Raw diets: Do they make you want to BARF? (Proceedings)

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Raw diets: Do they make you want to BARF? (Proceedings)

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Apr 01, 2010

Undoubtedly, if you are in small animal practice, you have encountered pet owners who are feeding raw diets, and these owners tend to be very passionate about this practice of feeding raw foods. If questioned as to why they choose to feed a raw diet, they often quote information from the internet and believe that it is scientifically sound. The internet is filled with web sites that discredit commercial pet foods and often do so in an unethical and tabloid fashion. Many of these web sites seem to be very convincing, and it is understandable how some pet owners could be influenced by them. There are also numerous anecdotal testimonials of pets whose lives were saved by feeding a raw diet. Unfortunately, these same sites fail to include patients who were harmed by raw diets. Efforts to educate clients on the risks of feeding raw diets are sometimes met with resistance. This lecture will discuss some of the common myths that clients believe about raw diets and commercial pet foods and will present information to assist veterinarians with educating clients about these diets.

Claim: Raw diets are the evolutionary diet of dogs and cats

Raw diets are the evolutionary diet of all creatures, including humans. Archeological evidence of fire and cooking dates back only ~800,000 years, although some argue biological evidence shows that fire dates back to ~1.8 million years. Nonetheless, humans did not always cook their food, yet few, if any of us, would want to go back to eating only raw food, especially meat.

Claim: Cooking destroys the nutritional value of food

There are as many truths as there are exceptions to this statement. It is true that overheating protein can lead to reduced protein digestibility, as well as amino acid destruction. However, these are not the kinds of temperatures that are used to manufacturer pet foods. The temperatures that most pet foods are cooked at are similar to the temperatures we use to cook our own food. If cooking completely destroyed the nutritional value of protein, then why isn't there widespread protein malnutrition in humans in this country since most of us cook our meat? In a study by Claudia Kirk, cats were fed identical diets, except one was heat processed and one was a frozen (raw) diet. Protein digestibility decreased by ~5-7% in the cooked food compared to the raw diet, but carbohydrate and fat digestibility improved with the cooked diet. It is well known that antioxidants are more available in cooked foods, such as tomatoes or carrots, compared to the same foods that are uncooked. In addition, moderate heating with moisture destroys anti-nutritive enzymes, such as trypsin inhibitors, present in some protein sources.

Claim: Protein used in commercial pet foods include euthanized dogs and cats

There are two types of rendering plants in the US. Integrated rendering plants are plants that operate in conjunction with animal slaughterhouses or poultry processing plants. These types of plants normally process only one type of raw material (i.e. poultry or beef, etc) from USDA inspected meat-packing plants. Therefore, euthanized dogs and cats would not be processed in one of these plants. In contrast, independent rendering plants collect their materials from a variety of offsite sources and obtain animal by-product materials, including grease, blood, feathers, offal, and entire animal carcasses from the following sources: butcher shops, supermarkets, restaurants, fast-food chains, poultry processors, slaughterhouses, farms, ranches, feedlots and animal shelters. As a result, products from independent rendering plants could contain euthanized dogs and cats. Therefore, it is possible that euthanized dogs and cats could be found in some pet food, but reputable pet food manufacturing companies will only obtain their products from integrated rendering plants and not from independent rendering plants. All members of the Pet Food Institute (PFI), which includes 95% of US pet food manufacturers, avoid use of rendered meals that may include dog and cat remains. A 2002 investigation by the USDA and CVM (http:// http://www.fda.gov/cvm) confirmed NO presence of dog and cat genetic material in pet foods.