The phrase “my dog has allergies” may be one of the most common phrases uttered by pet parents, right after “who’s a good boy?”. But why are there so many pets with so many allergies out there? Was it always this way? And what can we do to combat allergies?
According to a 2016 survey by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 59% of cats and 54% of dogs in the US are overweight, and those percentages are growing every year. That’s incredible! Mostly, it’s incredibly sad. Most people know that obesity is dangerous, but many pet parents seem to turn a blind eye when it comes to their pet’s size.
Let’s face it: we all want to have pretty (or handsome) pets. We all love to see soft, shiny fur on our precious darling cats and dogs. Not only do we like the way pretty fur looks and feels, but we know that it means our pets are healthy and happy too. Skin and coat condition is a great indicator of overall health, and with the excellent bioavailable nutrition raw food provides, your raw-fed pet has everything it needs to be the belle (or gentleman) of the ball—including relief from pesky pests!
Episode 6 - In One End…
You may often hear about how digestible raw food is, but is there any proof of why? There sure is! In this post, we will go through how and why raw food is easier for pets to digest and how, as a result of that, your pet will be happier, healthier, and poop less (really!).
Enzymes are perhaps one of the greatest aspects of raw food. We’ve gone somewhat in-depth about enzymes in an earlier post, but here’s a refresher: enzymes are catalysts for many biochemical processes in the body from digesting food to replicating DNA. These vitally important molecules are highly specialized and considerably fragile; temperatures as low as 118 degrees Fahrenheit can destroy nearly all enzymes in food. So why do we care so much about these little guys? Because the more enzymes we can obtain from whole raw food sources, the less our bodies have to work to digest the food we eat. Foods that are rich in enzymes can actually “predigest” in the stomach in a process called autolytic digestion. This happens without the aid of stomach acid and can be responsible for up to 75% of total meal digestion. If the body is able to predigest the food in this manner, it will not have to use its own store of digestive enzymes from the pancreas and stomach acid levels can remain low. Without ample enzymes in the food, the pancreas and small intestine have to work overtime which in turn stresses the endocrine system and can lead to problems such as leaky gut syndrome and diabetes which of course cause a whole host of problems on their own.
Take away: More food enzymes = less work for the body to digest.
Raw food also contains whole, undenatured proteins. This means that the protein molecules found in raw meats (and produce too!) are in their whole, natural, and easily recognizable form. Cooking alters proteins by breaking down molecular bonds and disrupts alpha-helix and beta sheets, causing the proteins to uncoil and reshape into unrecognizable forms. This inability to recognize the shape of a protein is one of the greatest causes of food-based allergies. Basically, the body has no idea what to do with the weird-shaped proteins and it sends a team of histamines to destroy it. And we all know histamines can cause a whole lot of damaging swelling, heat, and uncomfortable itching. Interestingly, dogs and cats (and humans) can have an allergic reaction to a cooked protein, but can oftentimes tolerate the raw form of the food. It’s one of the main reasons why infants can easily digest breastmilk, but as adults, nearly 97% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant to some degree.
Take away: Cooking proteins makes them less recognizable and digestible.
Probiotics are another great aspect of raw foods. Probiotics are commonly referred to as “good bacteria” and are one aspect of a healthy bacteria ratio and biome both inside and outside of the body. There are trillions of bacteria cells in dog and cat bodies and only so much real estate, so bacteria strains are constantly battling each other for precious territory. Without enough “good bacteria” in the body, the bad bacteria (and yeasts) can overgrow and cause lots of problems such as widespread yeast infections and diarrhea. Raw foods contain live, naturally-occurring probiotics that can help your pet keep a nice healthy ratio of good to bad bacteria, which in turn can help support gut health, brain function, and infections prevention.
Take away: Healthy, live probiotics = healthy, lively pet.
