There is a growing segment of dog and cat owners who feel that raw, unadulterated food is best for a pet’s health. They claim that a dog and cat’s teeth are designed for meat eating, that a pet’s short digestive tract and stomach acids tend to kill off pathogenic bacteria, and that raw food is high in protein and other natural nutrients that a pet needs for a long, healthy life.
With dogs and cats being considered natural carnivores, it’s a common belief that they benefit from food that resembles what their diet would be in nature. Their ancestors would catch an animal and eat every part of their prey, including muscle and organ meat, bone and blood.
One educated proponent of the nutrition found in a raw food diet is Dr. Gerald Buchoff, a holistic veterinarian who has practiced both traditional and integrative veterinary medicine for more than 35 years. He has served as president of both the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA) and the Northern New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association.
In August, Pet Age hosted its inaugural pet industry informational seminar, which featured Dr. Buchoff delivering a presentation on raw pet food and discussing his Longevity line of raw dog food. The event was attended by representatives from several East Coast independent retailers who were invited to share their own views on the topic and also ask questions of Dr. Buchoff.
Raw Food Seminar
Dr. Buchoff started his presentation by explaining that his desire to “spread the wealth” of his knowledge led to his creating Dr. B’s Longevity Raw Pet Food.
“My diet is so unique and healthy for pets that I expected it to be wellreceived and grow quickly in the pet community,” he said.
Unlike many other pet foods, Longevity does not contain starches, grains, flavor enhancers, preservatives or other unhealthy ingredients that prolong shelf life and mimic natural vitamins and minerals. A raw frozen pet food like Longevity, Dr. Buchoff noted, is different from freeze-dried or dehydrated food because it is minimally processed, retains its high moisture content and does not require any application of heat that can put vital nutrients and enzymes at risk. According to Dr. Buchoff, all it takes is a temperature of 105°F to destroy the enzymes in food that are an important part of digestion, and normal cooking temperatures can reduce nutrients as much as 25 to 50 percent.
During his seminar, he listed the benefits of a raw pet food diet, which includes increased energy; firmer stools; healthier teeth, gums and skin; improved coats with less shedding; better weight management and a strengthened immune system. Many holistic veterinarians state that a raw food diet has been linked to mitigating and preventing cancer, diabetes, kidney and liver disease, among other ailments, although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not support these claims.
Tazz Latifi, owner of Petropolis in New York, and Dawn Lamson, a food consultant at One of the Family Pet Supply in Middlesex, New Jersey, both agree that responsible retailers have a duty to their customers when it comes to pet health. Their philosophy is that the well-being of the pet is paramount, even over a sale, and education is the best way to enlighten pet owners to the value of quality food.
“When we have customers who come in and think we’re just trying to sell food for them, we really have to fix that mindset,” Latifi said. “We’re not car salesmen. We’re guiding people [toward a healthy diet for their pets]; we’re there for that reason.”
“My goal really isn’t to promote anybody’s food,” Lamson explained. “It’s the health of the animal, because these people are really now my friends, they’re my family. These animals come into the store every day. I know them. I want them to live a good, long life. So, for me, it’s really all about what’s best for them, and I don’t care whose food it is. That’s really what it’s all about.
“That’s where giving that free sample comes in to say, ‘I’m not here about the money. Try this, see if it works [for your pet],’” Lamson added.
Dr. Buchoff asked the retailers if their customers want to know what they feed their own pets, and the response was a unanimous “yes.”
“I say ‘absolutely, and let me show you pictures of them,’” Lamson replied. “And then I give them a free sample and a packet of handouts saying this is why you should be doing this. And [the customers] come back and they buy the raw food.”
Value in Education
With the rising awareness of the raw pet food category, pet owners have taken notice and demand has grown. Between 2012 and 2016, sales of raw pet food grew from $117 million to $393 million, according to GfK market research institute.
However, that doesn’t mean that all pet owners are providing their pets with raw diets. Latifi shared her own experience involving her customers who are receiving not just nutritional advice, but prescription pet food, from their veterinarians, which she feels is not beneficial to a pet if given as a long-term diet.
“[Veterinarians] don’t tell [
pet owners] that it’s for short-term feeding, only to get the animal over the hump, over that ailment, and not for long-term feeding,” she said. “I have people who have been on the same liver formula for five years, and they come to me with [a pet suffering from] liver failure. If they’ve been feeding it for five years, why are they going into liver failure? Switching it over to a high quality raw diet brings it back and it lives another six years.
