Why do we do this to our friends?

Published 24 May, 2018

Welcome to Cutting Edge

the veterinary newsletter benefiting from no commercial relationship or political links to the veterinary industry and ruling bodies.

​Welcome to Cutting Edge

Cutting Edge will cover many subjects, but this edition looks at the hard sell of convenience kibble foods to our clients.

Why do we do this to our friends?

The veterinary industry has long promoted kibble foods to our clients, with claims of 'Veterinary Recommended' and 'Scientific'. The evidence for improved health in our pets by the sale of 100% convenience food to our clients is dubious.

More importantly, advising a totally unnatural diet could be deemed very 'unsound science'. This practice is the antithesis to all advice in human medicine and nutrition.

Doctors advise '5-a-day' raw portions, and a variety of fresh and unprocessed food. Latest research into the microbiome suggests variety is particularly important. So why are we advising our clients to feed processed, never changing, never fresh and unnatural foods? Is there a collective closing of the eyes to the obvious because of the income generated by our clients trusting us as 'scientists'?

This autumn will see the publication of a long awaited, two-year research program into species appropriate feeding of dogs, including food trials involving 26 dogs.

The study provides the scientific evidence and reassurance that many veterinary professional have been seeking and underlines the safety and benefits of a raw food diet. If you are interested in receiving a copy of the research paper as soon as it is published please email [email protected]

Nick Thompson, President of the Veterinary Raw Feeding Society writes:

“Raw feeding in pets is a funny thing. A zoo animal nutritionist, describing the raw food vs kibble debate, said recently, 'the surprising thing for me is that we are having this debate at all!'

Raw feeding, for me as a practising vet, and hundreds of thousands of dog and cat owners all over the world, offers so many benefits. There's the rapid, obvious health benefits when you change, the long-lasting disease prevention as pets age, incomparable daily meal-time satisfaction and continual owner delight at taking responsibility for feeding your precious pet.

Explaining nutrition to a Martian

If a Martian came down to earth and you were tasked with explaining animal nutrition, you might start with cows and say, 'cows eat grass'. You'd move on to sheep and say the same. You'd talk about wolves scavenging and eating raw carcases, or wild cats hunting for fresh prey daily. Then you would come to domesticated cats and dogs. You'd have to explain that most people, including vets, think that feeding dry biscuits is the way to go. You'd say that processed proteins are combined with loads of stodgy carbohydrates to stick the whole biscuit together, that the kibble pellets are later sprayed with fats and flavour enhancers, and then bagged and placed on shelves for weeks and months on end before serving. This, you'd have to admit to your martian friend, is widely recommended to be the very best way to feed our most precious family members.

I still find it hard to see how the establishment can suggest this process is better, more nutritious and more 'correct' than feeding our pets the real thing. But they do. And that's why I'm going to tell you why I love raw and advocate it wherever and whenever I get the chance.

Don't believe me. I'm just a vet. You just need to talk to a new raw food feeder to be bombarded by the changes they quickly notice once their pet is on raw food. They'll talk about sweeter breath, cleaner teeth, better digestion, solid, healthy pick-up-able poos, better weight management, glossier coat and healthier overall smell.

If you talk to owners who've been on raw food for a few years, you'll hear a similar story. They will tell you they need to visit the vet much less than they used to. They'll talk of increased vitality in their pets, who seem to age more gracefully with fewer niggles from sore joints, gut and anal gland problems, to mention but a few.

Satisfaction All-Round

Meal times, with raw food, become really positive events. Fussy dogs and cats suddenly find their appetite, bolting dinner and post-meal madness often vanish, only to be replaced by pets relishing their food, then going away to digest quietly.

And owners themselves, describe the satisfaction they now feel when they produce real meals for their pets; satisfaction matched only by the purrs and waggy-tailed appreciation they see plainly in their pets.

"If I sound a bit evangelical about raw food feeding for dogs and cats, then its because I am! In 26 years in veterinary practice, I have never known any other single, simple health intervention that can manifest such positive changes in patients to match the revolution that occurs when you change your pets onto raw food.”

Nick Thompson

“If in my practice I did nothing other than tell owners to stop feeding processed kibble food, and advised them to give raw food that mimicked a freshly caught rabbit, I'd be a successful vet with a great reputation. Its not hard – it is what our pets have evolved to eat over millions of years. That's why my practice had four freezers at the back, and the income generated meant I could afford another assistant with a clear conscience. What do you think your local GP would say if you insisted on feeding your children a diet that never changed, was 100% processed, was totally unnatural, and contained nothing fresh or raw? Do you think you would be allowed to keep them?”

