With the overwhelming amount of pet food choices available, choosing the right product for your pet can be extremely difficult. Many pet foods claim to be “all natural,” “organic,” or “grain-free,” but does this mean they are healthier options for our furry friends? Choosing a healthy diet for your pet is an important decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. That’s why our Best Friends Veterinary Clinic team is dedicated to helping you make the right choice. You may be tempted to feed your beloved pet a raw and grain-free diet, but we encourage you to opt for a safer, better balanced food. Before we get into the details, let’s review what raw and grain-free diets entail.

  • Raw pet food diets — These diets consist of uncooked foods, including meats, ground or whole bones, organ meats (i.e., liver or kidneys), eggs, fruits, and vegetables. You can prepare a raw diet from scratch at home, but many commercial raw pet foods are currently available—from fresh, refrigerated foods, to raw frozen products, to dehydrated preparations. Raw diets are a popular choice among pet owners who believe their domesticated pets should consume a diet similar to their descendants from thousands of years ago. 
  • Grain-free or exotic pet foods — Grain-free or BEG (i.e., boutique, exotic, grain-free) foods are manufactured without wheat, corn, rye, oat, millet, or other grains, and often are rich in potatoes and legumes, such as peas or lentils. The commercial availability of grain- and gluten-free diets is relatively new and increasingly popular, with many followers believing that corn and grain used in traditional pet foods provide little nutritional value and are simply used as “fillers.”

Raw and BEG diets may sound tempting, but here are three reasons why you should avoid these foods for your pet:

#1: Raw diets pose certain health hazards to your pet

The science is simple—cooking food helps reduce the bacterial contamination risk. Raw foods, especially meats, organs, and bones, are more likely to carry harmful bacteria such as Listeria spp, Salmonella spp, or Escherichia coli. These microorganisms can cause more than a little stomach upset—affected pets may experience severe vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, lethargy, and sometimes neurologic signs or death.

Raw food diets also generally don’t make the food-safety grade. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) highlights the risks associated with raw pet foods here, comparing the number of foods with bacterial contamination in raw and non-raw pet foods. Not surprisingly, raw pet foods had 15 to 32 times the number of bacterial contamination cases compared with traditional pet foods and treats. Not only can raw diets put your pet at risk, but when prepared or used in your home, they may also put your family in harm’s way. 

#2: Grain-free foods may be related to heart disease in dogs

The official verdict is still out on whether boutique and grain-free pet foods cause dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs, but the research shows a strong correlation. In 2018, the FDA opened an investigation into the potential link between DCM and foods high in legumes, many of which are labeled “grain-free.” While the organization has not yet identified a direct cause for the uptick in reported DCM cases, most affected pets had a history of consuming a grain-free diet or one rich in certain legumes with no known previous association with disease in pets. Until more definitive research proves otherwise, we prefer to err on the side of caution and avoid these pet diets—and we suggest you do the same. 

#3: Many raw and boutique foods may not be nutritionally sound

It’s easy to get caught up in fancy packaging and marketing slogans that claim certain pet benefits. But, in addition to the potential risks of raw and grain-free pet foods, they may not be nutritionally balanced. A properly researched and prepared commercial diet will follow the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines, which set standards for ingredients, product labels, feeding trials, and other analyses. Pet food brands like Hill’s, Purina, and Royal Canin are examples of reputable choices that adhere to AAFCO’s standards and work with veterinary nutritionists to create well-balanced, nutritionally sound pet foods. You can prepare a raw or grain-free diet at home that addresses all your pet’s nutritional needs, but you should get help from a veterinary nutritionist or a service such as BalanceIt.com to ensure your pet receives a balanced diet. 

At Best Friends Veterinary Clinic, we are dedicated to your pet’s health, which starts with excellent nutrition. We understand that each pet is unique and no diet is one-size-fits-all, so if you are unsure where to start when choosing your pet’s food, we’re here to help. Contact our veterinary team to set up a consultation.