Naturally occurring moisture is pretty important too. Intracellular moisture is the fancy name for moisture that is found in plant and animal cells. In addition to providing the most natural, effective way for dogs and cats to absorb moisture, intracellular moisture helps keep the whole digestive process a well-lubricated machine. Think of raw food cells as little miniature water balloons. Those little balloons stay intact until they reach the small intestine where cell walls are broken down and processed. Water that is added back into a cooked food or water that is drunk cannot behave in this way and goes through the digestive system in a separate process. Since the body requires moisture to digest and process any food, it would make sense to feed our pets a diet that already has that moisture built in, so they don’t have to use their own moisture reserves to complete the task. Pets who are fed a diet high in naturally-occurring moisture can digest their food more easily and do not have to over-consume water. In fact, many raw-fed dogs and cats drink very little water from their bowls! Another reason why moisture is so important? It helps to flush out the liver and kidneys, keeping them as healthy and free from excess toxins as possible.
Take away: Naturally, occurring moisture eases the digestion process and helps support liver and renal health.
Lastly, a word on poop. Poop is one of our favorite things to talk about in the raw pet food world. Poop is the best evidence for what’s happening digestively within a pet, and when feeding raw food, you’ll see plenty of proof in the pudding. Well, pudding may be the wrong word. That’s because the poop of raw fed pets is more firm and dry than anything else. Less smelly too. Why? Because the pet is using everything it is eating, instead of passing on indigestible food that starts to get preeeety pungent. By eating raw food, your pet is absorbing and using all of that naturally-occurring moisture found in raw meat and produce, leaving behind dry poops that are easy to pick up and have a pleasant aroma (ok, that last part might be pushing it). One of the greatest things about this hard, dry poop is that it helps to naturally express the anal glands of cats and dogs, so you don’t have to worry about your pet developing that particularly stinky problem. But the best part about all of this business is that you’ll notice your pet poops less frequently. Waaay less frequently. And who doesn’t love that?
Take away: More raw food = less poop.
Episode 5 - Out with the Old, In with the New
Detoxing Your Pet
A few years ago, detoxing was all the rage. People got caught up in the very appealing idea of eating nothing and drinking something like lemon and cayenne water all day in the hopes they could cleanse their body and release years of built-up toxins. While the methods-of-old certainly have shortcomings, the concept of detoxing the body is sound. Detoxing is simply the process of ridding the body of toxins or harmful substances. There are various methods of going about this (a quick internet search will prove that), but the healthiest and most natural way to rid the body of toxins is to eat a clean diet. How can we do this for our pets? Why, with raw food of course!
So what are toxins, anyway?
A toxin is some kind of harmful matter in the body that builds up over time and overwhelms systems, causing them to work less efficiently, or not at all. Toxins can come from a source within the body, such as accumulated cellular or bacterial waste, or they can come from an external source like heavy metals, poor air quality, or chemicals found in the home or common pet products.
How do toxins harm my pet?
As toxins build up, our pets’ bodies become less and less able to flush them. Eventually, both internal and external toxins can cause harmful conditions or diseases such as liver failure, malnutrition, allergic reactions, respiratory failure, and digestive issues. The body has two big organs that help filter toxins: the liver and kidneys. The liver removes toxins in a two-step process to create water-soluble toxins that can be flushed out of the body through the kidneys and gastrointestinal tract. If any of the steps in this process go awry, things can get backed up. As a secondary measure, the lungs, skin, large intestine,
and bladder can also process small amounts of toxins, but because that is not their primary function, they easily get
overwhelmed and cannot do their day-jobs as well, which causes even more harmful conditions.
How does detoxification work?
The primary goal of detoxification is to increase liver and renal support so those organs are functioning properly to remove toxins and prevent build-up. This is best achieved by eating the correct kinds of foods, so there goes the notion of fasting or highly restrictive diets. The most effective elements in detox are water, antioxidants, enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals such as selenium and sulfur. When the body is receiving these ingredients, it is able to complete the phases of detoxification and kick out the toxins. Luckily for us and our pets, raw food diets are a great source for all of these things. Raw organ meat is especially high in folate and vitamins A, B12, B6, and E. Raw fruits and veggies are a great source of bioavailable vitamins and minerals, and cruciferous veggies are a great source of sulfur. And of course, all raw food is high in (intracellular)moisture, enzymes, and amino acids!
