Bloomington Pet Pals

In-Home Pet Care, Dog Walking

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By Ann Wesley
Bloomington Pet Pals In-Home Pet Sitters

 Ask Emileigh Graves about dog food and she launches into a passionate testimonial for feeding a raw meat diet. Like many others who endorse the raw diet, she will tell you about the many health benefits her dogs Zappa, Jack and Monroe have experienced since getting on board with the biggest, and most controversial, trend in pet food.

 “I have noticed a dramatic change in my animals since feeding raw,’ she said, citing shinier costs, healthier skin, less shedding, improved oral health, better weight control, stronger muscles, more energy, improved digestion, fewer allergies, and the list goes on and on.

 In 1993 Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghust proposed the idea of a BARF (biologically appropriate raw food) diet for dogs. Greyhounds and sled dogs have long eaten raw diets and Billinghurst suggested other adult dogs would thrive on the same diet. He contends that grain-based pet foods are not as healthy for dogs.

 But not all veterinarians agree with Billinghurst. In fact, neither the American Veterinary Medical Association nor the American Animal Hospital Association endorse a raw diet. The AVMA “discourages” feeding pets food that has not been subjected to a process to eliminate pathogens “because of the risk of illness to cats and dogs as well as humans.”

 Supporters of raw are quick to point out that major manufacturers of the food incorporate a ‘kill-step’ to eliminate pathogens while creating the least impact on the food’s enzymes, proteins and other nutrients. They question why kibble is endorsed over raw when recalls of traditional pet food occur on a regular basis due to contamination with Salmonella and E. coli.

 Emileigh works at T& T Pet Food and Supply and has had the opportunity to research all types of pet food. When she decided on raw more than five years ago, she would buy meat, organs and veggies and mix her own food. Now with the explosion of companies offering raw, feeding is easier.

According to a report from MarketResearch.com, packaged raw pet foods generated approximately $114 million in sales in 2012, representing a 17-percent-per-year growth since 2008. The figures don't include do-it-yourself owners who simply purchase raw meats for their pets.

 “Working at a pet food store I have many options for feeding raw, and I have tried it all,” Graves said. “I feed raw because I know through research and experience it is the ideal biologically appropriate diet for cats and dogs because dogs and cats are supposed to eat like nature interned - high levels of meats, high levels of natural moisture, natural occurring enzymes and probiotics, and minimal carbohydrates.”

 When explaining raw food to customers, Graves begins with a brief anatomy lesson on the digestive systems and jaws of dogs and cats which allow them to chew and break down raw meat more easily than grains. She then expounds on the health benefits, using her own dogs as examples.

The American College of Veterinary Nutrition agrees that “typically raw meats are slightly more digestible than cooked meat.” But the ACVN also points out that there are risks associated with the raw food plan. “One of these is the risk of nutritional imbalances,” the ACVN warns. “Another important risk is related to bacterial or parasitic contamination. Of course, food poisoning is also a major concern for people, and the public health aspects of feeding raw foods to pets cannot be overlooked. At this time, the vast majority of purported benefits of feeding raw foods remain unproven, while the risks and consequences have been documented.”

Graves is not concerned about the risks.

“When I made my own batches, I always got high quality human-grade meat. Now because I order frozen blends from a company, I know that every batch is tested before being sent to a retailer. Luckily raw feeding has really taken off, so there are lots of "hassle free" brands out there providing an appropriate diet for cats and dogs,” she said.

Emileigh Graves' dog Zappa enjoys eating a raw diet

Feeding raw may include a mixture of raw ground meat along with fruits and vegetables.

Emileigh and Jack

Feeding raw may include a mixture of raw ground meat along with fruits and vegetables.

Is feeding a raw diet good for your dogs?

Although controversial, dogs like Elka, who eat a raw diet, are reported to have improved health.

A display at T & T Pet Store gives information on feeding a raw diet and offers a variety of choices.