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Battle of the Bowls

Raw versus kibble – which one is best for your West Highland Terrier?

By Kim Latham

The debate on which food is best for dogs, raw or kibble, continues to be clouded in controversy. There are those at one end of the spectrum who appear to be strict advocates of feeding a raw meat diet to beloved pets. Many of these same advocates once fed kibble to their dogs and claim the difference in the dog’s health and happiness since making the switch to raw food is proof that feeding natural food is paramount.

Kibble, due to the way it is processed, can contain dead animals – birds, rats, potentially causing cancer, according to many raw food advocates. If this isn’t enough to put dog lovers off feeding it to their best friend then how about looking at the way kibble is apparently stored for months on end in warehouses, shops, and even in kitchen cupboards…before eventually making its way to dog’s bowls.

Others will testify that the above is simply ‘fake news’ with a sprinkling of myth served on the side and that kibble is a safer, more hygienic option. Raw food could possess harmful bacteria. Families worry that raw food could potentially cause harm to young children touching the kitchen surfaces on which the raw food is prepared. It can’t be good having defrosted raw food sitting in the fridge alongside human food, can it?  Measuring raw food is too complicated, not to mention expensive, and newbies are frightened of overfeeding or underfeeding canine companions. Ever heard of a vet prescribing a raw food diet? Perhaps, but as a rule of thumb, many vets, still tend to prescribe kibble-based diets on a more frequent basis.

As for the potentially thousands of poor souls stuck on the fence, meanwhile, these pup parents are chasing their tails to weigh up the pros and cons of each – desperate to decipher which information and advice is true and that is no easy task.

Some might argue a large part of the problem in this vital nutritional debate is the divide among veterinarians themselves. Holistic vets, in many instances, travel a different path for people’s pups than the road followed by more traditional vets. While some conventional vets do advocate or at least do not dismiss raw food, others frown upon it. If there is no consistency in the veterinary community perhaps it is of no great surprise that the British public are confused about what to feed their Westies.

Dr Brendan Clarke, President of The Raw Feeding Veterinary Society (RFVS) said: “The day-to-day principles relate to how as a profession we uphold our oath to take responsibility for the health of the patients under our care with paramount importance being based around our patients’ welfare. The five welfare needs as quoted from the British Veterinary Associations’ Animal Welfare Foundation are:

  • the need for a suitable environment
  • the need for a suitable diet
  • the need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
  • the need to be housed with, or apart from, other animals
  • the need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury, and disease

Every day we see patients and want to advise them not just about what is needed to get well again but how to stay in a state of health. To this end, we believe that three of these needs are helped by giving a suitably appropriate raw food diet, allowing animals to exhibit normal behaviour and space while eating that diet helping them remain protected from pain, suffering, and disease”, he said.

So, what constitutes a ‘suitable diet?’ According to the RFVA it is ‘as close to the evolutionary diet of dogs and cats as is practically possible, is made from fresh frozen raw meaty bones, meats, organ meats, fruits, and vegetables, minimally processed by mincing and freezing. The diet contains no added synthetic supplements, additives or preservatives.’

If the RFVA and the British Veterinary Associations’ Animal Welfare Foundation clearly state that ‘fresh frozen raw meaty bones’ are what Britain’s dogs should be eating, the question surely arises as to why some vets continue to support kibble.

“What is exciting is how we are seeing pet parents educating vets on the raw feeding as they see the improvements through great nutrition. The attitude of veterinarians toward raw feeding is changing and many are saying that a complete raw diet is good for dogs and to be careful if you Do-It-Yourself that you get the balance right, said Mark Scott, CEO, Bella & Duke.

Many younger vets also seem to be more pro raw feeding maybe because they take more of an interest in nutrition.  I’m not frustrated but I am disappointed that many vets don’t look at the labels of kibble and do research into the ingredients that make up highly processed food”.

An ‘interest in nutrition’…perhaps there lies part of the answer?

According to Dr Clarke, vets have five years of training, much of which in the first two years historically has been firmly grounded in anatomy (the study of body structure and species differences), physiology (the study of the bodies reactions and mechanisms to respond to its environment ) and biochemistry (the study of how the body uses the nutrients and processes them to build, repair, and produce energy to function). Then over the next three years the focus is on the study of diseases and the affects they have on a multitude of species and the support the patient needs to heal.

