The Feeding Mistake Linked to the Cause of Most Disease - Are You Making It?



By Dr. Becker
Today and over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be discussing my favorite topic, raw food diets for pets. I want to talk about some of the myths and truths surrounding raw food diets, but before we get to the good stuff, it’s important to have a foundation of understanding about basic nutrition.
One point that no one argues is that for optimal health to occur, animals must consume the foods they were designed to eat. I call this a species-appropriate diet. So vegetarian animals must eat vegetation for optimal health. And carnivorous animals must eat fresh whole prey for optimal health.

Origins of Dogs and Cats

A good place to start a discussion of our carnivorous pets is to go back to the roots of the dog and the cat prior to domestication. The domestic dog, whose taxonomic name is Canis lupus familiaris, is a domesticated form of the gray wolf, which is a member of the Canidae family of the order Carnivora.
Most scientists believe dogs were domesticated from gray wolves about 15,000 years ago. But DNA analysis published in 1997 suggests that the transformation from wolves to domestic dogs occurred more like 130,000 years ago.
Data suggests dogs first diverged from wolves in East Asia, and these domesticated dogs quickly migrated throughout the world. Of course, humans began selectively breeding dogs to create animals that suited their needs and their likes.
The earliest evidence of cat domestication is a kitten that was found buried alongside a human approximately 9,500 years ago in Cyprus. Researchers have gained major insights through DNA testing into the evolution of cats by showing how they migrated to new continents and developed new species as the sea levels rose and fell.
A 2008 study revealed that lines of descent for all house cats, of the species Felis catus, probably came from self-domesticating African wild cats up to 10,000 years ago. And as happened with the domesticated dog, humans began breeding cats to suit their fancy. Today, over 80 breeds of cats are recognized by one registry or another.

Today's Cats and Dogs are Carnivores Just Like Their Wild Ancestors

Despite humans’ desire to create certain physical characteristics in dogs and cats – this is called their phenotype or how animals look externally – their genetic makeup remains essentially the same as their wild ancestors, which should tell you something about the foods they should still be consuming.
Of course, all animals are biologically equipped to assimilate and digest foods they were designed to eat. For example, earthworms are naturally designed to process dirt. The entire GI tract of worms, from the mouth to the other end where waste is excreted, was designed for this purpose.
Cows are designed to eat grass, and their GI tracts are set up perfectly for this. They have big, round, flat teeth used to grind grasses and an unbelievable range of motion in their mandibles, allowing them to chew, chew, chew, and chew. Cows have a lot of range of motion laterally in their jaws.
Dogs and cats do not have this range of motion in their jaws. Their jaws move up and down only, like a trap door or a hinge, because dogs and cats are gulpers, not chewers. They don’t have chewing teeth. Dogs and cats have incredibly sharp interlocking teeth designed to rip and tear flesh.
They also have very short GI tracts compared to vegetarian animals that need to ferment foods, as carnivorous animals consume foods with potentially very heavy pathogen loads. The bodies of carnivores are designed to get foods in and back out very quickly.
The ancestral lifestyle of a carnivore includes lots of variety and seasonal variability, meaning certain prey was more prevalent at certain times of the year. They thrived consuming fresh, living, whole animals. But carnivorous animals do not eat clean foods. Dogs and cats did not evolve to consume sterile foods. They have digestive tracts that are designed to be resilient and handle the loads of naturally-occurring bacteria that are present in the foods they eat. Their food in the wild was moisture-dense, meaning the prey they consumed was primarily water.
The carnivorous lifestyle required a tremendous amount of exercise and exertion. Food was not served to them, so they had to stealthily catch it. This provided intense stimulation of all the senses, plus nervous, skeletal, endocrine, and circulatory system involvement. Carnivorous animals had daily rigorous workouts in an attempt to catch enough food to stay alive.

