Thursday, October 15, 2009

Benefits of a raw food diet

I have recently started an experiment with my own dogs to see if feeding raw food is really better than giving them commercial dog food. People ask me all the time what they should be feeding their dogs, and I have a difficult time answering this as I can't decide what to feed my own dogs. Just like in people, nutrition is an essential component to a long, healthy life for our pets.

I do think that Science Diet makes an excellent food. They spend massive amounts of time and money on research to provide a fully balanced, top-of-the-line food. They also use a technique called nutro-genomics, meaning that they design the food based on what genes are activated in specific disease processes. However, these diets are processed and preserved with chemicals, and have grain as the first ingredient. Part of my debate is whether or not this is such a bad thing.

Proponents of raw food, also called B.A.R.F (biologically appropriate raw food) claim these diets are significantly healthier than prepared commercial foods. The diets are made of meat, bones, vegetables and organ meats with very little carbohydrates. The theory is that domesticated animals have evolved to eat this type of food over hundreds of years. Compare this to the past 50-70 years when commercial pet food became popular and it does make sense.

In addition, advocates of the B.A.R.F. diet feel the large amounts of carbohydrates in commercial foods cause excessive inflammation, which in turn leads to common degenerative diseases such as arthritis, allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, obesity, thyroid disease, and hormonal imbalances such as Cushing's disease. It is also felt that commercial foods are packed with harmful chemicals and animal by-products, and have excessive levels of salt and sugar.

So on one hand it makes sense to feed the B.A.R.F diet, especially if it is organic. I know that when it comes to my own eating habits, I would be healthier if my own diet consisted of lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables while avoiding processed sugars and too much salt (though I personally lack the self-control for follow-through). Why should I not feed my beloved pets the same type of diet?

The flip side to this argument is that, other than sushi, I don't eat my food raw, so why would I feed it to my animals? With uncooked foods, there is an increased risk of illness from bacteria or other food-borne pathogens. However I will say we don't see very many, if any, cases of this at Friendship.

And of course raw food diets are time-consuming to prepare, which can be challenging given our busy schedules. Plus, just like shopping exclusively at Whole Foods, raw diets are significantly more expensive then a bag of Science Diet Adult.

My initial experience with the B.A.R.F diet has been very positive. I started feeding my Chihuahua Lilly a raw diet two years ago when she developed allergies and was licking her feet so much that they became infected and ulcerated. After trying all the conventional therapies for food allergies I decided to try raw food. Within two weeks of feeding prepared frozen patties of raw venison, the lesions cleared and Lilly stopped licking her feet. At one point I ran out of the raw diet so started feeding Lilly Iams Low Residue, which I happened to have in the house. The lesions on Lilly’s paws returned almost immediately, only to clear again once I started her back on the raw food.

So, I will see how my dogs respond and keep you posted. I'm not quite sure what it will take to convince me to continue feeding raw food, but at this point the potential benefits seem to outweigh the risks. In general, my dogs are not very picky when it comes to food but they seem to really LOVE the new diet.

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