“Nutrition is often seen separately from these processes by many people recommending how to feed a pet having gained online qualifications. However, they are an integral part of understanding what the body needs especially for animals which are already ill. The quotes for the study in the production of foods for pet animals are often limited to no more than a few weeks and are often funded by commercial feed companies which is still true to this day and are not the independent lectures of assessing a species’ needs, in areas such as the five freedoms of animal welfare and the relevance of how we influence diets health impacts by using highly processed diets rather than following human health advice of moving away from processed food to a wide variety of appropriate whole foods”, said Clarke.

Switch on the television and peruse the numerous dog food adverts. Westies eating wet food out of a tin. Labradors eating kibble from their bowls. Collies running full steam ahead around a field. What these marketing adverts have in common is the healthy, happy dog complete with gleaming coat and sparkling eyes that all Westie lovers want for their own furry friends. It is perhaps no wonder that dog owners up and down Britain do not know which food is best for their canine pals when big budget marketing campaigns are spinning pet parents in all different directions across all forms of media channels. Bella & Duke launched its own television advert campaign promoting raw feeding, most likely a first for a raw food dog company.

“What’s great is social platforms now allow pet parents to chat and discuss pet nutrition, no longer can huge marketing spend keep healthy options from reaching the mass market,” said Scott.

For years now, most dog food adverts on television have promoted kibble and tinned food so is it no wonder that most people still opt for kibble when they have grown up with such adverts? While audiences have stayed loyal to big brands, have some of these same dog owners been taken by the hand on a long road trip by marketeers that are big on convenience food and perhaps not so big on nutrition?

“In true human fashion we believed through processing foods and using by-products of food manufacture we can produce a more affordable food for all species. This has bitten us badly when we look at spongiform encephalopathies (e.g. mad cow disease) due to the feeding of processed animals into cattle feed to increase protein and even for our own health with processed ready meals leading to a huge rise in obesity and chronic inflammatory disease and even cancer. Recent years have revealed that the best way to combat these issues are to look back to more whole foods and appropriate feeding of our animals and ourselves”, said Clarke.

Raw food for dogs continues to get a bad rap in many media stories despite the growing popularity of it. This is perhaps because of the lack of substantial research due to it being relatively new compared to kibble and tinned food.

What is intriguing is that these same media stories while slating raw food do not appear to have a strong argument for the benefits of kibble. Similarly, raw feeders find it difficult to prove that kibble causes chronic disease due to the lack of long-term research. Either way, it is vital that dog owners continue to ask who or what organisation is funding research papers whether that be individuals, organisations, or businesses.

“I currently head up the Raw Feeding Veterinary Society as President and we are sponsored by several small manufacturers of raw food, so we all have vested interests. The only way around this would be for members of the public to start sponsoring these positions and organisations anonymously. These organisations would then cease to exist as people would find themselves aligning to a certain point-of-view or being sponsored by those who gain greater funds. Some professionals hold onto a pretence of science when pushing away alternative ideas which they do not have the knowledge or time to explain. All of us like to believe we are free thinking ethical scientists, but we all believe a version of the truth which makes for debate,” said Clarke.

Whichever way you sway when it comes to feeding your dog, it is perhaps important to remember that everyone has an axe to grind and conspiracy theories rage across social media forums whether you’re a lover or a hater of raw food or kibble. The biggest travesty of the late twentieth century was the drive for convenience and losing sight of the responsibilities for our planet and the species we share it with. Let’s hope that scientists and veterinarians continue to push for research that is unbiased and accurate allowing dog owners to truly give their friends the best lives possible.

Westies & Besties Magazine approached the UK press office for Mars and invited them to take part in this story. The request was declined, and the UK press office response was Mars does not support a raw diet and therefore would not proceed with the interview opportunity. Here are the questions put forward to Mars.

▪ Kibble perhaps gets a bad rap these days with the growing availability of raw food coming into the marketplace. Tell us your views on this. 

▪ In the future do you see any of your brands producing its own raw food?

▪ What is your response to those that say kibble for dogs is lacking in essential nutritious ingredients?

▪ Why do you recommend kibble rather than raw food to dog owners? What are the benefits?

▪ Is it fair to say that kibble is a ‘convenience’ food for dog owners? Do you envisage any of your pet food brands changing direction in the future?

▪ Some say raw food is expensive. Do you think your pet food brands of kibble sell well because of price points?

▪ There are numerous brands under Mars that make kibble and yet the branding for each company is different and perhaps appealing to different kinds of dog owners. What is the difference in kibble for various brands or is it all made and manufactured in the same way, in the same plant?

Mark Scott, CEO, Bella & Duke with Trin