Pet Food: Is Fresh Best for Your Pet?

by Dr. Alex Barrientos

Dr. Alex Barrientos and Ranger at Earth Angels Veterinary Hospital

Choosing a diet for our four legged friends used to be simple. We went to the supermarket and picked what looked best, or followed our veterinarian’s advice and spent more on “Vet Recommended” diets. Today, more consumers are aware of what goes into processed dog and cat food, and it has become harder to argue that a processed product is as good as fresh food for our beloved animal companions. The recent scare over melamine-tainted grain used by the pet food industry intensified this awareness.

The current buzz is fresh foods, cooked or raw, created specifically for dogs and cats at home or by specialty companies. With these new alternatives gaining popularity, pet owners are caught between veterinarians’ warnings against such possibly dangerous diets and their desire to do better for their pets.

As a pet owner and a veterinarian, I have experienced both sides of the argument. I have recommended alternative diets while practicing holistic medicine since the 1990’s, finding them extremely helpful with chronically ill patients. It has taken well over a decade for this “diet revolution” to evolve to the point where veterinarians are advocating cooked and raw diets, as they are done responsibly and under knowledgeable guidance. Just as being a vegetarian involves more than eating vegetables, so does the choice to feed fresh or raw foods involve more than just serving what’s in our refrigerators. Fortunately, companies catering to this new trend have emerged, making it easy to properly feed our animal companions.

Long time breeders and owners of chronically ill pets were the first to try diet alternatives that deviated from conventional processed dry and canned foods. Many different beliefs arose, more based on experience than science. Today, there are more than 20 raw pet food producing companies in the United States, with most meeting and even exceeding “complete and balanced” AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) standards. Raw frozen diets are available at pet shops and veterinary hospitals, and there is even a company (Stella & Chewie’s, LLC) that certifies their raw meat product as pathogen safe through a high pressure process that does not alter food but eliminates bacteria.  This new technology pleases even the most fanatic raw food feeders, appeasing concerns about irradiation and other processes that alter the nutritional value of a fresh diet.

The pet industry in America is changing, as seen by the emergence of companies that produce vitamin and mineral supplements as well as pro-biotics for homemade diets. Preparing a complete and well balanced diet for our pets is now easier than ever. When considering homemade cooked or raw diets for dogs and cats, there are excellent recent publications with recipes backed by nutritional studies and food analysis. Monica Segal’s K9 Kitchen is a good place to start, while Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats by Kym Schultze and Give a Dog a Bone by Dr. Ian Billinghurst are also very informative.

Although not for everyone, a fresh food diet—cooked or raw—is possible for our pets if we so choose.  As a veterinarian, I know that there is no “perfect diet for all.” Dogs and cats are individuals, after all, and not likely to succeed with a cookie cutter approach 100% of the time. If and when you decide to try a fresh diet, consult with a veterinarian who has experience in this type of feeding and is supportive of your choices.


Onions May cause a life threatening anemia in dogs and cats.

Garlic Small amounts are for OK for dogs, but none for cats. May cause anemia

Nightshade Veggies (tomatoes, eggplant, etc.)  Aggravate inflammatory conditions like arthritis, allergies, asthma, acid reflux. OK to use in healthy young dogs but avoid in older and/or ill dogs as they will exacerbate inflammatory conditions.

Broccoli & other Cruciferous Veggies Exacerbate hypothyroidism so avoid if thyroid low.

Kelp High in iodine so avoid in hyperthyroid cats. Great for hypothyroid dogs.


Stella and Chewies Raw and freeze dried available. Pathogen-free certified. Good pricing.

Bravo Raw is best. Complete as well as non-complete diets available. Good pricing.

Natures Variety Rich and complete. Be careful with pets that are over-weight. Expensive.

Dr. Alex Barrientos completed her undergraduate and graduate studies in Veterinary Medicine at Cornell in ’98.  She is the founder of Earth Angels Veterinary Hospital in Wappingers Falls, NY, where both alternative modalities and conventional medicine are offered to companion animals. She resides in the Hudson Valley with her husband, 2 children, 3 dogs and 4 cats, and looks forward to bringing alternative pet medicine to the region.

2 Responses

  1. cat foods should always be high in protein and also in dietary fibers so that they are always healthy `*~

  2. i always look for those calcium fortified dog foods because they make my dog healther ;:-

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