On a recent forum post about commercially prepared raw food for pets, there were over fifty comments from raw feeders bragging about how they prepare all their meals for their pets and that is is THE only way to feed your pets. Although we applaud these passionate people pet parents, it is important to know homemade raw diets are not for everyone. Newbies and busy pet parents should not be condemned for buying a commercial raw diet.
Telling people who are new or those that do not have the time do the proper research that they should be home preparing their meals is like plonking a pre-med college freshman into the middle of an open heart surgery and handing them a scalpel. Let's be more compassionate and understanding of our fellow raw feeders. Remember that learning about raw feeding is a process, and not knowing what you are doing can have serious consequences. Our pets rely on us feeding them a properly balanced diet, and if we fail at that, we have quite likely damaged them – maybe for life.
Preparing a Meal at Home
Here is just a brief overview of the things you have to get right if you are preparing raw food for your pets in your kitchen:
Calcium and Phosphorous Levels: Calcium is necessary for bone and teeth formation, blood clotting, milk production, muscle contraction, heart pumping, vision, and metabolizing enzymes. If you don't ensure you have enough in your dog's or cat's diet, their systems will pull it from their bones, causing fractures and kidney problems. If you have too much, you can stunt bone growth and cause hip dysplasia. In addition, for the calcium to be properly absorbed, you need a good balance of phosphorous as well - especially when they are puppies for adequate bone strength to develop. The necessary levels can change over the life of the cat or dog as they move from puppyhood to adulthood or pregnant and nursing animals. Your calcium to phosphorus ratios should be as close to 1:1.2 as possible for proper health.
Magnesium: This is necessary for the absorption of many vitamins and minerals and acts as a catalyst or activator for more than 300 enzyme systems. On the opposite end, too much magnesium can lead to bladder stones, and once again required levels vary based on the size and life stage of the animal.
Fats: The newbie will commonly think that fats are bad and that their overweight dog needs to have a low-fat diet. Is is terribly wrong. As long as the fats are from healthy sources such as animal protein, coconut oil or salmon oil they are beneficial. A good balance of healthy fats keeps organ function strong and provides a good balance of energy for your pet depending on their life-stage and energy needs. Steve Brown wrote a great book on balancing fats called, "Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet".
Protein: We know protein is a big part of a raw diet, but sourcing matters, moisture content matters, and the percentages of muscle meat, organs, and bone matter. These ratios will differ based on the species you feed and requires a lot of research to make sure you are feeding the proper amounts.
Vitamins and Minerals: Trace minerals are essential to good digestive health, and an overabundance can cause health issues, such as kidney stones and other issues caused by buildup or overworked organs. Not enough, and you can cause nutrient deficiencies. You can add synthetic vitamin mixes do the diet, but for optimal absorption, it is best to get vitamins and minerals from whole foods.
We do not discourage anyone from feeding a home-prepared raw diet for their pets, but we emphasize the amount of training and education and time that those raw advocates have put in to properly do this. With our busy lives, not every pet parent has the ability to complete the rigorous education necessary to protect their pets from their own mistakes. Heidi Hill, the owner of Holistic Hound in Berkeley, Calif., often recommends customers to start out with commercially prepared diets to avoid becoming overwhelmed or, risking feeding an unbalanced diet. “If you’re home-cooking or preparing more than, say, 20 percent of your dog’s food yourself, you really need to do your research,” says Hill.*
There should not be an attitude in our community that you don't belong if you don't home prepare all your meals. We all care about our pets, we all want what is best for them. And for many pet parents, there is safety in leaving the nutritional balancing to people who have devoted their life to the science of nutrition.
We take it seriously because we are pet parents, too. We know what it is like to have a dog wake you up with an affectionate lick to the nose in the morning, we know the excitement of coming home to a pup who can't wait to say hello. We have that cat who likes to sleep on our arm while we type, too. We even know staying awake all night with a sick cat, or not being able to move at night because there is a cat at your feet, a dog on your right side, and a spouse on your left.