Is a Raw, Homemade or Vegan Diet Beneficial for Your Pet?

Key Takeaways:

  • Approximately two-thirds of dogs and half of all cats have been fed homemade meals or raw foods in place of traditional heat-treated commercial pet diets.
  • Raw food diets for pets carry potential bacterial infection risks for the pets and the humans in the household, and animal bones can pose dangers such as fractured teeth and digestive tract penetrations.
  • Grain-free pet diets have been shown to potentially increase the risk of a dangerous heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).
  • Vegan diets may not meet the protein needs of pets, especially for cats who cannot receive all of their necessary nutrients from a strictly vegan diet.
  • Homemade meals for pets may lack essential nutrients, and veterinarians recommend discussing any unconventional diets with them to ensure the pet’s health and well-being.

Any devoted pet parent wants only the best nourishment for their beloved four-legged family members. With such an array of available food options, the decision can be somewhat overwhelming. Many wonder: are the current trends of raw and homemade feeding methods superior to conventional, commercially available pet foods?

Emergence of Alternative Diets

Recent studies show that only 13% of dog owners, and around a third of cat owners, consistently rely on conventional pet foods for their animals’ primary diet. Approximately two-thirds of dogs and half of all cats have at some point been offered homemade meals. Furthermore, raw meals have been fed to the majority of dogs and over half of all cats at least once.

According to Dr. Sarah Dodd, who is both a veterinarian and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College in Canada, fewer pets are being fed traditional, heat-treated foods. Her study involved surveying over 3,600 pet owners across several countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The Evolution of Commercial Pet Diets

“Commercial pet diets are a relatively recent phenomenon, developing over a few decades due to an increased interest in animal welfare. With pet owners wanting to provide balanced nutrition for their beloved pets, these products emerged as a response to these needs,” shares Dr. Dodd.

She believes that while conventional pet foods from grocery stores or pet stores are generally acceptable, no single diet suits all pets. The focus should be on ensuring the food meets nutritional needs and, importantly, is safe for consumption.

Risks Associated with Raw Foods

Dr. Dodd points out that raw food diets carry potential infection risks to both pets and their human families. Contaminated feedlots can be a source of certain bacteria, which may persist in the raw food.

“Feeding a pet raw food can result in bacteria on its face and whiskers, and leave traces in its waste. Animals may get sick from raw food, but even if they’re not visibly ill, they could still transfer infections to humans,” cautions Dr. Dodd.

The American Veterinary Medical Association advises against feeding pets anything not heat-treated or pasteurized due to the risk of bacterial contamination. Additionally, animal bones can present dangers, including fractured teeth, severe constipation, and occasionally penetrations in the digestive tract due to sharp bone fragments.

Should Pets Go Grain-Free?

Recent trends in grain-free pet diets have also raised concerns. These diets often contain significant proportions of peas, lentils, other legume seeds, and/or potatoes. Some studies have suggested that pets on grain-free diets might be at a higher risk of a dangerous heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

Veterinarian Dr. Camille Torres observes, “There was a strong correlation, and symptoms of DCM improved when the diet was changed. This issue underlines the complexity of formulating pet foods.”

Are Vegan Diets Suitable for Pets?

Vegetarian and vegan pet owners may want their pets to follow a similar diet, but Dr. Dodd and Dr. Torres caution that it might be difficult to meet pets’ protein needs without inclusion of any animal products. Cats, in particular, cannot receive all the necessary nutrients from a strictly vegan diet.

Benefits and Pitfalls of Homemade Meals

While cooking meals for pets can be an expression of love and affection, Dr. Dodd emphasizes that if you’re exclusively feeding homemade foods, your pet’s diet might lack essential nutrients.

“Homemade diets might not provide enough fiber or microminerals. They can also be insufficient in fats, or alternatively, provide excess fats, both cases leading to health complications. For example, consuming a suddenly high-fat meal can cause pancreatitis in dogs,” explains Dr. Dodd.

Consulting with the Vet

Both experts recommend discussing pet diets with vets, emphasizing that they are there to ensure a pet’s health and well-being. According to Dr. Dodd, many pet owners avoid discussing unconventional diets with their vets for fear of being judged. However, it’s important to have honest, open conversations with your vet to keep your pet in optimum health.

More Information
The American Veterinary Medical Association provides additional insights on raw food diets for pets.


Greetings from the trails and tracks! I'm Tim, but most folks know me as TJ. I've spent the last 5 years diving deep into the world of content writing, with a particular penchant for nutrition and the intricate science behind it. Every bite we take, every nutrient we consume, tells a unique story – and I'm here to unravel it for you.Beyond my keyboard, you'll often find me on a winding hiking trail or pushing my limits on a long-distance run. These pursuits not only keep me fit but constantly remind me of the vital role nutrition plays in fueling our passions and adventures.Through my writings, I aim to bridge the gap between complex nutritional science and everyday eating habits. Whether you're looking for the latest research updates, practical diet tips, or stories from the running track, I'm committed to serving you content that's as engaging as it is enlightening.So, lace up your shoes, grab a healthy snack, and join me in this exploration of food, science, and the great outdoors. Together, we'll journey towards better health and incredible experiences!
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