A Rebuttal to CVMA & PHA Joint Position Statement Concerning Raw Food Diets for Pets
by Dakota Bawden-Tutte, BA, DipEd
This email, below, arrived in my inbox:
Many thanks for the help fitting Grover with a training collar and especially the buffalo sample that you gave him yesterday. He could not eat if fast enough! The raw food diet is an attractive concept, however I was concerned when I read the position statement from the Canadian Veterinary Association on raw diets (below). I wonder how you would respond to the position they take?
Many thanks, D.E.
My response is as follows:
Thank you for your email. I’m glad your little one enjoyed the sample raw food diet. I have been researching and feeding the raw prey diet for over a decade now and have yet to see any adverse effects in my dogs. In fact, it was my cat that most profoundly showed me the health-giving properties of the raw diet. At the age of 18, having been fed a ‘high-grade’ kibble and canned food diet all her life, she showed signs of severe illness: low energy, crystals in her urine, hyperthyroidism, and instability in her back legs that prevented her from walking up and down stairs. Veterinarian advice depleted, my partner and I decided to see if the raw food diet would ‘help’ in any way. (My dogs had been on the raw diet for about 2 years at the time.) We started her off on raw ground bison mixed with heart and liver – she loved it! And not only did she love her new food, but that raw food actually seemed to help her. Within weeks, her coat became shiny and soft again, her appetite returned (with gusto), and her overall strength improved to the point that she was able to easily negotiate stairs again. And the best part: she lived 3 more years in so much better health. Veterinary ‘science’ would say that all this is just ‘anecdotal’ evidence. But the anecdotal evidence just keeps piling up in favour of feeding our dogs and cats a biologically appropriate diet: raw, not cooked/dehydrated.
Fortunately, there are more and more veterinarians who are proponents of feeding the raw diet; indeed, some of them actually buy their pet food from our store, True Carnivores.
Below, I have reproduced the joint position paper you sent to me from the CVMA and PHAC. I have added my own research/rational below each section. Hopefully this rebuttal will help to answer some of your questions concerning the advantages of feeding the raw diet, and the disadvantages of feeding a cooked, dehydrated, grain-based food. If you have more questions do not hesitate to contact me.
Sincerely, Dakota, BA Honors, Teaching Certification
Owner: True Carnivores the Raw Food Store for Cats & Dogs
Author: Raw Food Rocks and The Real Poop On Pet Food – True Confessions of a Raw Feeder
Note: all bold-faced type and highlights are mine.
Note their word choices: “believe” and “potential” concerning any health risks. ‘Believe’ does not equal FACT; belief is not the same as knowledge. And “potential” does not equal ‘that it will happen’ if other considerations are taken. But, unfortunately, it does give opportunity to cause alarm, whether or not that alarm is warranted.
Many vets view the main ‘health risks’ of feeding a raw diet to be salmonella and e-coli. However, one of their own, Dr. Donald R. Strombeck, DVM, PHD, and author of: The Healthful Alternative to Commercial Pet Food states: “if salmonella really is a problem, then we should be just as concerned with processed pet food”. He states that “Salmonellae has been found in commercial pet foods, something the public never learns”. Another noted and well published veterinarian, Dr. R. Wysong writes about the early Eskimos and their ability to thrive on a raw meat diet:
When native Eskimos were first observed and studied they were said to have a degree of physical excellence rarely found in any other race. They were robust, happy, had beautiful and straight teeth, sturdy bones, were well muscled and had incredible endurance and resistance against astonishing climactic conditions. They were a testament to what nature could do without the interference of modern food machinery.
They ate salmon and other fish, seal oil, fish eggs, caribou, nuts gathered by mice and squirrels, kelp, berries, blossoms, grass, the stomach contents of caribou, the organs of large sea mammals and the various layers of whale skin. They also hunted rabbits, muskrats, polar bear, foxes and migrant birds. The name Eskimo means eater of raw fish. When they ate animals, they ate everything raw, including the fat, kidneys, brains, crushed bones and marrow. They ate wild fowl eggs in season, including developing embryos…
It is only when the Eskimos began to be touched by modern civilization, first by the Russians and then by the Americans after the purchase of Alaska by the U.S. in 1867, that Eskimo health began a dramatic decline.
