This blog post addresses nutritional and health concerns related to feeding raw meat diets to companion animals, by examining relevant peer-reviewed research. Scientific evidence is overwhelming – raw diets are unhealthy and dangerous, from nutritional, health and sanitary perspectives.
Raw meat-based diets are defined as those that include uncooked animal ingredients and that are fed to dogs or cats living in home environments. These ingredients can include skeletal muscles, internal organs and bones from mammals, fish, or poultry, as well as unpasteurized milk and uncooked eggs1. Raw meat diets have gained popularity in the recent years among dog and cat guardians. Since they contain meat flesh, they are sometimes perceived as more ‘natural’ and nutritious. In fact, many vegetarians and vegans who do not eat animal products themselves choose raw meat diets for their companion animals, thinking that this is the best way to meet their nutritional needs.
However, science shows that the idea of nutritional adequacy of the raw meat diet for companion animals is completely false. In fact, consumption of these diets poses many health risks and potential life-threatening consequences to domestic animals and their human caregivers.
Nutritional concerns of raw meat diets
Raw meat diets are, in fact, not natural and not healthy. Peer-reviewed research studies that examined these diets from a nutritional standpoint concluded that they are nutritionally-imbalanced and cause health problems.
Multiple nutritional deficiencies. One of the early studies on this topic examined 5 home prepared and commercial raw meat diets produced in the USA, by comparing their nutrient profiles with the AAFCO standards. This study discovered that all of analyzed diets had multiple nutritional imbalances, which could have important adverse effects on the health of the animals. 2 Examples of imbalances included a calcium-to-phosphorus ratio of 0.20, vitamin A and E concentrations below the minimum detectable value, and a vitamin D concentration nearly twice the AAFCO maximum amount.2
In a more recent study in Europe, investigators calculated amounts of 12 nutrients (e.g. calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A) in 95 homemade raw meat diets being fed to dogs. In that study, 57 (60%) diets had major nutritional imbalances.3 Yet another similar investigation reported that raw diets for dogs are low in calcium and phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and zinc.4
Raw meat diets formulated for cats have been also investigated. One study found that feeding raw meat to cats may cause hypervitaminosis A (too much vitamin A), as well as a condition called pansteatitis - a physiological state in which the body fat becomes inflamed.4 Another group of researchers at the University of California conducted an experiment with 22 cats, by feeding them one of two diets: raw rabbit diet or a commercially available brand of cat food. One of the cats on raw rabbit diet died of heart failure caused by taurine deficiency. All other cats fed raw rabbit diet showed signs of taurine deficiency and had to be taken off the diet. Cats fed a commercial diet supplemented with taurine did not show signs of taurine deficiency. It was concluded that some raw meat diets can be dangerous for cats and should be avoided. 5
Excessive fat content. Many raw meat diets have high fat content, compared with typical dry extruded or moist pet foods. While additional fat may improve coat glossiness, it also causes mild to severe gastrointestinal issues, as well as increased risk of obesity in some animals.1 Another consequence of feeding fatty raw meat to domestic animals is high cholesterol concentrations and related symptoms - abdominal pain, fever, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration.6 Considering that 60% of Canadian cats and dogs are classified as either overweight or obese (Canadian Veterinary Medical Association), high fat content of these diets is another reason to stay away from them.
Hyperthyroidism is a condition of overactive thyroid gland, which appears to be a consequence of feeding raw meat diets to dogs. In one clinical experiment, 12 dogs were fed raw meat diets and half of them showed several signs of dietary hyperthyroidism, including weight loss, aggressiveness, tachycardia, panting and restlessness.7 Subsequently, these dogs were taken off the raw diet and examined. Thyroxine concentrations (hyperthoroidism) normalized in all dogs and clinical signs resolved. 7
In addition to the previously mentioned health problems, raw diets that contain bones can potentially result in fractured teeth and gastrointestinal injury.1 Bones can also cause obstruction or perforation of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, or colon – adding to the list of risks associated with these dangerous diets.
In addition to nutritional imbalances, research shows that most raw meat-based pet foods are packed with toxic bacteria and parasites.
One study collected 112 samples of commercial raw meat foods used in greyhound diets and investigated them for salmonella. Results showed that 44%-62% of samples tested positive for salmonella, depending on the procedure used. The study concluded that salmonella is a huge concern in raw meat-based diets for dogs.8
Another recent investigation analyzed 35 commercially available raw meat diets for bacteria and parasites. 8 of these diets tested positive for e-coli and e-coli precursor was found in 28 diets. 9 Listeria was present in 19 (54%) diets, and salmonella - in 7 diets. Furthermore, 4 of these diets contained Sarcocystis cruzi parasite and another 4 - S-tenella parasite, both of which cause infections with symptoms such as fever, diarrhea, and muscle pain in dogs. Finally, 2 products tested positive for Toxoplasma gondii - a parasite that causes toxoplasmosis in humans.
Presence of pathogens in frozen raw foods do not only cause bacterial infections in domestic animals, but also pose a health risk to other members of a household.
