It’s all the rage. Raw food diets are gaining in popularity among the pet-set. Given the greater attention we’re paying our pets and the rise in the popularity of raw diets for humans, it’s no wonder people are gravitating to raw for cats and dogs (animals ideally suited to ripping and chewing at their food). 

But is it always a good idea? 

Those of you who already feed raw diets probably assume I’ll be spending the next couple hundred words tearing down this approach. So others understand why you would, let me explain: That’s because the vast majority of small animal veterinarians notoriously disapprove of feeding pets raw meats. 

That, in spite of the benefits of feeding raw, meaty bones (the mainstay of most raw devotees‘ dietary choices for their pets). Not only is feeding raw an outlet for natural chewing behavior and biologically appropriate for the carnivorous pets among us, it’s also (arguably) far more beneficial, health-wise. Among the postulated benefits (none of which have been proven definitively as almost no research has been conducted on raw feeding) are healthier teeth and gums, better digestion and absorption of nutrients, more robust immune systems and less disease-prone skin. 

Problem is, raw foods come with all the dangers inherent to uncooked foods: parasites, bacteria, tooth-maiming bones, indigestible chunks, etc. Why risk it, veterinarians say? 

But I don’t necessarily agree with most of my colleagues on this one (nor are an increasingly significant minority of veterinarians). I figure that if I’m willing to prepare raw meats for my own human family, then why not for my pets? After all, they’re the ones built with the teeth, jaws, brains and digestive tracts raw meats were meant for.  

In other words, raw feeding doesn’t always have to come with the health risks most veterinarians assume are at play––not if you’re willing to feed primary ingredients you’re willing to eat yourself. And that’s my own personal caveat. I probably wouldn’t feed my pets any raw food I wouldn’t be willing to consume, myself. 

As a non-vegetarian who loves eating her meats on the rare side (yes, even some poultry and pork), I just make sure the food is human-grade (a sanitary designation) and very fresh (I always buy from a butcher I know––never from the average supermarket). I’ve even been known to offer my pets a tasty tidbit from an animal I slaughtered myself.  (But you don’t have to go that far for freshness.) 

The biggest problem for most people is the mess it can make (I just feed outside), the expense (try buying in bulk and freezing), the digestive issues it can lead to for pets fed kibble their whole lives (just start slow and work your way up, and the cracked teeth that come from being allowed to gnaw on bones once there’s no longer any discernible meat on them (I remove them from my pets’ clutches at the first sound of tooth on bone). 

Sure, you can always buy commercial raw diets but, personally, I tend to be wary of buying from places where food safety regulations aren’t what they are for humans (i.e., many pet stores may not have backup generators in the event of a power outage, for example). For my own personal use I always buy basic ingredients and store them myself so I know they’re safe. 

Here are some more tips of mine, sourced from my personal experience.

How about you? Ever thought of going raw? How do you feed raw, if you do? 

Dr. Patty Khuly