On his website, Dr. Wysong even lists the hunted, raw prey diet as the ‘best/ideal’ foods for dogs and cats. He lists dry food, including his company’s own brands, as only 7 out of 10, 1 out of 10 being the ideal.
Ironically, and tragically, it has been the veterinarians own ‘favoured’ foods that have recently been the ‘health risks’: consider the many brand name pet foods recalled due to tainted ingredients.
First of all, if there is ‘little scientific evidence’, then, by default, they agree that there is some scientific evidence to support the efficacy of these raw diets.
But why is there such a lack of scientific evidence? I believe that one reason is because the Multi-National Pet Food Companies don’t want to proceed with expensive studies that they can’t ultimately make money on. Raw food has a relatively short shelf-life, and then perishes – as it should. It is live, not dead, highly preserved food.
Another reason: most of the major pet foods are owned by the ‘human food’ conglomerates like Proctor and Gamble (owns Iams and Eukanuba), Colgate-Palmolive (owns Science Diet), and Nestles (who owns Fancy Feast, Alpo, Friskies, Dog Chow, Cat Chow, Puppy Chow, Kitten Chow, Beneful, One, ProPlan, Tender Vittles, Purina Veterinary Diets). And, as the Animal Protection Institute suggests:
Pet food provides a convenient way for slaughterhouse offal, grains considered “unfit for human consumption,” and similar waste products to be turned into profit. This waste includes intestines, udders, heads, hooves, and possibly diseased and cancerous animal parts.
However, there have been a few long-term studies on raw versus cooked pet foods, one of which was done by Dr. Francis Pottenger. As veterinarian Dr. Jean Hofve writes: “A ten-year study on some 900 cats, conducted by Dr. Francis J. Pottenger, Jr., M.D., clearly and abundantly documented the benefits of raw foods and the devastating effects of cooked and processed foods.
And then there is the study in Stockholm:
Dr. Kollath, of the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, headed a study done on animals. When young animals were fed cooked and processed foods they initially appeared to be healthy. However, as the animals reached adulthood, they began to age more quickly than normal and also developed chronic degenerative disease symptoms. A control group of animals raised on raw foods aged less quickly and were free of degenerative disease.
In a relatively new website: The Many Myths of Raw, the writer suggests that long term scientific studies are actually quite ‘lacking’ concerning the efficacy of processed pet foods:
This ‘no scientific research’ declaration is a cop-out claim that has been used to “debunk” raw diets and suppress the truth. But one must realize that there is NO evidence whatsoever to prove that kibbled, processed foods are good for your pets. The only research that has been done into processed foods was performed to see a) if dogs could be fed a grain-based food, b) if dogs could survive acceptably on these processed foods for a short period of time, c) if X brand of food can do such-and-such for the dog (help with kidney disease, help with diabetes, help with obesity), and d) if X brand of food is “better” (more palatable, better liked, less total stool volume, etc.) than Y brand of food. No research has been done to determine the long-term effects of feeding kibble, nor to determine if it is actually healthy for your dog (it is just assumed healthy because it has passed a 6 month feeding trial, and then manufacturers falsely advertise their product as healthy.)…
There is a lack of “scientific” evidence in the form of research studies on raw diets. Why? Well, who is going to pay for an extensive research study on raw diets when the evidence may be damning?
Historically, there are volumes of evidence to support the raw diet: just take a peek at evolution. Look at how the animals have survived for thousands of years on hunting, killing, and eating their prey raw. Some skeptics say that dogs and cats didn’t live very long in the wild – but the fact that they are still with us, after all these years, is a testament (yea, even historically scientific) to the fact that raw prey diets kept them going all these years as a viable species!
