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Our columnist’s cat, Streaky, after snacking on a chicken neck. Cats are rather dainty chewers and can handle a cooked chicken neck easily.

PHOTO BY JEFF MCFARLANE Enlarge Image

Our columnist’s cat, Streaky, after snacking on a chicken neck. Cats are rather dainty chewers and can handle a cooked chicken neck easily. Photo Store

We’ve been getting a lot of questions about the hazards of raw dog food diets lately, and there seems to be a lot of misinformation out there, so I’ll try to address a few of the big questions today.

The biggest concern is salmonella. Yes, raw foods are a salmonella risk, as are any raw foods that we prepare for our own consumption. But, a quality product handled appropriately is as safe or even safer than kibble, which is also capable of being contaminated with salmonella.

Many people think the raw food fed to pets is rancid, waste product. The product we sell is from feather to frozen within 24 hours. About as fresh as you can get. And as long as it is kept refrigerated after thawing, it can be held safely for days, like any raw meat product.

Most importantly, the salmonella concern is not about harm to the animals, but the risk to humans. As carnivores, dogs and cats can handle levels of salmonella far exceeding what we can. So the concern is that mishandled raw foods can infect people.  And for households with immunologically-suppressed people or small children, raw foods might not be something you should risk.

There are rumours out there about raw foods leading to worms.  Worms are spread through digestive tracts, not muscle meats, and from wild game, not domestic animals.  So, a hunter feeding his dog the guts of a deer or elk he’s just shot is taking a risk at infecting it with parasites. But feeding a frozen pet food made from domestic meat is safe.  Freezing also reduces the risk of pathogens and parasites.

"Pets shouldn’t eat chicken bones" is probably the most common misconception out there. Dogs and cats have been dining on the raw bones of prey animals for thousands of years. But in the wild, they’ve never had to worry about cooked bones.  Until they get cooked, bones are pretty soft, containing a lot of water.  But once they are cooked they become dry and brittle and when broken, they can be razor sharp.  Try and do the wishbone thing with a raw wishbone and you will go crazy.  But cooked, they just snap right in two. So, part of the information is true, dogs should not eat cooked chicken bones. Cats, though, are rather dainty in chewing, and can handle a cooked chicken neck easily. My cat, Streaky, gets one every day or two, and loves them, raw or cooked.

So, as long as the chicken piece is raw, and the animal actually chews it into appropriate swallowing size, it is safe. Some animals will try and gulp items too large to swallow, including rawhides, pig ears and chewies. If your pet does this, then a chicken back or neck might not be an appropriate treat. But if they aren’t gulpers, gnawing on a chicken neck or back is a great dental treat and has tremendous food value.   Having a mat designated as a place for chewing can keep the pet from wandering around with a chunk of raw chicken. If they take their snack off their mat, take it away from them and return it to the mat. They learn quickly what that means.

Handled with respect, there isn’t a better, more appropriate food for your pet than raw. But take the time to learn all about it — it will be well worth it.

Contact Jeff with your questions or ideas at aardvarkpets@shaw.ca or visit www.aardvarkpets.com

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