Updated: Jan 10
So you’re at your veterinary office for your standard check-up. You’re called into the examination room after soothing your pet in the beige, vaguely antiseptic-smelling waiting room. As you mentally run over the points you want to discuss with your vet, they bring up the topic that you desperately want to talk about yet equally desperately don’t want to be shamed about: their diet.
If your vet has ever expressed doubts about raw or actively discouraged you from feeding a raw diet, you know how uncomfortable this moment is.
In fact, many pet parents choose to avoid talking about raw feeding and lie to their vet instead.
Here at Red Dog Blue Kat, we’re big advocates for checking in with your vet before you make any major changes to your pet’s diet. But what are you supposed to do when your vet disapproves of your choice to feed your dog or cat raw food?
This week, let’s go over the top five reasons your vet may discourage you from feeding your pets raw food and what you can do to prepare and respond to their potential misgivings.
How to Respond to Your Vet About…
Complete and Balanced: Whether your dog or cat is on a DIY or commercial raw diet, have a complete write-up of their nutritional analysis with you, including their protein, fat, fibre, vitamin, and mineral content.
Bacteria in Raw Food Can Make You and Your Pet Sick: Talk about your safety standards for handling raw meat. This can include how you prep and clean your pet’s dishes, your hands, utensils, and cutting boards. Talk about how you defrost no more than 1–2 days’ worth of food in the fridge and how you don’t leave it out long for your pet longer than 20 minutes. You can also use RDBK’s safety standards: we use human-grade, veterinary-inspected meats that, by virtue of their processing standards, should have a lower number of pathogens to start with compared to “pet-grade” or non-inspected meats. We also have a microbiologist on staff who checks every batch of our food for potentially pathogenic strains C. Perfringens, S. Typhimurium, and Enteropathogenic E. Coli. We use bacteriophages to help with the rest.
Raw Food Gives Pets Worms: Talk about your sourcing standards! If you use RDBK meals, mention our HACCP program and how we only use human-quality inspected meats that should be parasite free before it reaches our facility. In addition, we use the same freezing standards used to ensure parasite-free sushi by the use of blast freezing at -30C, timed freezing for 1 week or more, and minimum temperature freezing at -20C to ensure that if any parasites have been missed in the human-grade inspection, they are rendered inactive well before it gets to your pet’s bowl.
There’s No Science Behind Raw Food: There wasn’t for a long time, but the studies are coming in! Here are four articles showing a positive correlation between a whole food raw diet and a healthy microbiome, which is the cornerstone to a healthy immune system, prevention of chronic disease, and promotor of longevity!
If Your Vet Wants To Sell You Prescription Diets: Ask for details about what that prescription diet will provide for your pet and how it addresses any health conditions your pet may have. What makes it different from a raw diet? What preservatives and chemical additives may be in the food, are they safe, why are they necessary, and are there alternatives? How often does the company test to ensure they provide consistent nutrients (and what are their testing standards?), and how do they keep their fats from going rancid once the product is opened? Take notes and inquire about any whole-food options that could provide similar benefits.
What Your Vet Thinks
Like any doctor, veterinarians have a duty of care, not only to your pet but to you as well. It might not be that they don’t think feeding raw can be beneficial, but since they are not well versed in feeding it, they worry about possible risks and the potentially more complicated steps of feeding raw compared to traditional kibble or cooked diets.
By not informing you of the possible risks of raw feeding, vets risk client complaints and even litigation in the unlikely event of something going very wrong. So it might not be a raw diet that your vet doesn’t trust, but the system and—possibly—you.
Before you get offended by that idea, take a moment to think about it from your vet’s perspective. If they only see you once to twice a year, they might not have a good idea about who you are, your values, your education, your dedication to feeding your pet, and the state of your household.
For example, do you know—and practice—safe food handling? How much research have you done on your pet’s dietary needs? Where are you getting your pet’s food, and how do you know it’s safe? Are there immunocompromised people in your household?
Your vet doesn’t know the answer to these questions, so they’ve got to play it safe. They need to be sure they’re not giving you advice on things they are not well educated on or comfortable with. Keep in mind they truly do have your pet's best interest at heart, and their advice is based on what they have been taught and the information available to them!
