What About RAW
by Michael Wright, D.V.M.
If you read the article “What’s Really in Pet Food?” in last month’s Pet Planet and was angered and upset, then I hope you will enjoy a different perspective on what to feed your pet companion. I was asked to write an “objective” article about feeding a raw food diet to our companion dogs and cats, but I must tell you up front that I am unable to present an objective viewpoint about this subject. In fact, I am so prejudiced towards feeding a raw food diet that I can’t be objective. Now before you judge me a quack or some kind of kook, I invite you to read the article first and then make your judgments.
I have been practicing veterinary medicine for twenty seven-years. About fourteen years ago I had become very disappointed and frustrated with the results I was getting in my patients. The training I had received in school and continuing education did not provide me with the tools to cure disease. I thought it was just myself initially. Maybe I hadn’t been paying attention in school. I must have missed out on some important lectures or courses. But I soon discovered that no one else was curing diseases with our medical training. We were treating symptoms and making them, “disappear”, only to have these symptoms come back again in a short time. We were not addressing the root cause of the symptoms.
Then I began a journey in alternative therapies and it became abundantly clear that nutrition was the most important therapy or modality that anyone could do to improve their pet’s health as well as their own. I think it is ludicrous that nutrition is considered an alternative therapy, but let’s forget semantics and make the best of the situation. In veterinary school I was taught a lot about medicine and surgery, but unfortunately very little information was given about nutrition and twenty-seven years later I am sorry to say not much has changed.
Today I believe a balanced raw food diet is the only way to feed our pet companions though I did not always think that way. I believe good nutrition is the foundation for good health. Over the years I continue to ask pet owners, “What did dogs and cats eat before we were here?” Many times I do not get answers, but my hope is to stimulate people to think about the question. Ignore all the advertising and put away what everyone else tells you. In fact I want you to doubt what I am telling you now and try to prove me wrong. Conduct your own research and get the facts. When I have clients pursue this course of action, I see that people discover the truth for themselves. As they say the truth will set you free, but in this case it will make you and your pet healthy
Now back to our question, “what did dogs and cats eat before we were involved in their lives?” I ask pet owners if they have ever seen a dog or cat in a cornfield grazing on corn on the cob. Also have they ever seen a dog or cat grazing in a wheat or soybean field? These are facetious questions. It doesn’t happen, but why do most of the commercial dog and cat foods contain these products? Corn, Corn Meal, Corn Gluten Meal, Soybean, Soybean Mill Run, Wheat Flour, and Wheat Middling. The answer is simple and basic if we look at the big picture. It is all about economics, not what is best for our pet friends. I invite the reader to explore who owns the commercial pet food companies. In short order you will find only a few large human food production corporations at the top. This gives the human food producers/processors a place to dispose of the “leftovers” making this a very convenient arrangement.
I would like to add one final comment about the use of grains in pet foods and maybe even in our own foods. I recently heard a most enlightening lecture by Dr. John Symes D.V.M. on this very topic of grains vs. man and animals. I was amazed at the detailed information that Dr. Symes delivered on how these products affect dogs, cats and even humans. He has a web site that covers this subject matter in great detail. I encourage everyone to visit www.dogtorJ.net if you want to have a deeper understanding of how these food substances can harm your pet and even yourself.
So what should our dogs and cats eat? Again ask yourself what did they eat before man was involved in their lives. They went out and hunted for their food. They would catch mice, birds, rabbits, fish, deer, even insects and other small creatures. They did not take the prey back to a campfire or grill and cook it medium rare. No, they ate it raw. Today it is not practical or even possible to let our dogs and cats go hunting, so the next best solution is to feed a raw food diet. This will mimic as close as we can to what they would eat if they were on their own.
Dogs and cats are carnivores. The definition of a carnivore is a raw flesh eater. In fact cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they have a higher demand for meat than dogs do. Dogs’ and cats’ digestive systems have evolved over millions of years to consume a raw diet. Dogs and cats’ anatomy has not changed in all the years since we domesticated them. From the teeth in their mouth through their digestive tract, they are made to digest raw food. However, over a few centuries man comes along and domesticates these animals and starts feeding them cooked foods (mostly table scraps) initially, but over the past fifty to sixty years the real harm occurs with the feeding of processed foods in bags and cans. Do we think we are smarter than Mother Nature? Or could it be all about convenience and the all mighty dollar again? The pet food industry today is estimated to be approximately a 15 billion dollar a year business.
