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8 Reasons Why Veterinarians Are Against Feeding Raw Diets to Dogs

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.

Veterinarians have several reasons why they are against feeding raw diets to dogs, and money may not be the driving factor.

Veterinarians have several reasons why they are against feeding raw diets to dogs, and money may not be the driving factor.

Many dog owners speculate that veterinarians are against raw feeding for the simple fact that they are after the money and ultimately want you to buy the expensive bags of food they sell in their offices.

This belief is very widespread and has created a movement that has hurt the veterinary field, making it appear as if veterinarians are all greedy, money-driven individuals who put their wallets ahead of a dog's health and well-being.

Of course, there are some bad veterinarians as there are bad doctors, but it's very disturbing when dog owners are prompted to listen to the advice of the average Joe with little or no credentials who happens to own a flashy website offering nutritional advice and recipes, in lieu of a veterinarian (who has studied many years and keeps up-to-date by undergoing post-graduate continuing education to stay at the forefront of any new techniques, research, and trends which emerge constantly in the veterinary field).

Interestingly, there are sometimes veterinarians who are making claims that vets are after the money and do not recommend raw primarily because they are greedy. Due diligence is needed though. Oftentimes, such vets appear to be providing advice for free (often in exchange for your email to hook you up), and then once they have gained your trust, they'll try pushing their books and try selling you their supplements and food recipes. This makes them equally guilty as the vets they are allegedly bad-mouthing in the first place.

One must consider that if it's all about the money, why haven't veterinarians started selling raw foods on their own? With the raw food market exploding, and commercial fresh diets representing millions in annual sales, you would expect vet's offices to join the trend and start making some easy cash, but this seems still far from happening currently and for many good reasons.

So if not for the money, why are traditional veterinarians reluctant to recommend feeding dogs raw diets? Turns out, if we give them the benefit of doubt and look beyond the loads of speculation bombarded over the internet, they have their own reasons.

The scope of this article is therefore not to condemn or condone raw diets, but to provide an alternate view on this subject along with research and references to back up the reasons why veterinarians may be reluctant to suggest raw diets.

Reasons Veterinarians Are Against Raw Feeding

Before going into depth on the reasons why veterinarians are against raw feeding, let's take a look at some false claims being made over the internet. One big myth is that veterinarians receive zero education in nutrition. This myth by the way is not limited to the veterinary field, but it's also popular in human medicine.

Human doctors indeed are often accused of not knowing much about nutrition as well. And as it's happening in the veterinary field, you'll find oodles of fad diets being spread like wildfire by people with little or no credentials who accuse doctors of knowing nothing. People are following such diets found on the web which in turn may put them in danger or risk malnutrition.

Well, here is a fact: It's not true that veterinarians don’t know anything about nutrition. Nutrition is part of a veterinarian's curriculum.

Sure, such education will never be as comprehensive as what a veterinary nutritionist would learn, but it's there. Then, once vet school is over, veterinarians are free to continue their education and learn more about nutrition—and many do.

Most veterinarians do have at least a semester course on nutrition in general. And a lot more information on the subject is scattered throughout other courses in vet school. So the idea that we know nothing about the subject is simply ridiculous.

— Brennen McKenzie DVM

Most veterinarians use their training and study the latest research before coming to a conclusion on raw diets for dogs.

Most veterinarians use their training and study the latest research before coming to a conclusion on raw diets for dogs.

1) Nutrition Is a Complex Topic

The topic of nutrition is not an easy one. Indeed, it's quite complex (board-certified veterinarians undergo several extra years to receive education and training on this comprehensive subject).

There are so many types of dog foods on the market nowadays that it is very difficult to hold count. It just seems like every week a new company pops up and dog owners expect their vets to know everything about it.

Asking a vet whether a dog food is suitable for him is not as easy as asking a doctor if you can eat bacon when you have high cholesterol. Dog food is fed on a daily basis, and other than a few treats or table scraps, it's the core of your dog's diet.

On top of this, dog food is made of a long list of ingredients, you must, therefore, look at the order the ingredients are listed, the guaranteed analysis, and whether the food is balanced and suitable for the dog's life stage. Reading dog food labels has become more of an art and this is just half of the job.

After reading the label, you must then keep into account whether it's suitable for a specific dog considering several individual factors such as the dog's age, breed, medical history, activity level, etc.

Here's the thing: There's no easy answer to this question: "Dr. Joe, I have seen a lot of people on a website talking about this great food, would this be a good diet for Rover?"

Veterinarians have dog owners waiting for their appointments back-to-back, and therefore, at a time when everybody seems to be in a rush, it would not be fair for them to take an extra hour to just sit down and discuss Rover's nutrition while other clients are impatiently waiting.

It's therefore not surprising if veterinarians don't look forward to going in-depth on such a broad topic at regular appointments. It's likely not because they don't want to, and more often than not, not because they don't know. In most cases, veterinarians stay on top of the topic of nutrition, it's just that it's a very complex subject and certainly not something they can answer with a short "Yes" or "No."

