The ‘raw food’ debate is one that has been on my radar ever since I started my studies as a veterinarian in the United Kingdom, over 8 years ago. Since moving to South Africa in 2017, I have become increasingly aware of the rising number of clients opting out of feeding their pets conventional wet or dry food diets. Instead, many people are looking to feed their pets a raw diet, and more often than not, these clients look to vets as a source of information and guidance.
In my experience, while it’s fantastic for some, raw feeding is not for everyone. Animal nutrition is complex and better left to the experts. I regularly recommend veterinary associated commercial dog food brands to my clients. Brands that have spent many years, with entire teams of specialists, researching the exact quantities of each mineral, protein and vitamin that our furry friends require. In the past, my issue with raw feeding was that it often encouraged owners to take their animal’s nutrition into their own hands, with some choosing to home cook their food.
However, with the recent rise in reputable raw food brands, many of my clients are exploring their options and it would be naive for me to bury my head in the sand. So, I decided to give raw food a chance with Raw Love Pets by putting my own dog, Taco, on an 8-week long food trial.
This was in no way a scientific trial. The conclusions I have made from this experience are completely based on my personal opinion and all ‘evidence’ is anecdotal. I am not a nutritionist, just your regular run-of-the-mill, skeptical vet.
Taco is a 13-month-old, small crossbreed who sadly lost his left eye as a pup. He is generally healthy, other than having a condition called atopic dermatitis – a frustrating allergic condition that causes itching, poor coat/skin quality and can sometimes lead to secondary skin infections. At the beginning of the feeding trial, I had started Taco on treatment for this condition using a drug named Apoquel, and his symptoms were starting to reduce.
My first impression was that raw is not for the faint-hearted. To those with squeamish tendencies, this may not be the food for you, it really is in its most raw, ‘natural’ form. However, to my pleasant surprise, there were no bad smells associated with the food at all, something that can’t be said for many of the commercial dry or wet foods I have fed in the past. The second thing I noticed was how palatable this food was for my dog – Taco went crazy for it.
One of my main concerns throughout this whole process was feeding raw bones. As a vet, intestinal obstruction due to bone impaction is one of the most common complications we see from improper feeding. When I mentioned this, Raw Love were amazing. They recommended specific bones that would be safe for him to eat – we avoided any small bones such as venison or chicken that he might eat too quickly and choke on. The larger bones acted as a fantastic source of entertainment for him, and I could see he absolutely loved them. Fish were a particular favourite of Taco’s, and I’m sure the omegas helped enormously with his skin.
About two weeks into the trial I actually stopped treating Taco for his skin condition. His coat was looking amazing and his scratching had almost totally stopped. Atopic dermatitis can be a seasonal condition, and we were heading into winter, but I could really see an improvement in his coat quality and general demeanour already. His stools were much smaller and less frequent than when on kibble, and despite looking much leaner, he actually gained 1 kg by the end of the 8th week. During the entire trial Taco was a happy, healthy dog, with no diarrhoea, vomiting or any of the signs I expected to see on a raw food diet. His energy levels were up, he was loving his food and even other people were commenting on how well he was looking.
When I started Taco back on his regular dog food, it was only a matter of days before the scratching started again. I couldn’t quite believe it. The cynic in me blamed the change in weather or the fact that I wasn’t being objective enough, but all I can say is, it made a big enough difference that I am probably a Raw Love Pets convert from this day on.
Since starting the trial I have recommended that a few of my clients try raw feeding and have since put my other dog onto Raw Love as well. I am still very cautious about bones – and I urge people to be very careful about the bones they choose to feed their pets. Raw Love were great at discussing options with me, and they have some very useful information on their site.
Quite honestly, if you had asked me a year ago whether I would consider recommending a raw diet to one of my clients, I would have laughed. Now, I look forward to being able to have a balanced discussion with my clients, giving them fair information and the option to research for themselves.
DR SOPHIA MOOSA BVSC MRCVS