Go Raw for Rover

Healthy pet food


When Matt Koss’ dog was experiencing kidney failure in the late 1990s, he began giving her a raw food diet. Koss believes this change in food let his dog live an additional six months.

“The idea is that through this [raw] food, she was able to assimilate moisture through the meat,” he says. “It put weight on her and extended her life somewhat.”

In 2001, Koss, a chef by training, founded San Francisco-based Primal Pet Foods Inc., which offers raw food for dogs and cats, including mixes that include muscle and organ meat, ground bone, and organic fruits and vegetables. Among the company’s myriad products are raw chicken backs, lamb femur bones, and turkey necks.

Koss has based his raw pet foods on the “BARF” diet, which stands for “Biologically Appropriate Raw Food” or “Bones and Raw Food.” The diet is advocated by Australian veterinary surgeon and author Ian Billinghurst.

The BARF diet mimics the natural feeding habits of animals in the wild. BARF proponents claim that the diet can reduce tooth decay, skin problems, and chronic diarrhea in domesticated dogs and cats, as well as aid in reducing weight.

The advantage of the raw food diet is that the animal can more readily absorb the nutrients and moisture found in uncooked prey, Koss says.

While some pet owners believe in the value of feeding whole prey such as raw chicken to their pets, Primal Pet Foods offers frozen, portion-controlled food.

“It’s really a thaw-and-serve process, kind of a no-brainer…” Koss says.

But not everyone is convinced of the benefits of a raw food diet. The American Veterinary Medical Association has not endorsed the health benefits of raw food and cautions that animals fed raw meat run the risk of contracting food-borne illnesses.

Pamela Bouchard, a Marin County veterinarian with 31 years of experience, says another option for pet owners is to prepare their pets’ foods—raw or cooked—at home, as long as they receive guidance on what foods are appropriate for their dog or cat.

For those who don’t have that kind of time and want to buy commercially available raw foods, she recommends Koss’ Primal Foods.

Sue Tasa, Director of Education for the Bay Area pet food chain Pet Food Express, recommends raw food diets for pets if the pet owner can afford it. She says that mass market pet foods such as kibble are cheaper, but they are low in moisture and contain little meat product.

“They’re typically cereal-based or grain-based,” she says. “The majority of what is in kibble is rice, wheat, or corn.”

For those who can’t afford raw meat for their pets, Tasa says that they should try to buy commercial pet food with the highest possible meat content. “Generally,” she says, “more expensive foods have more meat in them.”