This means that you can consider a part of a visit to the vet as including a check-up on your practices, not just your dog or cat’s health. So your goal when visiting the vet (other than getting a clean bill of health for your dog or cat, of course) is being prepared to (gently, respectfully) explain your decision to feed your pets a raw, whole-food diet.
And here’s how you can do it!
The Main Arguments Against Raw
1. Raw Food Isn’t Complete and Balanced
This is a very common accusation when you tell anyone—not just your vet!—that you feed a raw diet. And to be fair, if you’re feeding a completely DIY raw diet, then making it complete and balanced can be a challenge for pet parents, especially those new to raw.
If you have the time and dedication to educate yourself on the micro and macro nutrients of every ingredient you put in your pet’s bowl, congratulations! Maybe print out some cards with all that information because this is a question you’ll be answering quite a bit.
Alternatively, reach for pre-made meals from a brand you can trust. Raw pet food brands should be open and upfront about what exactly is in their meals and how they should be fed to meet the AAFCO designation of “complete and balanced.”
For example, RDBK’s Everyday meals are formulated for AAFCO standards for adult dogs. Our Foundations meals (for cats or dogs) require rotating through poultry, red meat, and fish options before they meet AAFCO standards.
What to say to your vet: Whether you choose DIY or commercial raw, have your nutritional facts ready. When your vet asks how you know your beloved pet is getting all the nutrients they need, that’ll be your chance to show them that you’ve done your research and are actually invested in and educated about your pet’s health needs.
2. Raw Food Has Pathogens That Will Make You and Your Pet Sick
For some reason, this criticism of raw feeding always seems like a slam dunk to the accuser. Yes, raw meat can grow pathogenic bacteria if not handled correctly. Yes, some bacteria can be harmful and can be passed along to you.
However, we would then counter with these two arguments: first, that kibble can—and often does!—contain mycotoxins that can cause acute, severe illnesses or even long-term issues like immune deficiencies or cancers.
In fact, a 2018 study showed a similar amount of kibble to raw recalls over 10 years. So no, raw doesn’t present a more inherent danger than kibble in this regard. Some of those recalls for kibble have been due to salmonella, the very bacteria that a lot of vets are worried about in raw!
Secondly, regarding cross-contamination, this is also a fair point of concern—when it comes to food handling, feeding raw requires more caution than kibble, and you can’t leave it out all day for your pet. That being said, many people (not just raw feeders) handle raw meat regularly and yet, don’t contract harmful pathogens. It’s just about being conscientious, careful, and diligent in your food handling and clean-up!
What to say to your vet: This is the time to brag about your own safety standards. Talk about how you have multiple dishes for your pet’s meals that get washed in the dishwasher or with hot, soapy water after every meal.
Mention how you store and thaw their raw meals—in the fridge, in a sealed container, and not letting poultry stay thawed for more than 1–2 days, or red meats longer than 3 days. Plus, your pet’s raw food is so delicious that they finish their meals in under 20 minutes, so no raw food gets left out all day to grow bacteria.
Finally, don’t forget to mention how you wash your hands (again, with hot, soapy water), utensils, and cutting boards after use—just like you would with the meat you’re preparing for your own meals!
Additionally, RDBK has a microbiologist on staff who checks every single batch of our food for pathogens, such as C. Perfringens, S. Typhimurium, and Enteropathogenic E. Coli.
3. Raw Food Causes Worms
We have a lot to say about the warnings raw feeders get—often from their own veterinary professionals!—about the risks of pets getting worms from raw meat. What it really comes down to here is quality!
Poor quality meat and inadequate safety standards can increase the risk of worms in raw meat, but this can be avoided by conscientiously selecting a quality-sourced, human-grade, thoroughly inspected, and safely-handled pet food company. Maybe like a company that goes through a rigorous HACCP audit every year?
In fact, there is evidence that a quality raw diet actually helps prevent worm infestations by promoting a diverse gut bacteria culture with a good rotation of food and supplements.
What to say to your vet: This time, you can use RDBK’s quality standards as your talking point—you have our permission, blessing, and encouragement!
Start by talking about our sourcing standards: RDBK only uses the highest quality, ethically sourced, human-grade ingredients for our meals. We will never use what is colloquially known in the pet food industry as “the 4 D’s”: dead, dying, diseased, or disabled animals which have been rejected for human consumption. (But for some reason, are still okay for animals to eat? No, we don’t get it either.)
