Raw Pet Food 101

Raw Pet Food is Minimally Processed, Wholesome, and Natural

We all know that people need real, whole, minimally processed foods in order to thrive.  People who realize this and make healthy eating choices themselves quickly realize that this same logic applies to their cats and dogs.

Cats and Dogs are biologically designed to eat what they have eaten for centuries before big kibble companies existed – meat, bones, and tripe (the fruits and vegetables digesting in the stomaches of their prey).  They were never designed to eat high-carb, grain based diets, and they were designed to eat a variety of raw, moisture-rich foods.  So feeding them kibble is like giving a bagel to someone with celiac disease – every meal for their entire lives.  Over time, they would not be very healthy and would have a number of health issues.

Like people, pets need:

  • Moisture Rich Meals
  • Variety
  • Minimally Processed Foods
  • Whole Meats and Produce (not meals or by products)
  • Food Free of Additives, Hormones, Antibiotics and Pesticides

Dogs and cats thrive on properly prepared raw meat-based diets. Processed foods can never match the nutrition available in such a meal.

First, what do we mean by properly prepared raw meat diets?

Properly prepared raw meat diets are “complete and balanced.”  There are many people who attempt homemade raw diets, but these can be complicated, expensive, and time consuming.  There are a number of different nutritional requirements that must be met, and the needs vary over time.  It practically takes a graduate degree to be able to get it right – which many people do.  But if a pet parent gets it wrong, the results can be devastating, and this is one of the main reasons veterinarians are against raw diets.  If you are interested in doing so, we encourage you to thoroughly do your research. There are many great books that will aid you in doing this, one of which we recommend Steve Brown’s “Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet” or “See Spot Live Longer”.  Dog’s Naturally Magazine also has semi-annual remote weekend conferences full of fantastic information for raw-feeding parents.

If you do not have the time or the money to invest in the education requisite to safely prepare a raw home meal, commercially manufactured pet foods are the best option for providing good nutrition for your pet.  There are a growing number of raw diets that meet AAFCO’s standards for “Complete and Balanced for All Life Stages.”  This means that they have been formulated to ensure they have the nutrients necessary for good health over the lifetime of your pet.  However, AAFCO standards are easy targets and can be achieved using low-grade ingredients.  Many commercial dry pet food companies have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to figure out the cheapest ingredients available that will yield the test result necessary to pass.  These ingredients will be processed, artificial and non-human grade. It takes a little more research to find out which raw brands have the best nutrition and highest quality ingredients, and we encourage you to check out our comparison charts for each protein.

Minimal Processing

One of the goals of raw pet food is to maintain as much of the naturally occurring nutritional value as possible.  Many of the processes food is exposed to before it reaches the store shelf strips it of vital nutrients, so we do nothing more than grind our raw ingredients together, shape them, and freeze them.  Heat destroys important building blocks for health, and High-Pressure Processing destroys healthy digestive enzymes.  By avoiding these processes, we present a food that is in imitation of nature – with all the amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytochemicals intact.

The results can be dramatic. When we switch dogs and cats from processed, grain-based foods to raw dog food diets, improvements become quickly apparent. We have received feedback that our food has improved health in many ways, including:

  • Brighter eyes
  • Improved Behavior
  • Skin problems Disappear
  • More Energy and Vitality
  • Whiter Teeth, Better Breath
  • Arthritis and other joint issues resolved or reduced
  • Digestive Problems Clear Up
  • Firm, Smaller Stools (that is a benefit for the pet parents)

Long term multi-generational feeding programs conducted by Volhard, Schultze, McKay, and others show that results are just as profound in the long term. The dogs live longer, healthier, happier lives. The longest living dogs in the world are fed raw diets.

Processed foods can never match the nutrition in properly prepared raw meat-based diets.

Most kibbles are produced at temperatures above 300 degrees F under 600 or more pounds of pressure per square inch. I don’t think anyone can dispute the fact that this is a harsh environment for many nutrients. Heat destroys all the enzymes, some of the known antioxidants, and perhaps many of the known and unknown phytochemicals and flavonoids. High heat may alter the bioavailability of some of the minerals and perhaps even alter the chemical structure of the amino acids. The pet food industry compensates for this loss of nutrition by adding synthetic vitamins back in, and running many tests and measurements before the food has gone through these processes.  For example, kibbles that advertise they are a good source of Omega-3 Fatty acids ignore the fact that all nutritional value of these medium-chain tryglicerides are destroyed in the manufacture process.  Raw food is the only way to preserve these type of nutrients so they can actually be useful to your pet.

What Nutrients can be in Raw pet food that can’t be in kibble or canned?

