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Breaking Mews: Dr. Morrow Interviewed For Houston Chronicle Article About Raw Pet Food
March 1, 2024

Our very own Dr. Morrow appeared in a recent article posted by the Houston Chronicle. The article shed some light on one of many social media trends about pets and pet care: raw food diets. The idea has become more popular lately. As noted, we’ve also noticed an increase in people asking about these diets. But is raw food good for your pets?

Turns out, not so much. In fact, it can actually be dangerous. 

As your local Houston Heights, TX veterinary hospital, we delve a bit deeper into the subject below.

What is the raw food diet?

As the name suggests, a raw food diet entails giving your pet uncooked foods. The trend has been accompanied by many photos of people basically making their pets charcuterie boards of raw meat. 

To be fair, giving Fido a raw carrot, string bean, or apple slice isn’t usually going to be a cause for concern. The danger mostly comes with raw meat.

Why Is Raw Meat Dangerous For Pets? 

Raw meat holds many of the same potential risks for pets as it does for people. The biggest is the potential for foodborne illnesses, parasites, and infections. 

Some of these include: 

  • Salmonella 
  • E. coli
  • Listeria

As for parasites, some of the most common include the following: 

  • Tapeworms 
  • Protozoan parasites, such as Toxoplasma gondii, Neospora caninum and Sarcocystis species.

Raw meat could also contain bones or bone shards, which can cause potentially fatal internal injuries if consumed. 

Keep in mind that many people are also susceptible to these risks. The parasite E. granulosus, for instance, has an incubation period that can last up to ten years in humans. That means a decade could go by before the problem rears its head.

Raw fruits and vegetables aren’t as dangerous, but can contain seeds and pips. Raw dough can also be extremely dangerous to pets: the issue here is that it can expand inside their gastrointestinal systems, which can cause blockages and ruptures, which can be life-threatening.  Ask your Houston Heights, TX veterinarian for more information. 

Why Are Raw Food Diets Becoming Popular?

There could be a few factors coming into play here. One is growing suspicion about scientists. Many people are also paying more attention to what goes into their food, and becoming skeptical of foods loaded with fillers and preservatives. That’s all well and good. However, the benefits of whole, healthy foods are another topic. This doesn’t lessen or address the potential dangers of germs.

It’s also worth noting that this isn’t the first alarming—if not outright dangerous—social media trend we’ve seen in recent years. There was the Tide pod challenge, the jump-out-of-a-moving-car-and-dance challenge, the Blackout Challenge, and the choking challenge. Then there’s the raw chicken challenge, in which people deliberately eat raw chicken. All of these are extremely dangerous, and some have resulted in injuries and death.

There are plenty of fun and  harmless challenges you can do with your pet. There’s shaming, which entails writing your furry pal’s ‘sins’ on a poster and taking a photo of them beside it. You can also have fun filming your pet reacting to a new toy or even a new furry ‘sibling.’ When it comes to your furry friend’s diet, though, it’s just too important to take chances with. 

How Do I Choose A Good Pet Food?

Your pet’s ideal diet will depend on their age, health, and lifestyle. An active Labrador Retriever puppy will have different needs than a senior German Shepherd with hip dysplasia. Your ultimate resource here should be your veterinarian.

It can of course get a bit tricky trying to pick the best food.

Here are a few tips:

Go Certified: Go with a food that has the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) seal of approval. This means the food has been thoroughly tested and found to be acceptable, meaning that it includes both appropriate ingredients and appropriate proportions of protein, fat, and fiber.

Be Cautious Of Boutique Brands. Many newer brands use terms like ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ to make their foods more appealing. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are the best for your pet. For instance, back in 2019, 16 boutique brand foods were linked to pet deaths. While the issue here was a connection between grain-free foods and a heart problem, dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), the takeaway is that it’s best to stick with the tried and true.

Get Into The Habit Of Reading Labels: Pet food manufacturers must list the ingredients in their products in much the same way as human food is. The most important thing to know is that the ingredients are listed in order of percentage. That means, the first thing you see has the highest percentage, followed by the second highest, and so on.

Slick marketing tactics and language ordinances can make this tricky. If a food says ‘complete’ on the label, that means it contains all of the various nutrients a pet requires. If it says ‘balanced,’ it means they are in the ideal proportions. However, something that says ‘flavor’ need only have trace amounts of that ingredient. You can learn more about labeling practices here.

Ideally, pet food companies should be really invested in not just profit, but in creating products that help pets live longer. The Houston Chronicle article also has another good bit of advice from Dr. Morrow on this. “Looking at how a pet food company contributes to animal nutrition research can also be a sign the brand is committed to long-term health.” 

Why Is Raw Pet Food Popular Then? (Article Excerpt) 

Morrow says that she has seen an increase in questions about raw or fresh diets for pets. While she does not recommend it, she said she understands why those diets might be tempting given the increased prevalence of social media videos regarding the raw food movement.

“I think a lot of it comes down to this kind of shift that we’re seeing our pets as our ‘best friends’ or our ‘fur-babies,’ and we want to make sure that they’re getting high-quality, nutritious foods,” she said.

How Did The Raw Food Trend Start? 

We can likely trace this one to the BARF, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods diet. Despite having one of the least appetizing acronyms ever, this dietary system does appeal to many. The premise is that Fido and Fluffy ate raw foods for tens of thousands of years. There is some truth to this. For instance, cats always eat their prey raw and fresh in the wild. 

However, at the end of the day, we would surmise that the nutritional value of food is what matters. A chicken breast will still be a chicken breast if it’s cooked. In other words, the risk is much greater with raw food. There’s also concern that it could be misconstrued. For instance, the BARF method includes soft raw bones. We always advise against giving pets bones, because of the choking risks. Organ meat must also be offered carefully. Too much liver, for instance, can cause Vitamin A poisoning. 

What If I Want To Feed My Pet A Raw Diet? 

While we don’t recommend this, we do understand that many people are drawn to this trend. If you do decide to give your pet raw food, then you’ll need to be very, very diligent about cleanliness. Keep in mind that some raw foods are more dangerous than others. Fido and Fluffy may be more than happy to get a raw meatball or a raw egg every now and then. A raw piece of pork or chicken poses significantly more risk. 

If you want to ensure that your pet is getting great ingredients,  you can also consider making your own pet food and cooking it. Freeze-drying may be an option. These reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses. However, you’ll still need to ensure that your pet is getting the right balance of protein, fat, and fiber. Otherwise, you could be doing more harm than good. 

Our biggest piece of advice? Ask your Houston Heights, TX vet for specific recommendations. Keep in mind that every pet is different, and those needs will change over time. This is a topic worth revisiting regularly. We’re also happy to offer tips on treats and supplements. 

Do you have questions about your pet’s diet? Contact us, your Houston Heights, TX local animal clinic, today!