Having discussed 'constipation and the raw diet' in a previous article, it seems appropriate to address the raw diet and possible bouts of diarrhea. As stated earlier, digestive issues are the gate that leads to further complications later in life. Digestive concerns such as diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, and nausea are the front-line, primary signs that exhibit something is amiss. Dismiss these signs now and serious health complications are just around the corner.
Now, it is common knowledge among raw feeders that canned and dry food will cause digestive upsets, but what about the raw diet? A number of our readers ask why their dog or cat still experiences constipation/diarrhea even on a raw diet. We also need to stress the importance of distinguishing an episode of digestive upset from serious signs and symptoms of a health emergency. Periodic constipation may seem harmless, but may be a sign of bowel obstruction. Intermittent diarrhea may seem harmless, but may be a sign of toxicity, urinary/bowel blockage, etc.; especially when paired with vomiting.
Of course, this is not all-inclusive list and various illnesses/medications may lead to intestinal and digestive complications. The reasons we discuss here are primarily for healthy animals that are not on any medications and do not suffer from serious or chronic health conditions.
Causes for Diarrhea on the Raw Diet:
1. High Fat Content in Food: Yes, it is true. Too much fat in a raw diet may cause diarrhea. When consumed, the liver must rev up its bile production and the gallbladder will release much of its stored bile for fat breakdown and absorption. Certain raw meats may cause (and have for our predators) diarrhea in cats and dogs, namely raw duck, raw lamb, and raw beef. Rabbit meat is very lean, low in cholesterol, but also low in taurine as it is all white meat. Not all preys are created equal in their nutritional content and not all parts of one prey are equal in their nutritional value. Variety in a diet is important.
What can you do: Avoid meats that are excessively high in cholesterol and fat. If carnivores are fed the fattier of the raw meats, it should be done intermittently. Stick with prey that your carnivore would likely eat in the wild.
2. Bone/Meat Ratio Imbalance: The Frankenprey diet guidelines state that 80% of the diet is raw meat, 10% is bone, 5% is liver, and 5% is a secreting organ. Too many organs in the diet will cause diarrhea; too much bone content in the diet will cause constipation. Organs are high in phosphorus and bones are high in calcium. These two minerals should never be in an imbalance. Make sure the diet doesn't have an overload of bone or an overload of organs/meat. Balance is key.
What can you do: Balance raw diet properly.
3. Adding New Diet Proteins: This may happen early on in transitioning to raw or even long after the transition has been made. The unhealthy and convenient lifestyle of people has infected our innocent companions as well. Cats and dogs are forced to eat addicting canned and dry foods, growing more distant and further away from their wild predecessors. It is because of this that cats and dogs are nutrient-deficient, lack energy, and die from chronic diseases every day. Their immune systems are weakened, their digestive systems are inadequate, and their skeletomuscular systems suffer daily. A raw diet is the only diet. Raw meat, organs, and bones require different enzymes for breakdown. In fact, raw food contains live enzymes and probiotics. Canned food and dry kibble are full of starches and force animals to digest food that is unrecognized and indigestible by their bodies.
What can you do: If transitioning from un-raw to raw, do it gradually. The digestive system has been interfered with and dormant for so long that it needs to be stimulated and retrained gradually. Also, look into supplementing foods with appropriate enzymes and probiotics. See below (#5).
4. Adding/Mixing Raw Disagreeable Proteins: Some raw proteins are more stomach-friendly than others. For example, even a small amount of raw sardines may cause diarrhea. This goes for tripe and raw eggs too. Stick with dietary proteins, especially in the beginning of a transition or when an animal is experiencing an episode of digestive issues. You can experiment with exotic raw sources after the basic foundation is set. Chicken and turkey are stomach-friendly proteins that should cause no tummy troubles. While we will discuss milk in its own article, pasteurized cow's milk should not be given to cats or dogs. The probiotics and enzymes have degraded and denatured and the leftover product (the milk) is unrecognized by the body.
What can you do: Don't mix too many proteins or raw components together in meals. Of course, mixing raw sardines with raw goat milk and raw chicken mix will likely lead to intestinal issues. Keep it simple. Also, look into supplementing foods with appropriate enzymes and probiotics. See below (#5).
5. Lack of Enzymes/Probiotics: Enzymes and probiotics break down food and keep the digestive system functioning optimally. During transition in the beginning stages of raw feeding or long after the transition has been made, animals may suffer from various degrees of enzyme- and probiotic-deficiencies. You can easily supplement this. Raw food contains enzymes and some raw contains probiotics, but a little extra boost is sometimes needed. Raw prey pancreases are full of enzymes. Canned and dry foods are completely deficient in both.
What can you do: Proper supplementation and care.
Probiotics/Enzymes Supplementation: All cats and dogs need periodic probiotic and enzymatic supplementation, especially for reasons mentioned above. Don't give probiotics or enzymes with preservatives and fillers and don't give medications/supplements meant for human consumption to animals. The best two we've used are NWC Naturals' Total-Biotics Powder and Total-Zymes PLUS Wafers. These are blends of probiotics and activated enzymes. NWC also has a Total-Zymes Digestive Powder and Pet-Enzymes Plus Tablets.
6. Food Poisoning or Stomach Virus/Bug: Food poisoning may occur with raw feeding. Food should always be fresh and properly handled. It is, after all, raw. Read more about raw food handling and inspection to familiarize yourself with the basics in raw food.
Most pet parents have dealt with this once or twice, if not more. For periodic diarrhea, we use HomeoPet's Digestive Upset Drops as directed. This product works well for vomiting and constipation as well. We have used Nux Vomica and montmorillonite/bentonite clays before, but due to inexperience with the two, I can't discuss their usage. We use HomeoPet's Drops extensively, so I feel comfortable recommending them for use.
In a case where a cat or dog is experiencing bouts of diarrhea/vomiting and is straining to defecate or urinate, you've got yourself a likely case of urinary or bowel obstruction. THIS IS AN EMERGENCY SITUATION. You must go to the animal ER or veterinarian NOW.
If straining is not present, observe the frequency of vomiting and diarrhea. To me, over 3 times in one hour warrants a trip to the vet, especially if there is blood in the stool or vomitus or if the animal is lethargic and weak. Also, diarrhea accompanied by vomiting should raise concern. If the condition is worsening and vomiting/diarrhea is becoming more frequent, go to the vet. If the animal experiences diarrhea/vomiting 1-2 times in an hour or so and stops, just hold the food for 12 hours, but allow water drinking. Likely, an upset tummy leads to a decreased appetite for about a day.
I always leave water for them to drink, but some recommend that water be removed in cases of diarrhea/vomiting. Both diarrhea and vomiting are significantly dehydrating and lead to electrolyte loss. Dehydration may be life-threatening---potentially leading to kidney and organ failure and death. If drinking water leads to worsening diarrhea/vomiting, it may be best to remove water for 12 hours. If signs and symptoms do not subside or get worse in 24 hours, go to the vet. Severely dehydrated animals will need to be rehydrated with IV rehydration at the veterinarian's clinic/hospital. Signs/symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting may indicate toxicity from household chemicals or poisonous outdoor creatures/plants, kidney failure, urinary/bowel obstruction, and dozens of other acute conditions that need a trained veterinarian for treatment. Again, any straining is an automatic trip to the animal ER or vet.
What can you do: Make sure all raw food fed is fresh to prevent food poisoning. Pay attention to signs/symptoms that may indicate serious acute health conditions or poisoning. Go to the veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.