Veterinarians are warning pet owners that hastily switching to a raw food diet could have fatal consequences.
The raw feeding trend emerged about four or five years ago and has since spread all over the world, thanks in no small part to the Internet.
Subscribers of this diet feed their dogs or cats only raw animal meat, bones, organs and tripe, primarily because of two reasons. The first is that they believe this is what their pets would have eaten if they lived in the wild, making it a more “natural�? source of nutrients. The second reason derives from increasing suspicion over commercial pet food, suspicion that is difficult to deny considering it almost seems that another popular dog or cat food item is being recalled every day.
Numerous recalls have been issued in the past few months alone, the most alarming of which involving a drug commonly used for euthanasia being found in Party Animal’s Cocolicious Beef & Turkey dog food as well as its Cocolicious Chicken & Beef dog food. Other recent recalls warned of potential contamination from salmonella or elevated levels of naturally-occurring beef thyroid hormones.
But it appears that this distrust of the commercial pet food industry has caused some pet owners to put too much trust in themselves and ignore the hazardous risks of botched raw food diets.
Veterinarian Dr. Mark Robson told the New Zealand Herald that since the raw food trend began to take shape, he has personally experienced over 120 cases of pets either dying or nearly dying from being fed raw animal such as possum, rabbit, wallaby or veal.
Arguably the biggest risk of raw food diets, Dr. Robson explained, is pieces of indigestible bone becoming stuck in the esophagus or another organ. The bone could then pierce the organ or accumulate in smaller fragments, causing a sometimes-fatal blockage.
“In the wild, a dog would chew on the bones of a wildebeest and zebra and gradually absorb the bone. But in these diets, they are consuming too much in a given portion of food. Either the bits are too big or there’s too many small bits and their gastrointestinal tracts just can’t handle it,�? Dr. Robson said.
One dog that was brought to him last Spring had been pierced in the bowel by a bone, requiring emergency surgery. An operation was performed but the dog did not survive, leaving its owners with a $20,000 bill for the procedure.
"We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of dogs where the bone gets stuck in the esophagus... Some can't be saved by any means and they die as a result of the raw food diet,�? Dr. Robson said. "It is 100 per cent fatal if we can't get the bone out."
Removing a piece of bone with an endoscope costs approximately $4,000. But sometimes the case is so severe that highly invasive surgery is needed, Dr. Robson added, and this can cost upwards of $10,000.
Dr. Gareth Dunkerley, a veterinarian for 18 years, told the New Zealand Herald that he sees around seven cases a year stemming from botched raw food diets. He named extreme constipation as another common outcome of such diets, a condition that requires an enema costing up to $2,500.
Raw food diets are also “not produced to the same human health standards we see for meat in the supermarket,�? Dr. Dunkerley added, meaning “they can harbor bugs.�?
Speaking about what pets eat in the wild, Dr. Dunkerley noted that dogs and cats only live five or six years in such habitats. "Animals looked after by us on premium diets tend to live much longer, healthier, happier lives.�?
The two veterinarians agree that a balanced diet featuring protein, carbohydrates and fat, as well as raw and dry food, is usually best for dogs. It’s understandable for a pet owner to be concerned about the quality of pet food on the market, they said, but the first step should always be to contact a veterinarian before making any drastic changes in diet.