Love Me Tender Or Should My Dog And Cat Be Eating A Raw Meat Diet?

Ron Hines DVM PhD

  What About carefully selected bones?

  A home cooked diet for my dog?


 What’s Really In Those Sacs And Cans?

 The History Of Dog & Cat Food

With The Internet Already Full Of Stuff About Raw Diets For Dogs And Cats Why Would You Want To Write About Them?

Well, I didn’t plan to. But a series of late-summer emails I received got me to thinking. One was from a lady in California whose cat miraculously recovered from IBD when it was switched to a raw chicken diet. A similar one came in from Seattle – except that was a dog. Three more were from dog owners and a veterinarian in Australia who swore by raw diets for their dogs and the last was from a heartbroken lady in South Carolina whose dog had died during a tooth cleaning. Over the years, I have learned that pets in Australia tended to have considerably cleaner teeth than here in America. Then there were a series of emails with veterinarian, Dr. Tom Lonsdale, over some other issues and an August decision by the AVMA (funded by the pet food industry) to condemn the feeding of raw, under-cooked or home-prepared diets to dog or cats. 

So, I spent some time reviewing scientific papers that related to the issues of canine and feline nutrition and how a raw, home cooked or commercial diet might affect your pet’s long-term health. Like all my articles, I did that, so I could give you evidence-based conclusions – not conclusions based on financial self-interest or my personal proclivities (inclination). I included those reference papers as links in this article. So if you don’t reach the same conclusions I did, you will at least have that underlying information at your fingertips. If you want to read any of the reference articles in their entirety, let me know and I will send you my copy. 

What Did You Find Out?

I learned is that there are major exaggerations on both side of this issue and that the right decision for you depends on your personality, your pet’s current health status and your specific abilities. 

Why Do Raw Diets Enthusiasts Tell You Their Diets Are Good For Your Pet?

Dogs And Cats Are Still Basically Wild Animals In Their Nutritional Needs

In the context of evolution, neither dogs nor cats have lived with us humans very long. So, we can’t be at all certain that they have adapted fully to thrive on the foods we thrive on. Humans are evolutionary omnivores – that is we eat most everything. Our teeth tell you to that. Dogs and cats are carnivores. Their teeth tell you that. Raw meat enthusiasts believe that your dog and cat’s health will improve if you feed it a diet it was designed over the eons to metabolize efficiently. And they believe that it is best when you feed it to them in a form similar to what it ate when they were wild (raw). That sounds plausible to you and to me. No scientist, veterinary nutritionist or dog/cat enthusiast has ever confirmed or refuted that. However, a study was published in the Journal, Nature that concerned the genetic differences that exist now between some dogs and wolves. Its conclusions were based on advanced genetics that are well beyond my understanding. The study suggests that dogs evolved over the last 27,000 years to absorb and utilize plant carbohydrates considerably better than the wild wolves that preceded them. (read here) More data suggests that there might be a great deal of variation in how well individual dogs can do that. You can read that study here.

Raw Diets Preserve Vital Nutrients

We all know that heat, pressure and time destroy the building blocks of life. And there is really no doubt that the extensive processing that goes into making the dry and canned pet foods you buy do the same. It is true that companies do attempt to add them back – to the extent that they know what those nutrients are. Raw diet enthusiasts often quote an article in which a small number of rats were fed diets that included raw or cooked meat. Perhaps that article is valid; but it would never pass muster in a scientific journal of today. (The Effect of Heat Upon the Biological Value of Meat Protein, Morgan & Kern)  A more recent USDA study found that the majority of nutrients in beef and chicken survived cooking quite well. Pet food makers will tell you that they deal with nutrient loss by putting back all the lost nutrients after the product is formed and that the NRC guidelines on nutrition for optimal growth in pets are strictly followed. Raw food enthusiasts would respond that we don’t understand enough about dog and cat nutrition to do that. Unfortunately, there is no one in the world today who would fund a well-designed study that would settle this issue once and for all. Rich dog and cat food manufacturers like Purina and Mars/Canin have plenty of money to do those studies, but they have no incentives to do so. If the results were in not in their favor, their profits would drop; if the results were favorable, their sales income would stay approximately the same. Raw food enthusiasts have no war chest to fund such a study, and it would be a poison pill for any Veterinary School to do so because anything less than a hearty endorsement of the pet food industry would immediately end the funding of their Nutrition Departments. There is no doubt that thorough cooking profoundly changes the composition of food. What we don’t know, is are those changes important to your pet’s health? We know that the fatty acids in meat are altered (read here) – and some are decreased, particularly linoleic and linolenic acids. Cooking denatures (alters) proteins. That is why you can flip a cooked egg in the pan but not a raw one. The temperatures that processed pet food reach during production is something that megapetfood companies do not disclose. From what we know about denaturation, the first heat-associated changes only de-link meat proteins into their subunits (peptides). Only the folded shape of the protein molecule is changed. However, if high enough temperatures are reached, either in the sterilization of rendering plant meat byproduct or in the final pet food manufacturing process, peptides can be destroyed as well. If pet food manufacturers have looked into that, it is not information they have shared with the public. Considering the pressure put upon these manufacturer by the FDA and USDA to keep their products free of salmonella bacteria, there is a lot of incentive for them to keep their processing temperatures quite high. Another problem is in analysis techniques. Some may not be sophisticated enough to detect subtle chances in the structure of these compounds that might affect their function in your pet’s body.

