Pet Diet Dos & Dont's

Author: DVM cVMA Dana Hogg

Diet is a hot topic these days. What do you feed your pets at home? Should you feed raw diets, cooked diets, or kibble diets? We hear so many different things - Are grains good or bad? Can some diets predispose to cancer? There are many pros and cons to each type of diet and it can be difficult to determine what is best for your pet.

Not all animals have the same requirements when it comes to food. Age and size are important factors to consider, young animals have different nutritional requirements than geriatric pets. Working animals have higher caloric demands and some pets have special allergies to take into consideration. Let’s talk about some of the many options available to our pets.

Biologically Appropriate Raw Diets (BARD)

BARD diets consist of uncooked ingredients from domesticated or wild-caught food animals. These products include organ meats, whole muscle meats, and ground bone. BARD feed can be store-bought and come freeze-dried or dehydrated, BARD meals can also be homemade. Some of the benefits of feeding raw include no by-products or processed food material, healthier coats, improved dental health by increasing mechanical abrasion, and smaller stool output.

 While there are benefits, there are certainly risks as well. Raw diets can contain bacterial pathogens on the surface or in the meat itself which can cause your pet to become sick. (1) For this reason, I generally do not recommend raw diets for families with small children or immunocompromised people. Bone fragments, if large enough, in the raw diets could cause fractures in the teeth and can also lead to some gastrointestinal sensitivities. It is recommended to seek a commercially prepared raw diet as these are generally formulated by a nutritionist and manufactured to meet species' nutritional requirements.

Cooked Diets

Feeding pets natural cooked ingredients has many benefits. Cooked diets can increase overall health including skin health.  It can be especially appealing for more picky eaters and can create a bonding experience between owners and their pets.  

Cooked food diets have been shown to help improve overall immune function as well as digestibility. With certain cooked diets in comparison to kibble, there have been studies showing the cooked diet is up to 40% more digestible. Another study revealed there was a higher level of nutrient absorption and overall consumption in cooked diets when compared to kibble. (2)

 There are some challenges when it comes to cooked diets. Formulating a well-balanced diet can be difficult. It can also be very time-consuming to prepare these diets. With both cooked and raw food diets, shelf life is also an important factor to pay attention to. It is best to seek guidance from a veterinary nutritionist when formulating a diet for your pet or to look into commercially available options.

Kibble/Processed Diets 

Kibble diets seem to be taking a lot of heat recently. They are disliked due to the level of processing as well as ingredients involved such as by-products or grains. A by-product is defined as “the secondary product derived from the primary product produced”. (1) There are certainly different qualities of kibble depending on the brand you purchase. Some foods have more sugars, dyes, or fillers present. Kibble can help maintain dental health by reducing dental plaque. It is also more cost-effective and tends to have a longer shelf life. When looking at kibble diets, it is best to look for a diet that meets AAFCO (The Association of American Feed Control Officials) standards. I recommend looking for diets with a single source of protein as the first ingredient.  

Summary

There is a lot of controversy about what is best to feed your pet. The research exploring the diversity of the microbiome and metabolome in dogs fed commercial diets vs. BARD revealed there is significant variation between the microbiomes, but the importance of these distinctions has yet to be determined. There are pros and cons no matter what choice you make, so when making diet decisions, it is best to consider each individual’s lifestyle.  

Sources
  • “NC State Veterinary Hospital Nutrition Service.” NC State Veterinary Medicine, 3 Aug. 2021, cvm.ncsu.edu/nc-state-vet-hospital/small-animal/nutrition.
  • JustFoodForDogs. “Evidence-Based Research.” JustFoodForDogs, 2020, www.justfoodfordogs.com/evidence-based-research/downloads.html.
  • Schmidt, Milena. “The Fecal Microbiome and Metabolome Differs between Dogs Fed Bones and Raw Food (BARF) Diets and Dogs Fed Commercial Diets.” PLOS ONE, vol. 13, no. 8, 2018, p. e0201279. PubMed, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0201279.

Dr. Dana Hogg graduated in 2015 from North Carolina State University. She grew up in Wilson, North Carolina. Growing up with several animals, Dr. Hogg was drawn to the field of veterinary medicine at a young age. She completed her undergraduate degree at NCSU in 2009 and her master's degree in 2011.

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