I had a brief conversation last week with the maker of a new (to me) dog food called “Raw Wild Pet Foods”. The niche this company is trying to fill is the segment of dog owners who understand that WILD foods are better than cultivated or agricultural ones. I’m one of those, so I wanted to know more about this food.
How is the food sourced?
I had to ask because, to my knowledge, it is illegal in the US to kill wild animals for commercial purposes. An unnamed company rep informed me that the meat is acquired from facilities that process deer and other game animals killed by hunters.
So far, so good
If it’s from wild deer and elk, it’s probably legitimate food for dogs. Why shouldn’t it go to feed dogs instead of wherever it goes if nobody is buying it?
What is it?
The next thing I wanted to know is whether this is what is left over after the parts that humans want are taken. Here’s the response I got:
“The meat is not “what’s left after the parts that are intended for human consumption” but rather the meat that is not taken off the bone and a lot of scraps that are trimmed to make the steaks look like the ones you get from the grocery store.“
I haven’t figured out how that’s not a “yes”. Obviously, it was, but this person was trying really hard to avoid admitting it.
Next, I took a look at the “Guaranteed Analysis” label on this food and saw that they were playing the normal “minimum” game with regard to fat and protein calculations. This is meaningless information, of course, because what we want to know is the ACTUAL amount of fat and protein in the food.
Since the fat percentage shown was so low, I suspected they were using the trick of calculating it based on weight rather than calories. So, I asked about that, and the answer I got was:
“The protein and fat analysis is based on weight.”
With this, we have an admission that this company does what almost all marketers of meat and pet food products does. They hide fat. It’s practically obligatory, because they have to buy it and they need to be able to sell it. It’s like when you buy what looks like a lean steak at the store and then discover when you get it home that the fat has been hidden underneath. That’s no accident, and the same thing is going on with dog food labels. Manufacturers and AAFCO know that the percentage of fat would be more meaningful to consumers if it was calculated based on calories rather than weight. But then they would have to actually reveal the true proportion of fat in the product. And they don’t want to do that.
Human food labels do a better job of this, but even they are as cryptic as the manufacturers can get away with. Still, they put the useless numbers on dog food labels to shame.
Dog Food Advisor
Fortunately, a website called Dog Food Advisor has done the calculating for us, and it’s based on CALORIES rather than the more meaningless weight calculation. As you can see from their breakdown, the “8% min crude fat” on the label is actually 57% by calorie.
It takes some sleight of hand to claim a product with 57% fat has only 8%. First, you have to know that fat is a lot lighter than the other constituents of the food. So, calculating based on weight is going to make it look much lower. This has long been used by the dairy industry to sell “2%” milk as a “low fat” product. 2% milk is actually 36% fat by calorie.
I have purchased trim, scrap and bones directly from large processors of hunted deer and elk. So, I’ve seen first-hand what it looks like and what it’s composed of. This company apparently wants us to think that hunters have freezers full of fatty deer parts. I guarantee, they do not. They have hunks of extremely lean flesh, leaner than you can buy in any grocery store. That’s why they hunt in the first place.
Deer and elk DO have fat on them
That’s not to say there’s no fat on deer and elk. During hunting season after long months of constant ruminating, they carry quite a lot of fat. In fact, it’s normal for a 100-pound deer to yield only 40-45 pounds of lean meat for the hunter. Organs are left in the field, typically, so the balance of the ‘waste’ is comprised of bones and fat. Most of the fat on deer is not in the form of the intramuscular fat or the “marbling” that we see in beef. On a wild ungulate’s body, the two primary functions of fat are fuel storage and insulation. What that means for the processor is that it is fairly easy to remove from the carcass.
The fat doesn’t go home with the hunter
As the company rep was telling me about sourcing, he also volunteered this:
“The cutters that process the animals are paid on a per piece basis and cut and trim as quickly as possible with the result that there is a lot of meat that is not cut and packaged.”
ALL game processors produce as much finished product in as little time as possible. So, it’s disingenuous for this company to pretend that this means processors leave large hunks of lean flesh on the scrap they toss out. Hunters want as much food from their kills as they can get. And they don’t want fat any more than consumers of commercial meats do. They want lean steaks and roasts, primarily.
The nutritional issue for the domestic dogs eating this food, and processed game scrap in general, is a matter of proportion. When a wolf or wolf pack takes down an ungulate in the wild, they eat the same proportion of fat that is present overall on the body. There will be occasions when a wolf will eat lots of fat, but this is balanced by other times when he will eat mostly lean.
Domestic dogs eating “Raw Wild” dog food, by contrast, are only getting bones, fat and a small amount of lean meat. This represents a departure for their species, the kind that produces disease. At no point in the biological history of canines have they eaten, on a consistent basis, animals with 40% of their lean muscle removed. We can’t go along with this processor when he wants to pretend that his products are the same as if they contained the whole animal, or even the animal without its organs.