Raw Diets Preserve “Essential Enzymes

You will notice that raw food enthusiasts talk about these essential enzymes, but nobody says what they specifically are. So, I wandered the National Library of Medicine index, PubMed, looking for the essential “enzymes” that might be destroyed by cooking. Enzymes that work within your pet’s body are not absorbed from the food it eats. Those enzymes are produced by the pet’s own body cells from “scratch” (from individual amino acids, etc. obtained from its food and already circulating in their bodies). There are definitely enzymes that your pet’s body needs to digest and absorb food. But those enzymes are all produced in your pet’s pancreas and by the walls of your pet’s stomach and small intestine. So unless your dog or cat suffers from pancreatic issues (cats here,   dogs here) or intestinal disease such as IBD (cat here,   dog here), it should not need whatever enzymes are present in raw meat to digest its food. Even then, the only meat products likely to be rich in those enzymes are raw pancreas and tripe (raw liver if bile acid availability is of concern). But there is evidence that raw meat at room or stomach temperature “self-digests” easier than cooked meat due to the proteolytic enzymes normally present within the meat cells. (read here) So perhaps it is true that raw meat diets are easier for your pet to digest. I never found a scientific study regarding any ill effects of “missing enzymes” in cooked food given to humans or pets. But to my surprise, I found something considerably more interesting to me, bio-active peptides:

Bio-active Peptides

Money, or the potential to make it, drives most technical research. Have you noticed your friends are a bit chubby? It has not escaped pharmaceutical companies either, that a fortune is to be made if a safe way to reduce appetite could be found. For some time, scientists have known that some of the smaller chains of amino acids (peptides) that are liberated when meat or plant protein is digested function just like hormones and can have profound effects on the body. Things like blood sugar and insulin levels, intestinal motility, stomach and gall bladder emptying time, appetite, blood pressure, the immune system and the body’s mineral balance can all be influenced by BAP compounds. You can read about them here. One of the hormones that bioactive peptides in food influence is ghrelin, a peptide itself and a hormone that controls appetite and satiation (after-meal fullness and satisfaction). Pharmaceutical companies realized that controlling how much is released and when might offer us a painless way to diet. (read here) Ghrelin plays a part in the appetite and food intake of your dog as well. (read here) We know that the peptide bond, (glue) that holds BAP’s component amino acids together is one of the strongest and most durable bonds in living things. But we do not know is how well these compounds survive the industrial pet food-making process. Their cooking process requires considerable heat. The earlier processes they use to make the meat byproducts they contain uses high heat as well.  What I do know is that the pet food industry, the AAFCO and the AVMA don’t know the answer to that either.

Commercial Dry Pet Foods Are Chocked Full Of Carbohydrates That Are Bad For Dogs And Cats

That is essentially true. In the significant amounts most dog and cat foods provide, carbohydrates are an unnatural dietary ingredient. 

Pet food manufacturers are hoping you will confuse “grain free” with carbohydrate free. That has already caused considerable dog illness. (read here & here) But these manufacturers are in a bit of a bind here. Despite what they tell you, they all already know that that carnivores require primarily meat. But there are two current problems they have in acknowledging this publicly. The first is the manufacturing process itself. It is the starch in the corn, peas, potatoes or other grains that bind the other cat and dog food ingredients together. Without starch carbohydrate in ample supply, their standard kibble-making extrusion process does not work.

The second (and probably more important problem as they see it) is that the end product cost of shifting from a starch-based to a meat-based formula would be substantial. Doing so would make the cost you pay to feed your dog or cat considerably greater. More people might decide to cut them out of the loop and just prepare their pet’s diet at home. I am not an industry economist, but I do not believe there is enough wholesome raw ingredients discarded from the slaughtering industry for the volume of dry pet food they currently sell if they attempted to increase its meat content. The pet food companies would have to compete with humans for the more expensive meat cuts and their current profits would suffer. You can read about this problem here. So, their current strategy is to simply put a high-end photo of a wolf or lynx on their product sacks and cans.  You see a lot of advertisements these days for refrigerated fresh food dog and cat foods. I see not need to purchase them. Doing so just adds many more hands, machines, warehouses and trucking companies to the manufacturing process. I believe that it much healthier for you to roll your shopping cart over to the meat (and perhaps the minced frozen vegetable isle for color and variety) and purchase what you yourself eats. If calves or poultry liver and egg yolks are a moderate part of your pet’s the menu, to that, you only need to add a calcium supplement

Even the bacteria in your pet’s digestive tract changes when proteins replace carbohydrates. (read here) So your pet’s susceptibility to infections like salmonella or response to viral infections like parvovirus could easily benefit as well, depending on the ratio of carbohydrate to protein in your pet’s diet.  In the case of cats, we have even greater evidence of the deleterious (bad) effects of high carbohydrate diets. (read here)  Limiting your pet’s exposure to feed corn also limits its exposure to dangerous aflatoxins (fresh supermarket sweet corn is usually free of it). Drought-stressed commercial feed corn, the kind found in pet foods, is becoming the norm in the USA, and that corn is particularly susceptible to aflatoxin mold attack. (read here)

 What Can Tennis Racquets and World War II Possibly Have To Do With This Article??

If you really want to know, go here.