If the commercial dry and canned foods are so wonderful, why are we not seeing health in our pets? Why are we seeing so many health problems (disease) in veterinary clinics and hospitals? It is estimated that approximately 60 to 70% of all the health problems we see in our dogs and cats today is due to a poor diet. I personally believe it is much higher. A quote attributed to C. Everett Koop, a past Surgeon General stated, “67% of all disease in humans is due to poor diet.” Interesting how the percentage of health problems in dogs and cats due to poor diets mimic that of humans. This is a very sad situation, but one that is under our complete control. We have the power to improve our own health as well as our pets’ by gaining the knowledge and understanding about proper nutrition.
Skin, ear, gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, obesity, diabetes, dental and even some behavioral issues are just a few of the problems that can be helped when we feed our pets in the way they were designed to eat. Medications seem to palliate or suppress the symptoms of the patient, but the symptoms only return over and over again when the medication is stopped or the effects of the medication wear off. If you have experienced this revolving door effect maybe it is time to consider a different approach to treating your pet’s problems.
Finally there is CANCER. It is at an all time epidemic in dogs. At present time cancer will affect one out of every two or three dogs depending on whose statistics you want to believe. When I graduated from veterinary school twenty-seven years ago, cancer was something you saw in older dogs (thirteen years or up), but today we see this condition very often in what I call the middle age group (five to ten years old) and we are also seeing it in even younger dogs as well. What is causing this to occur in such a large percentage of dogs and in such young animals? I believe it is the same reason that we are seeing so much cancer in human beings. Poor quality diet. Too much processed foods. Too many chemicals in the food. Start to look at the labels on pet foods and your own foods. When you see names like BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, glutens, by-products, digest, artificial colors, artificial flavors, nitrates, nitrites and propylene glycol maybe it is time to ask what do these products provide nutritionally and what harm can they do to my pet or myself? None of them provide anything nutritionally for your pet, but if you research each item listed above you will find that they can be very harmful to your pet’s health as well as your own.
One of the first books I read when I realized the importance of nutrition as a foundation for health was Reigning Cats and Dogs by Pat McKay. What I enjoyed about Pat’s book was the way she made you think about what dogs and cats ate. She made you think like a dog and cat instead of a human being. We are not carnivores, but we must realize that dogs and cats are. The following is a quote from Pat McKay:
“Cooked food is dead. Everything in a can or a bag is cooked. All processed foods for people or animals have been cooked, sterilized, or pasteurized, which means all the enzymes that are needed to digest and utilize the food are destroyed. The saying ‘We are what we eat,’ is not exactly correct. We are what we utilize.”
Live food is essential for health. It is the ultimate source of life. There is no other way to be disease free. No matter who tells you that a certain brand of commercial food or home-cooked food is healthy, it is not. It is dead – no enzymes, no friendly bacteria. Veterinarians, animal nutritionists, pet store owners, store clerks, authors of nutrition books, or anyone else suggesting cooked foods are not familiar with which foods and supplements are necessary for health. If they were, they would not be prescribing, suggesting, and selling cooked foods for carnivores. All canines and felines were designed to eat raw food.
The key to health is keeping live foods in the body. Live foods have enzymes; little protein molecules, which are essential for digesting food, for stimulating the brain, for providing cellular energy, for repairing all tissues, organs, and cells, and functions so diverse that it is impossible to name them all.
“Animals and people cannot exist without enzymes. It is a myth that you can take supplements and make up for enzymes. Supplemental enzymes, vitamins, and minerals can be very helpful, but they do not make up for RAW food.”
