Sunday, March 31, 2013


Flowers are welcome any part of the year as far as I'm concerned...however, the first batches of flowers in the spring carry a special message--that life has been renewed and there is hope for another good year.


It seems like every week that goes by brings with it a few more e-mails asking about either "all natural" or "raw food" diets for pets.  Helpful Buckeye discussed these as part of the larger topic of dietary needs of dogs and cats last year, which you can find at: .

However, in light of all the questions showing up in my e-mail, it appears that more space should be devoted to helping pet owners understand what is meant by those terms, all natural and raw, as well as the pros and cons of feeding your pets such a diet.  Even if you're not particularly interested in feeding one of these diets to your pets, reading these articles will help you understand what's involved in case one of your friends brings up the subject.

Raw Dog Food: Dietary Concerns, Benefits, and
Are raw food diets for dogs an ideal meal plan or a dangerous
 fad? Experts weigh in.
By Elizabeth Lee
Raw dog food diets are controversial. But the popularity of the diets -- which emphasize raw meat, bones, fruits, and vegetables -- is rising.
Racing greyhounds and sled dogs have long eaten raw food diets. Extending those feeding practices to the family pet is a more recent idea, proposed in 1993 by Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst. He called his feeding suggestions the BARF diet, an acronym that stands for Bones and Raw Food, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food.
Billinghurst suggested that adult dogs would thrive on an evolutionary diet based on what canines ate before they became domesticated: Raw, meaty bones and vegetable scraps. Grain-based commercial pet foods, he contended, were harmful to a dog’s health.
Many mainstream veterinarians disagree, as does the FDA. The risks of raw diets have been documented in several studies published in veterinary journals.
Potential benefits of the raw dog food diet that supporters tout include:
Shinier coats
Healthier skin
Cleaner teeth
Higher energy levels
Smaller stools
Potential risks include:
Threats to human and dog health from bacteria in raw meat
An unbalanced diet that may damage the health of dogs if given for an extended period
Potential for whole bones to choke an animal, break teeth or cause an internal puncture.
Since Billinghurst’s book, Give Your Dog a Bone, was published, several other types of raw dog food diets have emerged, including commercially processed raw food diets that are frozen or freeze-dried and combination diets that use blends of grains, vegetables, and vitamins that are mixed with raw meat purchased by the owner at the grocery store.
Raw dog food recipes and meal suggestions are readily found online and in books. Interest from pet owners continues to grow, with the widespread recall of melamine-contaminated pet food in 2007 bringing in new followers.
Raw dog food diet: What it is
A raw dog food diet typically consists of:
Muscle meat, often still on the bone
Bones, either whole or ground
Organ meats such as livers and kidneys
Raw eggs
Vegetables like broccoli, spinach, and celery
Apples or other fruit
Some dairy, such as yogurt
“For most animals, it’s more beneficial than processed foods,” says Doug Knueven, DVM, of the Beaver Animal Clinic in Beaver, Pa.
Knueven specializes in holistic medicine and also consults for Nature’s Variety, a Lincoln, Neb.-based manufacturer of frozen raw food diets as well as cooked dry and canned foods.
Barbara Benjamin-Creel of Marietta started giving raw food to her three dogs after Scooter, a German Shepherd, was diagnosed with cancer. The diet change came too late to help Scooter, she says, but the other dogs are thriving after two years on raw dog food. The 11-year-old dogs seem more energetic, and one with chronic digestive problems tolerates the raw diet better.
“The change in the coat was pretty immediate,” Benjamin-Creel says. “Also, their breath was much better.”
Benjamin-Creel makes the food herself, giving yogurt in the morning and raw ground pork, turkey, or beef mixed with some rice in the evening. To cut costs, she stocks up on ground meat when it’s on sale. “It’s not cheap,” she says, “but I think we’ve avoided a lot of old-age issues.”
The cost of a raw dog food diet varies with the ingredients used and how it is prepared. For a 30-pound dog, a one-day supply of one variety of a frozen, commercially available raw chicken diet costs about $2.50; others may range up to $5 a day. A super-premium, commercial dry dog food costs about $1
Raw Dog Food Diet: What the research shows
Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, headed an evaluation of raw dog food diets published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association in 2001. She cautions pet owners against them, saying that many dog owners are choosing raw diets based on online myths and scare tactics about commercial pet food.
For pet owners who want to avoid commercial food, Freeman advises a cooked homemade diet designed by a nutritionist certified by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.