Most Pet Food is Biologically Inappropriate for Dogs and Cats

What’s very important for pet owners to know is that “pet food” is a relatively new concept. So, “dog food” and “cat food” you buy from the supermarket has only been around a little over a hundred years.
However, animals have hunted prey or, in the case of dogs, scavenged -- for millions of years. And although recent research suggests domesticated carnivores were able to adapt to some degree to starch in the diet as humans became planters and farmers of grains, dogs and cats have most definitely not evolved into vegetarians over time.
Over the last hundred years, major pet food companies have produced most of their products using a base of corn, wheat, rice, or potato. However, our carnivorous pets have not evolved to be able to process those foreign foods.
The good news is dogs and cats are adaptable and resilient unlike other species, for example, snakes. If we suddenly forced snakes to eat grains or consume vegetation, they would simply die, demonstrating rather visibly and quickly that they were not provided the correct food source.
Dogs and cats are among the most resilient animals on the planet. They are able to withstand really significant nutritional abuse, in my opinion, without dying. Degeneration does occur as the result of an inappropriate diet, but sudden death does not.
So one of the reasons we’ve been able to deceive ourselves into believing convenience pet foods are good for dogs and cats is because they don’t die immediately of acute starvation. For a hundred years our pets have been fed inappropriate diets that have kept them alive, but far from thriving like their wild relatives. Instead, we’ve created dozens of generations of nutritionally weakened animals that suffer from degenerative diseases linked to nutritional deficiencies – a link the traditional veterinary community has not acknowledged.
The Pottenger cat study is one example of how our current system of nourishing pets creates chronic disease.
The truth is that our pet population provides a place for recycling waste from the human food industry. Grains that fail inspection, uninspected pieces and parts of waste from the seafood industry, leftover restaurant grease, deceased livestock, and evenroadkill is collected and disposed of through rendering -- a process that converts all sorts of human food industry waste into raw materials for the pet food industry.
These raw materials are purchased by huge pet food manufacturers – makers of the big name brands your parents and friends have probably used for the last 50 years. These manufacturers blend the rendered fat and meat with a large amount of starch fillers. They add bulk vitamin and mineral supplements, and then they extrude the mix at high temperatures, creating all sorts of toxic reactions including advanced glycation end products and heterocyclic amines. They call this “pet food” and sell it to customers at an unbelievable profit.
Is the entire system flawed? Yes. But pet food industry giants are realizing that pet owners are becoming more educated about their flawed system, and they are trying to clean up their image. We are beginning to see words like “natural” and “no byproducts” on labels. We’re beginning to see “grain-free” and “naturally preserved” on labels as well. Manufacturers are hearing the grumbles of educated pet owners and are changing their marketing to try to regain lost customers.

Common Pet Food Myths Many People Actually Believe

I find it amazing that pet parents buy into marketing gimmicks that human parents would never fall for. For instance, how often have you heard a pediatrician say, “Never feed your baby anything but X brand of baby food, because feeding a homemade diet could be dangerous to your child’s health?” Never. But you do hear it often in the veterinary world.
Or how about this one: “Switching your brand of baby food could lead to GI problems, so feed only one brand or type of baby food to your children for the rest of their lives to avoid GI problems.” You would never hear this, either, from a competent pediatrician. And yet, you hear this type of advice all the time in the veterinary industry. It’s startling to me to know that entire generations of people actually believe pets must have “pet food” to be healthy.
And there’s a host of other myths you’ve probably heard. For example, pets can derive all the nutrients they need for vibrant health from a dry nugget that can be fed day after day, year after year. Or that if you don’t feed crunchy foods to your pet, his or her teeth won’t be clean. Or canned food is too rich, and raw food is just a recent trendy craze that could be risky.
A lot of people also believe their veterinarian wouldn’t recommend X brand of food if wasn’t good for their pet... that all cats should eat fish and drink milk... that veterinarians are the people to trust for the most up-to-date information pertaining to nutrition... or that disease, degeneration, and poor vitality have nothing to do with day to day nourishment. All myths.

So... What are the Facts?

