Written by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker
February 09, 2019
All dogs and cats ate the equivalent of raw diets until the introduction of processed pet food in the 1920s
Now that most pets eat processed diets, many “experts” in the field of veterinary nutrition refuse to endorse or even suggest raw pet food, citing lack of scientific studies on their “effectiveness”
Fortunately, there are independent studies and other research underway that will ultimately validate the nutritional benefits of feeding pets fresh food
In addition, dogs and cats can show us through their own food choices what diets best meet their nutritional needs
For optimal nutrition, the goal in feeding your pet should be should be to mimic his or her ancestral diet as closely as possible.
Recently I was reading an article at a pet-related site about trends in pet food, and the author mentioned that while raw diets have been “all the rage” over the last few years, there’s still no scientific evidence available as to their effectiveness.
On the one hand, this is accurate. Processed pet food companies fund the lion’s share of studies and have no financial incentive to study raw diets. Commercial raw pet food producers are small operators without the resources necessary to conduct this very expensive research.
However, the point that is always missed in discussions about the lack of research into raw pet food is that canines and felines have been eating raw prey for as long as they’ve been in existence. And while advocates of processed diets may argue otherwise, biologically, domesticated dogs and cats are nearly identical to their cousins in the wild.
Processed pet food has only been around since the 1920s. Prior to that, the diet of most dogs and cats was raw meat and table scraps, plus whatever food they hunted for themselves.
The biology of dogs and cats hasn’t changed — only what we feed them has changed over the last century. But now, in order for the raw food they’ve always eaten to get an official stamp of approval, it must be studied scientifically as though it’s something new and unfamiliar.
While I understand the desire for raw pet food studies, and while I’d actually love to have tons of scientific data to back up what I know to be true about raw diets, it seems a bit disingenuous to ignore the existence of the ancestral diet of dogs and cats whenever the topic of raw pet food comes up. However, the good news is there actually are some raw pet food studies underway.
Independent Pet Food Study Looks at the Effect of Raw Diets Versus Kibble on Inflammation and Chronic Disease in Dogs
Two years ago I visited a veterinary school in Helsinki, Finland to learn more about the amazing work of Dr. Anna Hielm-Björkman, who has studied pet food and raw meat diets in pets for almost 20 years. Her research during my visit involved evaluating the levels of homocysteine, a marker of inflammation and chronic disease in the body, relating to diet. She studied four groups of dogs for six months (a quick video summary of this study can be found here).
The first group consisted of previously raw fed dogs who were switched to dry food for the second half of the study (the last three months). The second group consisted of dry-fed dogs who were switched to raw food for three months. The third and fourth groups continued eating their regular food (either dry or raw for the full six-month study).
As I would expect, the dogs fed raw food who continued to eat raw food had the lowest homocysteine levels, at 0.17mM (a good thing). The dogs who ate dry food and continued eating dry food had the highest levels of homocysteine, 10 times more than the raw fed group (1.57mM).
Also as expected, the dogs raised on raw food and switched to kibble had a fivefold increase in levels of the disease marker in the body at the completion of the study (0.77mM). The important takeaway here is the fact that the dogs raised on dry food and changed to raw food for three months had a dramatic decrease in the disease marker (0.3mM).
Eating a biologically appropriate diet isn’t just trendy, it’s healthier. This type of groundbreaking research will hopefully be pivotal in changing the way pets are fed and how pet food is produced, if the industry is genuinely focused on improving the health of companion animals through the products they manufacture.