“I have 20 clients who I’ve gone through just in the past year with the same scenario—all with liver disease, all with the same formulations. And dry food no less, not even moist diets,” Latifi said. “So you’re depleting its body of all the natural moisture. Why aren’t we looking at food as the first stage of healing? It makes no sense.”
Laura Haupt, owner of Bark and Meow in Tarrytown, New York, agreed, and she endorsed the idea of retailers working with veterinarians instead of standing on opposite sides of the pet diet issue. “Maybe we have to start educating our local vets,” she explained.
“Maybe we go to the local veterinary offices and say ‘Look, I just want to introduce myself.’ Maybe that’s a way to educate them and get them to work with us to sell the proper food, to help their customers, too.”
On the topic of sale, retailers who carry raw food acknowledge that freezers take up retail space and there’s an added expense to run a freezer in terms of electricity and regular maintenance. However, they can’t help but notice the spike in raw food sales.
“We used to have a freezer in the back, then we started doing so well that we now have six freezer doors across the front of the store,” Lamson said.
“My profits have gone up since [introducing] raw,” Latifi added. “I’m selling double the amount of raw as I was last year. Talking to the customer is key. Other stores have a lot of the same stuff I do, they have the same freezer, but [the competitors offer] no communication with the customers. If you don’t talk, you don’t sell.”
Retailers attending the seminar completely agreed on the notion that raw food is more than a fad, and that the raw diet is a viable option for dogs and cats. It could even one day become
part of the mainstream if pet owners learn more about proper pet nutrition.
“I really do think it’s the way of the future,” Lamson said. “I think it will be a profitable thing because eventually people will realize that their pets are healthier [on a raw food diet].”
“This is where the industry should be going,” Latifi added. “And we’re working our asses off to make sure animals are healthy. And we bring education, and we bring food like Longevity to our pet owners. So we matter. I think that retailers like us really do impact [the health of pets].”
What Makes Raw Healthy
When Dr. Buchoff was posed with the question from retailers of why their pet stores should carry his line of raw food, he didn’t skip a beat.
“It’s healthier and more energetic food for pets,” he said. “It increases their length of life. I look forward to doing a research project of that nature to prove with actual statistics, but I know that it does because I’ve seen since 1995, when I started as an holistic vet, I’ve looked at how long pets lived back then and at how long pets live now, and it’s about 33 percent higher.”
Dr. Buchoff designed Longevity to be free of many of the common food allergens, such as eggs, dairy, corn, soy, wheat and gluten. In addition to using raw ingredients with full nutritional integrity, his diet adds the power of pet superfoods, such as green tripe, lycopene, and medicinal mushrooms for wellness. Longevity’s green tripe contains enzymes, omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, probiotics and phytonutrients while the food’s maitake, reishi and shiitake mushrooms reduce inflammation.
In addition, all of the ingredients in Longevity are sourced in the northeastern U.S., and the food is never irradiated, freeze-dried or treated with high-pressure processing.
The Longevity pet food line features an assortment of flavors in formulations that optimize wellness and satisfy the needs of pets with food allergies and intolerances. If a pet is exhibiting an imbalance, Dr. Buchoff explains, there are a variety of formulas that contain primary proteins and additional ingredients that will benefit the ailing pet and ultimately optimize its health. Longevity advises the following value of its ingredients:
• Grass-fed beef: Grass-fed beef is richer in omega-3 fats, Vitamin E, beta-carotene and conjugated linolenic acid (omega-3 fatty acid) than grain-fed beef. Beef is rich in iron and phosphorus, and contains high levels of Selenium which is known to remedy issues such as allergies, arthritis, and heart disease.
• Free-range chicken: Chicken is rich in niacin, which is known for its anti-cancer properties, and is highly digestible. Chicken is a warming food and is helpful for pets with an overabundance of yin energy (passive/weak/ easily fatigued).
• Turkey: Turkey is a highly digestible protein source that contains selenium and tryptophan, which boost the immune system and also have a calming influence on many pets. Turkey is a warming food and is helpful for pets with an overabundance of yin energy (passive/weak/easily fatigued).
• Duck: Duck is rich in many minerals, including iron, phosphorous, and zinc, and is a recommended choice for pets that may be allergi
c or sensitive to other proteins. Duck is a cooling food and is optimal for pets with an overabundance of yang energy (allergies/ inflammation/aggression), including pets with irritable or inflammatory bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease, and skin conditions (dermatitis).
