Raw or cooked pet food - which is better?

When you visit Darwin’s website, you’ll see that we refer to our meals as “raw,” as this is the common term used for our kinds of meals. Having said that, we believe that the whole “raw vs. cooked” controversy is an unnecessary distraction from the real issue that should be focused on, which is “fresh food vs. processed food.”

We don’t think there is a “one-size-fits-all” approach to pet nutrition. Each dog is unique, and the nutritional needs of different dogs are often best met in different ways. Nevertheless, there are a few principles that we believe are universal when it comes to pet nutrition.

  1. Use good quality, nutrient-dense ingredients.
  2. Formulate the meals in a way that provides complete and balanced nutrition.
  3. Prepare the meals in a way that enables the nutrients to be most readily absorbed and least damaged.
  4. Serve the meals as soon as possible to minimize depletion of nutrients and spoiling.

The real question comes down to how to apply the third principle. For those who advocate feeding fresh food, the heavy heat and processing commercial dry foods undergo result in significant destruction of the nutrients found in the food. This typically requires the nutrients to be added back chemically (resulting in less absorbability).

Raw food advocates contend that even light cooking of fresh food compromises the nutrients. Detractors claim that feeding raw increases the risk of introducing pathogens like salmonella and E.coli.

There may be some truth to both statements, but the question comes down to what degree these trade-offs occur? Most credible pet food experts would agree that a healthy dog’s digestive system is well-equipped to deal with normal amounts of bacteria, etc. that may be present in raw meat. According to many of these same experts, however, light cooking of meals (sufficient to destroy any pathogens) causes’ only minimal damage to even the most heat-sensitive nutrients.

So there’s no compelling reason to pick one approach over the other. Instead, the decision should be made on a case-by-case basis. The general rule that may be applied is that the less processing that is done to the food, the better. And for most dogs, that is no processing at all (i.e., raw).

Having said that, there are some dogs with sensitive digestive systems that don’t handle raw food very well, and find cooked food easier to break down. And other dogs with compromised immune systems (or who live with people with compromised immune systems) for whom the risk of illness from pathogens is real. And still other dogs who just prefer their meals cooked, for whatever reason. For those dogs, lightly cooking the food is the best approach.

Surveys from Darwin’s customers indicate that about a third cook the meals for their pets, and two-thirds feed raw. Both groups see dramatic improvements versus commercial kibble, and neither group report any health problems resulting from their choice.

So when making a choice, don’t get too fixated on the issue of raw or cooked. If you’d feel more comfortable lightly cooking your pet’s meals, go right ahead. The important thing is to feed fresh food, whether raw or cooked, and try to minimize the use of heavily processed kibble.



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