On a further note, veterinarian, lecturer and author of Give Your Dog A Bone, Dr. Ian Billinghurst writes:
“Unfortunately nobody has tried to disprove the theory that biologically appropriate evolutionary diets are the best way to feed dogs. Nor have they tried to disprove the theory that commercial dog foods are the best way to feed dogs. What they have done is assume that commercial foods are the best way to feed dogs and assume that biologically appropriate diets are inferior. There have been no scientific trials to confirm either point of view. A patently ridiculous situation. But nothing in life is perfect.
My question to them is: who feeds you your data and evidence? I mean, for over 10 years now, I personally have been feeding my 2 dogs a raw prey diet, and it is only the BENEFITS, not the risks that I am seeing. And there are the over 5,000 four-legged dogs and cats who visit our store that have their owners exuberantly testifying to the increase in health they see when switching them over to raw.
[Some of those benefits include: clean teeth, fresh breath, less or no fleas, reduction in arthritic symptoms, no more doggy odor (raw fed dog’s don’t ‘stink’ – they smell fresh!)]
And thank goodness many more vets now ‘perceive’ the benefits of feeding raw. Even in the Canadian Veterinary Journal, October 2003, two veterinarians published their paper entitled: ‘In support of bones and raw food diets’. They state:
“In our practice, we support owners who feed bones and raw food (BARF) and other raw meat diets. Sometimes we recommend home-prepared diets, which some owners elect to feed raw. We are comfortable and confident in doing this, because we have educated ourselves in canine and feline nutrition”.
I believe that many vets have not bothered to educate themselves concerning the raw food diet. Why not? Partly because the ‘status quo’ is comfortable – and very lucrative I might add! One sales rep (for a dry pet food) told me that even if it were proved that dry food is “potential” poisoning our pets, he would continue to feed it (to his pets) because it was so convenient and cheap. He also went on to say that working for this particular company gave him a good salary and lots of opportunities to travel, and he wasn’t willing to give either up.
But keeping your pet on a lifetime of dry or canned commercial foods is more danger-laden then ever:
Commercial pet foods are riddled with contaminants from bacteria, fungi and their toxic metabolic by-products, to euthanasia drugs and antibiotics. Studies have shown that bacteria could be cultured from every dry food tested, and bacterial endotoxins were present in every tested food, indicating significant bacterial contamination prior to processing.
Now they are saying: So IF you do decide to recommend raw, then beware of the ‘”potential” liabilty’. In view of the recent deaths of pets due to the tainting of commercial pet foods that the pet food companies have always touted as safe and 100% balanced, vets need to be more concerned about the ‘”potential” liability’ of commercial pet foods than raw meat.
And their belief in ‘illness due to pathogens’ resides in the questionable veracity of the ‘germ theory’: do germs make us sick, or, do we get sick due to a weakened immune system that allows the germs entrance. In his last days, Pasteur believed it to be the latter:
On his deathbed in 1895 he said: The pathogen is nothing. The terrain is everything.
So the theory underpinning our entire medical model was denounced by its founder before he died. But his denouncement came too late to stop the medical-industrial complex, which was taking shape at just that time. These moneyed interests, essentially a cartel, formed the American Medical Association to destroy the homeopathic medical profession, which was and is dedicated to just the terrain of which Pasteur spoke. Now a trillion-dollar-a-year business, the industry has more than enough resources, money and power to fund the educations of our next crop of doctors and epidemiologists, who in turn populate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and all the top research institutions.
However, since the Germ is so profitable, the medical world has written off his final statements as the madness of a dying man.
Well that makes a lot of sense to educate pet owners concerning proper hygiene around raw foods for their pets. Similar to the advice you’d give to anyone handling raw meats, etc. that they’ve chosen to prepare for their own meals.
Not if you look into history. In fact, kibble is a relatively recent trend:
Believe it or not, dog food has not always controlled an entire aisle in your local grocery store. The use of bagged and canned foods became popular in the United States after World War II.
