A Veterinarian’s Journey From Kibble To Raw

kibble vs raw

It seems there’s no end to the controversy over what to feed your dog. The stream of constantly changing information is endless, often leading to much confusion. I’m writing this article to help shed some light on this confusing topic. It’s based on my 30-plus years as a practicing veterinarian … and recommending a large variety of different diet types for my patients.

I started out like all veterinarians. We were trained to recommend the popular brands that make prescription diet food. We fed sick pets based on the recommendations of those companies …. the ones producing the so-called prescription diets sold through veterinarians. There was no real education in nutrition. Just training on which products to use, and for which conditions.

Kibble Causes Disease

As I moved forward in my career, I began to see disturbing trends in the increase of many disease conditions: 

  • Itchy skin 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Pancreatitis 
  • Autoimmune disease 
  • Cancer

I saw magnificent advances in all areas of veterinary medicine … but nothing changed in the nutritional recommendations. I saw pets getting sicker and dying younger. I asked myself if we should be offering our patients different options.

Since there’s little true nutritional education in the veterinary field, I struck out on my own to learn more. Studies supporting the efficacy of veterinary diets are  funded by the companies making the foods. So there’s clearly a potential conflict of interest. It makes the resulting information suspect.

I began to read pet food labels and look at the ingredients. I started to ask myself if ingredients like rice, barley, and beet pulp were appropriate foods for a carnivore. 

And oils are a problem too. Oils sourced from: 

are unstable at the high temperatures used to process commercial diets. This not only causes loss of nutrients but can make them toxic. 

Then there is the long list of synthetic vitamins used to “balance” the diet. The problem with synthetic nutrients is that we have no idea how they’re affecting your dog’s body. Or if the body can even absorb them.

Once we start micro-managing nutrients, we run the risk of causing imbalances. That’s what happened with the past recall by Hills due to toxic vitamin D levels.

RELATED: 5 things all dog owners should know about lectins …

Look At Your Dog’s Teeth

I also looked at what dogs are best equipped to be eating and digesting. Your dog’s dentition is that of a carnivore: 

  • Canine teeth to catch prey 
  • Incisors to shear the meat from a carcass 
  • Powerful jaw muscles 
  • Back teeth to crush the food before swallowing

Dogs have a high acid content in their stomachs. This low pH starts the digestive process. And it eliminates pathogenic organisms dogs may eat. Their digestive tract is relatively short, so healthy dogs digest food in a few hours. Dogs and cats are not digestively equipped to break down plant material. This includes grains and vegetables.

Compare this to herbivores like horses or cows. They have large grinding teeth that begin to macerate the plant material. Then part of their digestive tract is used for fermentation. This completes the digestion of the plant material … thanks to the bacteria present there. Carnivores don’t have this mechanism.

How Plants Cause Inflammation

So what happens when a carnivore eats a plant-based diet? The answer, in a nutshell, is inflammation.

How does this happen?

Blood glucose levels and subsequently the insulin levels increase with carbohydrates like:: 

Insulin is a hormone released to deal with nutritional excesses like high blood glucose. It moves the excess glucose into the liver and muscle tissue, where it’s stored as glycogen for later use. 

But this storage mechanism has a limited capacity. Once it’s full, the excess gets stored as body fat. If the consumption of glucose continues it leads to insulin resistance. The cells become desensitized to the constantly elevated level in the blood. The blood sugar then stays elevated. This causes damage to the tissues and leads to chronic inflammation.

It’s not just the metabolic effects of carbohydrates on the body; there’s also a profound risk of toxic exposure. Many crops are sprayed with glyphosate (the main ingredient in Roundup). And some grains are sprayed before harvest to help dry them more rapidly. 

Wheat, corn, and soy are also genetically modified (GMO). These foods can have devastating effects on the gut microbiome.

Legumes like peas, lentils and beans accumulate glyphosate if sprayed while growing. Your dog then eats this toxic chemical. This means that the grain-free varieties of kibble are not any safer.

Feed A Fresh Diet

To avoid these risks I recommend feeding fresh, whole food, ideally raw diet. Why is this better?

Whole food provides nutrition the way it’s meant to be eaten. Nutrients from fresh, whole foods are not altered by processing. So the body can recognize and assimilate them properly. 

The nutrients in whole foods work synergistically in the body. Using the chemical equivalents doesn’t have the same beneficial effect.

Not all raw diets are created equal, and I’ve seen some that aren’t nutritionally balanced. It’s a good idea to seek the advice of a professional trained in feeding raw food. 

Or you can buy a good quality pre-made raw food. But choose carefully. 

Many raw diets still add in synthetic supplements to make up for deficiencies. I recommend providing complete nutrition through proper proportioning and rotation of ingredients.