Finally, we use a blast freezer set at -30°C to inactivate any potential remaining parasites and cysts before moving the finished products into our -20°C freezer, where it is stored anywhere between a few weeks to a few months. That's more than enough time to kill most parasites.
So while worms can be a threat in some raw food, this risk becomes negligible when put up against a company that values quality and safety above all else.
4. There’s No Science to Back It Up
While raw-feeding pet parents have seen incredible results over the years, the scientific community is still catching up with long-term studies comparing the health of pets fed a balanced, whole-food raw diet to those on more traditional canned or kibble diets.
Thankfully, more studies are being released every year, but you’ll still have to contend with a formidable force: your veterinarian’s nutritional training.
The actual amount of nutritional training for veterinarians can vary from vet to vet; it depends on their curriculum that year or if their professor had a particular passion for nutrition or not. However, this isn’t a failure of the system: veterinarians have a lot of knowledge and information crammed into their brains from a wide spectrum of topics. This means that segments on nutrition generally only cover the basics, enough to make recommendations, but anything beyond that requires further education or a specialty qualification.
In addition, the nutritional training that is provided is often funded by big brand companies since they have the funds to do so. This isn’t to say that their studies are bad or completely one-sided, as they do provide valuable information, but it also doesn’t mean they’re without bias.
Veterinarians frequently get free products from brand-specific sponsored programs, making them more inclined to trust a product they’ve been trained on and used themselves—which is understandable!
What to say to your vet: First, don’t get defensive when this topic is brought up. Vets are, to put it mildly, extremely busy and don’t often have time to keep up with the results from new studies on raw feeding—though those studies are out there, including these four that show a positive correlation between a whole food raw diet and a healthy microbiome.
If you want to discuss your dog or cat’s diet with your vet, make an appointment specifically for that. Don’t pull the old “oh, and just one more thing” in the last few minutes of your standard check-up; your vet will more than likely fall back on their training and prior knowledge of nutrition in this brief discussion because, again, they simply don’t have the time to hear you out, do some research, AND review your pet’s medical history in relation to their diet.
If you want a chance to break through to your vet, send over some of the studies linked above before your visit (or any other study you may have found in your own research—just make sure they come from credible sources), so they have time to review it.
5. Vets Get Kickbacks for Selling Certain Foods
This is tricky because while it has some truth in it, it doesn’t mean that your vet is a down-and-dirty, money-grubbing salesperson. It’s true that Canada has restrictions for therapeutic diets meant to address certain conditions (like renal diets, diabetic diets, and so forth) and that these products can only be sold through veterinary hospitals.
It’s also true that Mars (yes, the chocolate bar company) owns and manufactures the foods sold in veterinary hospitals that they also own and operate. So yes, there is a bit of an incestuous circle happening within veterinary facilities.
It may also surprise you to know that this kick-back program is actually very common in the human medical and drug industry as well—it’s not restricted just to pets!
What to say to your vet: If your vet suggests a specialized diet for your pet, there’s probably a reason for it, as in, your pet is suffering from some condition and needs help. That doesn’t mean you have to take your vet up on it, but it does mean it’s time for some research.
Ask your vet what it is specifically about their proposed diet that would help with your pet’s condition. Is it a low-carb diet for diabetes? Well, it doesn’t get much more low-carb than raw food. Is it adequate hydration and protein for renal failure? A raw diet can do that, too!
The point is that your vet’s primary goal is to help your pet, not to make money off food sale kickbacks. Just because they may disagree with your choice of diet for your pet at first doesn’t mean you can’t still benefit from their knowledge and education.
Finding a Holistic Vet
If you’ve gone through all these steps and your vet still disapproves of your choice to feed raw, it might be time to find a holistic vet who supports you. You can use RDBK’s Find a Vet to locate one near you, or check out our Top 6 Holistic Vets in the Lower Mainland!
Getting in the Last Word
While it can be frustrating and nerve-wracking to face a vet who isn’t completely on board with your decision to feed your pet a raw diet, it’s important to remember that their goal is to ensure your pet’s optimal health, however that might manifest. By convincing them you are doing everything right in the pursuit of a healthy life for your pet, you may find subsequent visits to the vet to be more open-minded and of a cooperative nature. And who knows—maybe your education and your dog or cat’s blossoming health might help them change their mind!