Enzymes and Phytochemicals

We like to think that scientists know everything about nutrition, but the fact is they are still just scratching the surface of all the compounds and consequences of the food we eat.  Natural, whole raw foods contain numerous substances — including enzymes and phytochemicals — that modern science is discovering are important for proper nutrition in humans and pets.

Enzymes are specialized protein substances that are involved in all the dog’s digestive and biological activities. Even thinking requires enzymes. Enzymes are found abundantly in fresh, minimally processed natural foods. When dogs eat their natural diet of raw meats and produce they get far more enzymes then what they will derive from process kibble. Young dogs and cats naturally produce more enzymes, but as they grow older they need to get more and more of these building blocks from the food they eat.

Enzymes are destroyed at temperatures above 118 F; therefore there are no enzymes in processed dog foods. This forces the dog or cat’s inner store of digestive enzymes to do all the work, and eventually this wears the body out and digestion slows down.  Then chronic issues like IBD and inflammation begin to occur. One of the reasons we see such immediate improvements with older dogs when converting them from kibble to raw is because of these enzymes in the raw foods. With aging, the dog’s secretion of enzymes is gradually reduced and the importance of eating natural foods with enzymes increases.

A little over a century ago Vitamin C was first discovered. In 1958, free radicals were discovered. Today, when we think of disease-fighting nutrients, we don’t just worry about A or E or C. We study the phytochemicals and flavonoids in plants and herbs. Phytochemicals are naturally occurring compounds in vegetables and fruits that are getting increasing attention from researchers looking into the connection between diet and disease. Some phytochemicals function as antioxidants. Epidemiological evidence from more than 200 studies link consumption of foods rich in phytochemicals with decreased risks for certain diseases, ranging from some cancers, to aging, to some forms of dysphasia. For instance, the sulforaphanes found in broccoli have been shown to help prevent certain types of cancers. Much more still  needs to be discovered about these important nutritional compounds.

Fruits and vegetables have hundreds of antioxidant compounds. Some, like vitamin C, are destroyed by heat. There is a growing consensus among researchers that a variety of whole foods — not supplements — should be the source for antioxidants. Many of the antioxidants identified as having a health-protective effect represent a group of compounds found in the intact food, which in concert provide the health-protective effects. The selected antioxidant alone will not yield the entire health benefit – it must be consumed as a whole with the rest of the many other nutrients in the original form. “Vitamin research has only scratched the surface in understanding subclinical deficiency states, bioavailablity, and nutrient-nutrient interaction.”(The Nutrition Desk Reference, Garrison and Somer, 1995.) One needs to eat the natural, intact vegetable or fruit, with the full complement of natural phytochemicals to yield  health benefits. It has been proven that raw forms of vegetables and fruits are the most consistently associated with lower risk of cancer. (Steinmetz and Potter, “Vegetables, fruits, and cancer.” 1991).

In sum, people, laboratory animals, dogs and cats need whole, intact foods in order to be at their best. One cannot replace or supplement all the enzymes, antioxidants and phytochemicals that are destroyed or altered in processing, because we simply can’t beat what nature has evolved to do.  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but if you want the best, you have to go for the real thing.

Are raw meat based-diets safe?

The answer is, yes, if you take common sense precations.  Raw meat does have the potential for bacteria, and if you do not wash your hands after making your pup or kitty’s dinner then you are at a very low risk of getting sick.  Treat your pet’s food (regardless of whether it is raw or kibble) as you would treat the bacon you make your family for breakfast.  Safe handling removes virtually all the risk of raw foods.  It is much more dangerous to your pet to feed food devoid of nutrition that will lead to chronic disease and an early death.

Why can our pets eat raw meat but we can not?

It has been shown that pets can handle a much larger amount of bacteria than humans can.  Think about your dog or cat taking a drink out of the toilet (they do it more often than we know).  Do they get sick?  It is likely you would if you took a nice big gulp.  Pets have short, acidic digestive systems, especially when compared to humans. Bacteria doesn’t have a chance when introduced to the pet stomach environment.  The only contraindication for pets is if they are immuno-compromised or undergoing chemotherapy, their weakened immune system may not be able to handle regular raw food, and a moisture rich, cooked diet is best for these pets.

How Do You Feed a Raw Diet?

Home-prepared raw diets can be complicated, messy, and time consuming.  Commerically prepared diets are a different matter, especially Steve’ Real Food.  Our food is simply pour and serve (nuggets) rehydrate and serve (freeze dry) or, in the case of our patties, simply serve.  Our Goat Milk Yogurt and other treats are great ways to add extra nutrition and health benefits to  your pup or kitty’s diet.