SPOKANE, Wash. – A local couple founded a small raw dog food business after their dogs reaped the benefits of a new diet.

Lisa Rees buys her dogs’ raw food from a distributor, and she and her husband started Inland Empire Raw to sell to other dog owners.

The meat contains uncooked beef mixed with ground bone and tripe. It may not sound appetizing to the human consumer but Rees’ dogs inhale it.

“It’s what they’re programed to eat. It’s what they’ve eaten for thousands of years,” Rees said. “It’s the way they ate before they were domesticated, which is what drew us to it. It’s natural. It’s what they’re supposed to eat.”

Rees said the switch in diet led to a handful of benefits for her dogs, including leaner physiques, shinier coats and decreased shedding.

There are several commercial grade freezers full of raw food in Rees’ garage and she drives around the Inland Northwest several times a week to deliver to her customers.

Customer Brianna Heid was initially skeptical about raw feeding but grew curious after seeing a Facebook advertisement.

“We thought, ‘We could try it out. What’s the worst that could happen – he doesn’t like it or something?’” Heid said.

Heid’s dog happily devoured the meal.

“He was just so into it. It was neat to see,” Heid said. “He adapted to it very well and has been gaining weight perfectly. He’s on track with what he should be, and his coat is perfect. Everything is perfect about him now.”

Heid said raw food not be the best choice for every dog and anyone who is interested should do their research before making the decision.

Veterinarian Colette Bergam said she takes a more natural stance unlike many others in her industry. She is a member of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.

Bergam’s pets love raw food.

“I actually feed my dogs some limited raw, and I have two older dogs both 15 and 14 that have had raw for a number of years. My cats absolutely love raw food,” she said.

Rees said most veterinarians have offered a neutral response while some have warned against raw feeding. She agreed with Heid that raw food may not be the best choice for every dog but is a convert based on the improvement she has seen in her dogs.

On the other hand, Greg Benoit, a veterinarian at SouthCare Animal Medical Center, prefers a more traditional diet for his pets.

“We don’t advocate for it, so we basically follow the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Animal Hospital Association guidelines, and we prefer to feed away from raw foods because of the control and the potential for transmission of organisms that could be harmful to people,” Benoit said.

Owners who feed their animals raw food need to make sure they are following a balanced diet, Benoit said. He said owners should also be concerned about food safety when handling raw meat and the possibility of pets transferring diseases like salmonella, listeria and E. coli.

The Ceneter for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend feeding pets raw food.

Bergam, however, said she has never contracted an illness from her pets in the 13 years she has been feeding them raw food.

"You have to be careful and preparing raw field, making sure that you're not cross contaminating your meal with your dog's meal, I know a lot of people who have separate little cutting boards specifically for their pets, versus their own food,” she said. “I think if you were careful and abide by those and wash your hands and washing your utensils or keeping them separate, you probably shouldn't have a problem. I've never had a problem doing that myself."

Those who are interested in learning more about raw feeding can visit Inland Empire Raw on its website or Facebook page.