Why feed raw?
When my vet told me I should try feeding a raw diet to my cat with inflammatory bowel disease, my first reaction was “no way, absolutely not”. Who feeds raw food to animals? They'll get e. coli and salmonella and who knows what other parasites that lurk in raw meat. Besides, I was a vegetarian for three years for ethical reasons and I didn't want to go anywhere near the meat department or butcher shop again.
My vet's office was just beginning to carry pre-packaged and complete raw diets so all I had to do was thaw and serve. One of the vet techs came in to talk to me because she had a cat with diarrhea and when she switched him over to raw food, the diarrhea disappeared. She too was a vegetarian so I thought if she could do it, I could try it. If it didn't work, we were looking at putting Kitty on steroids and possibly having an endoscopy done. So away I went, armed with a few containers of raw food and a sick feeling in my stomach.
Kitty was always ravenous. She acted like she was starving all the time but even with several meals of prescription canned food a day, she was losing weight. I really didn't expect her to like this food but when I put it in front of her, she put her face down and barely came up for air till it was gone. I expected an explosion of diarrhea in the litter box soon after, but nothing happened. Days went by and she not only had normal litter box activity, but she was gaining weight. I couldn't believe my eyes and kept waiting for the other shoe to drop but it didn't.
I'm sure some of you have never heard of raw diets for pets, so I will tell you a bit about them. Cats and dogs eat different things, cats are obligate carnivores and dogs can eat just about anything. Both species have short, acidic digestive tracts and food goes through them much quicker than it does humans. Salmonella and E. Coli are seldom an issue unless the animal is very sick, because the food moves quickly throughout the system so bacteria doesn't have a chance to thrive. I've been feeding my cats and dog this way since 2000 and have never had a problem.
If you've ever heard the term B.A.R.F., that's the acronym for raw food. It stands for Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods or Bones And Raw Foods. Dr. Ian Billinghurst is the man behind this method of feeding. He is an Australian vet and has been practicing since the 70's. Processed pet food has only been in Australia since the 60's and before that, people fed table scraps and plenty of raw, meaty bones to their pets. When kibble and canned food came to Australia, he switched his pets over, thinking he was doing the best thing for his animals. After a while, minor illnesses and ailments began creeping in and he put two and two together and switched the animals back to what he used to feed. When the problems stopped, he realized he was on to something. He has been touring the world, bringing his message about raw food to anyone who will listen. I was fortunate enough to attend one of his seminars in Niagara Falls in 2001.
When I make cat food, these are the ingredients I use:
Chicken drumsticks, turkey meat, whole rabbits or lamb meat. I use one type of meat per batch of food, and I use heart and liver from the same species. If I can't source it, I use taurine or cod liver oil. Add to that a few egg yolks, water, psyllium husks and some vitamin and mineral supplements and voila! Cat food!
To read more about feeding raw to cats, I recommend the following web sites:
Feline Future - Cat Food, Care, and Behaviour
Blakkatz Cattery - Naturally Reared American Shorthair Cats
My dog's food is more varied. For the meat part, I feed either chicken necks, chicken backs, turkey necks, pork riblets, unbleached tripe, canned fish (because she won't eat raw) or beef rib bones. She gets one serving of meat with or without bones per day, and I vary it as much as possible.
I make a veggie/organ meat mixture that consists of leafy greens such as spinach, romaine lettuce, kale, endive and dandelion as well as cucumber, zucchini, beets, carrots, parsnips, broccoli, apples, blueberries…you name it, the list is endless! The only things I avoid are onions and nightshade vegetables. Dogs and cats should not eat onions as they can cause Heinz Body Anemia. I also avoid garlic in cats as there has been some talk that it too can cause this problem. Because my dog is older and might have a touch of arthritis, nightshade vegetables (eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and white potatoes) are avoided. These are known to aggravate the condition. If a dog has thyroid problems, vegetables in the cabbage family, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, should be kept to a minimum.
Vegetables must be crushed, so I use the food processor to pulp all the veggies and fruit. You can also use a juicer, meat grinder or blender, but I find this the easiest. With the veggies, I also add some offal, consisting of liver and whatever other organ meats I have on hand, usually kidney or heart. I toss in a few egg yolks and package it into meal sized portions. I add supplements when I'm feeding her, usually some kelp, vitamin E, MSM to help with her joints and a B multivitamin.
To read about dogs and the raw diet:
BARFWorld - Dr Billinghurst's BARF Diet
Dr. Billinghurst's books can be purchased through the Barfworld web site. If you want to take steps towards feeding raw food yourself, there are a number of groups you can join where you can talk about raw food with others who have already been feeding raw:
Canadian Natural Cats E-group
Feline Future Diet E-group
Raw Dog Canada E-group
If you have any questions about the diet, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And in case you're wondering, yes, my animals eat healthier than I do!
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