Pets Fed A Raw Diet Are Less Likely To Become Fat

Perhaps that is true; I do not know. We really have no controlled studies that confirm that in pets. But studies in humans suggest that high-protein diets – cooked or not – are more satisfying with more time between meals. (read here) Meaty-bone and raw slab meat diets also take your pet much longer to consume and “appear” to me to provide a satisfaction that kibble and canned diets do not. (puzzle feeders deal with that same issue)

Pets On Raw Diets Have A More Acid Stomach So They Are Better Protected From Salmonella

I do not believe that that has been proven. We do know that food that is high in meat protein stays longer in the acid environment of the stomach – the place where salmonella and other germs are most likely to be destroyed. But whether cooking affects the length of time meat protein stays there in our pets or the acidity of their stomachs is unknown. We do know that the composition of your dog’s meals and food chunk size does affect how it absorbs its medications. (read here) You can’t have it both ways though – a more acidic stomach that delays the stomach from emptying and “preservation of vital nutrients and enzymes” are a bit at odds. 

Raw Meat Diets Are Easier To Digest

I mentioned earlier that raw meat contains enzymes that cause it to “self digest” and that those enzymes are destroyed by heating. However, the only actual study of the digestibility of raw versus cooked beef in cats that I know of, found no difference. It did find that the dry cat chow they used was inferior in digestibility to that of either raw or cooked meat. (read here)

Pets On Raw Diets Have Cleaner Teeth, Less Doggy Breath, Less Gum Disease

There is no doubt in my mind that a raw-meat diet, when it is fed in large chunks and strips or on-the-bone, keeps your pet’s teeth clean and its breath fresher. That is due to the normal abrasive cleaning action of tough meat on a carnivore’s teeth and gums while the meat is being torn into chunks small enough for it to swallow (read here) and it is particularly helpful when the meat contains considerable uncooked gristle. Texture rather than content keep your pet’s teeth clean. If you feed your dog or cat raw ground meat or meat diced into small bits and chunks, their mechanical cleansing activity is no more helpful than a commercial canned pet food.  You can see the meat cuts with the most tooth-cleaning ability here:  You can read about other natural ways to keep your pet’s teeth cleaner here & here

Even raw ground up meat ingredients might have an advantage for your your pet’s dental health through more than simple abrasive cleaning action. Antibacterial compounds are found in all raw flesh. These are compounds, like beta-defensins and interleukin-6. How they might act locally in your pet’s mouth or how they survive home or commercial cooking processes is unknown.

What Does The Veterinary Establishment And The Commercial Pet Food Industry Tell You About Home Cooked And Not Cooked Diets?

They will unanimously tell you that home-cooked or uncooked meals are very bad for your pet. For them, there is no middle ground. This group includes all the heavy hitters: the AVMA, the   AAHA,   the CDC and the pet-food-industry-supported American College of Veterinary Nutrition. If you look closely at those AVMA, AAHA and ACVN links I provided and the publications they generate, you will see that many of the same veterinarian operatives appear in all of them. If you part the fig leaves covering the funding sources of these groups, you will eventually find a megapetfood corporation intent on making money or some federal bureaucrat whose assigned duty is minimizing a perceived public health risk – not the health and best interests of your dog and cat. Here is what they all will tell you:

Too Much Time And Commitment For Most Pet Owners – Besides, Ordinary Folks Can’t Be Trusted to Do More Than Open A Can Or A Bag 

I do not agree with either statement. It is true that there will always be uniformed members of the public and those that make errors for one reason or another. You could say the same thing about what foods those folks eat themselves or offer their children – but we haven’t replaced grocery stores with adult and children’s kibble. It is true that feeding a home cooked or raw diet takes considerably more commitment and work than picking up something off the shelf. The same could be said for TV Dinners. It’s also true that not all of us are blessed to have the time and resources to prepare balanced meals for ourselves or our pets. We Americans tend to devote less time and though to what we (and our pets) eat than other people do. (read here) So by all means, if you can’t thoughtfully select your pet’s diet ingredients yourself, you are much better off giving your pet a quality commercial product offered by the pet food industry. Think of them as K-rations.

Feeding Raw Diets Is Messy And A Lot More Work

Can’t argue with that. Besides the mess involved in preparing them, home cooked and raw meat-containing diets spoil quicker than dry or canned dog and cat foods. Dry pet foods take much long to spoil because of their low water content. Both dry and canned pet foods also last considerably longer because of all the additive the companies put in them (e.g. sodium tripolyphosphate, potassium chloride, calcium sulfate, DL-alpha-tocopherol acetate, L-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate, choline chloride & marigold extract). When dry commercial diets go bad in the sac, it is usually because the fats and flavor enhancers sprayed on them have gone rancid (peroxidized). (read here & here)

Bones Or Large Chunks Of Meat Will Get Lodged In Your Pet’s Mouth, Throat Or Stomach “

Chunks of meat are quite unlikely to lodge in a healthy dog or cat. As for bones, I deal with that elsewhere. Others have come to the same conclusions. (read here & here)

If You Feed Uncooked Ingredients You Will Be Facing Dangerous Bacterial Safety Issues – Particularly Salmonella

It is unproven that salmonella bacteria and cases of the disease it occasionally produces are any more common today than they were twenty years ago. It is also unproven that your pet is any more likely to be exposed to salmonella when you prepare its meals at home than when it eats commercially prepared dry cat or dog food. Whenever you are looking for something more than you used to, you are more likely to find it more often. Ten years ago, the USDA’s budget was 60 billion dollars. Today they are requesting 146 billion dollars. The FDA and the USDA now spend huge amounts of money analyzing the things we and our pets eat. Another reason for increased awareness of salmonella is improved laboratory methods to detect it. Results come back faster and new tests find it easier and in smaller amounts than they once did. (read here)