Number one, carbohydrates are not a necessary component of a carnivore’s diet. Cats have no taste receptors for sweet flavors and have low rates of glucose uptake in the intestine. They should not be fed any type of grain that metabolizes into sugar.
Cats have no salivary amylase to break down starches, either, and dogs have very low amylase secretion.
Also, cats never hunted fish from the ocean – fish is not an evolutionary food source for them.
The intense heat used to process commercial pet foods diminishes or destroys the benefits of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes in food. Processed pet foods require supplementation to replace lost nutrients.
The heating process also significantly reduces the digestibility of amino acids in pet food.
And digestibility of meat-based protein is proven to be superior to plant-based protein – the type used in most inexpensive commercial pet foods -- for dogs and cats.
So in a nutshell, for 99.99 percent of their time on earth, dogs and cats have consumed a natural diet. For .01 percent of the time, they have consumed an extruded, processed diet. Dogs and cats evolved to consume a low-carbohydrate diet. But for the last century, the majority of pet owners have fed pets a high-carbohydrate, low-moisture diet. This has created significant metabolic and physiologic stress, and convenience pet foods have become the root cause of most of the inflammatory processes and degenerative disease that plague today’s dogs and cats.

By Dr. Mercola
Welcome to part two of my three-part video series on the myths and truths surrounding raw food diets for pets. In part one, I discussed the origins of pet dogs and cats, and the fact that, like their ancestors and wild counterparts, Fido and Fluffy are carnivores.
I also discussed the fact that while dogs and cats have been able to survive diets of biologically inappropriate pet foods for many years, processed diets have caused significant metabolic and physiologic stress, resulting in many of the degenerative diseases we see in today’s animals.

Optimal Nutrition for a Pet Carnivore

I typically break the list down into necessary and unnecessary foods.
Dogs and cats need quality protein, fats, and a small amount of vegetables and fruits. Vegetables and fruits provide antioxidants and fiber to animals that no longer hunt whole prey.
Natural sources of trace minerals, vitamins, and fatty acids must be added, since the soils in which foods are grown are depleted of many of the nutrients pets need. Also, food storage, whether it’s in a freezer or a pantry, decreases critical essential fatty acid levels in foods.
Pets need unadulterated, fresh, whole foods that are moisture dense. They don’t need grains, fillers, artificial preservatives, colors, additives, chemicals, byproducts, or processed foods. Although animals can eat some processed foods, they aren’t designed to consume a lifetime of dry or canned diets.

My Nutritional Goals for My Patients

  • A diet that is as species-appropriate as possible (low in carbohydrates, high moisture content, and unprocessed)
  • A variety of fresh, whole foods that are nutritionally complete and optimal for the species
  • Providing everything their body needs and nothing it doesn’t
  • Helping my clients understand the difference between biologically appropriate and metabolically stressful diets. This means we must put aside our religious and/or political beliefs and recognize that most of us have preconceived ideas we must address in order to provide the best possible food for our companions.
The reality is most pets live their entire lives without consuming any living foods. They eat an entirely processed diet from birth to death. There are a wide variety of reasons for this.
Not everyone believes food matters to overall health. Many people don’t correlate disease with diet. And there are also people who realize there’s a connection, but just don’t care. In fact, I regularly hear at my practice, “Well, you know, they got to die of something.”
Another huge issue is that veterinarians don’t receive an objective education in animal nutrition. As a result, they aren’t doing their job of helping clients make wise nutritional choices for their pets. In fact, many people virtually never discuss their dog or cat’s diet with their veterinarian.

Your Pet’s Health is Determined by Genetics and Environment

I believe health and wellness are based on two factors: genetics and environment.
Nutrigenomics is the emerging field of study that links our lifestyle choices to genetic expression, which means the food you feed your pet has the potential to either up- or down-regulate target genes. What this means is that early identification of cell markers can allow doctors to provide nutritional intervention and return the patient to cellular health, avoiding genetically predisposed disease. This is huge.
Environmental factors that influence genetic expression include not only the foods you choose to feed your pet, but also antioxidant intake, exposure to chemicals, and overall toxic load. Chemicals include topical flea and tick preventives, yard and household chemicals, and medications (including vaccines).
Water and air quality also play a role, as does your pet’s weight, sex, age, breed, prior diseases and injuries, hormonal balance and level of physical fitness.
Research shows the best way to reduce metabolic stress and chronic inflammation is through lifestyle choices, in particular the food your pet eats. The classic anti-inflammatory diet most holistic vets recommend is essentially a low-carb, high-protein diet that eliminates refined foods.
But in addition to all of these considerations, pets also have a unique hurdle – the serious quality control issues surrounding “pet food.”

