor/outdoor kitty need tick protection? Because your kitty sleeps on your sofa or bed and leaves the tick behind for you and your family to contract Lyme disease - this is life altering! The health of the individuals in your home will trump the health of your dog (or cat). It is also the reason why all dogs (cats and ferrets) have a legal obligation to be vaccinated for Rabies (in Ontario). Not because we think your indoor only cat is going to get Rabies - but it's mandated by law to protect the public.


So, when I get an owner that mentions they feed raw or they are considering raw the first questions that come up are:


1) Are there any children in the house? Are there any elderly or immunocompromised folks? Are there any pregnant women - who also fall under immunocompromised?


2) What is proper food handling? How are you handling this raw food? Are you wearing gloves to protect yourself and your children? Where are you defrosting it? How long are you defrosting it before serving it?


3) Does the raw food have any seafood in it? This is my own take, which a lot of people won't know. Fish should be thawed on ice in your fridge. My father was a plant engineer in the fishing industry. Fish should be kept on ice. If it smells fishy - that is the bacteria growing on it! Ewww! So when your dog comes in with diarrhea and you wonder what it is - the first thing I'm going to tell you is that your dog got sick from the raw diet - at minimum do not feed raw fish!


What about chicken? If you are the cook in your family, you know or maybe didn't know, that we cook our chicken until it is no longer pink - to kill the bacteria so it doesn't make us sick. This is why there are minimal food safe cooking temperatures! Check out the link to Health Canada for more.




We cook pork so that it kills the Trichinella (little tiny worms) in the meat.



How long out of the refrigerator can the meat sit without development of a bacterial load that your pet can handle? Sometimes your dog cannot handle even the smallest amount of E. coli or Salmonella (which is why if you cook the same raw dog food they don't get sick).



4) From the health perspective of your pet - Who formulated the diet? Was it formulated by a veterinary nutritionist? This is someone that has a board certification in nutrition (ACVN, ECVCN). If you want what is best nutritionally for your pet, why not feed something that is formulated by someone who has a degree in pet nutrition?



To the future veterinarians reading this:


1) Educate, educate, educate. Diet is a huge component in pet health. Just because you only received 4 hours of nutrition in your veterinary education, does not take away from your obligation to educate. You cannot ignore the diet component of your patient's health. We can only do our part on client education - just as in school, how you receive the information and process it is on you. Telling them not to feed raw without providing alternatives is not an option! Point them in the right direction! You cannot force people to do things. This is not a dictatorship! You need to work as a team with your clients otherwise they will not trust you.


Let's say their dog hates kibble. For example, I have a young bully patient with itchy skin, who is on a raw diet because the owners think it will help. She won't eat kibble, but they never tried canned food. I cracked open a can of hypo wet food and offered it to her - she ate this before eating the liver treats I had put in the bowl as well. Mind blown! It's up to the pet owner to listen, but it is the veterinarian's obligation to provide an appropriate alternative.


2) Protect yourself and your staff. Note on the patient's file that the pet eats raw so that the staff can be forewarned to protect themselves by wearing PPE.


3) Document. Your medical records are legal documents. Write everything down. If you did not document it, it did not happen. Mention that you are in line with your VMA's guidelines, that you discouraged the owner about feeding raw, and the reasons why.

For us, it's liability. We are held liable for our recommendations. The position statements for our national bodies are constantly changing! Just as it was historically ok to declaw cats, and crop dog's ears, it is now considered illegal in some provinces, and hopefully all very soon.




So what is the CVMA's position statement on raw diets?


Published in July 2018:

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) accepts the evidence for potential health risks to pets fed raw meat-based diets (RMBDs), and to humans who are in contact with RMBDs, or with pets fed RMBDs. The CVMA holds that the documented scientific evidence of potential animal and public health risks in feeding RMBDs outweighs any perceived benefits of this feeding practice.

The health risks to pets and their people outweigh the perceived benefits of feeding raw.

Raw diets are/were popular. I think one of Joe's guests mentioned it's a FAD - and I would have to agree with that statement. More commonly now, there are fewer folks feeding frozen-thawed raw and I hear more about freeze-dried raw diets. Which I am sure is another fad. Just as grain-free diets are a fad.

The only thing I can say and repeatedly: Who formulated the diet? Does it meet minimum AAFCO standards? I won't go into too much detail on AAFCO - If you want the nitty gritty - you can head here! The CFIA does not regulate pet food production in Canada. They do however regulate export and import of pet foods, including treats and chews that have animal products in them. "Pet foods exported from Canada may need to have an official zoosanitary health certificate, which is issued by the CFIA." Pet products coming into Canada need to be regulated to prevent spread of animal diseases from the countries of origin. The U.S. is more strict with their pet food regulations using the FDA for more regulation of the ingredients that go into the pet food.


The American Veterinary Medical Association has their own position statements that gives their veterinarians guidelines on how to practice, including their statement on raw diets.




So what is the solution?


I discussed picky dogs in a previous post on nutrition.


1) Use a diet that has a palatability guarantee - your pet likes it, or you get full reimbursement for the food. I think that's a great investment!


2) Home-cooked diets are great - when balanced properly for that individual pet. You can get a veterinary nutritionist to balance a homemade diet for your pet. There are two in Canada: the University of Guelph OVC Nutrition service and the University of Saskatchewan WCVM Nutrition service. Homemade diets can be great for pets with multiple health issues, such as allergies and concurrent predisposition to crystals in their urine, or kidney disease. Basically any pet with comorbidities would benefit from their own veterinary nutritionist!


The folks that come to me that are making a homemade diet do not know how to balance the diets they are cooking. I suspect that they are getting their nutrition degrees from Google. Or the high school student working at the pet store? I actually do not know. Adding fruits and vegetables to the meat is not balancing the diet.


Owners are always trying to do what is best for their dog. They cook for their dogs because it comes from a place of love, but it can be detrimental if they are not receiving the vitamins and minerals they need for optimal health - or if they are receiving too much of something it can also be detrimental. If you take your dog to the veterinary clinic and you mention that you feed your dog raw, and they do not say anything about this, they are not doing their jobs as veterinarians. (Sorry, not sorry)


If your pet does not have a health condition, you can use the recipe builder on BalanceIT.com to formulate and balance the diet of your choice for you dog or cat! "These recipe settings were created over the years by veterinarians who are board certified specialists in nutrition and who hold graduate degrees in nutrition."


I personally do not have the time to even cook for myself, so my cat is going to be fed a commercially produced dry kibble and canned wet food that has been formulated by a veterinary nutritionist - because I stand behind the knowledge of these specialists in their field. Just as your GP refers you to a gastroenterologist for your IBS symptoms, or in my case a reproductive endocrinologist for my fertility issues, your GP veterinarian can refer you to a veterinary nutritionist!


For more info on what to feed your dog head here.


If you have ideas for future blog topics,

please feel free to drop me a line. 

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