Freeman, a nutrition professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, says that many of the benefits attributed to a raw food diet for dogs, such as a shinier coat, instead are the result of the high fat composition of the typical raw diet. High-fat commercial foods that would produce the same effect are available, she notes, without the risk of an unbalanced diet. Supplements can also be used as an alternative to increasing fat in the diet.
The evaluation looked at five raw diets, three homemade and two commercially available. All had nutritional deficiencies or excesses that could cause serious health problems when given long term, according to the report.
Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, PhD, has seen those problems appear in some dogs as poor coats, bad skin, or weak bones. Too little fat means a bad coat; but too much fat and not enough protein can cause mild anemia, says Wakshlag, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
Wakshlag -- who accepts some research funding from Nestle Purina PetCare -- says homemade raw diets also may lack enough calcium and phosphorous, causing bone fractures and dental problems. Depending on the quality of the diet, the calcium or phosphorus may also be difficult to properly digest, even if present in adequate amounts.
Studies of raw pet food also have shown bacterial contamination. The FDA issued suggestions in 2004 for manufacturing raw pet food more safely, citing concern about the possibility of health risks to owners from handling the meat. A 2006 study of 20 commercially available raw meat diets found that 7.1% contained a type of salmonella. E. coli bacteria was found in 59.6% of raw meat diets. These bacteria can also be shed in the feces, leading to a potential source of human exposure and infection.
The study also sampled four canned and dry dog foods. It found E. coli in all of the commercially processed, cooked foods during one of the four sampling periods, and in one brand of dry food during another sampling period.
Supporters of raw dog food diets are quick to point out that commercially processed pet foods can contain harmful bacteria, as can raw meat offered for human consumption.
“The whole concern about bad bacteria is overblown,” Knueven says. “When people are feeding a raw diet they know it’s not sterile, and they’re more careful about washing their hands. Feeding a raw meat diet is no different than cooking chicken for the family ... you have to clean up the counter and your knife.”
The FDA guidance document also suggested that manufacturers address typical nutrition problems in a raw-meat diet, including making sure it contained enough calcium and phosphorous, important for bone health. Raw-meat diets high in liver also may supply too much vitamin A, which can lead to vitamin A toxicity if fed for an extended period.
Even veterinarians like Knueven who support raw dog food diets say that they’re not appropriate for all dogs. Because the diets are typically high in protein, they aren’t appropriate for dogs with late-stage kidney or severe liver failure.
He recommends that dogs with pancreatitis or other digestive issues start with a cooked, homemade diet and clear up problems before switching to raw. Dogs with cancer, on chemotherapy, or dogs with other immunosuppressive diseases also should not eat raw food. And puppies aren’t good candidates, either.
“The only place I’ve seen a problem with this diet is puppies,” Knueven says. “If you don’t get the calcium and phosphorous ratio right, you can have bone deformities and growth issues.”
Bear in mind as you read these articles that "research" can be a questionable commodity, in that you need to know that its source is a reputable entity.  With the Internet being what it is today, anyone can publish anything they want to and someone else will take it as gospel.  Moving on....
Pros & Cons To The Raw Pet Food Diet: Is It
Worth It?
Like all our loved ones, we want what’s best for our pets. That includes what they eat. It’s estimated that we spent $20 billion on pet food last year.  According to market research, more owners are making the switch to raw foods.  Big retailers, like Target and Petco are even stocking it on store shelves.
Many owners report better eating habits, fewer allergies, shinier coats, healthier teeth and fewer trips to the vet.
Woody’s Pet Food Deli in south Minneapolis is seeing a surge in the diet’s popularity. “We get new customers every day,” said Liz Cummiskey with Woody’s Pet Food Deli. The idea is dogs and cats eat a more natural diet. Just like wild animals hunt prey and eat it. “The bones are ground up really fine and we use the whole animal,” Cummiskey said. “It truly is a natural balance of bone to muscle meat.”
The food must meet standards for being balanced and complete for the animal, but veterinarians worry consumers might expose themselves to germs. “It has the potential health risks to the pets and to the people in the household,” said Dr. Julie Churchill with the University of Minnesota. She says bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella can be found in the food, but most packages don’t warn owners.