Pet Food Recalls are Increasing

As a pet owner, I’m sure you’re aware of the vast number of recalls occurring in the pet food industry. What many pet owners do not realize, however, is that pet foods are recalled for two reasons. Either something has been found that could harm pets, or much more commonly, something has been found that is a potential health risk for humans.
Last year, the FDA launched a national effort to test products for the presence of potentially harmful microbes. The goal was to evaluate the prevalence of salmonella in pet foods and treats. This is because humans and animals handle this organism very differently. The identification of salmonella in pet foods is responsible for the majority of recalls due not to pet health concerns, but human health concerns. Many people have become sick by touching or accidentally consuming salmonella in dry pet foods or treats over the last several years.
Interestingly, there have never been any reported human or animal outbreaks of salmonella from consuming or touching raw pet food.
So salmonella isn’t a problem for most dogs and cats, but contaminants certainly are. In addition to foreign substance-related impurities, pets regularly become ill from dry foods manufactured in this country that are contaminated by aflatoxins.
In 2006, 76 dogs died from eating aflatoxin-tainted dry food. And in 2011, there were many brands of foods recalled for the same problem. Aflatoxins are a type of mycotoxins or fungal toxins that come from grains. So another benefit of feeding a grain-free or raw diet is you eliminate your pet’s risk of mycotoxin poisoning.

Speaking of Salmonella …

It seems many pet owners are still concerned about feeding raw foods because raw meat can contain salmonella bacteria.
It’s important to note that salmonella can be found in up to 36 percent of all healthy dogs and 18 percent of healthy cats regardless of the food they consume. Many pets harbor these bacteria as a part of their normal GI flora and naturally shed salmonella organisms in feces and saliva regardless of what food they eat.
All non-typhoid salmonella species are ubiquitously present in the environment and reside in the GI tracts of many animals, including pets. The fact is the majority of human salmonellosis cases are acquired through ingestion or handling of contaminated dry pet foods and treats – not raw meat. In fact, as I mentioned, there’s no known incidence of human beings being infected with salmonella by raw-fed cats and dogs.
The points I want to make about salmonella are:
  • Dry food and raw food can certainly harbor salmonella, so awareness is important.
  • Regardless of what food you feed your pet, animals can naturally harbor salmonella which can be a risk to humans, especially if they are immunocompromised.
  • The raw meat used in commercially available raw food diets is USDA-inspected and is no different from the steak and chicken purchased for human consumption from a grocery store. It should be handled with the same safety precautions you use when you prepare, say, burgers for your family. It’s all the same meat. Your counters, bowls, cutting surfaces and utensils should be disinfected whether the raw meat is intended for your pet or human family members.
  • The FDA’s Safe Handling Tips for Pet Foods and Treats page recommends washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap right after handling dry pet foods and treats. They also suggest you wash your hands before preparing human food and before eating. They recommend infants stay away from pet food areas and pet feeding stations, and that kids not be allowed to touch or eat pet food. The FDA also recommends washing pet bowls after feeding and sanitizing eating surfaces regularly.
So the takeaway on salmonella is that you should follow the same safe handling precautions regardless of what you feed your pet.

