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Raw Foods for Pets

Some Background and Guidelines for Retailers



Many pet nutrition purists are convinced that raw foods are healthiest for dogs and cats.

Photo courtesy of Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

The raw foods diet for pets currently is quite a hot topic with an increasing number of conscientious pet parents exploring this option.

Here is some background information for pet shops owners who are thinking of dealing with raw foods for pets.

Some History of the Raw Foods Diet

The potential benefits of a raw foods diet for felines was first discovered by Dr. Francis M. Pottenger, a California physician who conducted a study from 1932 to 1942 on 900 cats to determine the health effects of processed foods versus raw foods.

During the course of several generations of kitties, the felines who were fed raw foods were exponentially far healthier than those fed other foods.

In the ensuing years, as the burgeoning pet food industry infiltrated modern society, the majority of pet owners became accustomed to the convenience of feeding their pets commercial foods, particularly dry brands.

Thus, Dr. Pottenger's study became more or less a quaint, little-known (by mainstream society, at least) footnote in pet nutrition history.

But in recent times, there has been a lot of renewed interest in this landmark study, as pet owners are increasingly amenable to exploring natural nutritional and lifestyle choices for their companion animals.

Why Raw Foods Diets are Now Gaining More Popularity

One reason why pet owners are expressing a greater interest in natural pet diets in general is because of the recent pet food recalls.

More sophisticated pet owners are also beginning to realize that certain pets, particularly dogs, cats and ferrets, are carnivorous whereby they require a higher ratio of meat protein in their diets. As such, these pets are getting way too many carbs from commercial pet food brands.

(Cats are actually "obligate carnivores," meaning they are strict meat eaters who require meat and an essential amino acid called taurine found in meat products in order to survive.)

Indeed, pet obesity and the myriad health issues associated with this have proliferated at an alarming rate in modern times. Natural pet nutrition experts universally agree that this phenomenon is largely due to the popular practice of feeding dry food or kibble to pets.

These are just some of the reasons why more and more people are interested in raw foods diets for their pets.

What is the Raw Foods Diet?

There currently are two well-known, somewhat conflicting raw foods movements.

The Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods diet for pets, commonly referred to by the unfortunately gross acronym BARF, was developed by Australian veterinarian Dr. Ian Billinghurst. This involves serving pets diets of raw meat, uncooked bones and offal, along with fresh vegetables and fruits.

This is not to be confused with the Raw Meaty Bones diet, developed by another Australian vet named Dr. Tom Lonsdale. This is exactly what the name implies, and this raw foods diet is generally free of other ingredients, which many purists believe are superfluous.

These two docs, both of whom have written popular books on raw foods for pets, are very much at odds with each other due to their differing approaches.

Regardless, those who tout the raw foods diet for pets claim that pets benefit greatly from this because:

  • These diets more closely mirror what pets would consume in the wild.
  • Raw foods do not contain the synthetic chemicals, additives and preservatives found in commercial foods.
  • Unlike commercial pet food brands, raw foods are not heat-processed, which destroys essential nutrients.
  • Raw foods are believed to be beneficial to a pet's overall health across the board.
  • These foods have a very high moisture content, which is also vital to a pet's health, especially in regard to cats.

Note: Pets should never be given cooked bones, because they can splinter and possibly injure them.

Here are some perceived cons to the raw foods diet:

  • This can be time-consuming.
  • These foods can be potentially more expensive than commercial pet food brands.
  • Many people are leery of serving raw foods to their pets because of the potential for bacteria, such as salmonella and E. coli.
  • That's where the pet shops come in, by offering pre-packaged raw foods and food supplements for pets that take the guesswork out of the equation; are convenient, and aren't necessarily more costly than mainstream commercial pet food brands.

There are, in fact, a growing number of freeze-dried raw foods brands available to retailers.
Some raw foods brands you may want to check out are:

  • Aunt Jeni's
  • Bravo
  • Home Farm
  • Oma's Pride
  • Steve's Real Food

These brands may contain such ingredients as beef, rabbit, venison, poultry, organ meats such as chicken livers and hearts; muscle meat and bone meal.

That's just a partial list; there are numerous other raw foods options for dogs and cats.
Now, here are some basic tips pet shop owners want to impart to customers who wish to try raw foods for their pets:

  • First, pet parents should consult their vets before placing their pets on any new diet.
  • Experts say dogs should be fasted for a day before beginning this diet.
  • Although there are differing opinions on this, it's probably best to introduce raw foods gradually.
  • Safe handling is paramount; pet owners should be advised to exercise the utmost cleanliness when handling these foods.
  • Raw foods should not be mixed with cooked foods or kibble, because pets digest these differently.

In addition, pet shop owners need to do their homework before dealing with these products. One excellent resource is the booklet "Beginnings: Raw Diet for Cats" written for Bravo by Terri Grow, owner of the respected Pet Sage holistic pet store in Alexandria, Va. You can get the booklet by writing to the company at info@bravorawdiet.com.

Raw foods for pets are not to be taken lightly, and this can be very intimidating, especially for a society accustomed to feeding their pets the equivalents to fast food. But more and more pet nutrition experts are claiming that is the best option for the health of many pets. That's why it's very important for pet shop owners and proprietors to learn as much as they can about raw foods, to ensure the optimal health and well-being of the pets they serve.
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