Eastern medicine says that there are seven methods of healing and diet
is the most important". -S. Germain
In 2022 I completed a 41-hour course in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine Diet Therapy. The course was wonderful, and I immediately started to see my patients responding to Chinese Diet therapy principles. Diet therapy has been taught in Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. It is too complex to go into all the details of prescribing here but in general, the course endorses homemade and or raw foods and discourages feeding "kibble" or dry food no matter what kind. It debunks some theories that "grain free" is best and that kibble prevents dental problems just to name a few.
If you schedule an appointment with me nowadays as a holistic practitioner, your pet will get a TCVM evaluation and I will recommend a TCVM diet.
Yes! It’s actually what dogs’ and cats’ bodies are made to break down. Their DNA hasn’t changed much over the past few thousand years since they’ve been domesticated. At this point they were catching their prey and not only ingesting the meat but also the organs, bones and moisture that comes along with these parts. Their saliva actually contains enzymes to start breaking down raw meat as soon as it hits the mouth. They also have very acidic stomachs and shorter digestive tracts made to digest raw meat. Many dogs and cats thrive on a raw diet because their bodies are made to break them down.
As a classically trained veterinarian, I was very skeptical of raw food being fed to dogs and cats. I had heard of it and knew that it was being practiced by many breeders but I thought it was unsound. I worried about parasites in raw food, unwanted bacteria like Salmonella and digestive upsets. I have some clients whose pets start vomiting if they eat a tiny piece of hot dog let alone a hunk of raw flesh!
The bad news is that all of the above can and do occur on a raw food diet. There are serious parasites that pets can get from raw meat. Trichinosis, tape worms and Toxoplasmosis to name a few. Pets can and do pass Salmonella when on raw food diets and that is a very serious threat to health of humans. And many pets eating raw food do get digestive upsets. Also, raw diets can be hard to manage nutritionally and may not be as balanced as traditional commercial pet foods. Raw diets may not be appropriate for all patients. Female dogs with pancreatitis have more issues with them. Some dogs can get elevated liver and kidney enzymes on raw food and may have to
back off the protein content.
But I am a convert. The proof is in the pudding as they say. The fact is, that many dogs and cats eating a raw food diet just look so great and so many of their medical problems seem to disappear that it is hard not to appreciate the benefits. Raw food is higher in water content so pets will drink less on raw food. Pets with kidney issues will really benefit from that. Kibble is slightly dehydrating for all pets and very bad for sick or old pets because the last thing they need is to be dehydrated. People say, “But my pet always has a fresh bowl of water and he or she can drink whenever they want!” But that is not the same thing as eating a mass of dehydrated food, like kibble. The act of digesting the kibble food draws water from the body even if later the pet tries to make up that loss by drinking. The scales never really balance and the pet ends up
always a bit dehydrated.
In my opinion, the good news for feeding raw food far outweighs the bad. And there are "fixes" that can be implemented to minimize the above risks. There are some dogs who may have a hard time with a raw food transition. Dogs with pancreatitis are very difficult to switch over and some may just never be able to. Raw food is not particularly low in fat as a rule and dogs with this condition are sometimes quite sensitive to fat. Some cannot even stand to have omega 3 fats in their diet without a pancreatic flare up.
Cats do great on raw food. Even cats with pancreatitis seem to do better. Cats are just really suited to being raw food carnivores. Even if you can’t switch your cat to all raw, at least try to have the rest of the diet be low carbohydrate canned food. (For a list of commercial cat foods and their carbohydrate contents please look at www.catinfo.orgDry Dry or or semi moist food is horrible for cats. It leads to most of the old age problems we see in cats: diabetes, kidney failure, inflammatory bowel disease, etc.
Now about those "fixes". Freezing at -12degrees C for 5 days seems to kill most of the more serious parasites. So freeze your raw food first, or buy it frozen from a company that sells USDA inspected raw food. Avoid raw pork products unless they have been treated first for trichinosis or screened for it or unless the company uses pressurization or fermentation or some other method to rid the meat of that parasite.
Salmonella will be in some raw meats and pets will pass it. But dogs and cats are pretty resistant to that organism and certain types of Salmonella and other harmful- to- human bacteria are normal residents of the dog and cat intestine. And yet we don’t see people getting rampant infections from having pets. But, just to be safe, be extra careful how you and your children handle the stool of dogs and cats who
are eating raw food.
(Iguanas and other reptiles and birds also pass Salmonella routinely in their stool and yet we do not see that they have been banned from pet stores.) Use common sense hygiene. When handling raw food, wear plastic gloves or wash your hands well before and after. Your hands may have bad bacteria on them to give to the raw meat or conversely, you may pick up something from the meat that is bad for you. Dogs and cats have a gut much more able
to handle bad bacteria.