Other Raw Diet Concerns Put to Rest

Trichinosis. Trichinosis is a parasitic disease caused by eating raw or undercooked pig or wild game infected with larval Trichinella. There are eight species of this worm.
The majority of human infections in the U.S. are a result of eating undercooked wild boar, bear, or fox meat. So, I recommend not doing that.
According to the FDA’s website, Trichinella larva may be inactivated by heating, freezing, or irradiation of meat. One interesting point: freezing may not be entirely effective for inactivating Trichinella nativa, which is a species of Trichinella found in the Arctic. Reservoir hosts include the polar bear, Arctic fox, and the walrus.
The important thing to remember about Trichinella is this: if you freeze pork for three weeks prior to feeding it, all will be well. And of course, don’t feed your pet any raw polar bear, Arctic fox, or walrus!
Toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is caused by the protozoan Toxoplasma gondii. This parasite can infect most mammals. Between 30 and 60 percent of all people worldwide are thought to be infected with toxoplasmosis. Infection occurs through the ingestion of oocysts found in raw meat, especially venison, pork, and lamb. Oocysts are killed by cooking or freezing meat for 24 hours. You can also acquire toxoplasmosis through infected feces.
So to avoid toxoplasmosis, freeze meat for 24 hours prior to feeding. And disinfect all surfaces and utensils after preparing raw food, whether it’s for the humans or pets in your family.
Salmon poisoning. Salmon poisoning is also sometimes mentioned as a concern for raw fed pets. Salmon and other anadromous fish (fish that swim upstream to spawn) can harbor a parasite called Nanophyetus salmincola. The parasites can harbor a rickettsia organism called Neorickettsia helminthoeca, which causes salmon poisoning.
The good news is freezing fish meat can inactivate both organisms, but it does depend on several factors including the freezing temperature, the length of time needed to freeze the fish tissue, the length of time the fish is held frozen, and the fat content of the fish.
So, the takeaway here is to deep-freeze salmon for at least seven days if you’re going to feed it raw, or cook it before feeding it to your pet.
GI parasites. Intestinal parasites are also sometimes mentioned as a concern with raw pet food. The good news is parasites such as roundworm, hookworm, tapeworm, and coccidia are primarily found in the GI tracts of prey species. Since we don’t feed the guts of prey to pets, there’s no risk of contracting GI parasites through eating USDA-inspected, human-grade meat.
Most animals get GI parasites from eating poop, so you want to avoid allowing your own dog or cat to do so. Also at risk are pets that catch and kill whole animals, as they can get parasites from consuming the GI tract of their prey.
Unidentified pathogens. Generally speaking, raw pet food manufacturers have two different ways of dealing with salmonella, E. coli, and other pathogens sometimes found in raw food. Some companies have adopted a technology calledhigh pressure processing, also called high-pressure pasteurization or HPP, which exposes meat products to very high water pressure of up to 87,000 pounds per square inch. HPP achieves microbial inactivation of pathogenic bacteria, including E. coli, salmonella, and listeria. What you end up with is essentially “sterile” raw food.
Raw pet food companies that don’t want a sterile product perform quality control through batch-testing for pathogenic bacteria. This is an effective method that the USDA also uses to inspect our human meat supply. Because most raw pet food manufacturers use USDA-inspected meats in their products, the pet food ends up being inspected twice, which actually surpasses human inspection standards. 
A third method that a few pet food companies have used to address potential microbes in food is through herd health. Research has shown that pastured, happy, drug-free livestock shed significantly less E. coli and salmonella than stressed, feedlot cattle. A few raw pet food companies have gone to great lengths to purchase meat only from farmers of pastured food animals, which means there is significantly less risk of opportunistic bacteria in the meat these animals produce.

By Dr. Becker
This is part three of my three-part video series on the myths and truths surrounding raw food diets (part onepart two). In this final segment, I want to discuss why raw pet foods get a bad rap.
There are actually many valid reasons why raw pet foods come under scrutiny by traditional veterinarians and people who have had bad luck trying living foods. But all of these pitfalls are, fortunately, avoidable.

Reason #1: Many Raw Pet Food Diets are Unbalanced

First, many homemade and prey-model diets and a few commercially available raw food diets are unbalanced. This means pets have been brought to veterinarians, including me, with nutritional imbalances that could and should have been avoided. These animals are deficient in antioxidants, or the correct amounts of trace minerals and vitamins, or the right fatty acid balance for appropriate and balanced skeletal growth, and organ and immune health.
Usually, these well-intentioned owners don’t correlate their pet’s medical issues with nutritional deficiencies, but their vets do. And many veterinarians develop very strong opinions against all homemade and raw diets because of these cases. There are many well-meaning people who feed unbalanced diets out of ignorance and, in some cases, stubbornness.
I’ve had several clients tell me they don’t care that the analysis of their pet’s current diet – let’s say, chicken wings and burgers – demonstrates deficiencies in certain critical nutrients. They believe that “This is the diet I’ve fed for X number of years and my dog is doing fine, so there’s no need to change it.”
These types of statements tell me these clients are waiting for disease to occur before they will change what they’re doing. And in these situations, the pets always lose. This type of attitude causes many veterinarians to loathe any attempts at homemade diets and to lump all raw diets into the same category.

