The Raw Movement

There has been a call for us to return to the simpler life, back towards the days when all things were more “natural”. Sounds healthier, yes? “Natural equals healthy” they shout. Raw milk for the family and raw meat for the dog. Ummmmmm. Not always. I myself am happy to be the beneficiary of many scientific discoveries. Let’s take a look.

In 1928, Penicillin, the first true antibiotic, was discovered. An antibiotic is a medicine that destroys bacteria and other microorganisms (germs). Prior to that, the average life expectancy for a person was around 48 years of age. Before antibiotics people and animals often died from infection. Childbirth, surgery, and many diseases were often a death sentence because of the attendant infection. In the year 2019, the average person may expect to live until they are 80 years of age. Why the change? In large part, because of the decrease in deaths from infectious diseases. Antibiotics, Vaccinations, Disinfectants and Sterilization, improved hygiene. Thank you, research scientists!

In 1950 over half the American population lived on farms. Over the next 20 years farms and the multi-party line telephone would disappear as young people moved to the cities and family farms consolidated into mega-businesses. Suburbia was born. Also in flux was how we viewed and cared for our pets. There are fewer working dogs today, and their work has evolved from livestock assistance on the farm into service roles, stepping in to assist people with physical or emotional disabilities. Dogs and cats are recognized for the vital role they play in our everyday lives. We want to care for them the very best that we can, and how we feed them has come under scrutiny as we question our own diet.

It’s true that wolves, foxes and other wild canidae eat raw meat. The average life expectancy of a wolf in the wild is 6-8 years. In captivity, a wolf may live 16-18 years. A wild fox may live 2-5 years; captive, 14 years. Wildlife face a host of “natural” hardships: starvation, infection from contagious diseases (no vaccinations!), infection from wounds and parasites. This is life at its most natural. Most pet dog breeds have been domesticated for centuries. Most can expect to live 10-15 years.

It’s interesting to me that the raw food which people purchase to feed their dog is still a processed food (unless you’ve farmed and slaughtered the meat yourself), susceptible to all the bacterial infections they’re supposed to be trying to avoid.  Raw meat can be contaminated by listeria, salmonella, E Coli, campylobacter and more. What is interesting is that the proponents of RAW claim healthier coats or more energy – not a longer life or true overall health. One on-line site stated that a benefit to feeding a raw diet was that you had total control of what was included in your dog’s food – laughable! We are all aware of the food recalls for both human and animal products : listeria in cheese, E coli in spinach, campylobacter in chicken, salmonella and listeria in commercial raw dog foods.

The truth is : Bacteria aren’t going away. Like us, they fight for survival. They mutate and re-form and will turn up again and again. The Center for Disease Control (CDC), our national public health institute in Atlanta, Georgia, has a battalion of researchers and scientists that follow disease trends throughout the United States and around the world. They’re work is to safeguard us – sometimes from ourselves.

When a client requests advice on what to feed their pets I have a stock answer : Go with the tried and true. Go with a company that has been making pet food for decades, with decades of investment into research of breed needs, life stage requirements, and years of following pets to monitor their health, making any necessary adjustments to their foods along the way. They have invested their livelihood in formulating foods to help your pet to thrive. Often there are a variety of choices within each brand, with ingredient modification to meet the financial abilities of the buyer while still providing decent nutrition for the pet. Bon appetit!

Christine B. McFadden, DVM

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