And the topic of raw diets is even more complex because of several factors that will be mentioned below. If we were therefore in their shoes, we would likely feel the same way. A little empathy for our vets will go a long way, considering how stressful their jobs are (suicide rates are among the highest among veterinarians).

"Asking about nutrition as a “by the way” as your vet is leaving for her next appointment isn’t fair. Just as you’d schedule an appointment with your vet if you had questions about your pet’s itchy skin, go ahead and schedule one for your questions about diet."

— Dr. Amy Farcas, veterinary nutritionist

2) A Lack of Evidence and Data

Most mainstream pet food companies sold at veterinary offices have likely had sales reps who brainwashed veterinarians in making them believe their foods are the best, but in compensation, these companies at least have offered plenty of scientific data to back up their claims, something that is rarely available for alternative diets such as raw and home-made diets.

Ignoring all of this data in favor of the opinions of lay, internet-educated people who have labeled themselves as experts in the field (yet without any credentials) is not a good way to practice medicine that is evidence-based.

This is likely the biggest flaw of raw diets. Sure, there are loads of anecdotal reports of dog owners noticing better weight management, healthier teeth, reduced allergies, and a glossier coat, but actual scientific evidence through peer-reviewed studies to support these claims is lacking.

People advocating raw foods also make statements about how a raw diet most closely resembles what a dog's ancestors ate (wolves), but veterinarians argue that this doesn't keep into account the evolutionary, biological, and dietary changes associated with domestication.

For instance, a study has found that as dogs became domesticated, their ability to digest starches increased. Indeed, increased starch digestion constituted a crucial step in the early domestication of dogs. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that dogs thrive on a diet high in starches.

"To say that because dogs can digest starch proves that they thrive on a high-starch diet is like asserting that because people can process ethanol and glucose we thrive on a diet rich in rum and cookies!" says holistic veterinarian, Doug Knueven.

On top of this, advocates of raw diets ignore the many characteristics separating modern dogs from wolves, such as reduced aggressiveness and altered social cognition capabilities, not to mention morphological alterations such as reduced skull size, teeth, and brain size. There are many differences between dogs and wolves!

Comparing dogs to wolves is somewhat like comparing humans to apes. Not to mention that the average lifespan of a wolf in the wild is not very long when most dog owners wish for their dogs to live for at least a decade and more.

Raw diets are inspired by what wolves used to eat in the wild, yet wolves are not dogs.

Raw diets are inspired by what wolves used to eat in the wild, yet wolves are not dogs.

At this time, there are no scientific studies showing any health benefits of raw meat diets. Their appeal is based on word of mouth, testimonials, and perceived benefits. However, studies show that there are significant risks to feeding raw meat diets.

— Lisa M. Freeman, veterinary nutritionist

3) The Risks of Salmonella to People

A raw diet for dogs isn't as easy as pouring a bag of kibble into a bowl or opening a can and plopping it on your dog's dish. There are risks to the people preparing it that dog owners need to be aware of, which adds to the list of liabilities.

The major risk is for dog owners to contract Salmonella from the unsafe handling of raw meat.

So if veterinarians would recommend raw diets, they likely would feel responsible for ensuring that dog owners do so safely. This would involve pointing out the risks associated with handling raw diets such as:

  • Knowing how to safely store and thaw raw meats.
  • Washing hands before and after being in contact with the raw meat.
  • Having utensils and a cutting board exclusively dedicated to its preparation.
  • Avoiding feeding dogs in the kitchen.
  • Feeding small amounts that are consumed quickly.
  • Washing all food and water bowls preferably using a sink in a separate area other than the kitchen or bathroom.
  • Avoiding having young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and the immunocompromised (people with HIV, undergoing chemotherapy or using anti-inflammatory medications) handle raw diets or surfaces where it is prepared.
  • Using caution in handling the dog's stools considering that this organism can be shed as well in the dog's feces. According to one study, Salmonella was found in approximately half of the dogs that were fed a single meal of contaminated raw food and these dogs shed Salmonella in their feces for up to 7 days.

Although salmonella is the pathogen most commonly mentioned when it comes to raw diets, there are also risks of contamination with other organisms, including Campylobacter spp, Clostridium spp, Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, and enterotoxigenic Staphylococcus aureus.

Veterinarians who recommend feeding raw meat or eggs without giving full disclosure of the risks and precautions may face legal ramifications.

— Sherry Sanderson, board-certified veterinary nutritionist

Salmonella bacteria are a risk for dogs and humans.

Salmonella bacteria are a risk for dogs and humans.

4) Risks of Salmonella to Dogs

The internet is flooded with websites and dog owners who discredit veterinarians and commercial pet foods in very convincing manners, and this leads to dog owners being strongly influenced by them.