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Choosing the best raw foods for your pets

For over a decade, I’ve been a strong advocate of feeding balanced raw diets. From a nutrition standpoint, for anyone or any animal, cleaner, fresher foods just make sense. How we got to the point that we accept hyper processed, synthetically supplemented carb rich and chemically preserved kibble as an appropriate ‘feed’ for our pets I’ll never know. I guess cost and convenience, like the trap we fell into in the ’50s and ’60s with all the processed, canned, and boxed foods that big corporations convinced us were good for our kids —things we wince at today.

Slowly, it seems, more and more people are starting to look at pet foods with the same cringe factor with which we look at things like canned spaghetti. Wondering why there are so many chemicals, preservatives, and rendered ingredients used; so many items that we cannot pronounce, nor do we understand the reason for their inclusion.

So, we look at the alternatives. Do we make our own pet food? Many people have been making their own baby food so they can control the source of the ingredients, and can be sure of how fresh and safe they are. Are balanced pet foods as easy to make as baby food? You’d like to think it would be even easier, but it is not.

Making your own raw dog food means trying to balance meat, fat, bone, and organs into a nutritionally complete meal. It can be done if you have the time, money, and expertise. There are plenty of calculators and apps for designing and auditing your recipe to make sure it is complete, but these can drive you crazy, trying to balance your bone content to optimize your phosphorous to calcium ratio, etc. There are completers and vitamin/mineral mixes, but most of them use artificial ingredients, so we’re back to chemicals and synthetics.

Just like there are balanced commercial dry and canned pet foods, there are professionally formulated commercial raw foods. Not all raw pet foods are balanced, though, and just because the butcher or a pet store slaps a “dog food” label on a bag does not mean it is balanced. We need to dig a little deeper.

Check the package for the ingredient list. If there isn’t one, pass. If it does not have even the basic protein/fat/moisture breakdown on it, pass (unless it refers you to a website where the nutritional information is listed). A complete nutritional analysis, like you would see on a dry or canned food, is preferred.

Look for the words “Balanced and complete” or “AAFCO” as these indicate a nutritionist was used to formulate the product to industry standards. Due to labelling standards, even if a food has been formulated by a nutritionist as balanced, a company may be forced to put “For occasional or supplemental feeding only” if it does not fall within the industry’s definitions of balanced or has not completed feeding trials or testing to verify balance. This does not mean these foods are not balanced, but that they should be used in conjunction with other products to ensure balance.

I always recommend using a variety of different foods, using different meats and different manufacturers. Even if each product is balanced and meets AAFCO standards, by using a variety you improve the nutritional opportunity. What your pet may not be able to utilize in one, it may find in another. One type of bone may be more digestible for your pet than another, and one meat may have nutrients more easily absorbed than another. Each manufacturer has a different nutritionist, with a different method for achieving balance, based on the ingredients they have access to. By using a variety, you have the best chance of hitting every nutritional need.

Pet food does not need to be rocket science, but it should make sense. Your pet’s digestive system was designed to utilize meat, bone, and organ for nutrition. And they never owned stoves. Using a food made from primarily those ingredients in its natural state just makes sense, right?