“But it’s clean fat”
Anyone who is familiar with the difference between wild and agricultural fat might say that. The fat that agricultural animals carry on their bodies has no physiological function other than storing waste from the crap they are fed. Unlike wild animals, they have no real need for either insulation or fuel reserves. The fat is put there for one reason and one reason only – to make money for producers. It’s true that the fat on wild animals is not the same as the fat on agricultural animals. It is NOT used to store toxic, morbid wastes. But the sheer volume of fat in this food is still going to present a problem.
We can’t get away from the fact that dogs evolved eating very lean food. This fact is confirmed to this day by field observations of wolves and other wild dogs. Any dog that is fed fatty foods on a daily or regular basis is going to develop pathologies as the body attempts to compensate for the imbalance. Pancreatitis, diabetes, kidney disease and bilious vomiting are just some examples of many conditions that are caused by overconsumption of fat. If all other factors are equal, clean fat is undoubtedly better. BUT it’s still going to cause problems.
The company claims that this scrap would ordinarily go to landfills. I’m not so sure about that, because I know that processors typically have to pay someone to haul it away. Renderers are usually cheaper than trash haulers, because they can actually use the product. But allowing the benefit of the doubt, who wouldn’t love the idea of keeping perfectly suitable meat and bones from going to waste? The company wastes no time making prospective buyers aware of this presumed benefit. And in concept, I’m completely on board. I’d be on board in practice, as well, IF feeding the food created health in domestic dogs.
I practice environmental stewardship myself, whenever possible. The only time I don’t is when the cost is too high. In this instance, the ‘cost’ would be feeding fatty foods to my dog. There are lots of ways to be green without sacrificing the health of our dogs. The processors aren’t going to the trouble of bringing this food to market for the purposes of keeping it out of landfills, they’re doing it to make money. They have their priorities and dog owners need to have ours. Our goal should be to not allow marketing spiel to influence how we feed our dogs. We’ve learned over the past 7-8 decades that doing otherwise only hurts us and our dogs. If keeping our dogs in optimal health is what we want, the actual quality of the food must be #1 on our list of criteria.
This scrap absolutely should be used
That the good parts of this scrap are ending up in landfills or rendering plants along with the fat is a shameful waste. It SHOULD be used, it just needs to be sold WHOLE rather than processed. That way, dog owners could not only see what they’re getting, they could trim fat and feed the bones whole like they should be fed. Not ground up into a pink indeterminate mush. Unfortunately, this would mean a whole lot less profit for the processor, not to mention insurmountable logistical issues. As a result, no dog food processor is going to be able to do that, including Raw Wild. If they ever did, it would be even more prohibitively expensive than it already is.
The normal fear mongering
Where home-feeding is concerned, “be afraid, be very afraid” is the unofficial motto of everyone with a stake in the sick dog industry. Vets, “canine nutritionists” and pet food manufacturers always go out of their way to frighten people away from home prepping. True to form, the rep from this company had this to say:
“We applaud people who have the time, knowledge and expertise to make their own dog food. As you know, it is not easy to understand exactly what you need to put into your dog’s food to make it a complete and balanced meal.”
This is just plain crazy. I absolutely do not “know” that it’s “not easy” to understand exactly what to feed a dog. It IS easy. This person is confusing the feeding of a dog, which is a very simple matter, with the reductionist nonsense that PhD canine nutritionists are taught. THAT’S what is complicated and impossible to understand. The truth is simple and straightforward. That’s why the book I wrote about dog feeding is so short.
I have been home feeding for 22 years and can tell you it takes no “expertise” to figure out how to feed a dog. Imagine if a pediatric nutritionist told you to feed your child fortified cereal 3 times per day. And that the alternative was so “dangerous” that it would only be safe for those who have specialized knowledge about how to feed children. The kind that can only be had in institutions of higher ‘learning’. I hope that seems ridiculous, because it’s precisely analogous to what canine “nutritionists” typically recommend. Can we trust these people when they put their stamp of approval on anything, including “Raw Wild” dog food?
“Balanced and complete”
When wolves eat almost nothing but blueberries in July and August, I don’t see them failing because their meals are not “balanced” or “complete” according to some PhD nutritionist. It apparently takes 8-9 years to educate a PhD canine nutritionist. If that’s so, I can only think it’s because that’s how long it takes to persuade a person that the hogwash they’re learning has any basis in reality. Dog owners who make the biggest mistakes in home feeding are the ones who think the nutritionists behind commercial dog food actually know what they’re talking about. As a result, they will attempt to replicate in their kitchens the sludge that passes for food in the commercial pet food industry.
What’s really dangerous is listening to the “experts”. They recommend exactly what favors industry, NOT what keeps dogs out of the vet’s office!
“Raw Wild” dog food contains supplements
There are no organs in this food because they are left in the field by the hunters. The manufacturer says that including the organs from agricultural animals in their food would “compromise” its quality. Apparently, they think it’s better to replace them with powder from a factory. This is the same thinking that has given us the burnt brown pellets we’re always being told are the best we can do for our dogs.
