Thinking of switching your dog or cat to a raw food diet? Here’s what to expect as far as appearances go!
If you are new to raw feeding for your cats or dogs, you may have some questions about the physical appearance of your pet’s raw food diet. The first thing to remember is that you have entered a whole new paradigm of feeding. Say goodbye to the unnatural perfection of assembly line, highly processed kibbles and canned foods and say hello to the incredible variations Mother Nature endows on her creations.
Color and smell
Top of the line raw pet food diets do not use artificial colors, binders, fillers, flavor enhancers or other denatured food additives. For this reason, these products often show some variations that are normal for nonmodified, real foods. Differences are especially noticeable in raw foods as cooking and other forms of processing tend to mask dissimilarities.
A protein molecule called myoglobin is responsible for natural color changes that occur in meats. The optimum surface color of fresh meats varies by species and is unstable and short-lived. Packaging, light exposure and refrigerator or freezer storage can all affect color changes in natural meat products and are all perfectly normal as the myoglobin fades or darkens in response to the above conditions. However, if meat has an odd odor or is sticky or slimy, it should not be used.
When you open a bag containing frozen or freeze-dried raw pet food, there may be a color variation in the nuggets or patties. If the food looks slightly darker or lighter than the last bag you bought, don’t worry too much. Interestingly, meat color can also be influenced by the age of an animal, the species, sex, diet, season it was slaughtered and even the amount of exercise it gets. For example, animals that are older or have exercised more will have darker meat than younger or more sedentary animals. If you see these types of variations, rest assured that your pet is consuming a natural food that has not been “prettied up” with artificial colors – a process that degrades the natural product and compromises the health benefits of the food.
Occasionally people wonder about texture differences in natural products. Again, as with color, texture variations in natural proteins are normal. There are three general classifications of meat proteins: red meats (beef, lamb, pork, etc.), poultry (chicken, turkey, other fowl) and seafood (fish, mollusks, crustaceans, etc.), and all have individual factors that influence texture. One such factor is a protein’s Water Holding Capacity. The higher the WHC the stronger the structure and the drier the meat’s texture appears. Proteins with lower WHC have a soft, moist texture and are more tender. Beef and lamb have high WHC while turkey is lower and seafoods are even lower. It is not surprising that freeze-dried beef and lamb products will be firmer than turkey or fish freeze-dried foods because the Water Holding Capacity between these proteins are vastly different.
High marbling of fat can influence both texture and aroma of proteins. Rigor status, the amount and distribution of connective tissue, muscle bundle size and age of animals also affects meat’s texture. And, while each species is unique, the individuals within the species are, too, which further complicates raw food’s appearance. It is no wonder that texture variations occur in natural products, reflecting their inherent diversity.
Manufacturing a natural, raw product is a bit of a paradox since ‘manufacturing’ and ‘natural’ have different implications that affect our expectations. To most of us, manufacturing means conformity and standardization of a product. But the ‘natural’ world is all about variety and diversity. When an item is truly natural, we must expect variations as those are a hallmark of real, live unprocessed products. Furthermore, if no variations exist, we should be suspicious of the naturalness of the product.
Next time you open a bag or a box of raw pet food, don’t be surprised if that food exhibits slight differences in color, texture, aroma or taste. You are feeding a raw food diet for the health and longevity of your beloved pet, and you are also proudly honoring the bountiful medley of Mother Nature!
Carol Kendig, B.S, is currently studying for a certificate in canine nutrition. She has been designing and feeding her companion and show dogs a raw diet since 1974. Actively involved in the pet food industry since 2000, she is pleased to be associated with Northwest Naturals in her hometown of Portland, OR.