Raw Diets – Homemade or off the shelf?

Raw foods are popular with pet owners and they can be commercially prepared, or they can be prepared at home.

There is a growing body of information available regarding companion animal nutrition. We know some pet owners enjoy preparing foods for their beloved pets and a raw food diet allows pet owners the opportunity to create a meal from ingredients typically found in human diets, such as meat and bones, vegetables, fruit and some grains. The idea is that raw food diets mimic the types of foods and diets that dogs may have eaten in the wild and therefore be more in line with what their pet ‘truly’ needs.

The reality is that pets require a suite of nutrients in order to be fit and healthy. Properly formulated diets may be nutritionally appropriate however in the case of raw diets, this normally requires pet owners follow strict advice from a veterinarian or qualified animal nutritionist in preparing a homemade raw diet. Alternatively, owners can purchase a complete and balanced commercially prepared raw diet.

Australian Standard AS5812 requires commercial complete and balanced diets to be manufactured to meet the nutritional requirements for cats and dogs as described in either the AAFCO nutritional profile or the FEDIAF nutritional profile. This ensures they contain all the essential nutrients identified for either puppies and kittens, or adult dogs and cats. Homemade raw diets often miss this level of nutritional completeness[1][2][3]. Where a raw diet isn’t complete and balanced animals can experience developmental, growth or other health conditions such as:

  • Skeletal and developmental defects in puppies[4]
  • Taurine deficiency in heart muscle in kittens (on raw rabbit diets)[5]
  • Hyperthyroidism in dogs fed diets that included raw beef gullet [6]

The most common nutritional deficiencies in homemade diets for dogs are zinc, choline, vitamin D, Copper, EPH + DHA, Vitamin E and Calcium3. In Cats deficiencies include Choline, iron, thiamine, zinc, Manganese, vitamin E, Copper, Folic Acid, Calcium and vitamin D[7].

The bacterial risks associated with feeding raw diets can be seriously underestimated, for your pet and to you. The risks are more often linked with raw meat diets[8] than with thermally processed foods. Preparation of raw meat and ingredients for pets is no different than if you were preparing for yourself. Do not serve old ingredients past their use by date, ensure your hands, preparation surfaces and their bowl are clean before feeding, and don’t leave the food out if it is not being eaten. If you intend to feed the remainder at a later time, you should refrigerate to below 3 deg C, in a sealed container and not kept longer than a few days.

[1] Dillitzer, N., Becker, N., &Kienzle, E. (2011) Intake of minerals, trace elements and vitamins in bone and raw food rations in Adult dogs. British Journal of Nutrition, 106 S53-S56.

[2] Freman, L.M., & Michael, K.E. (2001). Evaluation of raw food diets for dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 242, 1500-1505

[3] Stockman, J., Fascetti, A.J., Kass, P.H., & Larsen, J.A. (2013). Evaluation of recipes of home prepared maintenance diets for dogs, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 254 (10), 1172-1179.

[4] Taylor, M.B., Geiger, D.A., Saker, K.E., & Larson, M.M. (2009). Diffuse osteopenia and myelopathy in a puppy fed a diet composed of an organic premix and raw ground beef. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 234, 1041-1048.

[5] Hamper, B.A., Bartges,J.W., & Kirk, C.A. (2017) Evaluation of two raw diets vs a commercial cooked diet on feline growth. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 19(4), 424-434.

[6] Kohler, B., Stengel. C., & Neiger, R. (2012). Dietary hyperthyroidism in Dogs. Journal of Small Animal Practice, 53, 182-184.

[7] Wilson, S.A., Villaverde, C., Fascetti, A.J., Larsen, J.A., (2019) Evaluation of the nutritional adequacy of recipes for home prepared maintenance for cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 254 (10), 1172-1179. doi:10.2460/javma.254.10.1172

[8] Hellgren, J., Hästö, L.S., Wikström, C., Fernström, L, & Hansson, I, (2019) Occurrence of Salmonella, Camplyobacter, Clostridium and Enterobacteriaceae in raw meat-based diets for dogs. Veterinary Record, 184, 442