To be fair, it’s probably not the manufacturer’s fault this time. Anybody who wants to sell commercial dog food in the US must follow the ridiculous guidelines laid down by AAFCO, the industry’s ostensible watchdog. In my opinion, anything approved by AAFCO should get automatic disapproval by any dog owner who wants a healthy dog. I won’t go into the problems with AAFCO in this essay. If you want to know more about the incestuous relationship between it and the industry it’s supposed to be policing, this paper is informative.
Omnivore vs. carnivore, again
A couple of other interesting bits of information came out of my conversation with the company rep. One had to do with the old argument about whether dogs are omnivores or carnivores. For the purpose of claiming that dogs are pure carnivores, apparently, he had this to say about wolves eschewing the stomach contents of the large animals they kill:
“When I have harvested a deer or elk and left the gut pile — stomach, intestines, lungs, heart, liver and kidneys (to the extent I haven’t taken the heart, kidneys and liver for myself) and have returned the next day to continue the hunt for whoever hasn’t taken an animal, everything but the stomach and intestines are typically gone.”
This certainly jibes with what I’ve read in the field research about wolves “shaking loose” the contents of the stomach before eating the tissue. However, we don’t know if the area where this person hunts is even inhabited by wolves. If it is, and if they do leave stomach contents, the only thing that can be inferred perhaps is that wolves don’t care much about partially digested grasses and leaves.
BARF feeders claim that the presence of plant matter in the stomachs of prey proves that dogs need plant matter. PMR feeders, on the other hand, often cite the observation about wolves shaking loose of stomach contents to claim otherwise. They defend feeding only meat. Once again, both camps are mistaken. If wolves do reject stomach contents, it certainly doesn’t mean that they reject all plant foods. And wolves ingesting plant matter in the stomachs of smaller prey doesn’t necessarily mean dogs NEED plant matter either.
Dogs are actually classified as “facultative carnivores”, which means they can subsist for significant periods on foods other than meat. Certainly, they can also subsist, probably indefinitely, without plant foods. The purpose that plant foods serve in Rotational MonoFeeding has nothing to do with nutritional need. It has more to do with displacing fat in the diet that would otherwise be excessive.
The rep also went on to say:
“I am sure they will eat the stomach and intestines as well as berries if they are really hungry, but if they have their choice, they eat meat.”
He is apparently unaware of the growing body of information from field researchers which reveals that fruit consumption represents more for wolves than a desperate bid to avoid starvation. In “Weekly Summer Diet of Gray Wolves (Canis lupus) in Northeastern Minnesota”, Thomas Gable, et al, report that the wolves they studied typically ate 68% of their calories from blueberries during summer. Researchers with the Voyageur Wolf Project calculated that the wolves they observed ate 83% berries for an even longer period.
Is “Raw Wild Pet Food” worthy of inclusion in RMF?
Considering the above, it’s a bit ironic that the inclusion of fruit in the diets of domestic dogs could serve to make “Raw Wild” dog food more acceptable as a regular staple of the diet. Fruit is a very appealing, palatable, easily digestible secondary food for dogs, including domestic dogs. And as such, it can form a sufficient proportion of a dog’s diet to adequately offset the excessive fat that we almost always can’t avoid feeding on meat days.
If an owner was willing to replace the 40% lean meat that is missing from this food, and add organs, it could be a perfectly fine food. This would be more likely to be the case for a young active dog, depending on how often it is fed. It might even be a suitable part of a feeding protocol for a middle aged or older dog. But sufficient plant days would need to be fed in order to offset the amount of fat in the diet and to correct for the potential overfeeding of this rich wild food. Our dogs are not having to chase down their food, after all.
The only thing the owner would need to overlook is the supplementation. Personally that might break the deal for me. Nutritional supplements do not perform the function in the body that real nutrients do. They may end up in the bloodstream, but so does everything else that is consumed by a dog. Symptoms that are falsely attributed to “deficiency” can even stop once a supplement is administered, but this by no stretch means that the “deficiency” has been resolved. Symptoms are nothing more than complex chemical actions and interactions in the body. All it takes to change them, or even suppress them, is introducing a new chemical. Real deficiencies, when they can be established to exist, are caused by pathological malfunction. That can only be corrected by removing the cause of the malfunction, and that’s going to be the overall diet.
The makers of Raw Wild dog food might well be justified when they make claims comparing themselves favorably to other dog food brands. It’s truly not difficult to be a stand-out in the pet food industry, shamefully. What they forget, and what most dog owners forget, is that what’s available in the marketplace does not establish the standard. The standard we’re forced to adhere to is nature. How dogs have always eaten in the eons they’ve been on this planet is the model we must follow, or as close to that as we can get. If we don’t, our dogs will only continue to suffer.
I have no doubt that the testimonials on Raw Wild’s website are legitimate. This food represents major improvement over most other commercial foods. Consequently, dogs coming from kibble to this food are typically going to enjoy improvements in their health.
It’s just not the best we can do. It can be made to come pretty close, but only if dog owners are aware of the fat issue and what to do about it. For that, they need RMF. Even if they were following an RMF protocol, however, I would recommend feeding it cautiously.