Direct contact with infected or carrier animals or their feces has been found to be associated with salmonella-caused bacterial infection in humans. Interestingly, standard methods of cleaning and disinfecting food bowls were almost ineffective at eliminating salmonella, contrary to popular perception.4
Toxoplasma gondii – a parasite which can be acquired from raw or undercooked meats or from environmental exposure (contaminated soil or feces) – is a dangerous consequence of feeding raw meat-based food to cats. This parasite poses greatest danger to pregnant women and the developing fetus. Toxoplasmosis in a fetus can result in mental retardation, blindness, epilepsy, and death. Research shows that the consumption of raw meat significantly increases the prevalence of this dangerous parasite in cats.9
The above research review only focuses on nutritional and safety concerns with raw meat pet diets, and does not address a huge ethical concern related to production of these products. All above-mentioned facts are very valid reasons to abandon these diets in favor of plant-based ones.
Transitioning to Plant-Based Diet
We hope that this information will discourage cat and dog guardians from feeding their companion animals raw meat diets. If you are ready to consider healthy, nutritionally complete plant-based food for your animal, please contact us at email@example.com and we will help you with transition.
You might be surprised to find out that it is quite easy to transition your animal from raw meat diet to plant-based one, in vast majority of cases. The key is to do it correctly and gradually, by giving the stomach enough time to adapt to the new ingredients. Correct transitioning will minimize negative digestive reactions and make plant-based diet a rewarding process for you and your animal. Please see our transitioning tips for more information.
The best way to start is by getting one of our sample packs. These well-priced combos will allow your cat and dog to sample a variety of different brands and products, and you will be able to see which ones work better for him or her. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 647-491-2035 or use the chat function in the bottom left corner of the screen to learn more about our healthy, ethical, planet-friendly products.
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1 Freeman, L.M., Chandler, M.L., Hamper, B.A., Weeth, L.P. Current knowledge about the risks and benefits of raw meat–based diets for dogs and cats. Timely Topics in Nutrition, 243 (11), Dec. 1, 2013.
2 Freeman LM, Michel KE. Evaluation of raw food diets (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;218:1716). J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;218:705–709.
3 Dillitzer N, Becker N, Kienzle E. Intake of minerals, trace elements and vitamins in bone and raw food rations in adults dogs. Br J Nutr 2011;106:S53–S56.
4 Daniel P. Schlesinger and Daniel J. Joffe. Raw food diets in companion animals: A critical review. Can Vet J. 2011 Jan; 52(1): 50–54.
5 Angela G. Glasgow, Nicholas J. Cave, Stanley L. Marks, Niels C. Pedersen. Role of Diet in the Health of the Feline Intestinal Tract and in Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Center for Companion Animal Health, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, California.
6 Kerr KR, Vester Boler BM, Morris CL, et al. Apparent total tract energy and macronutrient digestibility and fecal fermentative end-product concentrations of domestic cats fed extruded, raw beef-based, and cooked beef-based diets. J Anim Sci 2012;90:515–522.
7 Köhler B., Stengel C., Neiger R. Dietary hyperthyroidism in dogs. Journal of Small Animal Practitioners. 2012 Mar;53(3):182-4.
8 Chengappa MM, Staats J, Oberst RD, Gabbert NH, McVey S. Prevalence of Salmonella in raw meat used in diets of racing greyhounds. J Vet Diagn Invest. 1993 Jul;5(3):372-7.
9 Van Bree, FPJ., Bokken, GCAM., Mineur, R., Franssen, F., Opsteegh, M., van der Giessen, JWB., Lipman, LJA., Overgaauw, PAM. (2018) Zoonotic bacteria and parasites found in raw meat-based diets for cats and dogs Veterinary Record 182, 50.
Hi Jody, thanks for the question. First, animals (including cats) require specific nutrients (i.e. amino-acids such as taurine, certain fats and proteins etc.), not specific ingredients (such as fish or meat). So if we provide them the required nutrients they will be healthy. Check this link with Dr. Armaiti May – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRV6HUHz6cs&t=3s
Second, I would agree with you in case when a “vegan” diet meant feeding lettuce, carrots and cucumbers to a cat; in that case Yes – the cat would get malnourished and die prematurely, BUT vegan diet doesn’t mean giving them just veggies. Instead, it means giving them plant-based proteins (from peas, sunflower seeds, corn, lentils, and soy etc.), plus giving them the essential amino acids (such as Taurine) and vitamins and minerals. Basically they are not missing out on any key nutrients on a properly balanced vegan diet.
If you wondered about the difference of a meat-based protein and plant-based protein then it’s the difference in the amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. So how is the protein contained in a steak different from pea protein? A steak has a difference amino-acid profile. If cats were to eat pea-protein alone – they would get malnourished because it’s not the same kind of protein they would get from a steak.
Fortunately there is only 1 specific amino acid missing from pea-protein that is present in a steak – and that’s Taurine. Cats cannot synthesize Taurine, and therefore they need Taurine to come from their diet. Pea protein doesn’t have Taurine, so we add a fermented counterpart, which works just as well well. The funny thing is that nearly all commercial meat-based diets for cats have ADDED taurine, because the natural taurine gets baked off due to high temperatures and pressure during the preparation processes.
So if you are concerned that cat is missing out on key nutrients on a vegan diet – don’t be. It’s the same nutrients they get, minus dead carcasses and diseased flesh, no antibiotics and no hormones.
And we are not saying a vegan diet is better than for example cat hunting mice or critters in nature, no, but a properly formulated vegan diet certainly has many advantages over a regular meat-based diet.
Dogs in my care lived tob19, 20 , and 25 yrs old fed plant based diet. Always thought fleshbfeeding must cause cancer.
Where is the science showing an obligate carnivore such as a cat can survive and thrive on a plant based diet?
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