Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Missing the Boat

Advocates of raw pet feeding span a wide spectrum of beliefs about what foods constitute a proper raw diet. The first division can be made between
  • Groups that endorse meats-and-meaty-bones, and
  • Groups that include meats-and-other-foods in dogs' and cats' diets.
Those who endorse meaty bones assert that dogs and cats are carnivores, close relatives of gray wolves and wild desert cats, who evolved to eat whole prey. They do not believe dogs and cats require vegetables and cereals in their diets.
Those who endorse meats-and-other-foods believe dogs are opportunistic carnivores or omnivores, who require vegetable matter in their diets. They believe cats are more purely carnivorous, but they may be fed other foods for a more complete diet.
In the meat-and-meaty-bones group can be found people who call their diets raw-meaty-bones, prey-model, ancestral, archetypal, and more. Within the meats-and-other-foods groups are varied BARF, holistic, alternative, and natural feeding groups.

To meet the nutritional needs of dogs and cats, probably most meaty-bones and meats-and-vegetables diets can do the job. As long as bone in some form is provided for essential minerals, and meats include organs as well as muscles, the diet will probably have sufficient nutrients.

Here's the problem: Many prepared meat-and-other foods diets contain minced meats, ground bone, and other mineral and vitamin supplements. Pets do not have opportunities to chew and gnaw at raw bones. Foods may also be minced, dehydrated, and reconsituted into mush and small chunks that require little or no chewing. That's how BARF and similar diets miss the boat on an essential role that food plays in predators' lives: Keeping their teeth clean and gums healthy.

Unless hunks of raw meat that require chewing and raw bones are provided, dogs' and cats' teeth become coated with bacteria-harboring scum that cause gum infections that drain into major organ systems and chronically challenge the immune system. Like commercial pet foods, minced and ground forms of raw canine and feline diets do not clean the teeth and keep gums healthy.

Looking simply at the nutritional benefits of various diets misses the fact that pets do not brush their teeth. They have no way to rid their mouths of sludge left from eating whatever meat-and-other-foods diet they are fed. Some dog owners brush pets' teeth. Most of those do not brush sufficiently often or effectively to keep Fido's teeth and gums disease-free. Few cat owners dare try. Despite vets' advocacy of home dental hygiene, pets deprived of raw-meaty-bones require annual dental cleanings to repair some of the damage done by failing to feed meaty bones..

Raw-meaty-bones followers feed large enough hunks of raw meats and meaty bones to challenge pets to chew and gnaw meat off bones. Gnawing at bones cleans their teeth and gums as Nature intended. On this point there is little disagreement. RMB clean pets' teeth and keep their gums healthy. No minced, ground-bone foods can make that claim.

Even if you advocate adding vegetables, cereals, and other foods to your pet's meaty diet, your pets' teeth need to be cleaned, and they can be cleaned by adding raw meaty bones to his diet at least three times a week. Otherwise, you will miss the boat, and your pet will begin the steep downward slope toward chronic diseases and early death, even if the nutritional value of his diet is first-rate.

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