The following is a collection of what we call the "Raw Facts". These are the end results of research by professionals in the industry and the personal experiences of the feeding team at Raw Wagon. Knowledge is power, our goal is to spread the truth, both the good and the bad, so we are confident that you will find this informative.
There isn’t just one possible raw food diet for dogs. There are three main variations:
There are varying opinions and questions about the components of a raw dog food diet for companion dogs. Judging the relative merits needs to begin with a clear-eyed view of the benefits of raw food for dogs overall.
AAFCO is the American Association of Feed Control Officials.
These and other common ingredients are all nutritionally poor, especially because they’ve been subjected to extreme heat before and during the manufacturing process. Fats become toxic due to heat damage, and the heat causes chemical reactions between ingredients, producing substances that are often toxic and sometimes carcinogenic. The heat also means the bioavailability of these foods after heat processing is highly questionable.
How Foods Meet AAFCO Standards
Processed food manufacturers can meet AAFCO standards in two ways.
So a food will pass the feeding trial as long as it keeps 6 out of 8 dogs alive for 26 weeks, one of more of them don’t lose more than 15% bodyweight and no blood values are below the specified minimum. REALLY??????????
It would have to be an extremely poor food that would fail these parameters.
The Principles of Evolutionary Nutrition
The bottom line is when you raw feed your dog, you meet all their nutritional requirements without having to understand any modern nutritional science whatsoever.
This is how dogs have survived and thrived throughout their evolution. Evolutionary nutrition is the gold standard. It allows the animal to reach his genetic potential for health, longevity, physical activity and reproduction. The further an animal diet departs from the evolutionary diet, the more health problems are likely to develop.
Dr. Billinghurst recommends feeding meats, bones, vegetables and organ meats. You can also add other healthy human foods like eggs and milk products. Supplements such as Essential Fatty Acids, probiotics, kelp, alfalfa, various herbs help replace what a dog would consume in nature.
Dr. Billinghurst wishes more raw food manufacturers would participate in the AAFCO feeding trials, so that vets and others can see that raw diets do in fact meet the standards for “complete and balanced.” He says that every dog he’s ever owned passed the equivalent of the AAFCO feeding trials. They’ve only ever eaten raw whole foods and they’ve passed vet exams and blood tests. They’ve maintained their weight and have rarely required his services as a vet.
There’s a lot of fear about raw pet food … you will hear it from kibble manufacturers, TV and newspaper stories, conventional veterinarians and of course the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration). The FDA warns consumers about pathogens like Salmonella, Listeria and monocytogenes, which they say could not only put your pets at risk of disease, but also your human family members. However, pathogens (such as Salmonella) – while being many raw-feeders top concern – is one of the lowest risks associated with raw food. This is because these bacteria are pathogenic to humans but, generally speaking, not to dogs and cats. Pets’ stomachs have higher levels of acid than humans, making them hostile to bacteria, and their digestive tracts are shorter, giving bacteria less opportunity to mulitply. This is why pets routinely, without harm, eat items that would make a person sick. Please take a moment to think about everything you have seen a dog eat and be just fine. However, pets with undeveloped or weak immune systems (I.e., puppies/kittens, older dogs, sick dogs) may have some risk. In these cases, we recommend cooking the food lightly (i.e., to 165 degrees) to help eliminate pathogenic risks.
These bacteria (especially Salmonella) are naturally present in meat – particularly poultry. So their is some risk of pathogens to humans who handle raw food. These risks can be minimized by using the same safety procedures that you would use for handling any raw meat products - such as cleaning surface areas exposed to raw food and washing your hands thoroughly after coming into contact with the food.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates pet food, acknowledges on their website that dogs and cats are generally not affected by pathogens like Salmonella unless they are already ill with some other condition. However, the FDA has a standard of “zero-tolerance” for such pathogens, which is a stricter standard than the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets for human food. So while the “human-grade” raw materials that companies like Raw Wagon use for pet food would be acceptable for people to eat, in many cases those same ingredients are not be acceptable to the FDA for raw pet food.
