Last month, we started to discuss the differences between commercial, ‘responsible raw’ feeding and home-made diets, the latter where ingredients are primarily bought from supermarkets or butchers. This was particularly in relation to EU legislation and potential food-borne pathogens such as Salmonella. In this article, I will address some other concerns about raw feeding, beyond potential bacterial pathogens.
Though not always immediately obvious when thinking about raw feeding, parasites are a potential problem. There are stages in tapeworm lifecycles, for example, which may involve animal meat of the type typically used for pet food, and where this meat could then be consumed by a dog or cat. What can we do to ensure a raw-fed pet isn’t exposed to a higher burden of parasites than a non-raw-fed pet?
This problem can be overcome with an evidence-based freezing protocol. Raw materials can be deep frozen at -18°C for a minimum of 10 days. This freezing protocol has been shown to kill tapeworms, roundworms and protozoa that may be of concern if present in raw meat.
It is highly unlikely that a home-made diet, bought with ingredients from a regular supermarket or butcher, will have had such a protocol in place, as this food is intended to be cooked. Therefore, any parasites may still pose a risk.
Another concern often cited with regards to raw feeding is that the diet will not be complete and balanced. It has been shown in studies (e.g. Dillitzer et al., 2011) that it is very hard to get nutrition levels correct in a home-made diet, and that long-term nutritional deficiencies will lead to health problems in pets.
Companies joining the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) agree to abide by European Pet Food Industry Federation (FEDIAF) guidelines with regards to nutrition, labelling and safety.
They must follow an evidence-based document that advises on minimum (and sometimes maximum) levels of dietary components, such as essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.
If a raw pet food company is a member of the PFMA, you can be assured its products are complete and balanced, providing all an animal will need, from a nutritional point of view, to thrive.
Some people may ask: “Do raw bones have to be part of a complete raw diet?” While responsibly-chosen and sourced raw meaty bones may be seen by some as having dental and behavioural benefits (Marx et al., 2016), from a nutritional point of view there is no need to include them if the animal has an otherwise complete and balanced diet.
In conclusion, there are several key things to remember when advising a client on how to provide a raw diet:
1. A commercially-manufactured raw diet will almost always be more suitable for a healthy animal than a home-made raw diet.
2. Ensure the company you are buying the commercial diet from is a Defra-registered raw pet food company, meaning they must abide by EU legislation for, for example, microbiological testing of raw materials and traceability.
3. Check to see if the raw food manufacturer has a freezing protocol in place to kill parasites that may be present in raw food.
4. Ensure the company is a member of the PFMA and therefore has agreed to conform to FEDIAF standards with regards to what constitutes a nutritionally complete and balanced product. Whether you’re an advocate of raw feeding, are completely against the idea or are neutral about the subject, it’s our duty as veterinary professionals to be able to provide open, objective advice to clients who wish to pursue it as a dietary choice for their pet, so they can do it as safely and responsibly as possible.