Researchers wary of raw food diets after reviewing existing research

Veterinary researchers have reviewed existing evidence on raw food diets and concluded that there are more risks than benefits when it comes to the diets, reported Tufts Now.

The researchers' opinion was recently published in the Journal of American Veterinary Medicine and titled "Current knowledge about the risks and benefits of raw meat-based diets for dogs and cats."

"Pet nutrition decisions are often made from the heart and with the best intentions, but it's essential to look at what the evidence tells us about the benefits and safety of a certain diet," said Lisa Freeman, DVM, Ph.D., the paper's lead author and a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and faculty member at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. "This is especially important for diets that include raw meat and the bottom line is that the existing research shows that the risks outweigh any minimal benefits."

The findings apply to both home-prepared and commercial RMBDs, researchers reported.

During the study, Freeman and her collaborators compared perceptions of raw meat-based diets (RMBD) to existing evidence to determine whether people's beliefs match up to current research. According to Tufts Now, the researchers concluded that:

  • While many believe RMBDs provide a well-balanced selection of nutrients for dogs and cats, multiple studies demonstrate that RMBDs have a high risk of nutritional deficiencies and excesses.
  • RMBDs are often promoted because they simulate the diets of pets' undomesticated ancestors, but previous studies have shown that modern pets' digestive systems have evolved and are no longer as well-equipped to handle RMBDs. According to researchers, RMBDs are more suited to wild wolves, which usually only live for a few years in comparison to long-lived companion animals.
  • RMBDs put pets at risk for infection by pathogens including Salmonella, E. coli, and Clostridium despite the common belief that pets will not fall ill from contaminated diets. Pets face additional health risks such as fractured teeth or obstructions or perforations of the gastrointestinal tract if food contains bones, researchers said.
  • RMBDs are somewhat easier for pets to digest than some commercial foods according to three previous studies, but there are no proven health benefits tied to the slightly improved digestibility.

"We advise pet owners to talk with their veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist boarded by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition about nutrition for their pets, and anyone considering raw meat in a pet's diet to review the scientific evidence," Freeman told Tufts Now.

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