Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Optimal Pet Nutrition & the Raw Food Debate

-- Feature: Progressive Pet w/Andrew Frishman, D.V.M--

Recently my clients have many questions regarding the recent “pet food” recalls. One of the most common questions I hear is, “ I don’t trust any of the commercial diets on the market, is it true that it is better to just feed your pet an all raw food diet?

I am a veterinarian, but first and foremost I consider myself a scientist. My job is to interpret information and make an objective, unbiased conclusion. The raw vs. commercial food controversy has strong opinions both for and against . In the following paragraphs I will present to you both “schools of thought” regarding this ongoing pet food debate.


  • A raw diet recreates the way our pet's ancestors have eaten in the wild for thousands of years. Dogs and cats are carnivores. Left to their own devices, their typical daily diet, like that of their wild cousins (wolves and the big cats), would involve catching (or finding) and eating another animal. A raw diet returns our pets to this more natural form of nutrition, as if they had hunted and caught their "perfect" dinner.
  • When a carnivore eats an herbivore (plant and grass eating animal) like a rabbit or a deer, the carnivore eats some meat, some bone, some organ meats (liver, heart, kidney, etc.), and a small amount of green vegetation contained in the herbivore's digestive tract. These ingredients are the four main food groups of a good raw diet.
  • There is a growing belief that dogs and cats need a raw, natural diet in order to be healthy and that commercial pet foods cannot supply the nutrients necessary for good health and a long life. An overabundance of the wrong ingredients may serve to satisfy a hungry pet, but they may also contribute to long-term health problems.
Here's what raw-feeding pet owners around the world see in their raw-fed pets:
o Shinier, healthier skin and coats
o Cleaner teeth and fresh breath
o Better weight control
o Improved digestion
o Reduction of allergy symptoms
o Harder, smaller, less smelly stools
o More energy and stamina
o Decrease in abnormal hyperactivity
o Increased mobility in older animals
o Reduced or eliminated need for veterinary dental work

Dogs and Cats: They are NOT humans. They have a very different digestive tract and process. For example, we can eat all the onion we want without harm, but some dogs can get anemic from a single, small portion of them. We can eat a pound of baker's chocolate and merely get fat or nauseous, while dogs can die from even a lesser amount. We can get very sick from raw meat, while our pets thrive on it as their natural diet. Again, they are NOT human.

Dogs and cats have a shorter digestive system than we do, which means that foods are processed quickly -- before harmful bacteria have a chance to multiply and cause problems. Also, carnivores have a very high level of acidity in their digestive systems. This high acidity, which allows them to process raw meats and bones, is also hostile to bacteria. We’ve all seen dogs eat true garbage (rotten foods, decaying squirrel carcasses, etc.) without any ill effects. Nature did not evolve carnivores to eat a diet that would kill them. And remember, we aren’t suggesting you feed spoiled, contaminated foods. A raw food diet consists of good quality; USDA inspected and approved meats and bones

  • There is not enough adequate scientific research done on raw food diets in domesticated animals. All of the information on raw food diets is anecdotal evidence and faith based. Of the few scientific studies done food born pathogens were shown to be a major risk for both humans and the pets being fed raw diets. A study in Canadian Veterinary Journal concluded that diets prepared on the raw meaty bones principle were found to be at high risk (80% of sampled diets) of containing Salmonella. Dogs fed these diets had a 30% risk of shedding Salmonella in their feces, presenting risk to their owner’s health.
  • The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association concluded bacterial contamination is common in commercially available raw meat diets, suggesting that there is a risk of food born illness in dogs fed these diets as well as possible risk for humans. Households with small children or immuno-suppressed geriatric individuals or pregnant / nursing mothers should avoid raw food.
  • I have personally treated dogs with chronic diarrhea that are eating raw food diets, that tested positive for salmonella.Veterinary reproductive and pediatric specialists have noted a number of litters that are either aborted or die soon postpartum were salmonella is the culprit. Without exception the female dogs / “ bitches” are on a raw diet.
  • In addition, if you look into Chinese (food ) diet therapy, raw food will weaken or “stress” certain individuals predisposed to digestive difficulty.


  • There are so many “feeding plans”/ recipes out there, and that without ongoing monitoring and guidance, people come up with their own plans anyway. They are almost always 100% nutritionally inadequate.
  • Commercial diets are convenient, balanced and prepared.
  • Prescription diets are designed and balanced nutritionally by veterinary nutritionist to cure specific disease.
  • Food and Drug Administration testing found that wheat gluten imported from china was contaminated with a chemical used in the manufacture of plastics. The FDA has confirmed about 15 pet deaths, and anecdotal reports suggest hundreds of cats and dogs may have died.
  • Many commercial pet foods contain by products, artificial preservatives, colors, and flavors.

I am convinced that the benefits that raw food advocates rave about are related to the higher quality ingredients in some raw diets that make the difference. This being said then a properly supplemented, home cooked balanced diet is ideal.

My studies in Chinese medicine have taught me that every individual pet has a “constitution” or predisposition. There is no one “perfect diet” for every dog. Diets have to be individualized to each specific animal on a case by case basis.

Many common foods are not safe for pets, including salt, garlic, onions, grapes and chocolate.

I encourage clients to consult their veterinarian to come up with the safest option that is a balanced diet correct for their individual animals needs.

Andrew Frishman is a contributing columnist of The LOHASIAN. His column, The "The Progressive Pet" explores integrative care for pets for the purpose of creating optimal wellness. Andrew received Bachelor of Arts degree in Behavioral Neuroscience from Lehigh University, where he decided to become a veterinarian. He went on to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. In addition to his regard for traditional veterinary care, Andrew also holds an avid interest in holistic health, in particular its effectiveness when used to enhance veterinary care especially in the case of treating chronic conditions.

Andrew Frishman became a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist by attending the Chi Institute, and earned a Certificate of Proficiency in Western Herbs from the Australian College of Phytotherapy. He also is one of the first veterinarians in Westchester-Putnam to offer Pulsed Signal Therapy to treat osteoarthritis and musculoskeletal disorder as well as genetic testing to identify and prevent disease and chronic age-related illness, particularly in breeds predisposed to specific maladies. In addition to his practice, Dr. Frishman is an Adjunct Professor at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., where he teaches domestic animal anatomy and comparative anatomy. He also provides veterinary services to keep classroom animals parasite- and infection-free at the Greenburgh Graham School, where his wife teaches special education.

For more information on Andrew Frishman and his veterinary practice at the Progressive Animal Hospital, go to www.progressive-vet.com

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