Are Raw Pet Food Diets Healthy and Safe?

Raw pet food diets are popular and somewhat controversial. But are raw pet food diets healthy and safe? Several studies indicate there are potential risks involved in feeding pets a raw food diet.

Processed raw pet food diets are frozen or freeze-dried and typically consist of muscle meat often still on the bone,
bones whole or ground, organ meats like liver and kidney, raw eggs, and vegetables. Potential risks of raw pet food include threats to human and dog health from bacteria in raw meat; damaged health of pets given unbalanced diet for extended period of time; potential for whole bones to choke, break teeth or cause internal puncture. Research shows raw diets have nutritional deficiencies or excesses which could cause serious health problems when given over long term period of time. Raw pet food may not contain enough calcium and phosphorous. Both are vitally important for bone health. Raw meat diets high in liver may provide too much vitamin A. This could result in vitamin A toxicity if given over an extended period of time.

Dogs with certain health problems like pancreatitis should avoid a raw pet food diet. Dogs with cancer or those with other immunosuppressive diseases should not eat raw pet food. Puppies should not be fed raw pet food due to bone deformities and growth issues which can occur if their calcium and phosphorous levels are out of sync. Studies have shown cats and dogs who consume raw meat diets are more likely to become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Earlier this year, Performance Dog, a brand of frozen raw pet food, was recalled due to possible contamination with Salmonella. During a two year study from October 2010 through July 2012, the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine screened over 1000 samples of pet food for bacteria related to foodborne illnesses. They found raw pet food is more likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria. The study included 196 samples of commercially available raw dog and cat food analyzed for harmful bacteria including Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes. Fifteen samples tested positive for Salmonella and 32 tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes. In comparison, of 120 samples of dry dog food, zero tested positive for harmful bacteria. One hundred and twenty samples of dry cat food were also tested. One sample tested positive for Salmonella. Samples of semi-moist dog and cat food were also included in the study. None of these tested positive for harmful bacteria.

Raw pet food can infect pet owners with harmful bacteria through contact from hand to mouth. Harmful bacteria can also be spread to other people from hands or clothing. If you choose to feed your dog or cat raw pet food, always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after handling it. Contaminated raw pet food can also potentially contaminate surfaces and kitchen utensils. All surfaces and objects which come into contact with raw pet food should be thoroughly washed with hot soapy water. Follow this process with a disinfectant that includes bleach.

Handle raw pet food carefully. Keep it in your freezer until ready to use. Thaw in refrigerator or microwave not on the countertop. Refrigerate leftovers immediately or throw them out. Be careful not to kiss your pet around the mouth and avoid letting your pet lick your face especially right after eating. Thoroughly wash your hands after touching your pet. No matter whether you feed your pet frozen or dry food, these safe handling guidelines should be followed for your health and safety.

Since the recall for Performance Dog frozen raw pet food on September 12, 2018, there have been five subsequent pet product recalls. For a complete list, go here.


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