Will my pet detox when I switch to raw food?
If your pet is older or has been eating a cooked, processed food for a long time, they will most likely experience some symptoms of detox. However, each pet is different and it’s sometimes hard to say what the effects will be. One thing is for sure though: by switching to raw food, your pet will be much better equipped to deal with toxin build-up in their body.
What kind of things will I notice when my pet is detoxing?
Detoxing is not always a completely smooth process. There is a lot of repair work that needs to be done in the body to be able to get those nasty toxins out. You’ll likely notice symptoms that appear to be flu-like in nature and it may seem like things are getting worse before they get better. This is normal and very common during the detox process. Here are a few things to look out for:
- Decreased energy
- Extra-bad breath
- Shedding, more than usual
- Hot spots
- “Slimy” poop (a thin coating of mucus)
- Joint stiffness
- Itching, especially paws and ears
Don’t be discouraged! Remember that these are temporary symptoms and a totally normal step on the way to better health. Symptoms should clear up in about two weeks, though some can persist for a few months. However, if symptoms become overwhelming for you or your pet, or they persist beyond what you consider a reasonable timeframe, consider introducing the raw food more slowly or adding goat milk to your pet’s diet to aid in digestion. And as always, if you ever feel a serious health concern for your pet, contact your veterinarian.
How can I help my pet through this process?
There are a few things you can do to help alleviate some symptoms of detox. First of all, make sure your pet has access to plenty of clean, filtered water and don’t skip playtime or walks. Try adding raw goat milk to their diet for a boost in probiotics, and perhaps liver or renal support supplements. You can also try giving your pet a bath, focusing on massaging the skin and thoroughly cleaning the paws, from where our pets “sweat”.
Good luck with your detoxing journey! Though you may have to brave the storm before the calm, stick with it. Stick with the switch to raw food and you’ll be rewarded with a happy, healthy pet!
Episode 4 - You’ve Got to Admit It’s Getting Better
(This post will focus mostly on the observable benefits of feeding a raw diet, but if you’re into the science and mechanics of why raw food works, check out this blog post for some seriously science-y information.)
Raw feeders often refer to the many observable benefits that feeding a raw diet has had on their pet’s health and well-being. The list of benefits can get pretty long and involved, but you can bet your bologna that we are going to go through (most) of them here. First of all, while you can definitely start seeing the effects of a raw diet on your pet’s health pretty quickly, it won’t happen overnight. You’ll probably notice gradual changes at first, but before you know it, you will have a new pet on your hands. Generally speaking, you will notice many changes about a month into feeding your pet raw, so keep a lookout!
So what changes will I start Seeing?
Poop — you’ll notice your pet poos less, and when it does happen it’s drier, smaller, and less smelly.
Allergies—allergy symptoms can be lessened or even completely alleviated. A reduction in inflammation and histamines mean less redness, hot spots, itchy ears and paws, and weepy eyes.
Weight management—if your pet is on the heavy side, expect to see her trim down. If she’s active and can’t keep weight on, you’ll see it’s easy to “add some meat” pretty quickly.
Muscle development—lean muscle mass is easy to build, which in turn can help support weak joints or other skeletal issues.
Dental health—your pet will have healthier gums and teeth with less plaque build-up, and some of that bad breath will go away.
Skin and Coat—will be healthy and shiny without flaky skin and excessive shedding.
Cognitive function—essential fatty acids promote brain health which can help improve focus and the pet’s ability to learn new things.
Energy—your pet will have the energy for long walks, play sessions, or training/work.
Pest mitigation—fleas and ticks don’t tend to hang around raw-fed pets as often as they do around pets who are fed other diets.
This is a very basic overview of some of the health benefits raw food provides, but be sure to check back in as we will be going over each topic a little more in depth in future posts!
Episode 3 - Delivering the Goods
Alright, I bought some raw food. Now what do I do with it?