Before 1990 most human cases of salmonella were attributed to eating contaminated and poorly cooked chicken. Salmonella does not survive in meat that is no longer pink due to cooking. But today in the USA, more cases of salmonella are traced to contaminated fruits and vegetables than to meat. (read here) For example, when the CDC investigated 15 salmonella outbreaks. They were traced to contaminated spinach, packaged spring mix salads, peanut butter, ricotta cheese, pet hedgehogs, mangoes, cantaloupe, ground beef, pet chickens, pet chickens again, dry dog chow, raw ground tuna, small live pet turtles, clover sprouts and an unsanitary restaurant chain. I suggest that you never feed your pet ground beef unless you thoroughly cook it. Mass-produced ground beef or poultry is the most likely meat product to be contaminated with bacteria since it combines the carcasses of many different animals. It only takes one unhealthy animal in the lot to contaminate the entire batch. 

Raw poultry is still one of the most common ways we expose ourselves and our pets to salmonella. (read here) We and our grandma risked that every time we cooked up some chicken and left some of the meat pink, or didn’t sanitize the counter or utensils well enough. But the more hands and middlemen meat passes through, the larger the processing plant, the more processed the meat is, and the smaller it is diced or ground, the greater that risk that the chicken is contaminated. The same goes for the form you buy your beef and pork in. Whether it sat in the supermarket cooler for an extended time has very little to do with salmonella risk. Luckily, if your dog or cat is accidentally fed foods containing salmonella, the vast majority of them will never become ill. (read here)

The Megapetfood industry and the animal health establishment that they support have plenty of scary studies to quote to you too. However, you will notice that they always sample a pre-packaged raw meat diet and never prepare one themselves from wholesome supermarket meat ingredients. That inevitably makes their conclusions negative because, as I already mentioned, prepackaged “balanced” raw food diets that have passed through many hands and been prepared in industrial kitchens are always the ones most likely to be contaminated with salmonella and other harmful bacteria. The same goes for human foods prepared in an institutional setting. None of these veterinary and nutritional “authorities” have presented any evidence that salmonella is more common in pets fed properly prepared raw or cooked home diets than in pets fed commercially prepared kibble diets. It is also quite unscientific for veterinary nutritionists and dog food companies to use racing kennel greyhounds (that, incidentally, lead a pitiful, stressful existence on half-rotten 4-D meat diets) in their studies and then apply their conclusions to your pampered house pet. (read here)

Salmonella is also a common contaminant in the commercially prepared dry pet foods these authorities urge you to buy in stores. Only a fraction are sampled by the FDA, but you can read about some that they have detected by keeping up with the FDA’s pet food recall page. Actually, salmonella would persist longer in dry pet kibble than it would in the ingredients you would use to prepare a homemade diet. (read here) One reason commercial dry pet foods have a high incidence of salmonella is the way they are made. When the kibble leaves the very hot mechanical kibble extruder line, pathogenic bacteria have usually been killed by the heat. But the product does not taste good because it has little fat in it.  Fat prevents the carbohydrates in the dough from binding into a hard pellet. Pets would be reluctant to eat it in that bland form. So, the manufacturers then spray it with a better tasting fatty broth (rendered animal digest). That is often thought to be the point where the product becomes contaminated. Warehouses filled with pallets of bagged pet chows are also an invitation to bacterial contamination. (read here)

Some veterinary teaching hospitals exclude the feeding of raw meat diets to hospitalized pets. One of the most vehement ones is Tufts veterinary school whose nutrition department is generously supported by leaders in the dog and cat food industry (Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Nestlé Purina PetCare, P&G Pet Care (now Mars), and Royal Canin). Rather than scary talk about a salmonellosis bogeyman, it would have been more honest to have just explained to pet owners that continuing a hospitalized pet on such a diet would require an enormous amount of additional labor and storage space on their part ; that some of the food formulas pet owners bring in are downright bizarre and that with ill and immunosuppressed pets and health care workers scrambling about at close quarters, that added work would detract from their primary mission which is to cure your pet. You’ve been in a hospital, you know what the food is like there. It’s that way for the same reasons, not because your nurse is afraid you will catch salmonella.

Healthy Cats And Dogs Are Highly Resistant To Salmonella

That statement is true. They have to be, considering how often they were exposed in the wild and continue to be in parks, kennels, grooming parlors, exposure to contaminated dog/cat kibble and the like. I have been a veterinarian for a very long time. I have only seen one case of salmonellosis. That was in a litter of half-grown cats. Their cattery had been feeding the cats cheap, raw, spoiled, 4-D greyhound meat. Their cats were highly inbred and had a number of chronic health issues that could easily have predisposed them to salmonella infection. All outdoor cats that hunt rodents or lizards are exposed to salmonella day in and day out – as are canine doggy park visitors. Ask your veterinarian how many cases of salmonella he/she has diagnosed in dogs and cats. Many have never seen a single case. Yet veterinary policy officials often quote a 2003 report of fatal salmonellosis in two exotic short hair cats and a second one regarding two unconfirmed cases of salmonella diarrhea in two Italian Sphinx cats fed frozen ground chicken labeled “not for human consumption”. (read here) Those article tells us nothing about the general sanitation of the cattery, other health issues they faced there or how inbred these cats were. Sphinx cats are also noted for their weakened ability to fight infections. (read here)

Where Does Raw Human-grade Meat, Fed To Your Pet, Fall In The Degree Of Your Own Personal Risk Of Salmonella Exposure?

