Monday, Jun. 3rd 2019

Raw and Homemade Diets for Pets: How to Do it Right

Is Raw Right for my Pet?

Raw diets for pets are very trendy right now, and it’s not unusual for many online sources to implicate that they are the healthiest way to feed all pets.  But is this true?  In Chinese medicine, we look at levels of heat and cold, excesses and deficiencies, and overall “constitutional balance” in our patients.  Things like the color of the tongue, the strength of the pulse, odor of the skin, and past health history will guide a Chinese medical practitioner to decide what is right for the patient to get their system in balance.  Patients with overall deficiencies or not enough heat in the body can actually be harmed by feeding a raw diet as it takes more energy from the body to “cook” (i.e. digest) the food than if it were already cooked in some way. Many patients with chronic diarrhea like those suffering from inflammatory bowel disease, or patients with inadequate immune systems may also get quite sick if placed on a raw diet due to bacterial contamination of the raw meat. 

With raw food, we also have to consider general food safety practices.  Like all raw meats, raw pet food may contain harmful bacteria. While most pets (though not all) can handle these bacteria without getting sick, many of the people in their household may not.  Therefore, we don’t recommend raw diets/raw bones be utilized in households with senior citizens, very young children or infants, or anyone who is immune compromised like those on chemotherapy or immunosuppressive drugs like steroids. We don’t want Fido to eat their raw food with Salmonella on it then go kiss the baby!  The same is true of pets with compromised immune systems.

Our Chinese physical examination and Nutritional Consults are designed to evaluate your pet’s overall health and constitutional wellness and help discover what foods and food types would be best for your pet. If you are interested in whether a raw diet is appropriate for your pet, we suggest you schedule a visit to discuss this at length following a thorough examination of your pet and evaluation of their current health.

What about Homemade diets?

Many people find preparing food for their pets from fresh ingredients, raw or cooked, to be very rewarding and a way to bond with their pets.  These diets CAN be very healthy because they are made of fresh unprocessed ingredients.  HOWEVER, a diet that is not nutritionally well-balanced can be worse than any grocery store kibble. Many homemade diets are seriously lacking in calcium, for example, as most meat and vegetable ingredients contain very little calcium and a great deal of phosphorous which should be in a lower amount than total calcium.  This kind of diet over time may lead to fractures of bones as they soften from lack of calcium and an imbalance in these two minerals.  The levels of vitamins, or minerals like zinc and magnesium are also very important.  Proper levels of protein are important for muscles and kidney health, and fat needs to be provided in the appropriate quantities for pancreas and skin health among other things.  Too much can be as bad as too little in these cases. 

We recommend if you want to prepare your pet’s food that you do one of two things.  Either buy a base mix like those from Honest Kitchen or other brands that provide all the required nutrients except meat and just add your own meat, or use a recipe that has been developed or fully evaluated by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist.  If you choose either of these things, you must NOT cheat on the ingredients.   Any change in amount can create a poorly-balanced diet.  If the diet specifies a particular mixed supplement, you can’t just substitute something from the local pet store that seems to have similar ingredients, unless all the ingredients AND their quantity matches exactly.  Even something as seemingly safe as using corn oil instead of coconut oil can create a poorly-balanced diet because of the difference in fatty acids.  In short, making up your own recipe for your pet’s food is almost certainly going to lead to nutritional deficiencies or imbalances in the long term, which can lead to very serious health problems.

Any food you choose to feed your pet should contain a statement that it meets AAFCO standards or in some other way states that it meets requirements for all nutrients for your pet’s species and age/stage of development.  The Association of American Feed Control Officials analyzes recipes to see if they meet minimum requirements for all the important nutrients as fed.  There are diets being sold online that actually state they do NOT meet these standards and thus should be considered occasional treats, not a day-to-day diet for your pet.   This is why any random recipe you find may not be correctly balanced, and why a veterinary nutritionist (Dr Leonard is NOT a certified nutritionist) is recommended to create such recipes. One way to find such recipes is to Google “Pet food recipe by veterinary nutritionist” and such sites as Balance It and OSU’s vet school will pop up. 

The easiest way to feed your pet a balanced whole food diet is to simply buy foods such as Honest Kitchen, Grandma Lucy’s, Stella and Chewy, Primal, or even high-quality canned foods such as those by Evanger’s, Party Animal, Tiki Cat/Dog, Canidae, and others like them.  If your pet is getting 80% or more of their food from a balanced source such as this, it’s ok to add up to 20% of a less well-balanced source such as treats or your own home-made invention.  Dr Leonard likes to see variety in her patients’ diets to help cover any tiny deficiencies that can occur if only one food is fed for long periods of time, since no diet fits every pet’s needs 100% of the time.  Be sure new foods are introduced slowly to avoid GI upset, over 10 days or so.

Established clients whose pets we see regularly are invited to email Dr Leonard for questions about pet nutrition, or to get her opinion on a particular food.   Nutrition is one of the most important contributors to our pet’s health!  Dr Leonard’s experience has been that finding the right combination of foods for any pet can help them reach optimal health and reduce or eliminate many health problems.  No pet should have ongoing chronic health problems if we can get them on an ideal nutritional plane early in life.  Let us help guide you to the best food choices!

Scheduling Changes:

Just a reminder that Dr Leonard is gone on average about two Friday’s every month for dog shows.  These vary, and she is sometimes gone 2-3 in a row.  If you prefer Friday appointments, call as far in advance as possible to get scheduled on the days she is available. 

Also, we will have a change in hours including some closures the 23-26 of August in order for all our staff to attend a local continuing education conference.  You can always call the clinic and leave a message and Dr Leonard will get back to you if you have questions or concerns during this time, but we may not be in the office full-time during these days for purchases, prescription refills, or scheduling appointments. 

Please remember that we have to access our computer system to make appointments so this can not be done from Dr Leonard’s phone or emails so you’ll need to call during business hours for this purpose.  If you email to request an appointment, you’ll be asked to call the office during business hours so we don’t have to trade multiple messages back and forth and risk an offered spot being filled before we hear back from you. We are happy to respond to voice mails with questions or concerns about your pet, and can cancel appointments if you so request.  We just can’t talk on the phone and view the appointment schedule at the same time. Some things are just easier to do while we talk to you during our regular business hours!


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Whole Health Pet Center
18011 E St. Rte 58
Raymore, MO 64083

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