First of all, congratulations! You’ve taken the first step to raw food glory and total pet-health domination!
More seriously, keep the raw food in your freezer until ready to defrost and feed. The food package should give detailed instructions on how
best to do so, but the basics are this: store food in the freezer, defrost in the refrigerator, feed defrosted portions to your pet in their bowl (preferably something like stainless steel since it is non-porous and easy to wash). Most people keep one or two feeding portions in their fridge at a time, so there is always a defrosted portion ready to go. In a pinch, the food can be quickly defrosted in a sealed plastic bag or container submerged in cold water until soft.
I wouldn’t eat raw meat. Is it safe to feed to my pet?
Totally! There are a couple very big reasons why you don’t have to worry about the safety of raw food. The most important one is that dogs and cats are perfectly equipped to deal with raw meat and any bacteria it may include. They have anti-bacterial properties in their saliva. They have a stomach acid with pH1 (which is like battery acid!). Most importantly, they have a short, straight digestive tract that doesn’t allow the bacteria to hang around and proliferate as it can in a human digestive tract. Side note: it’s actually the byproducts (like gasses) that bacteria give off that can make us so sick. More bacteria=more harmful byproducts=sick humans.
(Interesting fact time: Ever wonder why dogs bury bones or leftover food? Hint: it’s not so they can hide it and save it for later. Dogs have a great sense of smell so of course, they could hound out any hidden nearby scraps! They actually bury stuff so that the bacteria in the soil can help break down the meat, etc., making for an easier chew for the pup later on. Think of how much bacteria would be on that bone after just a few hours! Luckily, as described above, dogs are well-equipped to deal with the extra bacteria and can enjoy their dirty soggy bone at a later time.)
The other reason why raw food is safe to feed is that all commercially available raw pet food has to adhere to very strict quality and safety standards, per the FDA’s requirements. Raw pet food manufacturers regularly test their products to ensure they are meeting these requirements.
Though it is safe to feed raw foods to our healthy pets, we still have to make sure us humans are using common sense when handling raw pet food in our homes. Wash your hands and surfaces with warm soapy water after contact with raw food and don’t allow your pet to carry raw food around the house.
How many meals a day should I feed?
If you’re used to free-feeding your pet (ie: keeping a bowl of food out for your pet all day), try to break the habit for you and your pet. Dogs and cats do much better when fed just one or (preferably) two meals a day. This allows them to go into a hunt/eat cycle where they can build up saliva and stomach acid to prepare for an oncoming meal, which will help them digest their meal more efficiently. With this in mind, feeding two meals a day around morning and evening would be ideal. It’s also not a bad idea to switch up those feeding times to offer your pet a little variety. Remember, we want to mimic a wild diet for our pets, and there’s pretty much no way wild cats or dogs eat at precisely the same time every day.
Is it possible to feed only some raw food to my pet?
Absolutely. Gone are the days where people believed that a pet must be fed only a raw diet to benefit. Your pet will appreciate any and all raw food you are able to incorporate into their diet. If you’re able to do completely raw, fantastic! Otherwise, switching 75%, 50%, or even 25% of your pet’s diet to raw will make a noticeable difference. Try feeding one raw meal and one “regular” meal a day, or even mixing in some raw food with your pet’s regular food in each meal.
How should I transition my pet onto raw food?
Here’s one of the coolest things about raw food—it’s full of easily digestible foods that our pets’ bodies can easily recognize so there usually isn’t a harsh reaction when switching to raw. However, most companies (including Steve’s) recommend making the switch to raw in a similar way of switching between different kibble or canned foods. Start with 25% raw, 75% regular for a day or two. If your pet is doing well, start doing 50/50 raw and regular. If your pet is still doing well, try 25/75 raw to regular, and then finally make the switch to 100% raw a day or so after that. If your pet has any digestive issues such as vomiting or diarrhea, transition a little slower. You also may want to consider incorporating some raw goat milk into your pet’s diet at this time. Raw goat milk provides extra probiotics and enzymes to aid digestion (more on that later). Steve’s Real Food offers frozen goat milk yogurt in a handy resealable bag to help make the transition even easier. Simply check the feeding guidelines on the goat milk package and add to your pet’s diet through the transition process.
