Interview with a Raw Feeding Vet
Anyone who's done even the slightest bit of research on raw feeding would have come across the horror stories of vets laying into their clients for their choice of doggy diet, but is this really justified? It's no secret that the dog food industry heavily endorses veterinarians, but this shouldn't mean that raw feeding is so quickly dismissed. Dogs have been eating this way for thousands of years so what's suddenly changed? I caught up with pro-raw feeding vet David Hopper who runs Vet on the Corner, a small family run practice in Horncastle, Lincolnshire. David has over 25 years veterinary experience and has been feeding his own dogs a raw diet for at least 5 years. His practice doesn't stock dog food, prescription or otherwise.
Without giving away any trade secrets I was taggered by the list of ingredients which went into the food but did not appear on the label, some of which in my opinion more at home in the chemistry lab not dog food
David was in mixed practice for 25 years working with farm animals, horses and pets before specialising latterly in pets. He has used acupuncture in horses and dogs for much of that time and more recently trained in veterinary homeopathy. However the majority of his work is still in conventional veterinary practice. David tries to keep an open mind and every day learns something new - not bad after 34 years in the game! The interview was proofread by Nick Thompson of Holisticvet who added a few of his own comments. Nick is a fully trained vet with over 20 years experience, he has also trained in homeopathy, acupuncture, natural nutrition and veterinary herbal medicine.
Hi David, thanks for taking the time out to discuss this very popular topic. I actually asked a couple of raw feeding groups on Facebook if they had any questions for this interview and the response was phenomenal! This is going to be a good one.
I've heard a lot about the pet food industry subsidising veterinarian education, how true is this?
Large sums of money have been spent by the Pet Food Industry on the veterinary profession over the years to sponsor education and research to the point that no one can remember any alternative to commercial diets.
Following on, is there any sort of nutritional training available for raw feeding, perhaps sponsored by larger raw suppliers?
I am not aware of any specific training courses but I suspect they will come with time as the major pet food firms can not ignore raw diet any longer and come on board. Having said that I have always been able to get advice from raw diet producers like Honeys. There is also a wealth of material online
After being anti-raw for the majority of your career, what changed your opinion of a raw food diet, and even convinced you to rethink what you were feeding your own dogs?
The conversion to feeding raw diet has been a gradual process over several years for me. Many years ago I had a client who ran an Old English Sheepdog Rescue. At regular intervals we would get emergency phone calls from her to attend to dogs with gastric torsion. This is an acute emergency condition which will rapidly kill dogs if not surgically corrected and often recurs. Unfortunately we had to operate on many dogs and we lost several in the process. One day it occurred to me that I had not heard from her for several months. It transpired that she had started feeding raw diet instead of dry dog food and the torsions had stopped. I had heard through antipodean vets that raw diet is popular in Australia but I did not know any vets in the UK who supported it. Several years after that I did some veterinary work for a now defunct pet food firm which supplied most of the major chains with 'own label brands'. I had access to the menus for the pet food. Without giving away any trade secrets I was staggered by the list of ingredients which went into the food but did not appear on the label, some of which in my opinion more at home in the chemistry lab not dog food? There appears to be no legal obligation for pet food manufacturers to declare all of the ingredients in pet food? I suppose the first step towards realising the importance of diet was when I noticed a tiny article in a veterinary publication about a vet called John Burn who had produced a holistic dog food. I phoned and had a long chat with this quietly spoken Scottish vet and as a result we tried this new food. Holistic diet improved many chronic skin, digestive and behavioural problems that had evaded curation by conventional treatments. It was long uphill struggle to convince clients that these conditions could be improved if not cured by diet alone. About 7 years ago a client walked into the surgery who fed her dog on raw diet. Raw diet seemed to tick so many boxes for me but it took a discussion with my wife, a vegetarian of over 30 years, to convince me to try it. So I spoke to her suppliers Darlings, later to become Honey's Real Dog Food. We embarked on it with some trepidation and I must admit that when we first fed our dogs chicken wings I was ready to perform bowel surgery. However both dogs, one a GSD puppy the other a geriatric JRT, took to it readily and the benefits were almost immediate and they have continued ever since.
Why do veterinarians oppose raw so much? Is it lack of education/fear of the unknown?
Veterinarians and veterinary nurses oppose raw diets because they have no knowledge of them. Indoctrinated since students days of the merits of artificially produced pet foods by advertising and education, they have forgotten that for millennia animals have eaten raw food. Commercial dog food only became available in the 20th Century. They have also been fed old wives tales about raw food carrying bugs like salmonella and making dogs aggressive. Vets are understandably cautious about litigation and they are often unwilling to stick their heads above the parapet by recommending raw diet. More education and information for the veterinary profession and the general public is essential.
Have you have treated any dogs for any injuries/illnesses directly related to raw feeding?
I have not treated any dogs with illnesses related to raw diet feeding. There is some discussion about an overactive thyroid illness but I have not personally seen nor had any experience of this condition in dogs fed raw food. I have treated many cases related to feeding inappropriate commercial dry and tinned diets including skin, bowel, metabolic, skeletal, neurological and locomotory disorders.
What are you thoughts on both BARF and Prey model feeding? What do you feed?
There is some confusion with pet owners who sometimes consider a raw food diet as totally meat. They do not realise the need for vegetable content and supplementation with bone flour. Occasionally pet owners also confuse a holistic artificial diet with raw food diet. Nick Thompson: There is much discussion among raw feeding vets on the most appropriate diet. No consensus beyond it has to be complete (diet, not necessarily each meal), nutritious and work well for that individual. Watch this space!
What is your view on supplements? Do you use/recommend any?
Nick Thompson: I do supplement and there is evidence that modern foods, meats and vegetables have lower mineral content than 80 years ago. I also like using herbs, glucosamine products, vitamins at nutraceutical levels to give a nutritional boost beyond that of optimal nutrition.
Can you tell when a dog comes into your practice if it's raw fed? If so, how?
I am unable to tell if the dog is on raw diet when it comes into the surgery however certain things give the game away on further investigation: clean teeth, no bad breath, normal faeces with no offensive smell and good bodily condition.
What are your thoughts towards commercial dried dog food now that you're an avid raw feeder?
To start buying fresh raw ingredients and mixing them into a diet for the dog is an anathema to most people with busy lifestyles so I can understand why pet owners feed commercial dry diet. It is quick and convenient rather like the fast foods some of us regularly eat. They have also been convinced by very persuasive advertising that a particular diet is the best one for their dog. I admit that we buy our raw food conveniently prepared from the wonderful Honey's Real Food which we have delivered to our freezer. We will never use commercial dry diets again if we have the choice.
Do you have any advice on how to approach a non pro-raw vet?
Unfortunately very few vets at the moment have any experience of raw diet so they do not recommend it. Hopefully in years to come that will change. Until then tread carefully and consult web pages like Raw Food Vets first. We'd like to say a big thank you to David Hopper for taking the time out to help us explore the vet industry in a way which isn't often discussed. If you're local to Horncastle, Lincolnshire, I advise you check out Vet on the Corner as good vets are hard to find! We'd also like to thank Nick Thompson for proofreading this interview and adding his own input. I'd also like to thank each and every member of The Raw Feeding Community, BARF Diet Chat and Raw Feeding UK who helped come up with these great questions.