About frozen raw meat diets for dogs: We’ve got some good news, and some bad news.
Here’s the good news: raw meat-based diets are really “what’s best” for dogs. With their sharp, tearing teeth, jaws capable of crushing bones, and short, highly acidic digestive systems, dogs are made to eat and thrive on diets that are made mostly of meat and bones.
Every holistic veterinarian we know suggests feeding a raw meat-based diet, both to improve a dog’s existing health, or to recover it. Vital amino acids and food enzymes, vital for superior digestion and nutrient absorption, are present in raw meat, and survive the freezing/defrosting process beautifully.
Many, many people today buy their own fresh, raw meat and bones to feed to their dogs. But others find this chore to be expensive or time-consuming or, frankly, so much more difficult than opening a container and serving a nutritionally complete food in one gesture that they just stick with dry or canned foods. And even though they know kibble isn’t the healthiest diet in the world, they buy the best dry food they can (or can afford), and rationalize that it’s the best they can do.
It’s OK! I’m right there with you!
The kernel of good news I promised? For all of us in this latter category, there are now raw meat-based diets available in frozen form, that can be purchased by telephone and shipped to our doors.
The bad news? These products vary widely in quality, formulation, and price. As usual, discerning consumers must know what they are looking for and use the products wisely in order for their dogs to receive the full benefits of this feeding method.
Know what you’re getting
Some of the products currently available are intended to be used solely as the meat component of a meat-based diet; you add your own vegetables, grains, or supplements as you see fit. While you could, of course, just go buy meat yourself, these suppliers have the advantage of buying in bulk (which may result in savings to you, even after shipping costs are figured in).
Also, as experienced “raw feeders” know, a complete diet that is based on raw meats should contain a mix of (mostly) muscle tissue, with a small but important addition of organ tissues (heart and liver) and bone, as well as as a certain amount of vegetables. While many of us are comfortable adding meat and vegetables for the dog to our shopping lists, it takes a very dedicated dog owner to purchase fresh raw organs and grind bones, so commercial sources of meat that include these components are worth the cost to many of us.
Some of the products are formulated as “complete” diets; labeled as such, they are required to meet the minimum nutritional profiles set by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
A few of the smallest companies formulate their foods as complete diets, but do not represent them as such, in order to duck under the AAFCO radar. In their defense, most of these appear to be good foods, but without a full-scale commitment to a professional commercial operation, consumers may be left wondering about the consistency and reliability of the foods.
Note: As WDJ went to press, we just heard some breaking news concerning the formation of the Raw Pet Foods Association (RPFA), the brainchild of one of the most professional raw/frozen food makers, Steve Brown of Steve’s Real Food for Dogs. Brown is attempting to form a coalition of raw food makers, retailers, and consumers (that’s us!) to share information intended to help manufacturers improve their products. Brown also visualizes the RPFA as functioning something like a political action group that can respond in an organized fashion to legislation or other regulations that may affect the industry down the road. (As this method of feeding dogs grows more popular, distant rumblings are arising from dry food headquarters around the country.
Several raw food manufacturers suspect that the kibble industry may begin to organize against the budding raw-foods industry soon. We’ll announce contact numbers for the organization as it takes shape; in the meantime, interested parties are encouraged to contact Steve Brown, at Steve’s Real Food For Dogs, listed on the next page.)
Finally, just as with dry dog food makers, the raw food manufacturers use meats of varying quality. Many claim to use human-quality meats; a few claim to use only totally organic, antibiotic-free, or growth-hormone-free meats. Again, each individual dog warrants a slightly different game plan. Holistic veterinarians suggest using the purest, most organic foods available for dogs with immune-compromised conditions. This is speculation, but we’d guess that, given the superior bioavailability of the nutrients in these foods, even meats of a lesser quality (not organic nor human grade) would be better for the average healthy dog than cereal-based dry dog foods.
Let’s consider for a moment, the frozen state of food. Most of the companies sell their products directly to consumers in their local areas, and a few have freezer-equipped retailers that can widen their distribution direct from their freezers to yours. Blessed are those who live close to one of these manufacturers.
Those of us who will receive our frozen meats via UPS, FedEx, or even Priority Mail have more to worry about. Anyone who has ever purchased fresh food from a “shipped direct” manufacturer knows that sometimes, problems with shipping occur. Planes are grounded, storms close highways, etc., etc. About 80 percent of the samples sent to us by the food makers arrived to our editorial office in fine frozen form. Two arrived slightly softened, but still very cold. One, in a classic shipping company mishap, was delivered a day late, and to a neighbor’s door – a neighbor who wasn’t home for a few days. By the time we got the box, the ice packs within had all melted, and the food was thoroughly defrosted. (Good thing that the discovery coincided with our street’s garbage collection day!)
Before you order any product, we suggest that you question the maker closely as to the company policy on shipping problems. Who will pay for defrosted meat? Also, ask them to call you before they ship to give you an estimated time of arrival. It doesn’t do you much good to have a frozen box of meat dropped off on your front porch after you’ve left for work on a hot day!
Remember: All of these foods contain raw meat, so all of the normal precautions of handling raw meat apply for you and your family, including:
• Keep the foods frozen until you are ready to feed them; then, defrost small amounts (only what your dog will eat within a couple of days) in the refrigerator. Don’t allow food to sit at room temperature.
• People who are immune-compromised should probably avoid handling raw meat.
• Discard any food your dog leaves in his bowl after eating.
• Wash your hands with hot water and soap after preparing the dog’s food.
• Clean countertops or any other surface in the kitchen that comes in contact with raw meat (chopping blocks, knives, grinders, etc.) with a disinfectant, such as a mild bleach solution.
• Wash all the dog’s bowls or other utensils that contacted the food with hot water and soap promptly.
All these precautions are in place to protect you and your family from bacteria such as salmonella or E-coli, if it happens to be present in the food. Can these bacteria harm your dog? According to all the makers of commercial raw meat diets, the chances of a dog getting sick from such bacteria is very slim. First, because freezing reportedly kills these bacteria, and second, because dogs are equipped with powerful stomach acids that can kill harmful bacteria.
Last but not least: Experienced raw feeders will be able to look at the list of manufacturers below and know instantly which foods might be of use to them in planning their dogs’ diets. Those who are new to this method of feeding should, ideally, discuss the idea and plan an appropriate diet with their holistic veterinarian or a professional veterinary nutritional consultant who has experience with raw diets.
For more information on feeding raw meat-based diets, see “A Winning Diet,” WDJ November 1998, “The Meat of the Matter,” January 1999, and “Converting to a Raw Food Diet,” September 1999. The last article listed also contains a list of the best books available on raw meat diets for dogs. We’re sure that the companies listed below are not the only ones selling frozen, raw meat for dogs; let us know about any we’ve missed and we’ll update the list periodically. Please note that we have not ranked the products in any way; due to the “apples and oranges” nature of the products, we are merely sharing our observations and comments about them.
-By Nancy Kerns