If you eat out, if you eat uncooked fruits and vegetable, if you attend parties, if you swim at public beaches, the risk of you obtaining salmonella bacteria from your average, house pet when compared to those other risks is quite extremely low. But many other risk factors need to be considered: Did you purchase your pet’s raw meat-containing diet ready-made? What is the strength of your immune system – are you likely to be immunosuppressed? What are your personal hygiene habits? (read here) Do you wash the vegetables you consume. (read here) What number and what species of the other pets you own? (read here) Are some of them reptiles? (read here) What are the habits and health of the other human members of your family? What is your age, your rural or urban location, the season of the year? Do you routinely take proton pump inhibitor antacids like Nexium® or Prilosec®? (read here

Is Salmonella The Only Risk When I Feed My Pet Raw Meat?

No. There are plenty of other bacteria and parasites that can be found in raw meat. But it is unusual to find them in hygienic supermarket cuts because the way farming is now practiced in the Developed World.  There was a time when meat scraps and garbage were routinely fed to livestock for their protein content.  Today the primary protein source in livestock feed is soybean meal. Even should the fresh meat you feed your dog or cat contains parasites or bacteria, there are ways to deal with that that I will go over later.

But If I Prepare My Pet’s Food Myself Veterinary Nutritionists And The Dog & Cat Food Industry Say My Pet Will Be Subject To Malnutrition And Chronic Disease 

That statement is untrue if you follow common-sense procedures and incorporate a balanced vitamin/mineral supplement or variety in your dog or cat’s diet. If you just feed unsupplemented or incorrectly supplemented meat and/or your table food, then that statement is true. The secret of success is to prepare these diets from the same foods you and I eat at home and then add a balanced supplement obtained from a firm that has a seasoned animal nutritionists on staff. There are more and more of these independent veterinary nutritionists available online. Some veterinary school nutritionists offer this service as well (e.g. Michigan State & Davis). Too much of these supplements is as bad as not enough – particularly when vitamin vitamin A and vitamin D are concerned. If you are a worrier regarding your pet’s calcium and vitamin intake, you can even have your pet’s blood sampled occasionally – although nutritionists are in major disagreement as to what represents adequate “normal” levels in pets and people. (see here)

Industrially produced Diets Are Just As Nutritious and Healthful And They Are Safer Than Those You Prepare At Home “

The pet food industry has never funded the simple studies that would prove or disprove that. So one really cannot say. Doing such studies is not that difficult or expensive. So, my suspicions are that if they thought they had a good chance of confirming that statement, those studies would have been done long ago. Animals and people thrive and tend to remain healthier when their diets have considerable variety – not when food ingredients remain monotonous and constant.

The Top Secret Reason They Hate Home Prepared Diets – Less Profits For Them When You Prepare Your Cat & Dog’s Diets From Scratch

Overall global pet food sales are predicted to reach 90.4 billion dollars in 2020 and 113.0 billion dollars by 2025. Both pet food and human food companies are quite crafty in the marketing techniques they use. (see hereread here) They see thoughtful and balanced home-cooking for pets as a mortal economic threat to them – and rightly so.

Are You Getting Information From Both Sides Of This Issue Fairly And Equally?

You already know that answer. The money and resources are all on the canned, bagged and prepared frozen & fresh side. 

I Trust My Veterinarian. Shouldn’t I Just Take Her Or His Advice?

Most veterinarians in private practice are honest people who want only the best for your cat or your dog. Veterinarians like myself are trained to do our best to correct your pet’s health issues. The intricacies of nutritional biochemistry and metabolism are not things that are emphasized in our education. The vast majority of our clients come to us when things go wrong. So, we don’t see the dogs and cats that live long happy lives eating home-prepared and raw foods. We see the pets that were left to their own devices or fed unsupplemented meat, pizza scraps, Big Macs etc.  None of us are old enough to remember the days when commercial canned and dry dog food was not readily available. (read here) Compounding that is the fact that veterinarians today are mercilessly bombarded with ads and advance men from the pet food industry. We may be nice, but we are no more immune to brainwashing than you are. The little we learn about canine and feline nutrition through the AVMA and our yearly required continuing education lecture credits are all financed by the pet food industry. The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association was one of the very last professional journals to require a conflict of interest statement for the articles it publishes.

Enter The Dog And Cat Food Heavyweights

I am going to tell you something about Hills Pet Nutrition and Science Diets™, one of the larger pet food producers. The goals of Hills are not any different from the goals of the other big players in the pet food industry – they strive to be a profitable and efficient business. That means selling as much dog and cat food at the highest profit attainable. Like most veterinarians, I sold large quantities of their Prescription Diets™. Hills limits their sales to veterinarian middlemen as a way of keeping their product prices high. A few of those diets and those of their competitors, are actually very effective in curing or controlling the health problems for which they are marketed. Hills began making dog food in the late 1920s. Veterinary diets were the inspiration of a 28-year-old New Jersey veterinarian, Mark Morris Sr. In 1928, there were only two exclusively small animal hospitals in the United States and Dr. Morris owned one of them. His interest in dog and cat health and his unique education in animal nutrition made his pet food enterprise very successful. In 1976, Hills caught the eye of the Colgate-Palmolive soap company which bought the interests of the aging Dr. Morris and his veterinarian son out. Hills products are now available throughout the World. In 2020, Hills sales reached 2.2 billion dollars. (read here)

Players like Hills are not about to take a back seat to governmental decisions that affect their profits. To that effect, they all have powerful Connecticut Ave. lobbyists protecting their interests. Hills markets its pet foods in three ways:

1. It maintains a major presence in veterinary schools because it knows that pet owners rely on their veterinarians for feeding advice. Hills knows that the earlier in their careers that they can influence these young veterinarians, the more likely they will be to recommend their products throughout their professional lives. So veterinary students, faculty, and staff are eligible for free pet food under the Hill’s College Feeding Program. 

