In recent years there has been great interest by pet owners to feed unconventional diets to their pets. Most people claim that their primary interest is to improve the health of their animal, which they feel is not accomplished by using conventional commercial diets. Effective propaganda campaigns have swayed thousands of owners to question manufacturing practices of the pet food industry and to seek alternatives. Unfortunately, information substantiating claims by the proponents of such diets is lacking. All food processing is being viewed as harmful and all things natural are viewed as beneficial. With greater acceptance in these types of diets, veterinarians need to be aware of the important issues surrounding this controversial topic.
The purpose of this lecture is to present some of concerns regarding raw food diets and other unconventional diets and highlight any evidence regarding the use of such diets. When one investigates the claims why raw food diets are ‘superior,’ a common cited reason is that dogs “were designed to eat raw food.” From the types of teeth they have, to their evolutionary links, much of the justification of feeding raw food stems from the belief that dogs are healthier when fed as if they were “still in the wild.” Leaving the issue of domestication aside, the notion that wild canids somehow were in ideal nutritional status when fed raw food is certainly unfounded. In fact, archaeological data suggests that prehistoric canids were omnivores and not pure carnivores. Modern wolves (which are often misrepresented as the reference species for domestic dogs) have evolved to consume prey mostly because of human encroachment in their habitats. So in reality, domestication of dogs not only introduced the dependence by dogs on humans for food, it also led to the changes in diets of wild canids. Domestication of both dogs and cats has resulted in remarkable prolongation and improvement in the quality of life for many animals, and many of the benefits could be directly linked with the provision of balanced and complete commercial diets. While improvements in food palatability have probably contributed to the onset of obesity and associated conditions, consistent use of balanced commercial diets has reversed malnutrition in many more patients.