If your raw food smells or looks odd, don’t feed it. Most retailers will give you money back or exchange if you have some food that is not quite right. If your dog or cat has an "off day" when eating raw food, just stop feeding for a day. If the pet has no fever and is not dehydrated or painful, give ice cubes to lick or feed clear soup and water for a day. Most mild digestive things will pass that way. Some may not and if the pet is vomiting frequently, seems tired or depressed, then go to the vet right away. If your pet experiences weight loss or conversely too much gain on raw food, connect with your vet.
To start a raw food diet, best to start very slowly. You can start by feeding a little raw goat’s milk with regular foods, maybe just a teaspoonful at first. Or you can just give a teaspoonful of a raw food. Buy some raw food, thaw it out, divide it into tiny portions and feed one portion the first day, like a teaspoon for a small pet or a tablespoon for a big dog. Then the following day, two teaspoons or two tablespoons. Then you just add a little bit more each day till at one week you are half raw food and half regular diet. At two weeks you should be at the all raw point. Or at least mostly raw. I also like to have the pets who are transitioning to raw on a good CARNIVORE Probiotic. Not yogurt or dairy based probiotics. Those are for people. My favorite is CANIOTIC which is a trade name for a product containing Lactobacillus reuteri and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. This is an excellent carnivore probiotic. Start this product before you switch to raw to
prepare your pet’s gut for it.
Feeding raw food from the grocery store or farmer’s market can be tricky. Dogs are more resistant to food poisoning from bad meat but they can still get it so you may see more digestive upsets. Remember sometimes raw food can be pretty high in fat like chicken necks and pig’s feet. If you are feeding bones for calcium, remember sometimes bones have a lot of marrow and tissue attached and this is high in phosphorus so that will decrease your calcium phosphorus ratio. Organ meats can vary widely in vitamin D content. Beef liver is usually very high in Vitamin D, chicken liver not so much so feeding a pregnant dog or a fast growing large breed puppy can get very complicated. I usually don’t try to balance the raw diets for pregnant and nursing dogs or growing puppies. Better to feed a commercial pet diet that is labeled for that stage and let them worry about the nutritional content. You can ADD some raw food to your commercial diet for your pups or breeding females and that will be fine.
I hope you will consider a raw diet for your carnivore pets. They will thank you and usually you will see their health bloom. Especially your cats!!!
Raw food diets often help to balance animals' systems. Cats and dogs are carnivores and naturally eat meat. Cats especially are obligate carnivores (they have to eat meat). You will never see a cat stalking a plant! It used to be difficult and sometimes dangerous to provide a raw meat diet to our cat and dog pets but not anymore.
If you are worried about nutrition, you can look for prepared raw foods that say they are complete diets or I can design a diet for you for a fee. I am not a nutritionist but I have taken nutrition courses beyond what is taught in vet school. Feeding pregnant or nursing pets or puppies, especially large breed puppies, may take a little more research and care. However, I have seen many breeding kennels feeding all raw diets successfully.
READ LABELS- Know what is in your pet’s food! Read labels and if you don’t know an ingredient, ask your vet what it is. Dogs can get terrible infections from raw food, just like we can. Salmonella and E. coli can slip through USDA inspections as we well know. Some people like to “sear” the outside of the meat for safety or drop it for 30-60 seconds in water at a rolling boil . It’s a good idea. Pork, rabbit and fish should be cooked first to prevent spread of trichinosis.
There are raw food companies that prepare the food first with pressurization and other methods. Be picky, ask questions, and be wary of small and start-up dog food companies. They usually don’t have the money for proper safety testing of their products. A case in point is Blue Buffalo. Although their dog food is supposed to be safe now, a few years ago when they launched their new product on their unsuspecting customers, many pets died of hypervitaminosis D because the company did not do the right feeding trials to test their product first. If you just don’t have time to shop and fix raw food, I recommend the Wysong products. Some of their products are very close to raw foods. Wysong is an old established company with products that are inspected and consistently have high ratings for palatability and customer satisfaction as well as safety.
DIET THERAPY: HOME-COOKED FOOD
Feeding dogs and cats home cooked food can work. I prefer to feed cats a raw diet, at least some of the diet since they do so well on it. Dogs sometimes not so much. I have many clients who make food for their pets with the advice of a nutritionist. It can work very well. The University of Tennessee has a nutritionist who will work with people wanting more natural diets, too. I can design a homemade diet based on Chinese medicine principles for a fee. I am not a nutritionist but I have taken a 41 hour course in Chinese food therapy.
Substitute for home cooked food: If you don’t want to feed raw food and don’t have time to cook for your pet another company that makes great home cooked food right here in Kentucky is Rudy Green. The owner of this company provides pre packaged frozen food. She can tailor it to your pets medical needs too. Canine Correct is another. This company has frozen food morsels and also freeze dried.