There are broadly 2 schools of thought about changing a dog or cat from processed pet food to raw.
The first, is the take-no-prisoners approach of stopping the food being fed one day, and starting 100% raw the next.
The second, is to transition gradually by introducing a small amount of raw to begin with, and increasing this in stages every few days until 100% raw is being fed.
All or nothing
Advocates of the sudden switch method, often cite research studies suggesting that gastric pH is higher when processed food (largely kibble) is fed, compared to a 100% raw diet. And as a strongly acidic stomach environment is an important part of the destruction of pathogens in food, any weakening of this by mixing kibble and raw could increase the risk of disease caused by Salmonella, Campylobacter and other potentially harmful microorganisms.
Diluting the concentration of gastric acids might also impair digestion (of both processed and raw) leading to partially digested food entering the small and the large intestines, where it can cause bloating, excessive wind and abdominal discomfort.
It would appear from this, that a quick switch to avoid mixing kibble and raw would be the best option. is the best option.
Or is it?
The drawbacks of too much too soon
While it is undoubtedly true that some pets can finish a processed or home cooked diet one day, and eat 100% raw the next without any apparent ill-effect, a significant number of dogs and cats transitioned like this experience digestive problems of various sorts, or an aggravation of a pre-existing condition, such as itching, skin eruptions or IBD.
Why is this?
- Suddenly changing from highly processed and often carbohydrate rich foods to a virtually all protein diet, can cause a range of bowel disturbances, including vomiting, bloating, excessive wind and diarrhoea. This occurs because the digestive system (the pancreas in particular) is not used to coping with nutrient rich, raw, natural diet.
- If a particular raw food doesn’t suit a pet (and this becomes increasingly likely with the inclusion of pesticide contaminated fruits and vegetables, and lots of different ingredients which can all act as allergens) it can trigger or aggravate health problems.
These kind of experiences can stay in a pet’s mind, and the discomfort or nausea felt (however mild) become associated with the food being fed. For some dogs and cats, this can be enough to put them off raw for a long time – if not for good – which considering the great benefits of feeding this way for most, is a real shame if it can be avoided.
In our experience, it’s very rare for any problems to arise when raw is introduced gradually.
And this we believe, is why:
- Transitioning in stages allows the body to adapt at a comfortable pace – which is a fundamental prerequisite for health. No-one becomes fit and healthy by running a marathon on the first day of a new exercise programme. Slow, steady progress is the key to success. Similarly with dietary changes. The whole digestive system, from the rhythm of the peristaltic movements of the intestines moving food down the oesophagus to the anus, to the composition of the digestive juices (including salivary amylase and the concentration of pancreatic proteases) is profoundly influenced by the quality and composition of food entering the body. Sudden changes in this can be a real shock – and often is. Smaller, more manageable dietary adjustments on the other hand, avoids unnecessary stress and allows the body to adapt in a healthy manner.
- Digestive organs, tissues and cells, along with the chemical mediators of physiology and function, need time to change, so they can process a new diet efficiently and effectively.
- Cleansing / detoxification can occur without precipitating unpleasant / distressing gastrointestinal signs, skin eruptions etc. which can sometimes happen.
- If the raw food chosen doesn’t suit a particular pet, this can be spotted quickly and corrected before it gets out of hand. As with many aspects of pet care, the best way forward for each pet depends on many factors – and adopting a step by step approach allows the feeding regime to be adjusted to match each individual dog or cat’s needs – which is the essence of a holistic approach.
Transitioning gradually to raw has consistently proven to be a gentle, kind and effective approach to improving the diet and subsequent health of the great majority of the pets we’ve helped over the last 30 years – including those with serious health problems.
And this is why – unless there is a compelling reason not to – we recommend this approach.