Before that, most people fed their dogs what was available including left-overs, scraps of food, and some times inexpensive cuts of meat from the local butcher – another artifact of the past. In 1860, the first processed dog food was introduced by James Spratt, of Cincinnati, Ohio who developed a biscuit made of wheat, beet root, vegetables and beef blood. The name of this new product was Spratt’s Patent Meat Fibrine Dog Cakes.
The idea for special food for dogs gained popularity as mill operators and slaughter houses found dog food to be a good market for their by-products. Since many of these meat sources were non-human grade, the practice became common to mix these with the grains and cook them together for many hours or days to kill bacteria and disease. The final mix was then formed into pellets that were easily bagged for convenience of feeding.
When Western medicine was born, it was wrapped in swaddling ‘scientific theory’. Anything that cannot be scientifically proven is suspect. In the Wellness Directory of Minnesota™, a group of visiting western physicians’ reactions to first witnessing a surgical procedure that used no anesthesia, only acupuncture in China is described:
When a group of touring physicians witnessed a lung resection using only acupuncture as the anesthesia, do you know what they concluded? You and I would have jumped up and down with the discovery of this wonderful procedure, however, the medical community admitted only that this was something that had to be studied. Only Western arrogance could possibly poo poo this three thousand year old medical procedure. In the West, there are rigorous methodologies a scientist must use to prove something. In the West, we are very paranoid, for we cannot accept any proof whatsoever from the Orient, without subjecting it to our rigorous methods. This is nonsense (it is a waste of time), for the simple fact that: If something does not work, it does not last three thousand years… Well, when you consider that the subtle energies the Chinese have known for centuries (earth and heaven energies) are just today being discovered (and renamed) by our physicists, what do you think? Skeptics point to Science as the foundation of reason. Science is the only true way, the only constant. That’s nice. Then why is it that this Science that produces our medicines, tests our medicines, and prescribes our medicines, determines every ten years that 50% of our medicines should be taken off the market and replaced by new medicines? In Chinese medicine, the only constant is change, and yet little has changed over the centuries in their concepts of human health care. Why? Because it works.
Please note that ‘peer-reviewed’ studies are not the same as scientific proof. Even the American Medical Association agrees that: “PEER REVIEW is not perfect, and when it is done sloppily, journals publish research that is flawed. Even when peer review is rigorous, flawed research sometimes gets into the literature”.
As for zoonotic infectious (diseases which can be naturally passed from animals to humans, and vice versa), there are a myriad of animals capable of facilitating this passage, including: bats, cats, dogs, horses, mosquitoes (West Nile Virus), raccoons, rodents, and fish. And then there is the risk of contaminated vegetables, like the spinach scare of September 2006. Need I go on?
Although their statements are always couched in the ubiquitous word “potential”, I believe that they are doing nothing more than scaremongering. Plain and simple:
To acquire a zoonotic (animal-to-man) infection is not all that easy, if one takes a few simple, common-sense precautions. Freezing meat before preparing, and using food-grade hydrogen peroxide or grape seed extract, are effective techniques for controlling bacterial contamination of meat. These are outlined in many books and articles.
Again, in The Many Myths of Raw, it states:
As for dogs shedding bacteria in their feces: do not eat dog poo and wash your hands after feeding your dogs or cleaning up after them. Handle the raw meat you feed your dogs the same way you handle your own raw meat (which can get you sick if you eat it raw or do not clean up well enough afterward; do the experts really think that people are not smart enough to figure out that they should wash their hands and countertops after preparing raw meaty bones for their dogs? Apparently so). If you have kids, teach the children not to eat dog poo and clean up immediately after your dog, and you will not need to worry. Bacteria is absolutely everywhere. You are just as likely, if not more likely, to get sick from your produce or a strange bathroom. You do not need to worry about the dog tracking bacteria through the house; there is plenty of bacteria throughout the house anyway, so any additional bacteria a raw-fed dog might add is negligible. Thousands of people – even immuno-compromised people – feed their dogs raw with no bacteria issues and with stronger immune systems as a result.