Whether you’re completely new to the concept of raw pet food, or you’ve been a “raw-feeder” for years, this blog series will be your go-to guide on the basics of raw food. We will start with the most basic questions, go through the common misconceptions and myths, and work our way to understanding the mechanics. By the end, you should have a basic, but thorough, grasp on what raw food is, why it is important, and how to best incorporate it into your pet’s diet.
(It should be noted that when we refer to “raw food” in this blog series, we are referring to a commercially-available raw food diet. This is a specifically formulated ready-to-feed packaged food that you can find in independent retail stores.)
We have broken down the subject of raw pet food into 12 easy to digest episodes.
Start with Episode 1 - What is Raw Pet Food.
Episode 2 - Mechanics of Raw Food and Why it Works
Raw food provides three major things that cooked or processed foods cannot: enzymes, amino acids, and intracellular moisture. Each of these components is vitally important for optimal health and cannot be replaced or replicated in processed foods due to their fragile nature. Let’s take a closer look to see why each component is so important and why raw food is the perfect source.
Enzymes are catalysts for any process occurring in the body such as digesting food, breaking down and using nutrients, and building new proteins. If we don’t have enough of the right enzymes in our body to start the tasks, things like digestion and nutrient absorption will suffer. These vitally important molecules are highly specialized and considerably fragile; temperatures as low as 118 degrees Fahrenheit can destroy nearly all enzymes present in the food. It’s important to obtain as many enzymes as possible from whole raw food sources so the body won’t have to work as hard to digest food. Foods that are rich in enzymes can “predigest” in the stomach in a process called autolytic digestion. This happens without the aid of stomach acid and can be responsible for up to 75% of total meal digestion. If the body can predigest the food in this manner, it will not have to use its own store of digestive enzymes from the pancreas and stomach acid levels can remain low. Without ample enzymes in the food, the pancreas and small intestine must work overtime which in turn stresses the endocrine system and can lead to problems such as leaky gut syndrome and diabetes which cause a whole host of problems on their own. The best way to get a fresh source of enzymes the body needs and can’t make enough of itself is directly from whole raw foods!
Amino Acids are building blocks of proteins. They are essentially the ingredients needed in a recipe to make a protein. In muscles and other tissues, the amino acid residue (the parts left over after a chemical reaction in protein creation) is the second largest component after water, so we know what an important role they play in muscle and tissue health. Amino acids also participate in numerous other processes in the body, including neurotransmitter transport. Additionally, amino acids can be oxidized and used as a source of energy, so their uses are almost endless! You may have heard the term “essential amino acids” before. This refers to a list of amino acids that cannot be produced in the body and so must come from an outside source. There are 20 amino acids present in the genetic code, and dogs and cats only have the ability to produce about half of these, so they must get the other essential amino acids from food. Amino acids sourced from raw food are in their most natural, bioavailable state, meaning that they have not been deformed (denatured) or rendered inert by a high heat process and the body can easily recognize and use them effectively.
Intracellular Moisture (also called intracellular fluid) is simply a fancy way of referring to the naturally occurring moisture found in plant and animal cells. The main type of fluid found in cells, cytosol, is what suspends the different cellular components within the cell. It contains moderate quantities of magnesium and sulfate ions, which the body needs in order to maintain osmotic equilibrium. Even though it may seem like a tiny amount of moisture, it adds up quick! In humans, intracellular fluid amounts to over 28 liters of liquid or approximately 2/3 of total water content! Intracellular moisture is most effective in hydrating the body because it is the most natural and recognizable form of moisture and is preserved in the tiny cells until the food reaches the small intestine, where the cells are broken down and nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream. The electrolyte content of cytosol also helps the body maintain balance and stay hydrated.