I believe Pat’s statement pretty much sums up the importance of feeding raw foods, but another well-known authority is Dr. Richard Pitcairn D.V.M. who has the following to say:
“…When I began to suggest the feeding of raw meat, I found animals becoming more healthy even without other treatment. Indeed, I have frequently had the report that people find their animals become healthy when they make this change and diseases for which they were hoping to have treatment (on a waiting list) have disappeared. Since that time, other veterinarians have told me similar things about the use of raw meat. I do not have numbers but I think the veterinarians recommending raw meat in the U.S. are in the hundreds. My experience, albeit clinical and not based on studies, is that my patients have improved health on a raw diet. Furthermore, I have not seen significant parasite problems. Dogs and cats, being carnivores by nature, are meant to eat raw meat and do not have a problem doing so.”
This is all in agreement with what Dr. Francis Pottenger M.D. observed in his famous dietary trials on cats back in 1932 to 1942. He arrived at the same conclusions; raw foods provide health for cats. I invite you to read more about Dr. Pottenger’s famous dietary trials at: www.pricepottenger.org/articles/pottscats.html.
The following questions and concerns always come up in a discussion of feeding raw foods to pets. Doesn’t that give them worms? Won’t they become mean and aggressive? Doesn’t eating raw meat, especially chicken, give them E. coli and salmonella? To all of these questions I answer a resounding NO concerning the dog or cat. However, I do strongly warn the owners about the dangers of improperly handling raw meat for their own health. For the dog and cat this is a different story. Due to their short and highly acidic digestive tract, dogs and cats seem to handle bacteria very well. In all the years of recommending raw foods I have not had one dog or cat develop gastrointestinal problems due to salmonella or E. coli. Other veterinarians I know who promote raw food diets have not encountered these problems either. Haven’t you ever seen your cat or dog enjoy eating something you consider disgusting and wondered why he or he doesn’t get sick? That is not to say that dogs and cats are completely immune to these bacteria, they are simply much less susceptible to them than humans.
Mary L. Wulff-Tilford author of “All You Ever Wanted To Know About Herbs For Pets” states the following so eloquently. “The food your animal eats should provide all of the nutritional components which are necessary for all organs and systems of a healthy body to perform in harmonious unison. A properly functioning body does an amazing job at preventing disease and healing itself, and to do this it requires the energies and nutrients of a well-balanced diet:
“Finding the proper diet for our companions means learning to look beyond our own needs, opinions, and agendas to address the natural needs of the animals that we care take. The business of selling pet food at times seems to be focused more on what appeals to animal guardians than on the dietary needs of pets. The market success of most commercial foods is judged by how convenient they are, and how good they look, smell, feel, or even taste to pet owners. The natural reality is this: what is good for our animals may be appalling to us, but if we really wish to provide them with the nutrition they truly need, we must learn to look beyond standards of human acceptance to consider what our pets might eat if we weren’t around. ”
Where does a person begin if he or she wants to start feeding their companion dog or cat in this manner? There are many references that can guide a pet owner on how to prepare a balanced raw homemade diet. I have listed some of these resources at the end of the article. For those owners who feel they don’t have the time, but are interested in this approach to feeding, there are several companies that prepare frozen raw foods. I have listed a few of those companies, but it is not an all-inclusive list.
I will say that not every dog and cat can easily and readily switch to a raw food diet. Sometimes they are too sick or diseased and their immune system is so damaged that just switching to a raw food diet could actually be too dangerous for the pet. You may have to start with cooked foods and gradually convert them over. You will need to make use of certain supplements like digestive enzymes, probiotics and colostrum until you have restored the pet’s health so that it will tolerate raw foods.
A decision to feed your pet in this manner should only be done after careful studying and understanding. However once you are fully equipped with the knowledge that allows you to provide a balanced diet for your pet companion, then you can be confident that what you are doing is the best therapy for your pet. You can feel you are in good company when you read what Thomas Edison stated so very well many years ago, “The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease.” Better words could not have been spoken. Not only is that true for humans, but also for our four legged companions. In conclusion I offer the following quote I heard from Dr. Stephen Blake D.V.M., who found it in a box of ginger snaps long ago.
“The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it!”
Michael D. Wright, DVM – has been a staff veterinarian for Clermont Animal Hospital in central FL since 2004. He integrates holistic health care with veterinary medicine to achieve the best care for his four-legged patience. He is a 1980 graduate of Tuskegee University in Alabama where he received his DVM.