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Finding alternatives to raw pet food

As anyone who reads this column knows, I love the raw food movement. The fact that using fresh, clean foods has become much more commonplace is both wonderful and amazing. The stories we hear about what raw feeding has done for pets is incredible, and the healthy, shiny, raw-fed pets are testament to the benefits.

I do understand, though, that there are those pet-owners who just can’t handle raw foods, and some pets which find raw foods unpalatable. So, we have been coming up with options for people that don’t want to feed highly processed and synthetically supplemented kibbles.

There are “fresh” pet foods showing up in grocery stores. While many people think these are “raw” foods, they really aren’t, and while some are better than kibble, many have other issues. Staying fresh while not frozen can be tricky, as they have a much shorter shelf-life, even unopened. Freezing is a much safer storage method.

Some people would like to cook the raw pet food they buy in a pet store. Most raw foods are not meant to be cooked, and cooking does change the nutrition and can make what was a balanced food unbalanced. More importantly, most poultry-based foods use the poultry bones, which can become dangerous if cooked. Cooked poultry bones should never be offered to a dog, as they can be hard to digest and can have sharp edges that stomach acid will not melt.

That said, there are frozen sous-vide cooked foods, formulated to be balanced in cooked form. These can be very expensive, but for small, picky dogs, they can be a great option.

We have also found several raw foods that don’t contain poultry bones which will lend themselves to gentle cooking — products that use bone components such as bison bone powder, ground beef bone or steamed lamb bone powder, or even alternate calcium sources that do not include bone, like black soldier fly larvae.

These foods were not meant to be cooked, so their nutritional balance is based on being fed raw. If you cook them, we recommend adding either a vitamin or using a completer. These can help replace the nutrition lost in cooking. Depending on the food you are starting with and the method of cooking, the amount of supplement you may need can vary, so it is best to discuss this either with the manufacturer or someone familiar with the issue.

There are other options – freeze-dried, air-dried, dehydrated or even baked — that are less icky than raw but far better than ultra-processed kibbles. Even among kibbles, there are some that are made with a lot less carbs/sugars and no synthetics. So, the options are there if you want to avoid raw good.

However, for most normal, healthy pets, feeding a varied and balanced raw diet is always going to give you the best results. A little research can find the best fit for you and your pets.