Reason #2: GI Issues

Another reason raw diets get a bad rap is because gastrointestinal problems often develop when a dog or cat is switched from processed to raw food. There are two main reasons pets acquire GI issues from dietary transitions: the speed of the change in foods, and dysbiosis.
Changing an animal’s diet too quickly can result in diarrhea. I’ve had several dozen clients that either learn what’s really in their pet’s food, or realize the brand they’ve been feeding is actually quite terrible, and they go home and throw it out. They drive to the local upscale pet boutique and purchase a human-grade raw food, and their pet loves it.
But then the dog or cat becomes very sick after a few days, and off they go to the veterinarian. Most vets erroneously blame all cases of diarrhea on the bacteria in the raw food versus the sudden dietary change, causing the veterinarian and the owner to panic unnecessarily.
Also, dogs and cats process raw foods and kibble very differently. Raw food is processed as a protein, held in the stomach for an acid bath, unlike kibble, which a dog or cat’s body views metabolically as a starch. If raw foods are added to dry foods for a meal, there can be digestive confusion, resulting in gassiness and belching.
When introducing any new food to a pet with a healthy gut, I recommend using the new food as a treat for a day, and keeping an eye on the condition of the stool. Increase the number of new food treats over the next several days and continue to watch the stool.
If the stool remains normal, replace one whole meal of old food with new food. Do this for several more days, and if the stools remain normal, it’s safe to discontinue the old food and feed only the new food.
Now, if a dog or cat has eaten just one type of kibble her whole life, this process may need to be extended for several weeks or months, which is totally fine. However, if the pet has a sensitive stomach, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), intestinal disturbances, or gut inflammation – conditions that plague most of the pet population – the transition steps are very different and sometimes require GI support throughout the process.
I have a friend who claims she’s allergic to all healthy foods. Whenever she eats fresh fruits or vegetables, she has serious GI problems and must run to the bathroom if she consumes any type of fresh food. When she eats ice cream and donuts, she’s good. But when she eats fresh vegetables and fresh fruits, she ends up running to the bathroom.
When I tried to explain to her that living foods are not toxic to her system but that her gastrointestinal health is so poor she can’t tolerate the foods her body was designed to eat, she laughs and says, “Well, whatever.” But actually, her body’s poor reaction to any healthy food is her excuse to not eat well. And I see this very same scenario in veterinary medicine.
Vets say things like, “I guess your pet wasn’t meant to eat human-grade food.” Or I’ve heard them say, “Some animals just can’t tolerate a diet change or healthy food.” And while it’s true these cases take much more time to successfully transition, it is certainly worth the effort. Often there must be an accompanying medical protocol to treat dysbiosis and an inflamed GI tract, but again, the results are worth the effort.

