Myths About Raw Feeding
IAMS recently published an article titled “Myths About Feeding Your Kitten a Raw Meat Diet”. We have copied their article with our response below.
MYTH 1: The benefits [of a raw diet] are proven.
IAMS: No scientific studies have shown benefits of raw diets. Their appeal is based on word of mouth, testimonials, and perceived benefits.
SAVAGE: From 1932 to 1942 Dr Francis Pottenger piloted a sequence of feline nutritional experiments regarding the effects of a cooked versus raw diet over time1. He observed that cats that were fed a cooked diet developed many different diseases and by the third generation had problems reproducing. The cats that were fed a raw diet ended up living long, healthful lives2.
MYTH 2: This is what animals eat in the wild.
IAMS: Wolves and other animals in the wild do eat raw meat (in addition to berries, plants, etc.). However, the average lifespan for an animal in the wild is only a few years. Therefore, what is nutritionally “optimal” for a wild animal, such as a wolf, is not optimal for our pets that we hope will live longer and healthier lives.
SAVAGE: Animals in the wild do not die from diabetes, FLUTD, kidney failure, or gum disease. They generally die from outside sources, like predators or starvation3, rather than from diseases that can be brought about through poor diet.
MYTH 3: Dogs and cats can’t get infections from Salmonella or other bacteria in raw meat diets.
IAMS: Dogs and cats can become infected with Salmonella, Clostridium, Campylobacter, and other bacteria found in raw meat diets, just as people can (especially young, old, or immunosuppressed dogs or cats).
SAVAGE: Yes, cats can get salmonella, but it is very, very rare4. Cat’s digestive tracts are both short and highly acidic, making them much more pathogen-resistant than a human’s5. Food passes through a cat so quickly that the bacteria doesn’t have time to multiply.
MYTH 4: Raw food diet ingredients are human grade.
IAMS: Even meats purchased at the best of stores for people can contain harmful bacteria, so purchasing “human grade” meat does not protect against the health risks of uncooked meats. (Would you eat raw ground beef?) It is also important to keep in mind that the term “human grade” has no legal definition for pet food.
SAVAGE: No, I wouldn’t eat raw ground beef because I don’t have the digestive tract of a cat. It takes a human 1-3 days to fully digest red meat6, giving any bacteria or viruses plenty of time to replicate. Human grade means that you could go to the store and buy meat for yourself, go home, cook it and eat it. This is in contrast to some pet food which is made from animal by-products that are inedible for humans.
MYTH 5: Freezing raw diets kills bacteria.
IAMS: Most of the bacteria found in raw meat diets can easily survive freezing (and freeze-drying).
SAVAGE: Freezing food does not kill bacteria, but why were we worried about bacteria again? Oh, for ourselves, not our pets! Treat your raw cat food like you treat raw chicken from the store: don’t lick it, and wash your hands, dishes and counters well.
MYTH 6: As long as bones are raw, they’re safe.
IAMS: Bones, whether raw or cooked, can fracture dogs’ and cats’ teeth. Bone also can block or tear the esophagus, stomach, or intestine.
SAVAGE: Allowing cats to naturally crunch the small, soft bones of their prey (i.e., birds, gophers, mice) helps them develop healthy teeth and gums7. We can only assume giving cats a cow femur would be dangerous.
MYTH 7: Cooking destroys enzymes needed for digestion.
IAMS: All the enzymes that dogs and cats (and people) need for digestion are already in the gastrointestinal tract. Therefore, additional enzymes from food are not required for digestion.
SAVAGE: No your pet does not need the naturally occurring enzymes to digest its food, but it is nice to have them. Many cooked pet food companies have to add artificial supplements to help pets digest their food, some of which can be harmful8.
MYTH 8: Raw diets do not contain grains, because grains are added to pet foods only as fillers.
IAMS: Corn, oats, rice, barley, and other grains are healthy ingredients that contain protein, vitamins, and minerals; they are not added as fillers and are unlikely to cause allergies. Although meat is an important component of diets for dogs and cats, grains can be part of a high-quality, nutritionally balanced diet.
SAVAGE: Corn, oats, rice, barley and other grains are not healthy ingredients for cats9. Cats literally do not get any nutrition from plant-based proteins and lack the enzyme to process these proteins (unlike dogs)10.
MYTH 9: Most commercial pet foods contain harmful ingredients such as by-products.
IAMS: By-products are the animal parts that American people don’t typically eat, such as livers, kidneys, or lungs. By-products are organs and meats other than animal muscle. Note that some pet foods may actually list these ingredients (e.g., duck liver, beef lung), but these are really just “by-products.” Most commercial and many home-prepared raw diets also contain by-products.
SAVAGE: The Animal Welfare Approved website defines animal by-products as “the parts of a slaughtered animal that are not directly consumed by humans. This includes fat, bones and gelatin.”11 Another definition is “An animal by-product is any material derived from the body of an animal. Examples are fat, flesh, blood, milk, eggs, and lesser known products, such as isinglass and rennet.”12 Never is an animal organ referred to as a by-product, since many humans consume animal organs.
MYTH 10: If bones or chicken necks are added to raw meat diets, they’re nutritionally balanced.
IAMS: Most homemade (and even some commercial) raw meat diets are extremely deficient in calcium and a variety of other nutrients, even if chicken necks, bones, or eggshells are added. This can be disastrous in any animal but especially in young, growing pets and can result in fractured bones.
SAVAGE: No wild cat has ever picked the flesh off its prey, leaving the skeleton behind. Nonetheless, feeding a whole raw chicken alone to a cat is not nutritionally balanced13. Proportionally, a small prey animal such as a mouse has a significantly larger organ to muscle to bone ratio then that of a chicken14. However, adding in artificial amounts of calcium can lead to kidney and bladder stones15. We advocate doing your research, mirroring nature’s prey animals, and yes, feeding raw bone.
If your situation doesn’t allow for raw feeding then we recommend searching for a high quality canned food, ideally free of produce, starches and oils. Dry food is too harsh on a cat’s digestive tract, regardless of it being grain-free or not. Cats need to receive their moisture from their food because they will not drink enough water separately. The dry food that we are so used to feeding our cats is slowly (or quickly) killing them.
1. Beyond Veg
2. Doctor Yourself
3. Wolf Faqs
4. Cat World
5. Conscious Cat
7. Pet MD
8. Dogs Naturally
9. Pet MD
10. Conscious Cat
11. Animal Welfare Approved
12. Unklesbay, Nan. World Food and You. Routledge, 1992, p. 179ff.
14. Ellen S. Dierenfeld, PhD, Heather L. Alcorn, BS and Krista L. Jacobsen, MS, “Nutrient Composition of Whole Vertebrate Prey (Excluding Fish) Fed in Zoos,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, May 2002.
15. Feline Nutrition