Many in the industry believe this is not the appropriate standard for raw pet food, especially as reported cases of people becoming sick from feeding raw food to their pets are extremely rare.
One of the primary benefits of feeding raw meals is that it provides a higher level of benefit than meals which are more processed, such as “good” bacteria and a higher level of nutrients. Some companies choose to control pathogens by applying a “kill step” that eliminates all bacteria. Examples of kill steps are cooking the food thoroughly, irradiation and High-Pressure Pasteurization. Even some raw pet food companies use kill steps. However, using a kill step means that “good” bacteria (which aids the digestive system) are eliminated along with pathogens.
High Pressure Pasteurization (HPP) might sound like a good idea because the purpose of HPP is to eliminate risky bacteria, like Salmonella or Listeria, in the food. It’s touted as a great solution for high quality, safe, raw commercial pet foods. If your veterinarian is uncomfortable with the idea of you feeding raw to your dog, he or she may try to steer you towards HPP foods to protect your dog from scary bacteria. However, it is important to first understand how HPP was “sold” to the pet food industry.
HPP is a patentable technology so there’s money to be made from encouraging consumers to buy HPP products. And there’s a benefit to the manufacturer and marketer who can claim their foods are safer than other raw pet foods. No company wants to be responsible for poisoning you or your pets. The real reason for the growing use of HPP is the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA). FMSA was signed into law by President Obama in January 2011. The act was an attempt to take a more proactive approach to food safety issues, focusing on prevention. Before FMSA, the FDA didn’t do anything about food safety issues until they happened … for example, the melamine-tainted pet food that sickened or killed thousands of pets in 2007 wasn’t investigated by the FDA until after the fact, in 2008. Manufacturers started to panic when they knew FMSA was coming, even though the FDA isn’t forcing any manufacturer to sterilize or pasteurize their foods. In fact, an FDA document called Guidance for FDA Staff on salmonella in foods for animals states that it “Contains Nonbinding Recommendations” and represents the FDA’s “current thinking on this topic.” Nonetheless, FMSA sent manufacturers rushing to HPP and the practice is far more common than it used to be, despite its shortfalls … and the fact that there have been very few cases of salmonellosis in humans from pet foods.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has reported only two instances in the last 30 years of humans contracting salmonellosis from pet foods … and both those instances were from dry kibble:
There have been no Salmonella outbreaks associated with any brand of commercial raw pet food.
The FDA even tested 78 samples of raw pet foods (35 frozen, 31 freeze-dried and 12 dehydrated) and found only five samples contained Salmonella and/or Listeria monocytogenes. Just because they found salmonella in the samples doesn’t mean they’d make people sick. The science isn’t that simple and there are many variables. The tests are very sensitive and can pick up minute amounts of bacteria … even one viable cell. And they don’t distinguish between different types of Salmonella, some of which are non-pathogenic. All the samples tested negative for E. coli and STEC (Shiga toxin-producing E. Coli).
The HPP Process
HPP isn’t just for pet foods. It’s used to prevent spoilage and extend the shelf life of many common grocery store products like guacamole, juices, hummus or fruit purees. During the HPP process the final packaged product is placed into a vessel of water. The vessel may also contain oil or propylene glycol to keep the equipment lubricated (but it doesn’t touch the food in its packaging). The food is then subjected to a high level of isostatic pressure (300–600MPa (megapascals) or 43,500-87,000 psi), transmitted by the water. These are extremely high pressures that disrupt the cell membranes of microorganisms in the food. They die and viable cells can’t survive. While HPP kills bacteria in the food, it does not kill spores. To understand the amount of pressure applied to HPP foods, consider that it’s five times the pressure at the deepest place on earth … the Mariana Trench, nearly 11,000 meters below sea level and deeper than Mount Everest is tall. So when HPP marketing says it’s a “natural” process … how can it be, when there is nothing on earth with that kind of pressure? And what does that extreme pressure do to the food?
