By Sarah Griffiths, DCH, CPN.
With the rising popularity of raw diets for pets, new raw pet food manufacturing companies are on the rise. Just as with dry diets, not all raw foods are created equal. So how do you decide which foods to feed? Many of the negative stories you have heard about raw diet are a result of improper education, poor diet planning and poor quality foods. Below, are some of the key points you should take into consideration when choosing a raw diet for your dog or cat.
1. Guaranteed Nutritional Analysis
When choosing raw pet foods, it is important to consider that the company has done proper food testing to guarantee the contents of their food. If a company is unwilling to provide this information, it could mean that the formula is not consistent. In this way, you could end up feeding your pet an unbalanced diet without even knowing it. It is also impossible to gauge the quality of ingredients being used if there is no analysis. If a meal consists of chicken with bone and vegetable, the ratios of these ingredients can vary considerably between brands depending on the sources of foods being used. You must be able to determine the percentages of protein, fat, moisture, fiber, calcium, and phosphorus. Furthermore, do not assume that because a company has analysed their formulas that the formulas are balanced. Take the time to compare analyses from different companies to determine the highest quality and most balanced foods.
2. Whole Poultry Vs. Poultry Carcass/Back and Necks
When selecting a raw diet for your pet, it is extremely important that you know whether or not the company uses whole poultry in their ground formulas, backs/necks and carcass or a combination of them. Each of these foods has a different nutritional value and will determine how you will balance the other foods in the diet. If a nutritional analysis is available, it may help you to determine what foods are being used. The type of poultry used will determine the amount of lean red muscle meat you will need to feed to balance the diet overall. It is important to know the balance of muscle meat, fat and bone of the poultry you are using. Do not assume that a company uses whole poultry. Many don’t.
The quality of red muscle meats will vary considerably from brand to brand depending on the cuts of the meat used and how the animal was raised. Some raw pet food companies only purchase the trim which is extremely high in fat and low in protein. It is not equal to a lean muscle meat that you would buy for yourself at the grocery store. Trim is what is left after the grocery stores, butchers and restaurants take the prime cuts of meat. For long term feeding, it is not suitable. The nutritional analysis will reflect a high fat content if trim is being used. A disproportionately high fat content in the diet is a very unhealthy thing indeed. A consistent diet exceeding 12-14% total animal fat is not a balanced example of a natural diet. Lean meats range from 2-8% fat. Where red meats are concerned, high fat content usually means that a large proportion of trim is being used, especially if it exceeds the amount of protein listed.
4. Price Vs. Quality
Do not automatically assume that a cheaper price means you are getting more bang for your buck. The only reason a raw pet food can be cheaper than another is because of the quality of the ingredients used. If human grade cuts and products are used, the price will be higher but you will need to feed less of it and therefore, your cost will be reduced accordingly. If only trim and carcass are used in the diet, the price will be cheaper but you will, likely, run into nutritional imbalances down the road. This may, unfortunately, include an increase in vet bills. A diet high in fat and low in muscle meat is not a healthy diet option for your pet and will not make your pet cost you less. Quality of raw foods will directly determine the health of your pet. Health determines the cost of your vet bills over the course of your pet’s lifetime.
Does your pet food provider understand how to balance a raw diet correctly? What type of training or experience have they had to do this? What type of educational materials can they offer you? A good raw pet food company will have knowledgeable staff who are easily able to inform you about the healthiest options for your pet, how to balance their foods correctly and will be able to offer you quality educational materials to read. If they can’t provide you with the answers, then what is going into their products?
6. Touring the Manufacturing Facility
Ask the raw pet food companies you are considering using to allow you to tour their facility. If they are opposed to this, it is a red flag! As a pet owner, you have a right to know how your pet’s food is being processed and handled before it gets to their bowl. Safe food handling is an important aspect of preparing a raw diet. Make sure that the foods you feed come from a reputable source where FOODSAFE standards are being implemented. The FOODSAFE Program is a comprehensive food safety training program designed for the food service industry. It provides standards for handling food that is fit for human consumption. While it is not mandatory for a raw pet food company to follow these standards, wouldn’t you agree that it’s important? It lays out the guidelines for safe handing, packing and freezing of products so that bacterial and parasitic contamination does not occur. It ensures that the diet is as close as possible to its natural form when it gets to your pet’s bowl. For more information on FOODSAFE, visit: www.foodsafe.ca.
Let’s keep the standards high!