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September 2, 2013

Raw pet food: Is it right for your dog or cat?

Max was a sick kitty with all kinds of problems: arthritis, bladder issues, recurring ear infections and chronic skin troubles. "Just about everything was a mess on him," said Andrea Tasi, a feline-only homeopathic veterinarian in Northern Virginia who was treating the 11-year-old ginger domestic shorthair. "Nothing would get better."

When Max's owner decided to put him on a raw food diet, Tasi was surprised by the results. Until that time, she had viewed these types of diets — which are a blend of raw organ and muscle meats, bones, vegetables and supplements — as "wacko nonsense."

Within months of the switch, Max's "ears got better, his bladder trouble got better, his skin got better," Tasi said. "You couldn't make all of his arthritis go away — he was an old cat, so it wasn't sort of a magic fix for everything — but this cat looked better than he ever did when he was in my care."

Animal welfare organizations, including the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), warn that raw pet food is a health risk for animals and the people around them. Yet the diet is growing in popularity.

"Sales are going up and up and up," says Mimi Stein, retail division director for Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, Va., which manufactures the Furry Foodie raw pet food brand. "It's almost doubling what it did last year."

Just as many people are turning to locally grown, organic, whole foods for themselves, they are also seeking out better foods for their dogs and cats. For some, that translates into a raw pet food diet.

According to Max's owner, that diet is what healed him. "It all made sense to me, because I was kind of playing around with human diets, too," says Tammy Droddy, a vegan who lives in Fairfax, Va. "What we eat impacts our health dramatically, so why would that not be true for cats?"

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