Problems With HPP
Companies marketing HPP claim that while the HPP process kills bacteria, it doesn’t affect the nutrients, flavor or color of the foods. There are studies showing the contrary. There has to be a loss of nutrients because we know that heat reduces nutrients in foods. George Flick Jr, PhD, University Distinguished Professor Of Food Science and Technology at Virginia Tech University, is a recognized authority in HPP. In his publication Thought and Substantial Lab Research Required: High hydrostatic pressure processing has potential in the meat industry (Fleischwirtschaft International, Journal for meat production and processing, ISSN 0179-2415, No 3, 2009), Dr Flick states: “Basically, the effect of high pressure on microorganisms and proteins/enzymes was observed to be similar to that of thermal processing.” Yet HPP proponents insist that the food is still raw after the HPP process. The discrepancy may lie in the definitions published by AAFCO (the Association of American Feed Control Officials). AAFCO defines “raw” as “food in its natural or food state, not having been subjected to heat in the course of preparation of food.” Because heat is specifically mentioned, many consider that HPP doesn’t “cook” the food. In fact, in HPP there’s a 5.5°F rise in temperature for every 100 MPa and HPP is performed at 300 to 600 MPa. HPP food looks cooked on the surface because of this thermal change of up to 33°F. Lipid oxidation is a known negative effect of the HPP process. There are several research studies showing that high pressure treated samples oxidize more rapidly. Lipid oxidation means the fat in the food becomes rancid, making it potentially toxic to your dog. In humans, studies have linked lipid oxidation to disease states such as atherosclerosis, IBD and kidney damage. This lipid oxidation may be due to the cooperative effect with the denatured protein in the meat. We know that HPP denatures protein and there are many associated chemical reactions that aren’t fully understood. It is also important to understand that because HPP is considered a “natural” process, it can be used for organic foods. So if you’re buying an organic raw dog food, don’t assume it’s fresh and natural … because it could be high pressure pasteurized. There is also the potential of transfer of phthalates to HPP food. Phthalates are chemicals compounds in food packaging and they are known endocrine disruptors, linked to thyroid issues and obesity in both pets and humans. Because the HPP process is performed in the packaging, it seems likely that phthalates may be transferred to the food during processing. Phthalates are very fat soluble so the fat in meat makes the tendency for migration more likely. There are no studies suggesting this happens … but neither are there any studies saying it’s safe. And we know that phthalates can be transferred during heating or freezing, so it seems logical to conclude the same thing may happen when you apply 87,000 lbs of pressure!
A joint 2011 study into HPP benefits and limitations by three universities in Spain, the US and Mexico found “The possibility of packaging components, and packaging degradation substances formed during high temperature and pressure processing, transferring into foods where they can experience further chemical changes has to be investigated.” Spore-forming organisms like Clostridium botulinum (responsible for botulism poisoning) are not eliminated by HPP. One study concludes: “…spores of bacteria remain the most difficult problem to eliminate for making HPP-treated low-acid foods stable at room temperature. Eliminating all spores in a low- acid commercial food while maintaining non-thermal processing conditions is not possible at the present time.” The FDA is aware of this problem and doesn’t consider HPP a valid process for higher pH foods. Spores are common in meat and seafood.
Serpell, J., & Barrett, P. (1995). The Domestic Dog: Its Evolution, Behavior and Interactions with People (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Pang, J.-F., Kluetsch, C., Zou, X.-J., Zhang, A., Luo, L.-Y., Angleby, H., … Savolainen, P. (2009). mtDNA Data Indicate a Single Origin for Dogs South of Yangtze River, Less Than 16,300 Years Ago, from Numerous Wolves. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 26(12), 2849–2864. http://doi.org/10.1093/molbev/msp195
Howlistic — A Brief History of Kibble. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.howlistic.com/blogs/pet-nutrition/9089071-a-brief-history-of-kibble
Billinghurst, I. (1993). Give Your Dog a Bone.
Billinghurst, I. (1998). Grow Your Pups With Bones.
Billinghurst, I. (2001). The BARF Diet.
Darwin's Natural Pet Food. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.darwinspet.com/
Handcrafted Raw Dog Food. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.rawdogfoodandco.com/
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