A raw diet can be the healthiest diet for your cat or dog but mistakes can be made, which can have negative health impacts for your pet.
In this post, I reveal the six most common mistakes people make when raw feeding their cat or dog, so that you don't have to make them too. Want the condensed version? Head to the bottom of this post for the "6 Common Raw-Feeding Mistakes" infographic.
1. Feeding only meat
Protein is an essential ingredient for cats and dogs, but feeding only meat will create nutrient deficiencies.
A meat only diet is not a natural diet for both cats and dogs. When we look at the evolutionary history of cats and dogs, we can see that their natural diet is based on eating prey, which includes eating more than just the muscle meat. The skin is eaten, the bones, the hair, the nails, the blood, the organs and the gut contents too (including the faeces). Cats and dogs have evolved to eat this way.
A meat only diet is also unbalanced. This diet will be nutrient deficient but will also provide some nutrients in excess.
There are minimum nutrition requirements for dogs and cats (AAFCO and NRC) and these requirements will not be met if a meat only diet is fed. For example, a diet consisting of only raw chicken mince will be deficient in linoleic acid, calcium, fibre, iron, copper, manganese, zinc, iodine, magnesium, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, vitamin B12 and choline.
Nutrient excesses in a meat only diet (or high meat diet) include protein and phosphorus. Over time a diet that contains an excess of protein and phosphorus can result in serious health conditions like kidney disease.
The type and quality of meat you feed are important too. Lower quality, fatty meats (such as 70% lean beef) can be low in certain amino acids (such as tryptophan) and research shows that a diet that is deficient in the amino acid tryptophan can result in behavioural issues, including aggression.
2. Not feeding any vegetables
Vegetables are an essential part of a dog's diet and should form at least 20% of their diet. Cat's needs aren't as great as dogs but vegetables are still a natural part of a cat's diet and should form about 3 to 12% of their diet.
According to Australian vet, Dr Ian Billinghurst, "it is impossible for a dog to be healthy unless it spends a lifetime eating vegetables as a major part of it's diet".
Vegetables provide numerous benefits including that they are a source of roughage (or fibre), which is beneficial for digestive health. They also provide essential vitamins and minerals and omega-3 fatty acids that can be missing from a meat only diet, as well as enzymes and antioxidants. Each of these nutrients help to promote good health and avoid premature ageing.
Mostly green leafy vegetables should be fed with only starchy vegetables like pumpkin and sweet potato forming 10% of the diet for dogs and significantly less for cats (remembering that cats only need about 3 to 12% of vegetable matter in their diet).
For optimum nutrient absorption, vegetables should be broken down. Dogs and cats don't have the same digestive enzymes that we do which enable us to absorb the nutrients from vegetables. We need to help our dogs and cats out by breaking down the tough fibrous walls of vegetables so that they can actually get the nutrients from the vegetables and receive the health promoting benefits.
The best way to prepare vegetables is by pulverising them in a food processor until they resemble a mash like state (get my free veg recipe here).
3. Leaving out organ meats
Organ meats are like nutrient powerhouses for cats and dogs! Not only do they contain a rich source of vitamins, minerals and fats (vitamin A, zinc, manganese, selenium, iron, taurine, all of the B vitamins, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K, essential fatty acids (omega 3 and 6)), these nutrients are easily absorbed by cats and dogs when eaten this way.
Dogs and cats don't need very much - only about 10% of their diet should consist of organ meats.
Feeding organ meats raw is best for nutrient absorption and be mindful where you buy them from. I always recommend to my clients to only feed organic organ meats, especially if feeding the most commonly available organ meats, liver and kidney. This is because the liver and kidney are two of the body's main elimination organs. An animal raised in a factory farm or intensive system is going to be exposed to a much greater level of toxins than an animal raised in free range or organic systems. You don't want to be feeding your pet a neat little package of toxins, do you?
4. Thinking that supplements aren't necessary
Unfortunately, our soil is not as nutrient rich as it used to be. One of the impacts of this is that the foods we and our animals eat aren't as nutrient rich either. This is one reason why supplements are necessary - to boost the nutrient value of their diets.
Supplements may also be necessary for therapeutic or preventative reasons or where the diet is deficient in certain nutrients.
Supplements derived from food are superior to synthetic supplements so choose food-based where you can.
5. Ignoring micronutrient requirements
Feeding a healthy, balanced diet is not just about protein, fats and carbs. Micronutrients are just as important as macronutrients.
I've spoken a bit about micronutrients already where I've mentioned vitamins and minerals and minimum nutrient requirements. Micronutrients are an essential part of a cat's or dog's diet and the best sources for these micronutrients are from a variety of fresh, whole foods or food based supplements.
6. Misunderstanding the macronutrient ratios
Most pet food today contains significantly high levels of carbohydrates. Dogs and cats don't have a nutritional requirement for carbohydrates. Feeding a diet that is high in carbohydrates can cause degeneration due to nutrient deficiencies and can cause, or at least significantly contribute to, a range of diseases (most commonly skin conditions, obesity, cancer and diabetes).
The minimum nutrient recommendations I mentioned above, don't specify a minimum requirement for carbohydrates. This recognises that there is no requirement for carbohydrates in a cat's or dog's diet. But pet food manufacturers seem to take the minimum nutrient requirements as meaning they can satisfy the minimum protein (22% for dogs, 30% for cats) and fat (8% for dogs, 9% for cats) requirements and then make up the balance with carbohydrates. This means that many commercial pet foods can contain up to 50% carbohydrates (eg Royal Canin Medium Adult Dry Dog Food contains a whopping 49% carbohydrates)!
There are no ideal macronutrient ratios set in stone or recommended by any pet food organisation. We have minimum nutrient requirements and various pet nutrition professionals have their own view on the best macronutrient ratios.
One of the most common macronutrient ratios when you google raw diets for dogs is the 80-10-10 ratio. This is the ratio generally of prey model diets consisting of 80% meat, 10% bones and 10% organ meats.
The other common diet type for the dogs is the BARF diet which has a ratio of 70% meat, 10% bone, 10% organ meats and 10% plant foods (vegies, nuts, seeds, grains, fruit).
The macronutrient ratios I generally recommend for dogs are closer to the BARF model than the PREY model. They are 70% meat, organ meats and bones and 30% plant foods. For cats, I recommend 88 to 95% meat, organ meats and bones and 5 to 12% plant foods.
Feeding a diet that subscribes to these macronutrient ratios takes into account the evolutionary history of cats and dogs and provides the nutrients they need to thrive.
Feeding a balanced and complete raw food diet can be complex. There's much more to it than just throwing some meat into the bowl with a few veggies.
To not only ensure the raw diet you're feeding satisfies your cat's or dog's nutrient requirements, but that it will help them to achieve optimum health, please seek out the advice of a qualified pet nutritionist. I'm available for consults no matter where you are in the world and if that appeals to you, you can book in a free chat here to find out more.