2. To thoroughly control the public message, Hills lavishly endows and supports the nutrition departments in US and European veterinary schools. You can read about some of those impressive and successful stateside activities here  

3. The Hills company carefully crafts public perceptions about its products, knowing that what goes in their bag is not nearly as important as how it is marketed. Here is what they have to say about bi-product in their foods:

Why does Hill’s use by-products in their foods?

“Byproducts are common ingredients found in both human and pet food. In fact, vitamin E, gelatin, beef bouillon, beef liver and vegetable oils are all byproducts. In many countries, “by-products” are very desirable human foods. Chicken by-product meal is a high quality, concentrated source of protein. We use it due to its low ash (phosphorus) content. It is also very palatable. This ingredient consists of ground, rendered, wholesome parts of the chicken. It includes white meat, dark meat, liver and viscera. The chickens are sourced from human grade processing plants. Meat by-products consist of the non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat from slaughtered mammals. We specifically use beef or pork lungs, spleens, or livers in our products for consistency and optimal nutrient profile.”

A less diplomatic but more honest way to present this would have been to explain that the byproduct in its pet food is actually a mixture of low-priced discards from the slaughterhouse industry that were unmarketable for human consumption for one reason or another. You can read what the process really involves here,   here  &  here.

The American Veterinary Medical Association AVMA

With the pet food companies helping to fund the AVMA bureaucracy and with its member veterinarians relying on prescription pet food sales for income, the AVMA has little choice but to get in line and cheer for the pet food industry as well. So, it is not surprising that they give the thumbs down to home-prepared cooked and raw diets for dogs and cats at every opportunity. In their public pronouncement this is what they have to say:

Q: What influence did the pet food industry have on the AVMA’s policy?
A: None. Neither commercial nor raw diet manufacturers were contacted during development of this policy because it was based on public health risk, and not on nutritional comparisons, health benefits, or economic factors. None of the pet food companies were aware that a policy was being developed.

“Q: What is your response to allegations that the AVMA is “in the pockets” of the pet food industry?
A: These allegations are false. We are a science-based organization, and this policy is based on scientific research. Veterinarians are pet owners too. We love our animals and have the experience and training to make educated decisions about what to feed our own pets. Veterinarians choose and recommend diets based on what is best for the animal – e.g., it is medically appropriate and nutritionally balanced to meet that pet’s need. Many veterinarians feed commercial diets, and veterinarians are free to make their own choices when it comes to feeding their pets.”

I assure you that no one at the AVMA really believes any of that.  How about an all-expenses-paid trip to Switzerland? : View that here 

Which Of These Groups Is Right?

Both sides paint with a wide brush giving absolutely no credit to the opposing view. Each provides mostly generalities and predict dire consequences if you don’t as a pet owner do things their way. They both make some valid points. I personally believe that the only benefits of dry cat and dog chows are convenience and economy. They save time. They are still relatively inexpensive (~70%) compared to human-grade ingredients. They store easily, and they free owners from the chore of supervising their pet in consuming a balanced group of healthy food items. The downside of these commercial products are driven by economics and the limitations of food technology: the dubious quality of some of their ingredients, their high carbohydrate content, the insufficient water intake they encourage and the known and unknown health effects of the processes used to make them.  Even if the companies reformulated their products in light of our newer knowledge of pet nutrition, the logistics of mass production, their multiple suppliers and jobbers of raw ingredients and their complicated distribution channels would make their products inferior to food you cook or serve to your pet at home. So, a mass migration by the producers to all-meat, canned or frozen product is really not a solution.

You’re A Veterinarian Too, What Do You Think I Should Do?

My preference is that you lightly cook or at least sear the outer surfaces of the slab meat ingredients you purchase from the meat department at your local supermarket for your dog or cat. Slab meats and whole dressed poultry are generally much safer than ground or chopped meat products when it comes to possible contamination. Non-meat ingredients need to be thoroughly washed. But if you have your heart set on feeding raw, I am not overly concerned about the possibility of exposing a healthy pet to salmonella. Remember that your pet’s chances of salmonella exposure are considerably greater if you purchase a commercially prepared raw pet food instead of hygienically making it from scratch starting with the human-grade market ingredients that you yourself eat.

My suggestions are sure to offend both RAW advocates and the pet food industry. The first, because it contradicts their rigid dogma, the second because it cuts them out of the profit loop.  

