What Is Packaged Raw Dog Food? Discerning Your Dog Food Options

What Is Packaged Raw Dog Food?
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vet verified Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

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Stella Freeze Dried Chewy's Chicken Dinner for Dogs

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A large number of pet parents are starting to feel that a more natural, raw diet is better for their dog. In the past, this kind of unprocessed dog food would have to be made at home, but now it can be found prepackaged.

Many pet parents are starting to feel that a more natural, raw diet is better for their dogs. In the past, this kind of unprocessed dog food would have to be made at home, but now it can be found prepackaged.

Several pet owners and veterinarians believe a raw diet is best for a dog. These folks claim that raw meat is closest to what our dog’s ancestors would have eaten in the wild. Such food supplies protein, vitamins, and minerals in proper proportions for the animal’s body. Raw diet proponents say that dogs fed this diet have healthier skin and coats, fewer oral problems, better weight management, better digestion, and are healthier overall.

In the past, those who wanted to feed their dog a raw diet had to prepare this food at home. This meant obtaining meat from butcher shops, farms, or the like and preparing the food yourself. Instead of relying on the dog food brands like Hill’s Science Diet Dog Food, it seemed more reasonable to prepare a ‘better’ doggy diet at home.

To serve the growing demand for these dog foods, some commercial pet food makers have begun to offer raw packaged dog food. These foods generally are kept frozen until you are ready to use them. They often come in chunks or patties that can be individually thawed daily. Packaged raw food may also be dehydrated in powder form and reconstituted with water in batches.

Choosing Raw Packaged Dog Food

As with any pet food, dog owners should research before trying a raw diet with their pet. There are several options and levels of quality when it comes to raw packaged dog food brands like Merrick dog food. Not all raw foods are created equally! 

To begin with, just because a food is raw doesn’t mean that it can’t contain preservatives and other artificial ingredients. Checking the ingredients list can alert you to the presence of some of these additives. Although listing standards are known to be lax, a situation some food makers take advantage of. Foods that are AAFCO approved, adhere to somewhat stricter guidelines. 

Also, there is disagreement whether dogs should be fed vegetable matter or if a meat-only diet is best. Subsequently, some raw packaged dog food will contain vegetables while others will not. Pet owners will want to decide what’s best for their dog with their veterinarian, but do be sure to leave out certain fruits and vegetables such as onion, garlic, grapes, raisins, green tomato, and avocado, which can be toxic to pets. You may also want to try several different raw dog foods—those with vegetables and without—and see how your dog fares. 

Finally, because raw meats can contain bacteria that cooking would otherwise kill, some makers of raw dog food have adopted a technique called High-Pressure Pasteurization (PPO). This technique kills food-borne pathogens and is USDA-approved. Those concerned about food-borne illnesses might want to find a raw food manufacturer that utilizes PPO, or just avoid raw foods altogether.   

Any dog on a raw food diet should see a veterinarian regularly, and most veterinarians do not recommend raw diets. However, new sterilization techniques and AAFCO approval of a small number of foods may help change the minds of some veterinarians. Discuss the use of raw diets with your vet so they can recommend the appropriate portions, feeding practices, and any needed supplements. If you have to go raw, pick a reputed brand like Stella And Chewy's Tantalizing Turkey Dog Food Topper, which uses freeze-dried ingredients to ensure nutrition and safety.

Salmonella in Pet Food

Salmonella is a bacteria that causes the disease salmonellosis. The disease usually spreads through bacteria in contaminated food directly to humans and animals, but it can also pass between people and animals. If pets get the disease, they carry the germs in their stools and bodies and on their fur and coats, spreading Salmonella amidst their surroundings and belongings.

Symptoms of Salmonella

However, keep in mind that some pets may be carriers of the bacteria but not show any signs of Salmonella infection.

Salmonella from Your Pet’s Food

Are you concerned about the frequency of recalls of pet food and worried about inadvertently serving your pet contaminated food?

Although store-bought foods typically have been cooked to kill bacteria, some vitamins and fatty acids are applied to the surface of the kibble after cooking and can encounter contaminated materials, resulting in contaminated pet food. Here are some tips to reduce your whole family’s chances of encountering Salmonella:

  • Don’t buy items with noticeably ripped or discolored packaging. Steer clear of dented cans.
  • At home, keep dry pet food separate from people's food, preferably in a cool, dry place (less than 80 degrees F), in its original bag (left folded or closed when not in use) inside a sealed container. Treats should also be stored in these same conditions.
  • Put leftover wet food in the fridge (kept at 40 degrees F) right away.
  • If possible, feed pets in a different area from where you eat and prepare human food, clean pet dishes separately from where human dishes are cleaned, and do not mix utensils between people and pets.
  • Regularly clean your pet’s bowls with hot, soapy water or run them through the dishwasher.

If You Make Your Pet's Food or Use Raw Pet Foods

The Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) does not recommend raw diets for pets because of the link to increased Salmonella-related illnesses for animals and humans. The American Veterinary Medical Foundation, too, cautions against serving raw or undercooked animal-based proteins, including meat, bones, eggs, or unpasteurized milk or cheese—all of which can be sources of Salmonella.

If you are preparing your pet’s food from raw materials or feeding a raw diet, follow good hygiene procedures such as washing hands before and after handling food, and never feed your pet anything that seems to be spoiling or no longer fresh. Watch your pet carefully for signs of illness, and take action immediately if needed.

What to Do If You Think Your Pet Has Been Affected by Salmonella

If you suspect your four-legged loved one may have this illness—if your cat or dog has experienced the above symptoms and they're not abating—get your animal to a vet’s care right away. Obviously, do not continue to offer the suspected contaminated food items. Through an examination and lab tests, a diagnosis will likely be reached.

Treatments may include antibiotics, fluids, and, in more progressed cases, hospitalization.

Prevent the Spread of Salmonella

The CDC warns that since Salmonella infection can pass from pets to humans, good hygiene and care—including regular and thorough hand washing, are important—particularly for those who’ve come into contact with animal stools or affected pet food.

Your animal may be a carrier of Salmonella germs for up to four to six weeks after becoming infected. The CDC advises against sharing foods between pets and humans. Kids under 5, seniors, and those with immune system issues should avoid contact with affected pets.

To keep the community informed, contact your county or city health department about any contamination. (To do so, visit your state’s health department website and search for your locality, or start on the CDC website.)

Remember to throw away any recalled products—by sealing the items in closed bags and tossing them into trashcans no other human or animal can get into. If you touch the contaminated goods, follow good handwashing practices, making a lather with soap and scrubbing for at least 20 seconds.

Stay Informed

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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment by your veterinarian. It has, however, been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.

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