Pet owners interested in feeding their dogs and cats the precise diet their ancestors and wild counterparts eat are visiting sites like eBay and Craigslist looking for affordable sources of raw wild game.
Online prey model shoppers are looking for squirrel, pheasant, rabbit, goose, duck, chicken, deer, raw fish, meaty bones and organ meats like kidneys, hearts, and livers.
The majority of well-meaning pet owners don’t realize it’s a misdemeanor to solicit wildlife online. Selling it is a felony.
People caught selling raw meat without a permit face up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine. Those buying the illegally obtained game face up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.
Buying and selling on the Internet is a way to avoid paying taxes or buying licenses to sell wild game, according to Florida wildlife investigators. It’s also a way to sell meat that may not be safe for consumption or that was harvested from animals killed by poachers.
The situation described in the USAToday.com article is an example of a good idea gone bad.
While I applaud pet owners who choose to feed their dog or cat a species-appropriate, raw diet, it’s important to understand the laws regarding conservation and wildlife management.
Comparison shopping for meats typically found at your local butcher shop or supermarket is a very different matter from searching online for affordable sources of raw wild game.
As responsible animal guardians, the last thing we want to do is create a black market for wildlife that encourages poaching, inhumane treatment of prey animals, or unsafe handling of killed game.
Raw Food Pet Diets: Prey Model and B.A.R.F.
Both the prey model and the B.A.R.F. (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food or alternatively, Bones and Raw Food) diets are founded on the very sound principle that pet dogs and cats should be nourished with the food their bodies are designed by nature to thrive on.
Species-appropriate nutrition cannot be found in the vast majority of commercially available pet foods – a fact many pet owners are catching on to.
Add in the rash of recent pet food recalls starting with the 2007 recall for melamine contamination, and the result is a growing number of pet owners who are looking for alternatives to low quality processed dog and cat food.
The basic difference between the two raw diets is the prey model attempts to be a near-perfect replication of the diet of canines and felines living in the wild.
The prey model has a couple of variations:
- Feeding whole prey and nothing else.
- Feeding chunks of meat with some amount of bone, plus organs and eggs.
While it’s feasible that you can provide your dog or cat balanced nutrition using the prey model, there are some important things to consider.
First and foremost, if you’re thinking about the whole prey option, you’ll be faced with a significant sourcing problem as described in the USAToday.com article. I can’t in good conscience recommend this option for the majority of proactive pet owners, given the challenges of finding a good variety of fresh, raw, whole, legally obtained wild game.
If you’re considering the second option, be aware that feeding chunks of meat doesn’t equate to feeding whole prey. Many people who think they are feeding a prey model diet are really feeding a pieces-and-parts diet that, over time, can cause serious nutritional imbalances.
For example, when a wolf in the wild eats a deer, he eats the entire animal save for the stomach contents and a few very hard skull and leg bones. He may gnaw on the larger bones (nature’s toothbrush), but he doesn’t crunch them up and swallow them as a source of calcium and trace minerals he needs. The wolf in the wild will eat:
- Muscle meat
- Smaller bones
- All internal organs (kidneys, lungs, blood, intestines, liver, heart and brain)
- Thyroid, adrenal and all other glands
- Assorted other goodies
Many of these parts of the prey animal provide important nutrients for your dog (or kitty), so if you’re not feeding the whole prey, your pet is not getting all the essentials he needs to be healthy.
Additional Drawbacks to the Prey Model
I have clients tell me they are feeding a ‘whole prey diet’ by just feeding chicken legs. Although leg quarters are a good source of protein and some minerals, when they are compared to AAFCO minimum nutrient requirements, they do not represent a balanced diet.
If chicken legs are fed as a sole food source, your pet will become deficient in essential nutrients such as potassium, iron, copper, manganese, zinc, vitamins A, D, E and B12, iodine and choline. A diet of nothing but chicken parts has an unbalanced fatty acid ratio, not to mention a complete deficiency of phytonutrients, antioxidants and enzymes (nutrients AAFCO doesn’t evaluate).
Although AAFCO standards leave room for improvement, they do at least set the bare minimums for nutrients a food should meet, and chicken legs by themselves don’t even meet the minimums!
