The American Veterinary Medical Assocation (AVMA) publishes a great email newsletter called SmartBrief, which shares interesting animal health-related stories five days a week. I've subscribed to it since it launched, and I find it extremely useful.
I've noticed that they write blurbs and headlines for the stories they link to, both to make them more "clickable" and, sometimes, to focus on a piece of the story that's more relevant to their veterinary audience than the story as a whole. That's fine. That's editorial judgment. As an editor myself, as well as a reader, I like that.
Today, however, they plopped a headline on a story from Phys.Org about a recent study on the nutrient composition of raw meat: "Study: Raw meat falls short on feline nutrition."
In case that wasn't enough to carry their message, this is the blurb they wrote to go along with the article:
New research has found that raw meat diets do not meet the full spectrum of feline nutritional needs for captive and domestic cats. The study evaluated horse, bison, cattle and elk meat. All the diets were short on linoleic acid, and the horse meat did not contain sufficient arachidonic acid for kittens or for gestating or lactating females. A raw diet fed to domestic cats often omits necessary fat and important fatty acids and exposes cats to pathogens that may be in raw food, and it can also promote a change to the gut flora.
This seemed odd to me. Why would raw meat have a different nutrient profile than cooked meat? Why are we even discussing horsemeat, pretty much the only mammal meat I haven't seen used in homemade or commercial raw diets (or cooked diets, for that matter)?
So I clicked over, expecting to see one of those studies where the researchers scraped three-day-old road kill off the highway and analyzed it for bacterial contamination to scare those of us feeding raw diets into rushing down to the market and picking up a sack of kibble.
But no. What I see is an interesting, impartial study on the varying nutrient profiles of different types of meat commonly fed in zoos: bison, cattle, horses, and elk.
The actual headline: "Raw meat diets may not be enough for cats or tigers."
Then there's the sub-head: "Animal scientists say a raw meat diet is a good source of protein for cats, but pet owners may need to supplement with other nutrients."
So, a raw meat diet is a good source of protein for cats, but pet owners may need to supplement it with other nutrients. Okay. Since I'm not aware of a single homemade diet that consists of nothing but meat, cooked or raw, this appears to be a pretty innocuous, dare I say obvious, statement.
From the PhysOrg story:
[Researchers] found that raw meat diets met many nutrient requirements for cats, but there were some gaps. None of the diets contained the recommended levels of linoleic acid, the horsemeat did not provide the levels of arachidonic acid recommended for kittens, gestating females and lactating females.
This research is important for animal scientists, zoos and pet owners.
The researchers explain that captive tigers, jaguars and African wildcats were traditionally fed horsemeat-based raw diets. "With the closing of horse abattoirs in 2007, the availability of quality grade horsemeat in the United States has decreased, increasing the need for research on the digestibility and composition of possible alternatives," write the researchers.
There is also a growing trend of raw meat diets for domestic housecats. Kelly Swanson, associate professor in animal science at the University of Illinois and coauthor of the study, said the researchers are "a bit wary" of pet owners feeding homemade raw diets. He said pet owners risk exposing cats to increased pathogens and nutrient imbalances.
Pet owners often feed trimmed cuts of meat. These cuts lack fat, which is crucial in feline diets. According to the researchers, if pet owners feed raw meat diets, they will likely have to supplement it with other nutrients, including appropriate sources of fat and essential fatty acids.
There was also some discussion of how raw meat diets alter the gut flora, which the SmartBrief blurb seemed to imply was a newly-discovered and negative effect, despite at least one earlier study that found grain-based diets also alter the gut flora of kittens -- a Phys.Org article they somehow neglected to feature when it came out late last year.
Apparently the editors of the AVMA SmartBrief took it upon themselves to take a balanced piece of research that contains truly useful information about feline diets and spin it to fit the AVMA's established anti-raw diet stance.
The AVMA is entitled to its own views on raw pet diets, and I have no problem with discussions of bacterial contamination in pet foods. Heck, I wish they'd be as concerned about the contamination of the entire food chain with fecal bacteria, and start throwing their weight around preventing the bacteria from getting in there in the first place instead of turning it into a home kitchen problem that can only be solved by sterilizing our food before eating it or feeding it to our pets.
But to deliberately twist the content and meaning of a scientific study to bolster their position? They should be ashamed.