Geoff Johnson Vet 31 years experience

"I lose count how many times a day I recommend raw bones. Not all my clients are able to feed an entirely raw food diet but raw bones are easy to introduce. The improved dental health after just a few weeks is amazing and long lasting. I have been able to avoid a general anaesthetic for a dental scale and polish simply by recommending raw bones. I also strongly believe that the release of endorphins after chewing and licking for 20 minutes or more, and the joy of being able to exercise their natural behaviour, profoundly improves the quality of life and general health of dogs."

Ingrid Roemer Vet 12 years experience

Raw Food vs. Kibble Food in Dogs

Dogs have eaten meat for thousands of years. I do not think anyone could dispute this. They are not obligate carnivores, like cats, but they have been eating herbivore flesh-rich diets before humans first made fire and stone weapons.

Species Appropriate Raw food feeding is once again becoming popular. Is it the best way to feed? Is the domestic dog still wild at heart? Do we really think scientifically formulated dried food is the new answer to all our nutritional problems?

Why don't the owners eat it? 

Arguments for raw food include increased health, fewer vet bills, greater satisfaction at meal times, better stamina and athleticism, smaller, less smelly, more 'pickupable' stools and ease of feeding...the list goes on. But how does it stand up against the industry standard, kibble?

Concerns about bacterial and parasite contamination, balanced nutrition, bones getting stuck and the expense of raw food need to be addressed.

The prime argument, however incorrect, against species-appropriate feeding in dogs is the risk of picking up infections from raw meat. Kibble is sterilised and generally has a low level of contamination. However raw meat, or complete raw foods containing raw meat, are frozen in production and storage, diminishing disease organisms to minimal, often zero levels. In the UK infectious agents in raw dog food are better regulated than human food! Worldwide, there are many more reports of human and animal infection from kibble than from raw food by a factor of hundreds.

"I started feeding raw to my allergic Newfoundland in 1995. Overnight, her allergies resolved. At that time, all that was available in the US was chicken parts, so that is what I fed her, including after we moved to the UK for three years. I started my next Newfoundland on raw, back in the States. He did well on raw for 6 years. When my dad was living with us and had terminal cancer, I switched to kibble during that three month period. Three months after my dad died, I hadn’t yet switched back to raw. One night my Newfoundland had a stomach torsion and died. Since then I have fed raw to my Bernese Mountain Dogs. I generally feed commercial balanced ground raw, as I can afford to feed meat that is free range that way. It is difficult to get meat that is not from feedlots or intense management practices in the US unless it is organic. While I love my dogs dearly, I can’t afford almost 3 kilos of organic meat per day for maintenance of three dogs. My bitches have whelped, nursed, and weaned three healthy litters, all feeding raw."

Sara Fox Chapman Vet 33 years experience

"Feeding raw means happy dogs, pearly white teeth, fresh breath, no fleas, shiny coats. Fingers crossed as I say this but minimal vet input bar an odd bruised toe with bouncing about!"

Di Hodson Vet years 30 years experience

"Here in France people don’t know much about raw feeding but are intrigued when they hear about it and most of them want to try it. I do give them the spiel about inflammation caused by a processed diet, especially kibble, so they know that processed feeding could be an obstacle to cure. Most then feed naturally! We now even have a company, where people can go online and order fresh frozen food for cats and dogs delivered straight to the door – ready mixtures and food items like meaty bones, meat chunks, offal etc – all frozen and ready to eat. It's not cheap to feed raw here but “good quality” processed kibble, especially “the special ones from the vet” are very expensive too. And when people see, how their animals flourish after changing them over, they are hooked forever."

Malene Jorgensen Vet 27 years experience

'Complete and balanced' is a phrase meaning meals contain all required nutrients at approved levels when fed.

This is easy to do with an ultra-processed, high starch kibble because every single element of the diet can be manipulated to give the approved 'scientifically formulated' end result. Raw food producers, on the other hand, even though they are able to manipulate the food less, can use technology and science to create diets that meet FEDIAF, the European pet food industry watchdog, standards.

Many critics of raw food, when trying to denigrate the practice, quote from the 2013 review 'Current knowledge about the risks and benefits of raw meat-based diets for dogs and cats', that appeared in the prestigious Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. The review quotes four papers on bone obstruction in pets, totalling 229 cats and dogs. The word 'raw' is not mentioned anywhere, suggesting that most foreign body blockage cases studied were not due to raw bones.

Bones are generally very beneficial to the gut, teeth and mind of pet and working dogs. Problems are rare. Kibble does not clean teeth, contrary to popular myth. The same goes for bloat, dilation and stomach rotation in dogs; most cases are not associated with raw food feeding. By far the majority are fed kibble-based diets. A colleague of mine tells a story of dealing routinely with an Old English Shepherd rescue at his practice. He eventually persuaded them to put all the dogs on raw. His income from bloat cases from the rescue all but dried up.

