Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sampling Raw Food

It's high time I posted about something besides cats... but what is there besides cats? Maybe tomorrow.

We know that our kitten Harry was raised on a raw diet, and I've had a packet of free raw samples in the freezer for months, since I was nervous about trying them. Our vet thinks raw food is dangerous. But it seems that canned food hasn't been agreeing too well with the little guy, and I've heard nothing but praise for raw diets from every "civilian" cat person who's talked to me about it. So I caved, and thawed some Primal human-grade raw turkey pellets, made from the whole bird, including bones, mixed with organic veggies and essential nutrients. I did it for Harry, who was both gassy and always hungry. But everyone wanted to try it, and they were all crazy about it.

Wendy and Possum pretend there's something exciting behind me,
hoping to distract me and my camera so I won't see what they do next.

Wendy plays the lady card and muscles in on Harry. Harry is a gentleman.

Possum muscles in. They always swap bowls at mealtime so I can't worry about the hygiene of this.

Wendy uses her paw to get every bit. A week ago, she wouldn't come near Harry
and was very hissy. Now they eat and play together.

Harry is no longer gassy; it could be because last week's parasite treatment worked, or it could be that Wellness Core agrees with him, since we're feeding that, too. (Everyone hates EVO and they aren't fond of most of the other canned brands we're sampling.) But they LOVE raw. They lick their paws forever after the bowl is empty. They lick the floor clean. And I see the appeal.

But it's a dilemma, weighing the vet establishment's fear of raw food against the glowing, zealous endorsements of every cat person I've ever talked to who feeds raw food. 

It's true that cats are generally living much longer lives these days, especially if they are kept indoors. We can thank veterinary science for this, and I believe that the improved quality of "nutritionally complete" foods — even bargain-priced supermarket brands — has played a role, too. But too many cats still develop thyroid disease, renal failure, and cancers like lymphoma. What's causing those? How can we try to prevent them? We can't control environmental factors like air pollution, or genetic predisposition, but we can control what goes into cats' bodies: food, water, vaccines, and litter.

There's a growing list of reasons not to feed kibble — cheap, crappy, highly processed ingredients; not enough moisture, so dry food is thought to stress the kidneys and urinary tract; too many carbs, since cats primarily need animal protein but vegetables like sweet potatoes are cheaper ingredients; too much grain, since cats have trouble digesting it; chances of its being stale or rancid despite its long expiration dates and preservatives. And my own particular reason — guilt, since Snicky and Snalbert ate only  Science Diet kibble until they were into their teens, because our vets told us it was good and I was oblivious. Eventually we all got smarter and the cats ate a combination diet of mostly canned food, which has a much higher water content and more animal protein. But both of those beloved cats developed chronic renal failure. 

There's another more reason drawing me towards raw food: common sense. Would I eat a diet that came from cans and bags exclusively? I eat very little that comes out of such packaging besides granola, dried pasta, and cranberry sauce. Eating a diet loaded with highly processed and preserved food is unhealthy for any mammal. Feeding it to the cats doesn't feel right.

While raw food can be contaminated with bacteria, my conscience has been telling me for some time that I should be at least equally afraid of what's in those little cans and kibble bags, given the melamine disaster of a few years ago and last spring's extensive salmonella recall, which included brands I'd chosen after doing research. Healthy cats, having short digestive tracts, are supposed to be less affected by bad bacteria than humans are, so there's probably more risk from raw food for us than for them. Lots of hot water, soap, and hand-washing are necessary when feeding raw.

One final reason, I promise: raw food is food. As in Michael Pollan's rule for a healthy diet: "Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much." (For cats, change "plants" to "birds and mammals.") I don't need my cats' food to look appetizing to me.* I never fell for Fancy Feast's silly Elegant Medleys line, with flavors that sound like restaurant entrĂ©es. But I do want my cats' food to look like food. Raw food does. Canned food, not so much. One day, in Maine, I was thrilled to watch Ruby eating an entire bird she'd caught, except for the claws. Raw food is pretty close to that ideal feline diet. 

Despite all this self-convincing, I'm not yet ready to feed an exclusively raw diet. We'll take it gradually and feed a variety of high-protein, grain-free canned foods along with raw, at least for now. Our freezer is tiny, so we can't store a lot of frozen food. It's also simpler to feed canned food in the morning when we're running around getting ready for the day. But the writing is on the wall... and it's in quail, rabbit, and turkey blood. 


