Raw and grain-free diets have become a popular issue among veterinarians and clientele. These issues have gotten a lot of attention on the internet from consumers and many of these fad diets are a result of human niche diet trends. We will first address some information on raw diets.
Raw meat-based diets are often made at home by clients and some clients are purchasing these diets over the counter. Raw freeze-dried treats are also available in many pet stores. Overall, the consensus of veterinarians is that this is not something we promote both due to human and animal health risk. There is currently no research that proves that raw diets are better than regular diets. Additionally, there are numerous studies proving the high risk of bacterial contamination, including such bacterial species as E. coli, salmonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria. Contamination from these bacteria can cause infection in both our veterinary patients and their human owners. Even if the patient isn’t exhibiting clinical signs of disease associated with feeding raw meats, they can excrete these bacteria in their feces, which poses a risk to other animals and humans.
Aside from the health risks, most raw diets are not balanced appropriately for pets. Unless you have had the help of a veterinary nutritionist or otherwise-certified pet nutritionist, any homemade diet is likely lacking in essential nutrients to maintain the optimal health of your pet. We have domesticated dogs and cats to be adapted to different diets than those of wild animals, and their exposure to humans is much higher than those animals in the wild as well. Although kibble diets have varying quality and are not all appropriate for certain breeds and patients, they are often formulated with the appropriate nutrients for the average population. You should always look for the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) label on the back of your pet food. This is an association of local, state, and federal agencies which is legally charged with regulating the sale and distribution of animal feeds. The organization lists the following 3 main goals on their website: safeguarding the health of animals and humans, ensure consumer protection, providing a level playing field of orderly commerce for the animal feed industry. They utilize pet nutritionists to establish standards for pet food. You can learn more about their mission on their website at http://www.aafco.org/
It is important to remember that pets with certain diseases often require specialized diets, such as those with kidney disease, metabolic disease, food allergies, and obesity! You can read more about the American Veterinary Medical Association’s stance on feeding raw diets at this website: https://www.avma.org/KB/Policies/Pages/Raw-or-Undercooked-Animal-Source-Protein-in-Cat-and-Dog-Diets.aspx At the bottom of this website page there are the literature papers, which helped to contrive this opinion.
Grain-free diets are often believed to be healthier for pets. The consensus by consumers is that these diets are healthier because they are more natural and because they lack carbohydrates (grains and starches). This supposedly makes these diets less likely to cause health issues in pets. Unfortunately, most of this is myth. Just like with the raw diets, these diets do not have credible evidence supporting these assumptions and lack the support of the nutrition industry.
Grain free pet foods usually contain carbohydrates in most cases, which are often not in the form of corn, but contain such things as sweet potatoes, peas, or other sources. Carbohydrates are necessary for energy and metabolism. Additionally, they often contain beneficial vitamins, minerals, and things such as protein and fat. Pets (and people) all need a combination of the following 6 main nutrients: water, carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. Necessary amounts may vary by the activity level of the pet, age, and disease. Therefore, there are foods listed for puppies, large breeds, small breeds, diabetics, etc. There are many grain-free diets available, meaning there are varying levels of ingredients in each of these diets. Often because these diets are lower in carbohydrates, they are higher in ingredients such as fat, which means an increase in calories. Some grain-free diets also substitute grains for other types of starches, such as potatoes. These ingredients are sometimes lower in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutrients beneficial to the pet. An easy example in humans would be the difference between white bread (simple starch, like potatoes) and wheat bread. Often if you compare these labels, the wheat bread is higher in protein, fat, fiber, and carbohydrates, meaning it is less of a “filler” and provides more valuable components per slice than the white bread.
There also seems to be a popular belief that grains are associated with many of the skin issues and allergies we see in pets. In all actuality, food allergies are responsible for <1% of skin disease and <10% of all allergies. Grains are often responsible for less food allergies than are beef, dairy products, and chicken. Things like parasites (i.e. fleas), cleanliness of environment, air quality, and environmental allergies (i.e. plants/pollen) are more often the culprit of itching and secondary skin disease. Gluten intolerance, otherwise known as Celiac disease in humans, is extremely rare in dogs and has never been documented in cats.
Before joining the hype that grains are bad for your pets, please consult your veterinarian or a pet nutritionist about what diet profile would provide the best nutrition for your furry friends.