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Follow us on twitter OVLMagazine Find us on Facebook OVL Magazine 49 O ver several years there has been an increase in the number of pet owners feeding their animals raw meat based diets driven by a desire to feed them a more natural diet. The ancestors of cats and dogs thrived on a diet of raw meat and bones for thousands of years whereas pet food has only been around for about a century. A raw food diet is surely what we should be feeding our cats and dogs but if this is the case then why are so many veterinarians finding the idea of a raw diet controversial Back in 1993 Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst created the idea of the raw food diet also called the BARF diet Bones and Raw Food or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. He believed that feeding pets on a diet similar to what their ancestors would have had such as raw meat and vegetable scraps would promote higher health and better nutrition. Dogs and cats have naturally evolved to consume a low- carbohydrate diet and for a long time many pet foods have contained high fat high carbohydrate low protein composition. This type of diet has been thought to be the cause of metabolic and physiologic stress resulting in some inflammatory processes and degenerative disease. Commercial pet food plants generally use intense heat in the processing of their diets. This breaks down the already present vitamins minerals and enzymes thus requiring artificial supplementation. The raw food diet consists of unprocessed foods and claims to have no need for supplementation but this overall makes it a more valuable food source and therefore a more expensive alternative to commercial pet foods. There is no disputed evidence that raw food has notable benefits including Firmer and smaller stools Improved digestion Healthier skin and coat Reduced allergy symptoms Better weight management from higher energy levels In light of the benefits and reasons for providing a raw diet the majority of veterinarians are not convinced these advantages are solely down to the diet nor that they outweigh the risks. Firstly many raw diets home- made and commercial are often nutritionally imbalanced. One single imbalance if sustained can create illness but because cats and dogs are very adaptable to their diets it can take some time before disease is apparent often causing owners to be unaware the diet is the problem. Secondly a change in the pets diet from commercial pet food to raw food can cause stomach and bowel upsets. This is because their body has developed to digest pet foods which are broken down differently to raw foods due to their texture composition and bacterial flora. So as with any diet change this one in particular needs to be done very slowly. Bacterial contamination is a major contender for veterinarians being wary of the raw food diet. Salmonella and E.coli are always potential threats to animal health where raw foods are concerned but the risk is greater to those feeding it. Humans are far more susceptible to food-borne disease than dogs and cats so proper care and handling is strongly advised. Pet foods are all quality controlled so the chances of bacterial or parasitic infections are next to none when compared with raw food diets - particularly home-made diets. A major point to make is the potential for bones to choke an animal break teeth or cause internal damage. Here the best advice is to always monitor the animal when they are eating the raw diet particularly if there are bones. Finally the advantages stated by scientific studies and anecdotes can be replicated with commercial pet foods. Pet food companies invest a lot of time and money into research of diet compositions. They have created diets which diminish allergic reactions improve the condition of the skin and coat and regulate metabolic processes to aid the kidneys and liver. So as you can see there is logical reasoning behind both sides of the raw food diet argument with more scientific studies underway to try to settle the controversy. Ultimately though it is up to the owner and to a certain extent the animal particularly if they are fussy eaters or have an underlying condition. As always if you have any questions concerning the raw food diet contact your veterinarian. Zoe is a final year veterinary student at the University of Liverpool PETS The Raw Food Debate Zoe Shelton-Smith