When a meat or poultry items are contaminated with germs such as salmonella, it is not because the animal was ill with salmonella (salmonellosis). USDA inspectors take those animals aside, and they end up in the heat-sterilized byproduct meal in dog, cat and livestock rations. When a wholesale lot of pet food meat ingredient is contaminated, it is because one or two apparently healthy animals carried these bacterial organisms in their intestines. In the meat plant, intestinal contents from that animal contaminated some portion of the production machinery or water used in processing. So in the occasional instances where primal cuts of meat are contaminated with bacteria, the bacteria are most commonly only present on the meat surface. That is why just surface browning large meat cuts in your oven at 400 F (204.4 C) for 10 minutes goes a long way in reducing salmonella risk. (read here) That is not true when you purchase meat that has been ground, diced, chopped or injected with marinating agents, tenderizers or flavoring agents as much American meat has been. (read here) In those items, bacteria find their way throughout the product.

The first thing to do is purchase a meat thermometer. I am told that the heat used in the byproduct and dry pet food production process is somewhere between 266 – 392 F (130 and 200 C) and that for canned pet food at least 300 F (149 C). You don’t have to heat your pet’s meat ingredients that high to be safe. In most cases, salmonella is killed if the meat you buy is heated thoroughly by you to 176-185 F (80-85 C) for one minute (read here). At 140 F (60 C), it takes about 18 minutes for large slabs of meat and 10 minutes for ground beef to be cleansed of bacteria. (read here) Toxoplasma organisms die in a few seconds at 152 F or 67 C.  Another study accomplished the same when ground lean meat was heated to 136-154 F (58-68 C) for 5 minutes. In another study, at 160° F (71 C), salmonella was destroyed in a few seconds. Bacteria are a bit harder to kill when meat products contain large quantities of fat.  Most of the building blocks (peptides) of meat do not begin to break down however until they reach 356 F (180 C) for 3 minutes.  Freezing does not reliably kill salmonella, but it does destroy parasites such as toxoplasma.

If I Decide Not To Take Your Advice, What Is The Best Age To Introduce My Dog & Cat To A Raw Diet?

The earlier, the better. Taste preferences and chewing ability develop early; so does the inclination to tear and rip at food held in the paws rather than gulp it down. This is not just about establishing feeding patterns. The jaw, facial bone dimensions and facial musculature actually strengthen and change in response to chewing tough raw meat early in life. (read here)

Should I Buy A Raw Meat Diet That’s Already Prepared? – Does Anyone Regulate or Supervise What Goes Into Them?

The more hands and machinery that touch your pet’s diet between the cow grazing on the farm and the package you pick up at your market, the greater the chance for error and contamination. Like a pass-it-on phrase at a party, it’s not going to be what it was when it left the farm. Large pet food company players may decide to cash in on the raw pet food market. There are innovative ways to inhibit bacteria without heat or nuclear radiation so that they can still label it as “raw”. But anything added that can kill or retard bacteria could have a deleterious effect on your pet’s health. Often, these added ingredients seemed like a great idea at the time. But like nitrites,   BHA,   propylene glycol, and thiomersal they eventually turn out not to be. The worst, of course, was the Massengill catastrophe.

Is One Form Of Raw Meat Safer Than Another?

I already mentioned several times that bacteria tend to accumulate on the surface of a cut or portion of meat, the entire portion becomes contaminated when it is minced, diced, or ground. So purchase meat cuts in as large an intact section as possible, rinse it and cut it up hygienically at home. Many large cities have raw meat co-ops just for pets.  Historically, poultry testing discovers more bacterial contamination than beef. But the two are not sampled with the same technique. I really do not have enough reliable data to know if one wholesale source of meat is preferable to another. The critical elements are sanitation from farm to market with the least amount of processing, handling and fiddling along the way. Liver, kidney and other organ meats should be fed only in moderation. Liver acts as a filter. It is the first stop policeman after compounds enter the body from the digestive system and because of that, it can accumulate undesirable agents. Glandular tissues are rich in various hormones in quantities that could conceivably be deleterious to your pet’s health. Feeding neck thyroid tissue, for example, has been associated with hyperthyroidism. (read here) Rendered fish head ingredients and fish meal in cat foods are rich in iodine and have been associated with hyperthyroidism in cats. (read here)

Is One Source Of Chicken Safer Than Another?


Buy your chickens frozen whole and break them up at home. Rinse them well. Consider lightly baking or boiling them as I suggested, before you cut them up. I can think of no reason that range chicken meat would be safer or less safe for your pet than traditional farm-raised. Purchase one or the other based on your personal philosophy of what you yourself should eat.

Is One Source Of Beef Safer Than Another?

Buy your beef in as large a cut as is practical. Rinse the piece off well at home before you cut it into smaller pieces. Retail beef, bought from reputable butchers is generally safe. It is estimated that only 1 – 2.6% is contaminated with bacteria that have the potential to be harmful.  The vast majority of us are exposed to these bacteria from so many other sources other than primal cuts of beef. It would actually be more dangerous to feed your dog and cat store-bought cantaloupe. (read here)

What About Raw Fish And Game?

Meat has always been the envelope through which various diseases and parasites transfer between wild carnivores. But modern domesticated livestock production practices have made it quite rare for livestock consumption to transfer disease.  However, the cycle continues unchanged in wild hoof stock and fish. I would not feed any product derived from wildlife in a raw state to your pet. The dangers veterinarians think about most often now are baylisascaris,   toxoplasmosis,   trichinella and prions.  If you do elect to feed raw fish, your pet should probably receive extra thiamine. But even with adequate thiamine your pet will still be at risk of pansteatitis if raw fish constitutes a substantial part of its diet. 


