Using cooked or raw meats in homemade dog food is based on owner preference.
Advocates of raw based diets feel that it more closely resembles the diet of wild dogs and wolves. These owners are also concerned about the inactivation of meat enzymes and other nutrients by the heat of cooking.
Owners preferring cooked meats like the safety from bacterial contamination that cooking provides. Cooking also increases the digestibility of meats and increases the shelf life of the food.
Either choice, cooked or raw, can result in a balanced homemade diet, provided that owners choose reliable recipes and adequate supplementation and are careful in their preparation.
Cooking meats correctly will kill bacteria that may have contaminated it at the slaughterhouse, at the market or in the kitchen. The key is not to over-cook and significantly alter the nutritional quality of the meat. Most food scientist agree that cooking meats to an internal temperature of 170oF will inactive bacteria and preserve the nutrient quality of the meat.
Despite this “safety margin” provided by cooking, owners should maintain fastidious attention to cleanliness in the preparation of cooked homemade dog food. Recipes can easily be contaminated after preparation that may cause early spoilage.
Allotments of cooked homemade recipes should not exceed an amount that requires longer than 3 days of refrigeration. Excessive lengths of freezing time can affect nutrient supplement activity. Maintaining a freezer supply of no longer than 2-3 weeks will ensure that supplemented nutrients will not be degraded.
Those feeding raw face greater challenges than those feeding cooked in preparing well-balanced, homemade dog food. Available recipes, ingredient sources and supplementation recommendations for raw food are probably the least nutritionally adequate due to common practices, but doesn’t need to be,
The use of meat cuts called grinds or meaty bones form the basis of most raw homemade diets. These are scrap cuts of poultry necks, wings and backs. They are fed ground (grinds) or whole (meaty bones). These cuts tend to be high in fat. The protein content comes primarily from tendons and ligaments which is less digestible than muscle meat. They also contain large amounts of bone which advocates claim provide adequate dietary calcium.
Because of their scrap status, the nutritional quality of grinds and meaty bones are not available on the USDA food database. This is the only database available to evaluate the nutritional value of foods. Diets using these meat sources can only speculate as to their dietary adequacy.
Liver and organ meat are also heavily used in raw diets. These cuts can be analyzed for nutritional value. These cuts of meat contain large amounts of vitamins A and D. If used excessively these protein sources add unsafe levels of these vitamins in the diet.
The solution to these problems is easy. Owners feeding raw meats to their dogs need to find recipe sources that use actual cuts of muscle meat from beef, poultry, fish etc. That way the nutritional adequacy is easily verified.
Instructions for most available raw diets recommend relative percentages of ingredients and not exact amounts. Such a method is very inexact and is dependent on the total weight of the diet. This total weight is often estimated as 2% of the dog’s weight. But this total weight is dependent on the content of the various ingredients. In other words, these instructions are circular and inexact and impossible to evaluate with the USDA database.
The solution is again to use recipe sources that specify exact amounts of ingredients so that the recipe adequacy can be verified.
Raw meat is red or pink because it contains large amounts of blood. Blood is a perfect food for bacteria. In fact, laboratories use blood gel plates to grow large numbers of bacteria in 12-24 hours. That makes raw food very susceptible to bacterial contamination, either at the food source or from the cooks and kitchens.
Salmonella, E. coli, Staphylococcus, Clostridium and Listeria are all bacterium common in meat contamination. Dogs can actually be infected with Salmonella and show no signs of illness. They can shed the bacteria in normal feces.
Such a situation poses a health risk to children, the aged, and immunosuppressed individuals in households feeding raw diets to dogs. It is this risk that caused the American Veterinary Medical Association to issue a policy statement discouraging the feeding of raw meat. Some service dog groups have banned raw fed dogs from their organizations.
The data suggests this fear may be overstated. Healthy preparation and cleaning habits can reduce potential problems. Disinfecting surfaces and utensils before and after food preparation is a must. Cooks should avoid eating while preparing raw diets to prevent bacterial contamination of the cook from the food and contamination of the food from the oral bacteria of the cook.
Refrigerated or frozen raw recipes should be separated from other foods. Refrigerated food should be fed in 2-3 days. Like cooked meat recipes, frozen recipes should be used within 2-3 weeks.
Raw foods should be fed in stainless steel feeding dishes that are cleaned and disinfected after each meal. Children, the elderly and immunosuppressed individuals should not be charged with feeding the raw diet. They should avoid facial licking by dogs fed raw diets. Remember a dog’s tongue is its toilet paper!
Fecal material (poop) should be removed from the yard immediately, daily minimally and disposed in a fly proof container. Flies can transmit bacteria to food and body surfaces.
Cooked or Raw?
Cooked or raw meats can both be a foundation for quality homemade dog food. Feeding raw requires a greater commitment to ensure a balanced and safe diet but is no less an acceptable choice.
~Dr Ken Tudor
THE DOG DIETITIAN