The hassle and cost of raw are always a contender when I talk to clients and give talks on raw food nutrition. But they need not be. Kibble is the ultimate convenience food. That is why it is the world's most popular method of feeding. But convenience has nothing to do with nutrition, it's a sales pitch! Do our doctors advise us to eat only convenience foods?

"I have fed raw meaty bones (RMB) for the last 20+ years to both my terriers and wouldn't feed them any other way. I now won't take on dog clients for referral for allergies, cancer or other serious chronic conditions unless they are prepared to feed RMB, as otherwise I'm wasting my time. Kibble feeding is an obstacle to cure and must be addressed. The physical presentation of the diet is as important as the chemical composition, which is why I'm not a fan of pre-ground raw food and bones, unless there is good reason eg weaning puppies, just after oral surgery, or short term convenience on holidays. Pet carnivores need to crunch the bones to clean teeth and strengthen gum/tooth margins. However it is important to recognise that the meat on the bone protects the oseophagus on the way to the stomach. This is why it is important to feed meaty bones rather than meat and bare bones. Likewise dense marrow bones can crack teeth, so it is better not to feed weight-bearing bones from large animals, such as beef marrow bones. Stick to either smaller weight-bearing bone options such as chicken, lamb or rabbit, or non-weight-bearing bones from larger animals such as beef ribs."

Roger Meacock Vet 27 years experience

"When clients feed raw, we notice shiny luxurious hair coats on the animals, plus they have gorgeous teeth with little to no tartar especially when they eat raw bones. It’s much cheaper and safer than a dental! I feed my domestic cats raw and I’m sure that is contributing to the longevity and quality of my elder cat nearly 2 years post diagnosis of nasal cancer, treated homeopathically."

Lori Leonard Vet 27 years experience

Nowadays, there are dozens of producers supplying excellent complete and balanced frozen raw food meals.

Just Google 'complete and balanced raw foods for dogs', to see the options. Raw food is now as convenient as kibble! It is also easy to incorporate into your practice, so you don't need to lose that income stream, currently provided by kibble.

Prices for quality raw foods match prices, per meal, of the mid- to upper ranges of the kibble market. You get what you pay for. You cannot expect Range Rover performance if all you buy is 2-stroke fuel.

However raw food is not for everyone. Some dogs, if they have been on high-carb foods (all kibbles, grain-free or otherwise) all their lives, cannot maintain weight initially when moved onto quality raw. Some dogs, and they are rare, can't cope with the new texture and flavours. Labradors, needless to say, are rarely in this group. If you cannot bring yourself to go the whole hog and go raw, then moving up the 'spectrum of nutrition' is the key - feed the best kibble you can, or introduce some raw meat and bones once or twice alongside the kibble.

Kibbles go from super-economy to ultra-premium brands. If you are set on kibble, look around for producers who are careful when sourcing raw ingredients. Low-temperature processing is another desirable feature. Also, when you buy kibble, buy quantities you will get through quickly, from a wholesaler with a good turnover of diets to ensure freshness.

There are, as with everything, pros and cons to raw food and kibble feeding. Look at the arguments for both. Consider both. You, and your dog are, after all, what you both eat.

Nick Thompson President of the Veterinary Raw Feeding Society

"I recommended raw food to hundreds of clients over some 15 years at the end of my time in practice. This dietary change contributed to the massive improvement in health of the great majority. Indeed, given the choice of "complementary" therapy options, my choice would be firstly change the diet to one appropriate for the species, and then consider other methods to influence and tune the engine. This is the fuel we are expecting the bodily engine to run smoothly on, You cannot run a diesel engine on petrol (even if super-unleaded!). About 20 years ago, during a visit to Jersey to talk to the Jersey kennel club I had a behind the scenes tour of Jersey zoo, and was lucky enough to meet the chief veterinary surgeon in charge of the zoo at the time. I asked him why Jersey zoo had such an international reputation for being able to breed rare breeds where other zoos around the world had much less success. He told me that it was all about the food and the environment. "The food should be both nutritionally appropriate and socially acceptable", he said. He explained that this entailed them importing food from around the world, even particular species of plants for some of the herbivores, so they were able to feed the species-appropriate food, and feeding it as they would have been in their natural environment. "It is important that they are happy as well as properly fed".The same applies to raw fed dogs and cats; the apparent happiness of our pets when offered their kibble diets is simply because the hours a day they would spend in the wild seeking prey, then stalking it, hunting it, trying again when they fail the first couple of times, then taking it to the appropriate place to then eat it - bones and all - is reduced to a 30 second mad dash once every 24 hours. Almost all play behaviours in cats and dogs are food-related, and offering a natural species-appropriate raw food creates a happy and nutritionally balanced animal, with a happy and balanced immune system, endocrine system, and physical form."

Mark Carpenter Vet 40 years experience


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