I leave the final remarks to veterinarian Jean C. Hofve, who, in 1998, wrote:
I did not always feed my own animals this way. I used to feed those cleverly advertised national brands because my pets loved them. Well, I love Fritos, but that doesn’t make them good for me! Then, as I learned a little bit more, and especially after one of my cats developed chronic cystitis, I changed to one of those premium brands carried by the local veterinarian. Years later, after I figured out that even those veterinarian-recommended foods had some very serious problems, I decided that it would be a very good compromise to feed a variety of the “health-food” brands, those that contained no animal or meat by-products and no chemical preservatives. My animals’ health visibly improved on this plan. I was thrilled. Then I added digestive enzymes, and saw another increase in coat quality and energy. My oldest cat recently died at well over 20 years of age, and up until the end, she was running up and down the stairs – but believe me, it must have been good genes, because my ignorance about food never did a thing for her! Only since researching the problems of commercial pet food have I converted to raw foods as the primary nutrition for my pets. I did this reluctantly – it takes time and resources, and not only am I lazy, I don’t have a big freezer! I was also a little concerned about my two-year old cat, Marcus, who a client of mine found abandoned in an alley, seriously ill, as a 3-week old kitten. I was not certain his immune system was up to the challenge. In our clinic, however, we have supplemented raw meat to our clinic residents as well as many sick cats for over 5 years, and we have never seen a problem attributable to this practice. Many clients have reported improvements in their cats’ overall health, as well as remission of chronic health problems, by feeding home-prepared foods. So I took the plunge. My animals eat as well as I do (or better, since they are not addicted to Wendy’s!), and they look and feel great. Organic raw beef, in fact, has literally saved Marcus’s life on more than one occasion when he took a turn for the worse.
The Take-Home Message
What I found out about commercial pet food, my friends, absolutely terrified me. What’s worse, some of the problems are also spilling over into the human food chain. I won’t go into the horrors of factory farming, feedlots, and confinement operations, the unbelievable garbage fed to those unfortunate animals (including their own urine-soaked bedding and recycled feces), nor into the toxins poured on our farmlands as pesticides, fungicides, and “fertilizer”. People everywhere are turning to organic foods and non-toxic medical treatments for themselves – do our animal companions – who trust us utterly to provide for them – deserve any less? The pet food industry takes the dregs of the human food industry, and turns it into a multi-billion dollar, worldwide profit center. It’s no accident that most major pet food companies are subsidiaries of much larger business conglomerates. Waste products from a cereal factory can be turned into pet food, keeping all the profit “in the family”. While it is true that most commercial foods are “adequate” and will keep our pets alive, it does not necessarily follow that they provide “optimal” nutrition that will guarantee our animal companions vibrant good health and long life. And even those few courageous pet food companies, who are truly trying to produce a decent food at a reasonable price, suffer from the same problem as all pet foods – it’s all processed, “dead” food. If our pets stand any chance of a truly healthy life in a selfish, greedy and polluted world, we have to take responsibility for it. We have to get educated. Nobody else cares about our cats and dogs like we do. And it’s our consumer dollars that will force the long-overdue changes that have to occur in order to sustain this world. It’s up to us.
Suggested Reading Material
www.bornfreeusa.org: What really goes into pet food!
www.doberdogs.com: This site has ‘bags’ of information regarding brand name pet foods and their ingredients.
www.rawmeatybones.com: by Dr. Tom Lonsdale – great info; no holds barred
www.living-foods.com: Feed your Pet Raw Food And see your Vet bills drop! by Shirley Lipschutz-Robinson
www.shirleys-wellness-cafe.com: Lots! of good information
www.carnivora.ca: Carnivora: An informative website. True Carnivores uses many of their supplements and raw green tripe that’s ‘to die for!’ (read: dogs love it.)