Choosing a Commercial Raw Pet Food

Top quality protein is essential to a top quality raw pet food.

Over the past few years, commercial raw pet food has become so popular that some ‘shady’ companies have popped up on the market. They use crappy, cheap ingredients, held together with crappy, cheap binders. They then slap the label “Raw Holistic” on it, and charge a premium price. They’re the raw food equivalent of Old Roy, with better packaging and marketing.

Also, the term Holistic makes me suspicious, because:

a) there’re absolutely no regulation as to what this word has to mean, when applied to food
b) there’s almost never a good reason for it to be used to describe a food, other than as a market buzz term

Instead of getting caught up in what terms food manufacturers use to describe their food, I prefer to get down to brass tacks, and ask some clear questions that I believe let me decide if a food is really quality, or just masquerading as such.

I’ve created what I consider to be my own ‘wish list’ when it comes to shopping for a commercial raw food.

Things I would personally look for:

Is the company using HUMAN grade ingredients, specifically grade “a” certified meat, poultry and fish? If not, then you’re not getting top quality protein, but you’re probably paying top price.

Are they doing in house testing for Salmonella and e coli? The only answer I want to hear to that question is “yes, on every batch”.

Do they outsource, or is all their food prepared in house? Outsourcing is when you have another company make the food for you, at their plant, and then slap your label on it. Think “Menu Foods”.

Are all of their ingredients domestically sourced, if possible? ie; is all of their meat/fish/game/poultry from the USA or Canada? You can’t expect their papayas to be from here, but for most ingredients the answer should be ‘yes’.

An added bonus – do they use as much local and/or organic produce and ingredients as possible? Not necessary, but it’s a sign that the company is putting some thought into what they’re making, and how sustainable it is.

I believe that you almost always get what you pay for, and that this is doubly true for raw pet food. If one food is 50% cheaper than almost everything else on the market, I’d be asking “Why?”, instead of just rushing to buy it. A bargain is good – but a bargain that seems too good to be true, usually is.

Zealotry in the Dog Food Wars

There are a few topics well known as not suitable for discussion in polite company. Death and taxes, of course – and on pet mailing lists, the topic of raw versus commercial food.

One of my French Bulldog mailing lists just experienced the sort of name calling and hysterics that a discussion on dog food almost inevitably provokes. Luckily, this is a civil and good natured list, and it all blew over rather quickly. I’ve seen such discussions turn into blazing flame wars in the past, complete with accusations of unfit pet parentage from those on both sides of the divide.

For, and make no mistake, there is a divide there, and it’s growing. It’s the divide between those who feed raw, and those who feed commercial, and there is no shortage of zealots on either side.

Commercial feeders scream at raw feeders about being irresponsible flakes who don’t care if their dogs turn into veritable walking petri dishes of bacterial infection. Raw feeders consider those who feed commercial to be ‘lazy pet owners who’d rather buy a sack of kibble than save their dog’s life’ (that’s a quote, from a particularly nasty exchange on a Molosser list I belong to). This kind of vitriol, this refusal to find a common middle ground, exists even within each half of the divide.

Raw feeders can at times come across as members of some sort of strange, dog food obsessed cult. I once joined a raw food mailing list, only to be chastised harshly by the list admin for mentioning that I grind my on the bone meat sources before I feed them. Didn’t I know that grinding ruins the whole point of feeding raw?

At times, an attitude of pervasive one oneupmanship seems to become apparent.

Mrs. W proclaims that she only buys organic meat to add to the pricey raw food mix she uses.

“You use a mix?” spits Mr. X condescendingly. “I grind all of my own meat and vegetables, and supplement with eggs from my own chickens”.

“You grind?” sneers Ms. Y. “What are you, stupid? Everyone knows you shouldn’t grind your meat. I feed my chicken pieces whole, with vegetable patties I make with the vegetables I buy at the whole food organic co op.”

Mrs. Z then loftily wonders aloud “Why anyone is still feeding just pieces, or bothering with vegetables”. Her dogs are on the wolf model diet, and get entire cow heads, ungutted chickens and deer haunches (skin on, of course). “If they need greens, they eat grasses or bark. Actually, I’ve been thinking of just fencing off the back twenty acres, and letting them forage for at least half of their food”, she muses.

Commercial feeders aren’t immune from this sort of conceit.

The person who still feeds Ol’ Roy from Walmart gets soundly lectured by those who feed Pro Plan.

Those who feed Eagle Pack and Wellness point out that Pro Plan is the equivalent of letting your dog eat Doritos for dinner every night.

Orijen and Honest Kitchen feeders sniff that they’d never let their dogs eat the kind of crap that’s in Wellness.

This, of course, is when the raw feeders mention how anyone feeding any commercial dog food might just as well give their dogs an intravenous drip of corn syrup and be done with it, and the whole thing starts all over again.

Personally, I feed raw, and have done so for years, but I feed raw with some caveats and with an acknowledgment that raw is neither a cure all nor without its risks. Years ago, when raw feeding was still in its infancy, I lost a puppy due to improperly prepared meat. After publishing my experience, I was quite thoroughly vilified by some of the best known names in the world of raw feeding, in main part for simply having the temerity to point out that precautions need to be taken when feeding our dogs raw meat. It left me with a bad taste in my mouth for the kind of fervent zealotry that some people practice, and a determination to find a balancing point I can live with.

I still feed raw, but a handful of my dogs are on a decent quality kibble. The tainted pet food scandal of last year made me, now more than ever, cognizant of the need to read labels and investigate the company making the food my pets eat. It hasn’t, however, made me assume that anyone who chooses not to feed raw is irresponsible, nor has it made me smug in my own sense of superiority. After all, I know first hand that the best intentions aren’t always enough to keep our pets safe.

Then again, neither is lecturing and haranguing anyone who doesn’t do things exactly our way.

(BTW, Christie Keith on the Dogged Blog wrote a great entry on the Raw Diet Debate)