In a recent University of Minnesota study, the department looked at 60 raw meat diets available at stores in the Twin Cities. Seven percent of them tested positive for salmonella.  “They look fine and healthy on the outside, they look like they’re doing well, but they could be putting others at risk or they themselves could get sick,” Churchill said.
The diet is also more expensive than regular dog food.  Most bags of kibble run about a dollar per pound. Places like Woody’s charge anywhere from $7 to almost $30 for five pounds of food. Target charges around $13 for six pounds. At Petco, it’ll cost you $63 for a five and a half pound bag.
As a believer, Annie Wiegers, says she guards against the risks. “We put it on a separate plate for him and then put that plate in the dishwasher,” Wiegers said.  She thinks it’s worth every penny. “We try to eat as organic and raw and healthy as we can and he’s just part of the family, so we want to do that for him, too,” Wiegers said.
Not everyone is sold.
“I am unwilling to take the risk when I know there’s no nutritional advantage,” Churchill said. Churchill wants you to think about this before making the switch — Wild animals, like wolves, who eat raw only live about six years. She also says most diet switches with dry food can give you the same results of a raw diet, so check with your vet before shopping for any new food.
by: Alison McNeilly, Colorado State University, Public Health Graduate Student
The concern for food safety is becoming greater and greater and includes the diets of our four-legged friends in the family unit. With the recent issues involving melamine and Salmonella contamination in commercial pet foods, many owners are looking to alternative diets. Some breeders recommend “raw diets,” claiming they are more nutritious than dry food and carry a wealth of benefits. These diets consist of raw food, including vegetables, grains, meat, and bones. These diets can be purchased commercially in a frozen form or created at home.
There has been limited research conducted on either the costs or benefits of such diets, so there is skepticism about their use for companion animals. There are many inherent risks of raw diets that may affect the long and short term health of the animal, the health of the owner(s), and those who come in contact with the pet or waste from the pet. These risks include lack of adequate nutrition, problems associated with ingesting bones, and the presence of bacteria. Studies have found that the nutritional value of raw diets, both commercial and homemade, are lacking. Pets fed these diets on a long term basis could experience nutrient deficiencies and detrimental health effects. One recommendation is to add fruits and vegetables to a quality commercial non-raw diet to provide a more “organic” experience for your pet. Many raw diets include the bones associated with the meat products. Bones in a pet’s diet have been reported to cause intestinal obstruction, perforation, gastroenteritis and fractured teeth. These may lead to extreme discomfort, surgery, or death.
Another serious risk posed by feeding a raw diet is that of bacterial contamination. This factor can be harmful to the pet and also to the humans who come in contact with the pet through feeding or cleaning. Raw food diets have been found to contain high levels of bacteria including Escherichia coli, Salmonella spp, Clostridium perfringens, C. difficile and Staphylococcus aureus. These bacteria can cause illness and diarrhea in both the pet and humans that come in contact with the food or the feces of the animal. There is special concern for the young, elderly, or immune-suppressed. Human contact with the bacteria in these pet foods generally occurs during meal preparation. Surfaces and utensils are likely to be contaminated and much care must be taken to avoid cross contamination throughout the kitchen. Also, pet dishes must be thoroughly cleaned after each feeding. It is important to remove any uneaten portions immediately to avoid additional bacterial growth. Another source of contamination comes from the feces of the pet. It has been shown that bacteria consumed through raw pet diets may be shed in the feces by the animal for 7-11 days after consumption. This poses a risk in cleaning up after the pet and the potential for small children to come in contact with fecal matter containing bacteria.
If you are considering a raw diet for your pet, it is extremely important to follow recommended hygiene guidelines to protect yourself and your family from harmful bacteria that may be present in this type of diet. Sanitize all surfaces and utensils used to prepare the meal and remove leftovers promptly. Without research supporting increased benefits of feeding a raw food diet, are the potential increased risks really worth it? Just cook it!
...and, of course, be sure to talk it over with your veterinarian prior to make the change.
Any questions or comments should be sent to Helpful Buckeye at:  or submitted in the "Comments" section at the end of this issue.
~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

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