What You Need to Know About Today’s Veterinary Diet Trends

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A look at the advantages and disadvantages of raw, homemade, and vegan diets for dogs and cats.

Nutrition is a common topic in veterinary practices, and rightly so. A pet’s nutritional needs change over time, and both age and health should play a role in diet selection. Diet trends are constantly evolving for both people and pets, and some of today’s owners are looking for a more “natural” alternative to kibble or therapeutic diets — namely raw, homemade, and vegan diets.

It’s important to be able to discuss both the positive and negative aspects of these types of diets with your clients so they are knowledgeable about the nutrients their pets need for optimal health. Due to the complexity of some patients’ health care needs, general practitioners may consider referral to a veterinary nutritionist as needed.

Raw meat–based diets

Some raw meat–based diets (RMBDs) are marketed as “complete and balanced,” and meant to serve as the sole source of nutrition without supplementation of other proteins into the diet.

Others are not marketed as complete or balanced, so they are typically fed as a rotation product rather than as the main diet. Both of these diet types are available commercially in fresh, frozen, and freeze-dried forms. In addition, pet owners can purchase individual raw diet ingredients rather than a branded diet.

Most clients feeding their pet a raw diet use a combination of RMBDs and traditional ingredients (eg, yogurt, eggs).1 This allows for supplemental feeding of carbohydrates, fiber, vegetables, and other sources of nutrition the pet needs.

Potential advantages

In a 2019 survey study, 94% of 218 dog owners who fed their pets RMBDs named a shinier coat, increased muscle mass, and cleaner teeth as the primary improvements observed in their pets.2 These owners, the majority of whom used the internet as their primary source of information about RMBDs, said they believe raw foods are “absolutely safe” for dogs.

There are no scientific data to support the proposed benefits of feeding an RMBD over commercial kibble or a homemade diet. Data comparing raw vs. cooked meals in performance dogs showed a difference of less than 1% in protein availability.1There is some published evidence of increased digestibility of specific raw diets compared with other specific diet types, but the practical advantage of this is unclear.1,3