Many owners that have switched their pets to a raw diet have noticed the massive improvements that raw has made in their pet’s health. From their healthy skin and shiny coat, their dental health, and even improved allergies or yeast infection issues, you would think that veterinarians would be just as excited about this great diet. Yet, when many of these pet owners tell their vet about switching to a raw diet, they aren’t always met with support.
So why aren’t vets recommending raw diets more often, if raw has helped improve the health of so many pets?
Lack of studies
The unfortunate fact of the matter is, there is a lack of peer-reviewed studies to actually prove that raw is safe and effective. Anecdotal evidence may be everywhere, but that just isn’t enough for many in the veterinary community. As raw diets gain popularity, there will surely be more studies done, and many are in the works. But in the meantime, most vets don’t feel like they can absolutely guarantee to their clients that raw diets are safe and effective. They want to be able to back up their recommendations with peer-reviewed clinical studies.
Unbalanced homemade diets
When some vets hear you say, “I just switched my dog to a raw diet,” their mind might jump to the last patient they saw whose owner switched to a raw diet… the patient who came in lethargic and half-dead, with serious nutritional deficiencies. Unfortunately, vets see more raw diets done WRONG than they see raw diets done RIGHT. Sometimes they just need to be reassured that you have done your research on how to prepare a balanced diet, and that you aren’t just feeding chicken wings and ground beef every day.
Your vet isn’t just assuming you aren’t competent enough to prepare a homemade diet. Studies such as this one have been done showing that not all owners are capable of following strict nutritional directions for an extended period of time, and this can cause health issues in the long run if the owner starts cutting corners that cause the diet to become unbalanced.
Cracked teeth, blockages, or choking from raw meaty bones
Raw meaty bones or “RMBs” can be safe to feed your dog (or cat, or ferret). But you still need to make sure you’re feeding the right kind of bones, and in the right amounts – or they can cause serious problems.
Weight-bearing bones, like beef femurs, are more dense than a dog’s teeth, and can cause serious fractures that may require extensive dental procedures to fix and prevent infection.
If your dog tries to gulp a bone too fast and swallow it whole, he might choke on it. To prevent this, you need to remember a common saying in the Raw Feeding Community: “know thy dog.” If you know your dog tries to eat fast, it might not be safe to give him whole raw meaty bones, or you might need to take precautions such as feeding RMBs that are bigger than your dog’s head or feeding the food partially or completely frozen, so that he is unable to swallow it whole.
A member of The Raw Feeding Community posted about a terrifying experience in 2015 when their dog choked on a pork neck bone, proving that accidents like this can happen even with seasoned raw feeders and experienced raw fed dogs.
He stopped breathing, tongue lolled out, eyes rolled back, frothing, went stiff, peed and pooped. He eats in the crate so we had to open the door, drag 80 limp pounds out, do the Heimlich maneuver which partially dislodged it, and then yank 2 fist-sized pieces of pork ribs out of his throat. The one that got stuck had a bone in a V shape, it must have lodged just right.
Watching your pet closely while they are consuming bones, regardless of if they are a “gulper” or not, is extremely important. Always supervise meals so that you can prevent freak accidents from occurring, and refrain from feeding bones that you feel like might not be a good fit for your pet (too small, too big, too easily swallowed, etc).
Blockages can also occur if pets gulp pieces of bone that are too large to digest, or if they eat too many bones to digest all at once. It is very important to do your research and know how much bone you need to be feeding your particular dog based on age and size.
Salmonella and e. coli risk
Studies have shown that dogs that eat raw diets may shed more salmonella in their stool than kibble fed dogs. Furthermore, many of the studies also show that dogs that eat treats such as dehydrated pig ears also may shed an increased amount of salmonella in their feces, which means that this isn’t just limited to raw diets. However, this shouldn’t be a major concern unless you are properly cleaning up after your dog and using proper food handling techniques.
Do not allow your dog to eat raw meat on carpet; instead, make sure you provide them with an easy to clean area for them to eat their meals, such as a crate, a tiled floor, or outside. After your dog eats, you should clean the surface that your dog ate off of, or hose down the area if it is outside.
Take extra precaution to keep your environment clean if you have children, immunocompromised persons, or elderly persons living in your household and/or visiting your household frequently.
Your vet may avoid recommending raw due to potential liability. If they recommended for you to feed your dog a raw diet and something went wrong – such as anything listed above – they fear they may be held liable for that. Unfortunately, even if they believe raw is a safe and effective diet, vets don’t always feel comfortable recommending it to every client.
Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons
Don’t give up hope if your vet isn’t thrilled about raw feeding. Sometimes your vet just needs to be reassured that you have done your research and you are providing a safe and balanced diet. When talking to your vet about raw, let them voice their concerns and avoid getting defensive or hostile if they say something that you deem offensive. Try to understand where they are coming from. Develop a relationship with your vet and stay on top of your dog’s preventative care such as annual bloodwork, and you will prove to your vet that you care about your dog’s wellbeing and strive to do what is best for him. If you feel your vet is treating you unfairly, find a different one that better suits you and your dog’s needs.