Whether it's your friend going vegan, or someone who lives on nothing but beans on toast, diet is always a great topic for debate.
What makes one diet superior or inferior often comes down how you perceive food, which is based on your own understanding and limited knowledge, so when I started learning about the #RawFoodMovement for pets, particularly cats and dogs, I had to dig in and find out more.
Sure, it's a lot easier to ignore trends if you're a dog, but fortunately for my bitch Sasha, I was determined to find out if this was yet another fad that I should ignore on her behalf.
The entire concept of raw food is based on this idea that dogs should eat the same kind of food that their ancestors used to eat - just a mixture of bones and raw meat.
It goes back to the time before dogs figured out how to make humans cook for them. And what the raw food movement really is, it's humans reclaiming their rights from dogs. Just kidding!
Simply put, raw feeding is merely the practice of feeding domestic pets such as dogs and cats, but also other animals, a diet that consists of uncooked meat, organs, and bones.
Dr Ian Billinghurst, an esteemed pet nutritionist from Australia, published a book called Give Your Dog a Bone 25 years ago which may have stirred the first wave of the Raw Food Movement.
The benefits he claimed then have since been researched repeatedly and studies today show the truth about whether these include a shinier coat, healthier skin, cleaner teeth, less foul-smelling stools and raised energy levels.
In a recent exploratory study of 632 dog owners' shared experiences of changing their dogs' food to a raw food diet by the Department of Equine and Small Animal Medicine, University of Helsinki, scientists Anna Hielm-Björkman DVM, PhD and Juulia Virtanen BVMS found that 88% of dogs with gastrointestinal problems and 74% of those with skin problems experienced total recovery from the symptoms.
They also reported how the dogs made some general improvements, such as better hair coats, less faeces, less odour, better-functioning gastrointestinal tract, dogs were more active, in a better mood, and 11 owners even reported avoidance of euthanisia.
People who oppose or reject the Raw Food Movement do so primarily because of a dearth of research studies on the effects of raw food, which is a fair criticism. We definitely need more research on this topic, not just to convince pet owners to feed their pets properly, but also to improve nutritional values and balanced diets for all types of pets.
Another reasonable concern is the hygiene risk that comes with handling of raw meat - not just for humans but for dogs as well.
It's not very difficult for a dog owner to test its claims because effects of a BARF diet can be witnessed in just a few weeks. And washing your hands, keeping surrounding areas clean, and minimizing exposure to raw meat are easy steps to take to ensure good health and safety for all.
If you're considering a change in diet for your pet - remember, it doesn't just apply to dogs (raw diets can be given to cats, horses - even squirrels!) - the best thing to do to begin the transition is to start off with a 'supplementary' BARF feed for a couple of weeks before switching to a 'complete' diet.
The great thing about 'complete' raw feeds is that they are well-balanced in terms of nutrition, so it's less stressful to administer them.
But make sure you consult a veterinary doctor or pet nutritionist before you make the switch to a BARF diet. (We have a resident pet nutritionist at Aniforte who can also answer queries.)
Just make note of any chronic or recurring health conditions your pet has so your vet or pet nutritionist can take those into consideration before giving you advice.
And last, but not least, handle with care.
Maintaining good hygiene is always important, but in the case of BARF it's downright necessary for you to follow these guidelines from the Pet Food Manufacturers' Association (PEMA):
- Only buy products that are in good condition. You should see no visible signs of damage to the packaging such as dents, tears, discolorations, etc.
- Wash your hands with hot water and soap after handling either your pet or their food.
- After each use, wash your pet’s bowls, dishes and utensils with soap and hot water, rinse properly and dry before the next use.
- Correctly store unsealed containers/open bags to limit any risk of cross-contamination.
- When storing pet food in the fridge ensure raw products are at the bottom. You can find the storage instructions on each package.
- When dry food is fed your dog will need more fresh drinking water but this should be available to all pets whatever type of food they eat.