*Well, I do sort of fantasize about eating Weruva's Paw Lickin' Chicken with a spoon. It's shredded chicken breast, mmm.

5 comments:

  1. PB - I know you likely don't want to hear this, but I am totally against raw, for cats or dogs. I've heard too many horror stories of people who lost beloved pets as a result of raw diets. So tread carefully. But, I (and the 4) are interested in knowing about the high protein, no grain canned food you're trying. I do agree can is better for cats than kibbles, albeit harder on humans, at least first thing in the morning.

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  2. Oh, please, tell me more! I'm trying to collect as much information as possible, and I'd love to know what you've heard. I know that some raw diets, esp. in the past were not complete, but the newer formulas have all kinds of added nutrients, including taurine. But if you've heard about contamination in such brands, I'd be very grateful to know!

    We're feeding Wellness CORE, which is high-protein, low-carb and suitable for all ages. EVO 95 is another good brand, but none of the cats care for it. I can give you my list if you like.

    Thanks for telling me!

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  3. PB: Yes, there has been contamination in raw diets (my experience involved a dog breeder who lost more than one expensive dog), but unfortunately I don't know which brands. And, there have been taurine issues in cats, serious enough to lead to heart failure in young animals. What bothers me is the need for supplementation, which already argues against the supposed virtue of raw diets, and there isn't enough good science yet to back up feeding raw, although that may indeed change. Thanks for the info on the high protein cans - finding something all four will eat is a major challenge, though.

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  4. PB: kudos for this post, which is soundly reasoned and accords with the thinking of an increasing number of veterinarians (and doctors as well, in terms of thinking about human diets).

    I could say much about this topic, but we all tend to over-rely on our own experiences, good and bad. And as with most issues, it's more complex than we might first think, and becoming well-informed is key. So I will share a thoughtful veterinarian's perspective. Here's an article Dr. Karen Becker posted about the AVMA's recent decision to recommend against feeding raw:

    http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2012/09/12/avma-against-raw-food-diet.aspx

    (It turns out that the reason for the recommendation was that raw food for pets is thought to be more dangerous for HUMANS (!). )

    And, just as all canned foods are not the same quality, not all raw diets are the same, either: http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2012/06/06/raw-food-diet-of-pets.aspx

    Here's an excellent guide to choosing great quality food for dogs or cats, whether raw, canned, dehydrated raw, or (last and least) dry food:

    http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2011/05/10/my-top-3-pet-food-picks-from-an-upscale-boutique-shop.aspx

    For the record, with my dogs I ended up where you are: I used a combination of high-quality canned food, some raw, and lots of home-cooked food. I know people who have had amazing experiences using just raw food--including great improvements in behavior from when the pet was on dry kibble. Perhaps one of the reasons little Harry has been such a delightful personality is that he was nurtured with raw food! (The real test will be if Wendy starts coming out of her shell more if you introduce a little raw food into her diet...)

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  5. My vet is extremely PRO raw diet. I am constantly meeting people in his waiting room with their dogs or cats whose tummy or allergy problems have disappeared on raw diets.

    Yes - more care and scrupulous cleanliness is involved. Mostly for the sake of the humans involved. :)

    I happen to live near a "pet deli" that makes freshly ground and mixed raw foods - I've used it before but had mixed results with a picky eater.

    My previous Madison was on-and-off a raw diet (she got sick, at which point I fed her ANYTHING she would eat), and I haven't put the current love of my life on raw, mostly out of my own laziness.

    However, when I was at my vet's office last week he gave me a a sample of Stella & Chewy's Chick Chick Chicken Dinner - it's freeze-dried raw that you mix with a little warm water. Easy. I've been trying it with Lyra as a little treat in the afternoon, hoping to eventually make it the major part of her diet. (She's been eating Wellness canned with a little lightly cooked and ground chicken mixed in.)

    There are all sorts of information sources and groups (try yahoo groups - some of those people practically set live mice loose in their homes twice a day - the ultimate raw diet) out there. In the end you just have to decide what works best for you and yours. Although imho, raw does seem to be the most natural and obvious way to go.

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