Percent of AAFCO Minimum per 1,000 Calories of Chicken Leg Quarters Minerals Calcium (g) At AAFCO safe upper limit Phosphorus (g) At AAFCO safe upper limit Potassium (g) 70% Sodium (g Na) OK Magnesium (g) OK Iron (mg) 26% Copper (mg) 14% Manganese (mg) 71% Zinc (mg) 30% Iodine (mg) 0 Selenium (mg) OK Vitamins A (iu) 50% D (iu) < 1% E (mg) 30% Thiamin (mg) OK Riboflavin (mg) OK Pantothenic acid (mg) OK Niacin (mg) OK B6 (mg) OK Folate (mg) OK B12 (mg) 33% Choline (mg) 56% Ratio Omega-6 to Omega-3 Fatty Acids is 15:1
(desired is no more than 7:1)
Protein as fed: 18%
Fat as fed: 12%
Protein: 44% (vs. ancestral diet at 49%)
Fat: 65% (vs. ancestral diet at 44%)
Another consideration is that grass-fed, wild, large prey (deer, bison, etc.) is different nutritionally than animals bred on farms. The way an animal is raised determines its nutrient content and fatty acid profile as food for your pet.
If you feed your dog, for example, whole small prey like chickens or rabbits, she will still benefit from the nutritional variety provided by cattle, bison, moose, deer, etc. Large prey cannot be fed whole, obviously, but has great nutritional value.
Whether your pet eats small prey, large prey or a combination, he will still require additions to his diet for nutritional balance.
I recommend a B.A.R.F.-ish diet over the prey model because again, sourcing and nutritional balance are major roadblocks to feeding the prey model successfully.
Why am I such a stickler for balance?
I believe we can improve on the diet our pets’ wild counterparts eat by adding certain carefully selected foods and supplements that provide optimal balanced nutrition. After all, we must account for nutrients lost through:
- Soil depletion
- Antibiotics and hormones added to our meat sources
- Contaminated water and produce
Our pets deserve nutritional balance, to the best of our ability as caretakers.
For instance, instead of feeding our carnivorous pets entrails (guts) found in whole prey, I advocate feeding a ’gut replacement’ of pureed veggies and probiotics. Guts can contain parasites that negatively affect your dog’s or cat’s health. A veggie replacement is guaranteed parasite free.
If you do feed whole prey (including entrails, which may contain parasites), please check a stool sample with your vet at least every six months.
In the wild, dogs and cats consume small prey whole (such as moles, voles and mice), but eat selectively from larger prey, sometimes leaving the stomach and entrails behind.
When wild canines and felines consume intestinal contents, they receive a rich dose of their prey’s diet passed up the food chain, including finely chewed grasses and berries.
Like most raw feeders, I believe mimicking a prey’s intestinal contents provides sources of phytonutrients, antioxidants, enzymes and vitamins that are not found in muscle meats, and are very beneficial to our companion’s overall health.
Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats is Based on B.A.R.F. Philosophy
The pet food cookbook I co-authored with Beth Taylor, Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats, is based on many of the principles of B.A.R.F.
There are four main components to our Real Food nutritional program:
- Meat, including organs
- Veggie and fruit puree
- Homemade vitamin and mineral mix
- Beneficial additions (probiotics, enzymes, super green foods that aren’t required to balance the diet, but can be beneficial for vitality)
The recipes we include are proportioned as follows:
- Dogs – 75% meat, organs and bone; 25% veggies and fruits
- Cats – 88% meat, organs and bone; 12% veggies
We have found these ratios work well for most healthy pets.
The mainstays of our program, which provide good variety and balance, are chicken, beef, turkey, eggs and sardines. We also discuss more exotic protein sources like venison, bison and ostrich for those who are interested.
The book includes suggestions for how, where and when to shop to get the most value for your dollar. It also covers supplies, equipment and storage essentials.
We include instructions on how to make an easy vitamin/mineral mix to balance the diet. Fortunately, whole foods provide most of the nutrition your pet needs, but as with all homemade diets, there are a few deficiencies that naturally occur. Although many people simply overlook these imbalances, we believe they are essential to good health over time. A simple, homemade vitamin/mineral mix remedies these deficiencies.
We discuss appropriate veggies and fruits, healthy treats, and the supplements we recommend. We have guidelines for how much to feed, and how to transition your favorite furry pal to a different way of eating.
If you’re concerned about the safety of raw meat for your pet, I invite you to view my video on raw meat diets for dogs and cats.
And for those of you who aren’t ready to go raw just yet or never plan to, some of our recipes can also be served cooked. It’s entirely up to you.