Any heat process above about 105 degrees Fahrenheit starts to degrade the above components, so it’s very important that they are preserved in the raw natural form in order to be useful for our pets. Many pet food brands extrude (cook) their food at temperatures upwards of 400 degrees Fahrenheit, so you can imagine how that affects the functionality of the above components and in turn, the nutritional value of the food.
Have you been hearing more about this “raw food” thing for pets? Maybe a neighbor or friend feeds raw and you’ve been curious. Maybe you’ve seen it in the store but don’t know enough about it to commit yet. Maybe you’d like a few questions answered before you’re ready to give it a try. Whatever the case may be, this post is intended to start at the very beginning and answer some of the most basic questions about raw pet food and get you excited about feeding what we consider the absolute best way to feed our pets.
What does “raw food” mean?
We all understand the basic concept of what raw means—a food that has not been altered by any type of cooking process such as baking, steaming, extruding (we’ll go over that one in a little bit), or frying. Referring to raw pet food, we mean the same thing. The raw pet food, including all ingredients used in the recipe, is all completely raw; meaning that it has not undergone any cooking process. The meats, produce, and supplemental ingredients are all in their basic raw form, as you would find in nature.
What does raw food look like?
Commercially available raw pet food comes in different forms, varying from brand to brand. Some of the most common forms are patties, nuggets, and pellets. Each company uses their own discretion as to the size and shape of their foods, but the basics are the same. Each form is designed to be easy to portion out and feed your pet. Whatever form the food may be in, it is commonly a mixture of raw meat (including bone, muscle meat, and organ), vegetables/fruits, and supplemental ingredients. After the chopping and forming of all of these raw ingredients, the food comes out looking somewhat like your familiar ground beef or turkey (with ground produce and bone).
How is raw food packaged?
Raw foods must be stored frozen or refrigerated, just as you would have to do with your own meat at home. Raw foods in the retail store are kept in a freezer, which not only extends the shelf-life of the product, but also makes it safe to handle and more convenient to transport. The size of the packages varies from brand to brand, but are most commonly found between 2 and 8lbs. Steve’s Real Food offers our food in two forms and 4 sizes. The smallest “nugget” form comes in 5lb bags and 9.75lb boxes, and the 8oz patties come in a 13.5lb box. (Select formulas are available in 20lb. boxes)
Where do I buy raw pet food?
You can find raw pet food at your local independent pet retail store. To make things convenient, you can visit stevesrealfood.com and use our store locator to find the retailer nearest you who carries our brand. At the store of your choice, ask for the raw food section or look around for the freezers. All of the store’s available raw frozen foods will be in the freezers. Make your selection(s) and bring it up to the checkout area to purchase!
How expensive is raw food?
Real talk: it may seem like raw food is a lot more expensive than what you’re currently feeding your pet. And sometimes, yes, it can get pretty pricey. Cost can vary greatly by brand, formula, or package size. At Steve’s Real Food, our greatest goal is to offer a very high quality product at reasonable and attainable prices so as many pets can benefit from raw food as possible. Comparatively, the price of raw pet food is often on par with the premium kibble or canned foods also found in independent pet specialty stores. The best thing to keep in mind though is that while it may be more of an upfront investment to feed raw food, pet owners can save on dental, pest control, and many vet costs because they are elevating the overall health of their pets. The goal is disease prevention, not treatment.
There are a lot of choices of brands and formulas. Which do I choose to start with?
A good bet would be to start with a protein source your pet is familiar with and does not have any known allergies to. If you currently feed your dog a food with chicken as the main ingredient, start with a raw chicken formula. (In fact, chicken is one of the most nutrient dense and easy-to-digest foods available for our pets, but more on that later). Also, pick a size that is most appropriate for the size of your pet. Big dog? Patties will probably work best for you. Teenie weenie? Try the nuggets. But one of the great things about raw pet food is that it is so soft and easy to tear or mush into small pieces that no matter what size product you buy, even the smallest-toothed pets can devour it with ease. As for which brand to choose, you have to make that decision based on what formula, size, and price sound best to you.