• Rabbit: Abundant with amino acids and essential fatty acids and low in fat, the rabbit formula is beneficial for pets with sensitive digestive systems like irritable or inflammatory bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease, and skin conditions. Rabbit is a cooling food and is optimal for pets with an overabundance of yang energy (allergies/inflammation/aggression).
• Animal organs: Organ meats are packed with nutrients, including B vitamins and folic acid. They are also loaded with minerals like phosphorus, iron, copper, magnesium and iodine, and are a rich source of vitamin D, which is essential for a pet’s immune system function. Organ meats contain omega fatty acids that your pet needs for a long and healthy life.
• Green tripe: Tripe, the edible lining of a cow’s stomach, has a wealth of vital nutrients, including enzymes, omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, probiotics and phytonutrients. Tripe is also a natural source of chondroitin sulfate for joint health.
• Broccoli: Broccoli helps to fight infections, may reduce skin and heart problems, and can assist a pet in the elimination of toxins from the body.
• Sweet potato: Rich in antioxidants, sweet potatoes are a superfood for your pet! They contain vitamins A, C and B6, as well as minerals manganese, copper and iron.
• Carrots: Carrots contain vitamin A, antioxidants (including beta carotene) that support immune health, as well as having benefits
for healthy eyes, skin and coat.
• Parsley: Rich in vitamins K, C and A, and iron, parsley can reduce inflammation and has antimicrobial properties.
• Green peas: Peas are a great source of iron, vitamins A and K, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus. They are rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients, including glutathione, which is essential for regulating the immune system.
• Collard greens: Rich in vitamins A and C, collard greens are also a great source of antioxidants.
• Apples: Apples contain calcium, vitamin K, vitamin C and pectin. They also help improve skin and coat as they contain omega-3 and -6 fatty acids.
• Blueberry: Blueberries are rich in antioxidants, and also improve vision and brain health.
• Tomato: Tomatoes are rich in lycopene and vitamin C, which reduce the risk of degenerative diseases. Dr. B’s Longevity uses cooked tomatoes to release the lycopene and improve its bioavailability.
• Reishi mushrooms: Reishi mushrooms improve immune function, can slow the growth of tumors, are anti-inflammatory, protect the liver, and promote neurological health.
• Shiitake mushrooms: Shiitakes are known for their wellness properties and have both antiviral benefits.
• Maitake mushrooms: Maitake mushrooms have antiviral and immune supporting effects, and stimulate the overall immune system.
• Garlic: Garlic is a natural antibiotic and has antiviral, antifungal and antiparasitic properties.
• Bone meal: Bone meal contains vital nutrients, such as calcium and phosphorous, that pets need for good health. Longevity’s bone meal contains virtually zero toxins or heavy metals.
• Beef blood: Beef blood is a natural flavor enhancer while also being rich in protein, iron and minerals.
However, Longevity notes there are some supplements, most importantly omega fatty acids and probiotics, which contribute to optimal wellness that lose their nutritional integrity in manufacturing and freezing. Therefore, adding these supplements at feeding time to maximize their impact on a pet’s health is recommended.
Making the Transition
According to Dr. Buchoff, puppies and kittens can be fed a raw food diet from the time they start eating solid food. Until a young pet is about 10 months old, it can be switched over to raw food without a transition period. He feels that older pets can be converted within a 10-day period.
“It’s not really difficult to transition to a raw diet, although it may take more than a week for some dogs and more than a month for cats,” Dr. Bucoff said. “Patience and love are always the key. As humans, we also have some challenges with changing to a healthier, raw food diet, but once we do we are always amazed at how much better we feel and how our health improves. The same goes for our pets.”
The daily process he recommends involves repla
cing a percentage of a pet’s current food with raw, feeding the raw food first and then following it with the remaining quantity of your pet’s current food at least 15-20 minutes later. Over a 10-day period, gradually increase the amount of raw food being fed as indicated below. Dr. B recommends:
• Days 1-3: 25% Dr. B’s Raw, 75% Current Food
• Days 4-6: 50% Dr. B’s Raw, 50% Current Food
• Days 7-9: 75% Dr. B’s Raw, 25% Current Food
• Day 10+: 100% Dr. B’s Raw
The key for a successful transition, Dr. Buchoff believes, is patience on the part of the pet owner.
“My experience has been if [pets] completely switch over suddenly, then they won’t stay on it for the long run,” he noted. “Maybe they’ll stay on it for a week or two.”