Do you remember 40 years ago when the style of wearing baseball caps backwards spread around the world in a year? Ideas spread unseen, just like viruses do. Paleolithic diets for us and raw diets for dogs are one of this century’s social phenomena.  And just as there’s no sensible reason to have a baseball cap’s sun visor protect your neck rather than your eyes from glare, there’s no logical reason to feed your dog only a raw diet.

At the London Vet Clinic we don’t worry as much as some other vets do about raw diets except in certain circumstances. Good raw diets usually produce small amounts of fairly odour-free poop and we rarely see overweight raw food eaters but these benefits are not because the food is raw. They are because the food is not processed. Processed food often contains undigestible fibre, added the nutritionists tell us, for good gut health. Fibre certainly increases the bulk and the smell of dog poop. 

Some advocates of raw diets say that cooking or processing destroys digestive enzymes. That’s an odd statement because digestive enzymes  don’t arrive with food. They are secreted, mostly from the pancreas, into the intestines and digest food, regardless of whether it is raw or not. 

Almost all raw meat in the UK is contaminated by potentially harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and Campylobacter. While cooking kills these bacteria, some dogs that eat raw meat shed these germs in their faeces. The published estimate is that 30 percent of dogs that eat only raw food shed bacterial potentially dangerous to us. That’s why most referral animal hospitals ban feeding raw food diets while dogs or cats are hospitalized. It’s also why if anyone in your household is immune compromised you shouldn’t feed raw meat to your pet. By immune compromised I mean on chemotherapy, high doses of cortisone or is HIV positive.  

For cats, fresh meat (raw or cooked) is more digestible than dry food although whether that’s relevant to cat health is debatable. 

I feel comfortable giving my companions a mix of raw and cooked table food combined with (for my convenience) processed pet food. Peer-reviewed research published in February this year by the respected journal Nature, in their Scientific Reports, says that giving dogs table scraps and leftovers when they are youngsters, together with non-processed meat and berries and raw bones and cartilage improves their health by reducing their risk of developing chronic bowel diseases in adulthood.

Commercially produced pet food makes life simple for us. The largest companies employ skilled nutritionists to ensure their foods contain everything a dog or cat needs. 

Irritable bowel diseases (IBD) in humans and chronic bowel diseases in dogs share similarities. Both cause vomiting, diarrhoea, tummy rumbles, abdominal pain, nausea and weight loss all lasting longer than three weeks. These conditions in people and pets are related to interactions between microbes in the gut, food in the gut and the body’s immune system.

When researchers reviewed all the published clinical studies concerning irritable bowel diseases in people they found that people who ate diets high in ultra-processed foods and high in sugars were at the greatest risk of developing irritable bowel diseases. The Scientific Reports study of the eating habits of thousands of pet dogs in Finland revealed that dogs that as pups and adolescents ate table scraps, fresh raw or cooked meat, cartilage, bones and berries were less likely to develop chronic bowel diseases as adults. And conversely pups and adolescents that were fed only processed kibble were more likely to develop chronic bowel diseases as adults. Another risk factor for chronic bowel diseases was eating lots of rawhide chews as pups.

The role of microorganisms in the gut has become an exciting field to study. The gut’s microorganisms are modified by the food that reaches the gut. By giving dogs table scraps as pups we may influence their gut microorganisms in a positive and protective way. Raw or cooked is your choice. My choice is cooked meat with occasional raw beef bones for my pets’ healthy teeth and gums.

(If you would like professional advice on what you feed your companion please email and we’ll arrange a nurse’s consultation with you.)

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