Many hard core raw feeders are often aghast at the idea of anyone cooking for their pet. Admitting to rustling up the canine equivalent to a hearty cooked breakfast is often ridiculed as being contrary to what Mother Nature intended, and the argument that cooking destroys the goodness in our food is frequently trotted out without a second thought as to its veracity. This results in yet another raw feeding myth being perpetuated and taking on a life of its own.
At a very basic level, stating that cooking destroys the nutrients in food is clearly and blatantly incorrect – otherwise we humans would have died out a long time ago, as the vast majority of our foods are cooked or heated to some degree. We have, after all, developed over thousands of years to thrive on cooked foods – indeed, we have become so used to these that our bodies can no longer tolerate some of the bacteria found in or on raw meat and vegetables, unlike our pets who were only introduced to processed foods within the last 150 years. We therefore need to cook for ourselves. Our pets, who usually rely on us to supply their food, have not developed in this manner and are essentially designed to eat their foods raw. Their mouths and stomachs contain enzymes which we lack in order to deal with any potentially harmful bacteria, their stomachs are nearly four times as acidic as ours, and their intestines are considerably shorter. This means that even if they eat something that would kill a human, it is either neutralized by their body or swiftly expelled before any damage is caused.
So let’s firstly deal with why some people choose to cook for their pets:
- They enjoy it. Speaking as someone who literally can’t cook/won’t cook, I don’t get the urge or desire to cook dinner for my dogs (especially as I can barely feed myself) – but some people really like to take the time to dutifully prepare their pet at least one proper cooked meal each day. They enjoy being in the kitchen and making something for their pet, and it is an expression of their love; something they can give their faithful companion to thank them for their unwavering love and loyalty.
- Some people are wary of the bacteria found in raw meat, and prefer to cook their pet’s food to ensure the safety of their pet and their family. Leaving aside the reality that the same bacteria are found everywhere in nature (and not just in raw meat) and the necessity of always practicing good hygiene in the kitchen no matter what food you are preparing, cooking your pet’s food is often advisable if you have very young children or elderly people around your pet, or those who suffer from a compromised immune system. Cooking will destroy any harmful bacteria and remove the risk of illness from the bacteria originating in the meat. I stress “in the meat” because it is still quite possible to become ill from the same strains of bacteria in dairy products, fruit and veg, contaminated water and the soil around us. Dogs and cats can be the source of a number of potentially harmful bugs, from their mouths, coat or feces, and it is always advisable to wash your hands after playing with your pet and to avoid too many wet kisses – you just never know what they may have digested whilst out on a walk! For more about the myths surrounding raw meat and bacteria, read this article.
- Some dogs definitely prefer their meat cooked. No matter how hard core raw you are (or would like to be), if your dog isn’t in to it no amount of cajoling or tears will change this. Cooking their meals can however be the next best thing if raw isn’t going down well in your home. Heating meat releases not only that wonderful smell, but also causes the juices to flow more freely creating an enticing gravy. This can sometimes miraculously encourage an otherwise reluctant dog to eat. My Chihuahua definitely prefers her chicken cooked, especially at breakfast – even though all my other dogs will eat anything I put in front of them, raw or cooked.
If you do decide to cook for your pet, careful thought should be given to the content of the meals you plan to serve. There are numerous books on the market which can provide plenty of recipes and inspiration if you’re feeling creative. (Some of our favorites are by food therapist and award winning vet, Judy Morgan: “What’s For Dinner, Dexter?” and “Canine Kitchen Capers”.) Many dogs have different nutritional requirements and it may take a period of trial and error to establish your dog’s ideal ingredients. In order to ensure that your dog doesn’t miss out on any important proteins, vitamins or minerals, I would strongly suggest researching cooked diets thoroughly first, rather than just throwing together what ever takes your fancy in the kitchen! Don’t forget that every meal needn’t contain every element of an ideal diet – it is what is fed over a period of time that matters.
You should obviously not only be aware of what your dog or cat requires at meal times for optimum health but also take careful note of foods which should NEVER be served (whether cooked or not):
- Avocado – These contain persin, a substance harmless to humans, but toxic to dogs in large amounts. The pits are also extremely dangerous if swallowed and can caused blockages.
- Alcohol – As much as you might enjoy a drink with your dinner, booze is a big NO for your dog! Just a small quantity can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, breathing issues, coma and even death.
- Onions & garlic – Garlic in small quantities can be beneficial, but too much can cause poisoning.
- Grapes & raisins – These can cause kidney failure.
- Macadamia nuts – As few as six nuts can cause severe illness in your pet, or even death.
- Candy & gum – The sweetener xylitol used in some of these products can cause liver failure, vomiting and death.
- Salt – Can cause excessive thirst and urination, and can lead to fatal sodium ion poisoning. Symptoms include vomiting, tremors and seizures.
- Cooked bones – whilst a raw non-weight bearing bone can be a fantastic addition to your dog’s diet, cooked or dried bones should never, ever be fed. For more information about feeding bones, see this article.
So, are there any nutritional benefits to cooking for your pet? To find out, read Part 2 of this blog, coming soon!