We love to spoil our pets! We want our cats and dogs to be happy, comfortable, and well-fed. How do we achieve that last one? Pet foods have become increasingly well-balanced and nutritious over the last few decades, but some pet owners go beyond buying excellent-quality pet foods.
You might have been on a fad diet that promises greater health in a more authentic way yourself, and you might be tempted to put your cat or dog on one too. What should you know about raw-meat based diets and vegetarian diets for cats and dogs?
Raw Meat: Dangerous For Your Pets And You
Pet owners who support feeding cats and dogs raw meat believe the practice has many benefits. They say a raw-meat based diet (RMBD) is closer to what the animal would be eating in nature, and that it helps the pet stay healthy — including giving it a thicker coat, stronger and cleaner teeth, and better breath. Indeed, your dog or cat might love any raw meats you offer. But beware: a RMBD is not all it's cracked up to be.
A new study just published in the Journal of American Veterinary Medicine notes that many pet owners believe raw-meat based diets are nutritionally superior, while previous research found that these diets are either too nutritious or not nutritious enough. Three other studies the researchers looked at found that dogs and cats might be able to digest raw meats more easily than commercial pet foods, but also that it is not clear whether this offers any health benefits.
It's certainly true that all commercial pet foods aren't created equally. My vet points out that some commercial cat foods are the feline equivalent of fast food outlets, while others are designed with cats' health needs in mind, and are easier on the kidneys. Still, it's unlikely that you'll find the same "harmful ingredients" that researchers found in raw-meat based diets in commercial pet foods. We are, of course, talking about bacteria.
The research team reveals that Salmonella, E. coli and Clostridium are found within raw-meat based diets offered to pets.
One study they looked at found that nearly half of the analyzed RMBDs contained salmonella, while another shockingly revealed that eight in ten home-prepared raw chicken samples contained this same bacterium. You already know that these bacteria can put you and your human family members in danger, but the research team also verified that these same pathogens can cause sickness in your cats and dogs too, and that they can even be fatal.
The conclusion? Lead researcher Dr Lisa Freedman says: "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 including raw meat in a pet's diet to review the scientific evidence."
Vegetarian And Vegan Cats And Dogs?
In short, it's best to stay away from raw meat. But some pet owners go to the other extreme of the spectrum and feed their cats and dogs vegetarian or even vegan diets. Both cats and dogs are definitely classified as carnivores, but PETA — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — disagrees. The organizations says: "The nutritional needs of dogs and cats are easily met with a balanced vegan diet and certain supplements."
We're talking about not talking about omnivores, but carnivores who need meat to stay healthy. What's wrong with feeding your cats and dogs a meatless diet? Vets warn that cats do especially poorly on vegetarian diets, because they can't harvest vitamin D from sunlight like humans can, and the vitamin D3 they require is exclusively found in meat sources. The vitamin D2 that comes from plants may be more dog-friendly, but even so it's terribly hard to get this diet just right.
Vegetarian diets for dogs and cats can further lead to deficiencies in vitamins and minerals including iron, calcium, and B vitamins. Important amino acids like taurine also need to come from meat sources, and not offering your furry friend meat can quickly mean his protein intake becomes far too low. Having said that, both cats and dogs may enjoy vegetables as a dietary supplement. Some commercial pet-food manufacturers produce vegetarian snacks for your pets, but you can also offer things like fresh carrots and apples.