Changing the Diet of a Pet with GI Disease

Working with a veterinarian who understands functional medicine and leaky gut syndrome is critical for successful dietary transitions for most animals with GI disease. It’s important to accomplish the transition without negatively affecting your pet.
Just like my friend who could choose to put the time and energy into making a lifestyle change that over time would heal her body and allow her to consume nourishing foods without side effects, most people simply choose to continue the lifestyle that caused the problem.
This is certainly true with pet owners as well. It appears to be too much work or too much trouble to put forth the effort needed to make a lifestyle change for a pet, which can take up to a year for many of these animals. My view, of course, is that health is on a spectrum, and pets are always moving one way or the other (toward health, or away from health). So a year from now, will your pet be healthier … or just a year older?
Pets with an overactive immune system or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) will probably need professional assistance, perhaps a detoxification protocol and also a leaky gut protocol to transition to a better diet. Lots of patience will also be required.
The road to recovery is not linearly positive. It’s not a beautiful line of daily positive progress until your pet achieves wellness. There will be bumps in the road. Your pet will have ups and downs. But certainly, creating gastrointestinal health is critical if you want your dog or cat to thrive. So, the end result will be well worth your effort.
Pets with gastrointestinal disease will need their food thoroughly ground up (that means no bones, only bonemeal) and gently cooked for many months in the initial transition phase. I often recommend beginning with only two ingredients in a home-prepared diet and slowly adding nutrients one at a time as the animal’s health improves.
Some people argue that transitioning this way -- starting so slow and taking so long to complete the process -- is not what nature intended. And I totally agree. But with gastrointestinally debilitated animals, we must “meet the patients where their bodies are at.” Many animals must be on special protocols initially to assist in healing.
These pets are fragile. And if a seasoned holistic veterinarian isn’t participating in the dietary transition, it can go so poorly for some of these animals that they end up being hospitalized. These unsuccessful attempts at a dietary transition are why traditional vets will say, “Some pets just can’t tolerate raw foods or fresh foods. You just need to leave well enough alone and continue feeding kibble.” But it’s important to recognize that with good effort and professional guidance, these animals, too, can be transitioned to better, healthier diets.

What to Expect When You Transition Your Pet to a Raw Diet

One of the more common myths perpetuated about raw food is that dogs and cats can’t get food poisoning. Pets can and do get food poisoning from eating rancid meat. Undoubtedly, this also occurs in the wild, but it acts as a means of population control when predators die from consuming toxic food.
There’s actually a website out there that advocates feeding spoiled meat to pets. This is absolutely terrible advice. It will only be a matter of time before this advice kills pets. There’s a huge difference between normal opportunistic bacteria loads in fresh healthy meats and spoiled meats filled with endotoxins that will kill any mammal if ingested. So, don’t feed your pets any type of spoiled food.
Commercially available raw food diets do not contain any fillers, extra fiber, and certainly no hair, which would be found on any prey animal wild dogs and cats consume. This lack of hair can also mean a lack of roughage or fiber. This means some animals aren’t supplied the additional nutrients they need. And sometimes, pets can get constipated. Oddly, instead of simply addressing the fiber issue, some veterinarians tell owners to stop feeding living foods altogether.
Raw food diets usually produce small, hard balls of poop that are easily passed and turn white and crumble and blow away in a day or so if you forget to pick them up. This is totally normal. I’ve had some people go back to feeding kibble, because no one explained that their pet’s poop would radically change on a raw food diet, and that multiple huge piles of stinky poop from dry food diets would be a thing of the past. So, feces will change – and for the better. Raw food poop is entirely different from kibble-fed poop.
Oftentimes, after one to three months on a fresh food diet, pets go through a detoxification process. This is totally normal and is actually something to celebrate.
Detox for your pet will happen through the bowels and skin. During a detox, your pet will act completely normal. He’ll be happy, bright, and alert. But you might find that he’s shedding a tremendous amount of hair. Pets shed out their old, dead, dull hair, and begin growing a shiny, soft coat. You might also see a lot of earwax or debris being produced from the ear. That needs to be cleaned out. And some detoxing pets will pass blobs of mucus in their stools.
These symptoms of detoxification will pass on their own. They’re nothing you need to worry about, but are something you should anticipate or it might freak you out. Pets on a fresh food diet also consume far less water than pets eating an entirely processed diet. You need to anticipate that your pet’s water intake will diminish.

