Take a stroll down the pet food aisle of your favorite store and your eyes will take in every imaginable color, a few cartoon characters and a lot of incredible claims. More than 3,000 brands of pet food fill the aisles and pet owners will spend about $18 billion to feed their pets each and every year.
But, high profile recalls, sick pets and corporate mistrust have moved a small number of pet owners to consider making their pets’ food at home, instead of buying it in a bag. An Internet search for “raw diets” brings up almost 3 million different results, many of which claim this sort of food is nutritionally superior to the commercially-prepared diets. Adding more fuel to the fire, advocates of homemade foods persist in claims that commercial diets, especially those with a high percentage of grain, are actually shortening the life span of our animals.
How many of these arguments are valid and which ones lack evidence? First, it is important to understand that all of the reports of increased energy and healthier pets are simply observations by the owners. Actual scientific evidence supporting these claims is non-existent. Another claim that is used by raw food advocates is that dogs and cats can’t digest grains, especially the corn and wheat ingredients found in many commercial diets. But evidence shows dogs use these cooked grains as effectively as other carbohydrate sources.
Perhaps the biggest reason many pet owners opt for preparing their pets’ meals is a mistrust of the corporations formulating the dry foods. Although recalls have happened occasionally and pets have become sick, the reality of the situation is that the vast majority of commercial diets are not only safe, they also provide an optimum level of nutrition, helping out pets live full and healthy lives.
So, is one type of diet actually better than another?
The answer to that question is complex and should always involve a discussion with your veterinarian. Raw diets, for all their purported benefits, do come with significant risks. If you do choose to use a homemade or raw diet, talk with your veterinarian and use an approved veterinary nutritional site, like BalanceIt.com. Many raw diets run the risk of salmonella or E. coli infection much like undercooked meat does for humans. Also, remember that many pet food companies have decades of experience, research and testing, proving the effectiveness and safety of their diets.
Looking forward, science may give us an answer to this ongoing and very passionate debate. But, for now, your best source of advice is not an online forum or manufacturer’s website with products to sell, but rather you should put your trust in your veterinarian.