Raw food for pets: the debate to clean up

The author is a veterinarian and ethicist. A past president of the Order of Veterinary Physicians of Quebec, he works Zoonosis Epidemiology and Public Health Research Groupregularly offers training and speaks on human-animal relationships and the Holistic Health approach.

It’s hard to believe today, but not long ago, dogs were content with human scraps and rough-and-tumble meals. Cats too, but they had access to the outside and could supplement their diet with some small prey.

Since then, our pets have become very important in our lives. They are almost family members, from whom we buy toys, accessories, food and various treats. On the food side, a new trend is gaining popularity: raw meat dishes. Producers and small businesses that sell their products in stores or pet stores praise the advantages: they would be fresher and healthier. Recommended by people uneducated in animal health and public health or influenced by social media reviews, their clients are convinced of the benefits of such a diet.

Vets, for their part, advise against raw food. Because the benefits of this diet are not well documented. Although there are health risks.

I’m not interested in making a statement in this file, maybe at the very beginning of my career, 30 years ago, I had an employer who sold food. My trip to the clinic did not take long. It was very diverse: I am interested in popularization of science, ethics and public health. I don’t sell anything, I think, write, share knowledge and work with researchers.

And let’s face it, I live with three dogs.

What does science say?

There is no evidence to suggest any potential nutritional advantage of raw foods – or a home-cooked diet. Therefore, proponents of raw feed rely on anecdotal accounts of animals that have improved with this feeding regimen. It is possible that some of these animals have an intolerance to substances in some commercial meats, which may explain this perception. In these cases, a homemade diet cooked without harmful substances will also avoid intolerance.

It seems that some customers are so eager to make the best choice for their animals that they want comparative studies that are scientifically almost impossible to obtain. There are many comparative tables showing the nutritional analysis of different diets, but this does not tell everything – for example, if the available nutrients can be well digested and assimilated by the animal. Longitudinal studies (following the same animals over a long period of time) of cats and dogs of different breeds at all stages of life are required to demonstrate superiority of one over the other, but this poses challenges: how to compare “raw”. with “cooked”? Which is raw and which is cooked? Is this when no food has the same composition as another and animals generally don’t eat just one food?

nutritional value

We know that quality food allows an animal to live a healthy life: commercial diets that meet the criteria of the voluntary membership-based American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) meet certain requirements, among others. protein content. Manufacturers have created high-quality products with a stable recipe for healthy animals and a diet adapted to various diseases. These quality brands conduct research on the health of the animals that feed on their products.

When it comes to nutritional value, home-made diets, whether raw or cooked, can be very unbalanced. Repeated nutritional deficiency or excess over a long period of time can have a very significant effect on the animal’s health.

Pro-cru is often anti-commercial kibbles and claims our dogs and cats have more cancer. However, as our animals live longer and longer, there is more cancer!

Raw food is also considered more natural. Its promoters associate it with fresher, less processed food. These features can also be home-cooked meals, which at least reduce the risk of infection.

Health risks

Major public health authorities are warning the public against the infectious risks of raw pet food. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise against this practice.

Known risks of infection are caused by microscopic bacteria and parasites such as salmonella and campylobacter, which can affect animals and the people around them. Cooking greatly reduces these risks.

Contrary to what you might think, it’s not enough to take the same precautions when caring for our meat before cooking. It is good practice to wash surfaces, dishes, our hands and the animal’s dish afterwards, but it is not avoided. When an animal ingests raw meat, various and potentially dangerous microorganisms colonize its digestive system, altering its microbiome.

The animal will excrete these microorganisms and pollute the environment. People in the family caress, fondles, sleeps with their spouse, etc., which leads to some sharing of gut flora. A person with a weak immune system – this is the case for some patients, small children and the elderly – will therefore find that their health is at risk.

What to do?

If you are not a devout follower of the vine, I do not encourage you to become one. If you do not want to offer commercial food to your four-legged friend, you can choose a homemade diet and cook meat to avoid the risk of infection. It is also necessary to ensure a balanced recipe, ideally following the advice of a veterinary nutritionist (there are several of them). Because an unadapted recipe can endanger your pet’s health.

If you are already a fan of raw food, it is your responsibility to inform any elderly or immunosuppressed people around you and discourage them from eating your animal. in contact with young children. The safety measures to be taken for this type of food are not only related to the hygiene of food preparation. Washing hands after interacting with animals becomes even more important, especially for people with less efficient immune systems, and proper disposal of feces.

With the information available, you can make an informed choice for your pet and your family.

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