Raw Feeding Mistakes to Avoid

I’ve also seen websites suggesting you introduce raw food by throwing a whole chicken to your kibble-fed dog, because she’ll naturally know what to do with it. They’re dogs -- they know exactly what to do. So, just throw them a chicken.
Whole chicken or any bony meat can be a choking hazard. And while some dogs do fine with whole chickens, some don’t. At my house, we buy chicken wings in 40-pound boxes from the butcher. I know my dogs well. I know that when I offer them a wing, they’ll chew it thoroughly. They don’t attempt to swallow wings whole, so I feel comfortable handing them a chicken wing. It’s great for their teeth. It helps remove plaque and tartar. Their breath is great.
One day my husband brought home a box of chicken wings that were in the back of his truck. He got distracted with a phone call and didn’t realize that Ada (one of our dogs) had jumped into the back of the truck and started helping herself. Ada ate about 15 pounds of chicken wings in five minutes. By the time my husband turned around, she looked like a bloated tick. Needless to say, she did not eat dinner that night. But she was fine. We fasted her. This episode would have sent many dog owners to the animal emergency clinic just to make sure everything was okay.
If I had X-rayed Ada, her films would have shown a tremendous amount of bones in her GI tract. And for a traditional veterinarian not used to looking at bone fragments on X-rays, this would have been very concerning. In fact, surgery would probably be recommended. I’ve seen several cases in my practice of animals that were rushed to surgery, and all the surgeon discovered was tiny bone fragments from the pet’s raw food diet in a totally healthy GI tract. So, it’s an important point to make.
I’ve had a few cases of dogs choking on giant pieces of raw food or getting pieces stuck in their throats when they tried to swallow the bony food whole. You have to use your head and common sense when you begin a raw food diet. If you don’t know if your dog is going to gulp versus chew, then you need to grind up the food or feed a commercially available raw diet that is pre-ground.

Safely Feeding Raw Bones to Your Pet

Recreational chew bones like knucklebones can also fracture teeth. Lots of dogs end up with terrible teeth fractures from the misconception that all dogs do well chewing raw bones. And you’ll see that on the Internet. You’ll even see that in comments on my Facebook page. “Oh, just throw your dog a knucklebone and everything will be fine.” Lots of dogs can chew raw bones with no problem. But there are dogs that chew raw bones and do substantial oral damage. My veterinary dentist says he has financed an entire wing of his hospital from removing painful broken teeth after people have followed the misguided advice to“Just throw him a soup bone, and he’ll love it.”
Most dogs do best with recreational bones (bones that are chewed for enjoyment and dental health, not nutritional health) that actually match the size of their head. Small bones like rib bones or very small femur bones tend to cause more tooth fractures for an aggressive chewer, because the dog is able to bite down vertically on the bone, which can snap teeth right off. Other dogs chew bones down to teeny, tiny pieces, then swallow the golf balled size piece that is left, which can get stuck in their GI tracts.
Taking sensible precautions, like always supervising your pet when she has a raw bone, weaning her onto raw bones, removing the bone when the pieces are broken off or it gets too small, and discontinuing raw bones if your pet has weak or fractured teeth, are all good suggestions.
Also keep in mind raw bones contain marrow. Marrow is primarily fat. When I first heard of offering raw bones to dogs, I was in college. I was one of those people that went about it without really thinking. I just threw Gemini (my dog) a raw femur bone in the morning before I went to class. I got home about eight hours later, and she had not moved. She was still by the front door. She was still chewing the bone. Her whole mouth was cut up – it was raw, inflamed, and bleeding. She was completely obsessed with her very first raw bone.
This is an example of what not to do. Gemini was wildly ecstatic about the bone, but it caused trauma to her mouth. So while there are numerous health and psychological benefits from offering raw bones to dogs, you must offer them wisely. I recommend initially offering raw bones for only a few minutes at a time, once a day, until the dog’s GI tract has adapted to the high fat content.
You also want to remove the marrow before giving a bone to a pet with pancreatitis or poor digestion, or you will likely be managing a case of severe diarrhea.
I don’t recommend offering bones communally to a dog pack, because each dog needs his own bone and his own space to chew it in. I recommend picking bones up after each session to avoid resource guarding.
Also keep in mind that a fresh, raw bone quickly becomes a gooey, sloppy mess as your dog chews on it. I recommend you not feed raw bones on your brand new white carpeting, because you will be distraught.
I hope these videos have clarified many of the misconceptions you might have about raw food for pets. And I hope that you’re able to use this information to easily and successfully transition your pet to a more natural diet.
As I always say, there’s no such thing as one best protein, brand of food, or type of food that all pets do well on. The best food you can feed your pet is the freshest, most natural food you can afford to support your pet’s overall health, well-being, and vitality.