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What is the best food to feed domesticated dogs?

By Liz Pask and Laura Scott

Laura Scott holds a Master’s degree in animal nutrition. Liz Pask is a PhD candidate studying nutritional toxicology.

One of the reasons people cite for feeding a raw diet is that it is a more “natural” diet for dogs. The theory is that wild canids would eat a diet mainly consisting of raw meat and bones, so people should try and mimic this diet when feeding their pets. However, the pet dogs that live in our homes do not resemble their wild cousins. We have bred dogs to have a range in size from the tiny Papillon to the massive Neapolitan Mastiff, and a variety of builds from the light-framed Whippet to the bulky Bulldog. In addition, there are breeds like the Bedlington Terrier that are prone to specific nutrient deficiencies. With all of these physiological differences between our pets and wild canids, can we be certain that what a wild canid eats is indeed an ideal diet for Rover?

Raw diets have been found to contain Salmonella, Campylobacter, Escherichia coli O157:H7, Clostridium perfringens, Clostridium botulinium, and Staphylococcus aureus, all of which are known human and canine pathogens. These bacteria are shed in dog stools and may be transferred to carpets and furniture as the dog moves around the house. These pathogens usually only pose a serious human risk to the immuno-compromised, the elderly, and young children; however, this is a very important consideration if you are feeding a raw diet and have people in these risk groups living in your home.

In addition, there is a potential risk to dogs from certain pathogens found in raw foods, such as Neospora caninum, found in raw beef, Nanophyetus salmincola, found in raw salmon, and Trichinella spiralis, which  is found in raw pork and wild game such as deer, elk, and moose. All of these pathogens can make your dog sick and are potentially fatal.

Feeding your pet a raw-meat diet that you balance yourself is dangerous for many reasons. Among them:

Trying to “wing it” by formulating the right balance is very difficult and can easily lead to nutritional deficiency, especially in young, growing pets.

Raw bones in meat can splinter and become lodged in the throat or digestive system, where they can block passage or cut tissue. They can also fracture teeth.

Bacteria in raw meat IS dangerous to pets, as well as owners. Dogs and cats may have persistent diarrhea that their owners just accept as normal. However, this is a sign of illness and can cause other problems down the road, besides the discomfort suffered by the animal. In the case of cats, proponents of raw meat claim that a cat’s digestive system is more acidic and can process food faster, so bacteria does not have time to duplicate and cause illness.

That’s nonsense, according to animal nutrition expert Rebecca Remillard, DVM, DACVN, Ph.D. “Everyone’s stomach is acidic,” she says. “That’s how we digest food.” Remillard, of Angell Memorial Animal Hospital, said the dietary theories proposed by raw-meat advocates are too vague and are causing a lot of problems in pets.

An article in the March 2001 issue of JAVMA (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association) compared raw meat diets and showed that raw meat had significant risks: “The results of the small number of diets analyzed here indicated that there are clearly nutritional and health risks associated with feeding raw food diets. All the diets tested had nutrient deficiencies or excesses that could cause serious health problems when used in a long-term feeding program.”

The risks of raw meat are there. Is the risk worthwhile? No, it isn’t.”

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59 Regent Road, Sea Point