RELATED: Raw feeding dogs: 10 simple rules to get started …

Is Raw Risky?

Now, let’s address what seems to be the biggest controversy about raw feeding: safety. Raw feeding is vilified in veterinary medicine as a cause of all sorts of diseases, including: 

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Pancreatitis 
  • Allergies 
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy 

These claims almost always have no basis whatsoever.

How is it that a profession that preaches the importance of “evidence-based” medicine … makes claims against raw feeding with no evidence to back it up? 

This is true hypocrisy! The truth is that raw feeding can be an appropriate diet for any dog … with some slight modifications based on individual needs.

Feeding raw is perfectly safe with a bit of proper handling and common sense. This means:

  • Wash your hands after feeding your pet 
  • Don’t leave the food set out at room temperature for a long time 
  • Wash dishes and utensils after your pet eats
  • Don’t leave food thawed in the refrigerator for more than 72 hours 

That’s it. And raw feeding can be perfectly safe as long as the food is well-sourced. Sourcing refers to the way the food animals are raised. And how the products are processed, stored, and distributed.

Recalls

What if a manufacturer does a recall? Raw pet food companies are highly scrutinized by the FDA. In fact, there is zero tolerance for bacteria in pet food. 

Compare this to grocery store meats. They are allowed higher bacteria content than raw pet food (in case you think it’s safer to make your own raw food).

When you hear about a recall from a raw dog food manufacturer because the FDA found bacteria in their products … it’s typically due to a random check at a production facility, with no evidence of the food causing illness in pets. Some manufacturers will do the recall just to be sure their products are safe. 

The FDA typically won’t disclose the amount or strain of the bacteria found. So there’s no proof that it’s even pathogenic. This also prevents the manufacturer from effectively tracing the origin of the bacteria.

Our world isn’t meant to be sterile. There are many beneficial bacteria that are essential to good health. The key is balance. In a healthy organism, the beneficial bugs will far outnumber those that can cause disease. 

Remember the high acid content in the carnivore stomach I mentioned earlier? This will actually destroy any unwanted bacteria your dog eats. Have you ever seen your dog eat poop? Or pick up who-knows-what on a walk and eat it before you can stop him? How much bacteria is your dog getting here? Do you see your dog get violently ill after doing this? 

Of course not!!! 

And why? Because a healthy pet with all the necessary beneficial microbes will be able to eliminate any pathogenic bacteria. Dogs are natural scavengers. They should literally be able to eat roadkill and remain healthy.

RELATED: Recalls: Logic vs fear …

Kibble Vs Raw

In the chart I’ve created below, you’ll see the pros and cons of kibble vs raw.

Pros And Cons Of Kibble

Pros

  • More convenient
  • Less expensive in the short term

Cons

  • Creates inflammation leading to chronic diseases such as itchy skin, diarrhea, pancreatitis, and cancer
  • Grains and legumes can harm the gut lining, preventing proper digestion and causing malnourishment and illness
  • GMO ingredients alter the function of a healthy microbiome, leading to immune system dysfunction
  • Pesticides and herbicides cause organ toxicity and can damage the gut microbiome and intestinal lining, causing improper digestion and leaky gut
  • Synthetic vitamins and minerals may not be bioavailable to pets, causing nutritional imbalances
  • Oils and fats become rancid due to over-processing and are toxic to the body; they may also be GMO

Pros And Cons Of Raw

Pros

  • Provides balanced nutrition in the way nature intended
  • Species-appropriate for a carnivore
  • Supports optimal function of the immune system
  • Can be varied to meet individual needs
  • Ingredients naturally support joint and musculoskeletal health
  • Reduces the need for supplementation
  • Prevents inflammation, which prevents skin and digestive disease, as well as autoimmune conditions and cancer

Cons

  • Requires proper handling and washing dishes and utensils afterward
  • More expensive in the short term

Deciding To Feed Raw

Raw food may be more expensive in the short term … but feeding it will drastically reduce your vet bills in the future. Your dog will be healthier because you’re feeding the food his body needs. It is literally “pay now or pay later” when it comes to feeding your pet the best diet possible.

If you think you can’t afford to feed raw, can you afford to treat a chronic disease such as cancer? Consider the financial and emotional toll it will take. I believe that most of us can rearrange our budget  when something is important enough.

Dogs may appear to do fine on kibble in the short term. But I can guarantee you that there is a disease of inflammation brewing. It’s only a matter of time until it surfaces.

Nothing is more important than feeding your pet a proper diet. No synthetic supplement, regardless of the claims, will substitute for an inferior diet. Feeding your dog right will be the best thing you can ever do for your best friend.

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