Never Feed Your Pet Anything That Is Not Fit For Human Consumption

A product, often called 4-D meat is commonly fed to greyhounds, circus and zoo animals. It is notoriously filthy. It is basically the same stuff that goes into meat byproduct meal – but in its raw form. It is a marvelous tribute to the strong constitution of greyhounds that they survive eating it. If a food ingredient is not sold on the human food isle I would not feed it to my pet. 

Might My Pet Benefit From Plant Ingredients In Its Diet Too?

By all means. Adding reasonable amounts of bulking vegetables like broccoli, carrots and sweet potato can aid in weight control and satisfaction. When those items are fibrous or offered frozen, they help keep your pet’s teeth cleaner and its breath fresh. you might consider avoiding excessive amounts of cruciferous vegetables if your pet has a urinary oxalate problem.  The best preventative for urinary tract stones of all kinds is a diet high in water content. Byproduct meal as found in pet kibble can be high in oxalates too because of its high condemned liver content. In older dogs and cats the high fiber content of vegetables can help prevent constipation. Vegetable content also helps keep your pet’s stools on high meat-content diets large and pliable which in turn helps prevent anal sac disease. In diabetic dogs and cats, diets rich in soluble, fermentable fiber aid in blood sugar control.

What If I Feed My Dog & Cat Meat Without A Supplement?

Unless you feed a variety of meats and add a calcium supplement, or feed home-prepared meat-based meals that contain all the animal’s tissues, you might get into trouble if you do not add the correct amount of a commercial calcium/vitamin supplement designed for pets. Problems will appear quicker in growing animals. They take longer to appear in adults. There are many supplements on the market that will suit your cat and dog’s nutritional needs. Some of these supplements have been around a very long time (Meat Complete™, Mazuri™).  Others are more recent arrivals to meet the growing number of pets, like yours, beginning home cooked or raw meat-based diets.

My friends at the pet coop in Hawaii favor one sold by Wysong™. I have also used and suggested this supplement for many years for zoo felines  

How Should I Make My Pet’s Diet Change?

I suggest that all lifestyle and diet changes occur gradually. If your pet’s health is fragile, if it is stressed or elderly, I would do so cautiously and quite gradually. Find a sympathetic veterinarian or seasoned pet expert you trust to guide you during a period of months that are free of other distractions. If you make changes rapidly, have your mop ready because there will often be pooping accidents in the home. Old pets and those with bad teeth or abnormal mouth and tooth alignment peculiar to their breed may be more inclined to wolf down portions too large for them to handle. I would not make any diet change in an older or ill pet without first having your veterinarian perform a thorough physical examination and a general laboratory health profile that includes the more common tests.

What About My Very Finicky Cat?

Cats seem to suffer more from the high carbohydrate levels in commercial cat chows. Dogs appear to tolerate those grain inclusions better. Many of my clients have seen remarkable improvements in their cat’s gastrointestinal and metabolic issues when they switched over to a fortified home cooked diet that was primarily meat. I cannot say that I have found that raw meat is superior to lightly cooked meat. Many of my clients run lightly cooked whole Cornish hens through a commercial meat grinder and serve the mix, bones and all. Not unexpectedly, the pet food industry does not fund research on this subject.  Expect some surprising positive behavior changes in your cat. The aroma of lightly cooked meat will drive your cat wild. Diets containing larger, more natural ingredients like meat, gristle, cartilage and bone are often quite helpful in distracting dogs and cats that over groom and chew on themselves when stress, anxiety or boredom add to the problem – as they often do. (read here & here)

Are There Some Pets That Probably Should Not Be Fed A Raw Food Diet?

Definitely so.

Successfully dealing with the bacteria naturally found in anything uncooked requires a health immune system. Any disease or medication that affects your pet’s immune system is reason enough not to feed your pet a raw diet. Those drugs includes prednisone,   prednisolone,   Atopica® and similar drugs that disable the immune system. Apoquel® could be another of those drugs. Some dogs receiving Apoquel® do not filter out bacteria as well as they should. Antibiotics alter the protective flora of your pet’s gastrointestinal tract. I would not combine the two (antibiotics+raw meat). You certainly can give them meat – but not raw meat. Autoimmune disease, lymphoma and other cancers also weaken your pet’s defenses against pathogens that might be found in raw diets. A high-stress environment, cage confinement, large numbers of household pets, the normal decline of elderly pets and the immature immune systems of the very young are reasons enough to be cautious. There are also specific diseases, such as failing kidneys or liver issues in which a lower protein diet might be advisable. Certain breeds and show lines of cats and dogs have had their genetics so fiddled with by breeders that they no longer possess the healthy immune systems of their ancestors. Be cautious what you feed those frailer breeds. Dogs and cats taking antacids can lose their primary defense against foodborne pathogens – their stomach’s acidity. Some folks recommend that high-carb pet foods and raw food not be mixed in a single meal because gastric acidity on a high-carb diet is not sufficient. They are right about carbohydrates lessening gastric acidity. Whether raw meat is more efficient than cooked meat in doing that is unknown. That same problem might occur if natural bones were given to pets on a high carbohydrate diet – stomach acids efficiently dissolve sharp bone fragments. I would avoid feeding raw ingredient diets if a human member of your family is HIV positive or has had an organ transplant – but that is something for your physician to decide. The same goes for therapy pets that visit such people. (read here) Our pet birds are not well-equipped to deal with many of the bacteria that normally inhabit dogs and cats – although rodent contamination is the primary way they get exposed to those organisms. (read here) Think twice about giving your dogs and cats raw meat if you own a pet bird in close proximity as well.

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