Raw feeding generates a lot of passion on both sides of the debate, with a lot of claims being made for its benefits and potential dangers. So what’s the evidence?
- Closer to a “natural diet”
- Less residue as more digestible
- Potentially better gastrointestinal and dental health.
- Claims for health benefits such as improvement in coat and skin; elimination of breath, body, and faecal odour; improvement in energy, behaviour, and immunity; and a reduction in medical conditions including allergies, arthritis, pancreatitis, dental disease, and parasitism.
- If not sourced properly can potentially cause disease such as campylobacter, salmonella, clostridial disease and E. coli
- Cats and dogs can develop subclinical infections with these organisms but still pose a risk to livestock and humans (especially children, older persons, and immunocompromised individuals.)
- Create nutrient deficiencies if not done carefully
- Tricky to store
- Can be an unpleasant odour
No studies have examined differences in animals fed raw animal products to those fed any other type of diet (kibble, canned, or home cooked) with the exception of looking at the effects on digestibility. Typically raw meats (but not other uncooked foods like grains or starches) are slightly more digestible than cooked meat.
For more info, here is a nice review from JAVMA on the issue. “Current knowledge about the risks and benefits of raw meat–based diets for dogs and cats”. The take away points are:
- A major problem in the discussion about potential risks and benefits of Raw meat Based Diets (RMBDs) is the paucity of good data from high quality studies.
- A US study in 2001 revealed that all of the hom eprepared and commercial RMBDs tested (3 home-prepared and 2 commercial RMBDs) had multiple nutritional imbalances, some of which could have important adverse effects on the health of the animals
- Although care is used during processing, meat from healthy food animals intended for human consumption may acquire bacterial contamination from the hide, feathers, or viscera during slaughter, evisceration, or processing and packing
- Home-prepared raw diets were evaluated in 1 study in which 8 of 10 home-prepared raw chicken–based diets fed to pet dogs had positive results when cultured for Salmonella spp
- commercial RMBDs and ingredients are covered by FDA regulations and can be recalled if contamination or other problems are detected, the feeding of contaminated home-prepared RMBDs that include foods intended for human consumption may go undetected because foodborne illnesses in dogs and cats are rarely tracked unless associated with human disease.
- Some RMBD manufacturers currently use high hydrostatic pressure processing (also called high-pressure pasteurization) in an attempt to reduce risks of pathogens in commercial RMBDs. Although this process can reduce the numbers of many pathogens, it usually does not completely eliminate them, and bacteria and viruses differ in their susceptibility to this process
- the perceived benefits of home-prepared diets may be reinforced daily to owners through a pet’s appetite or coat quality, nutrient deficiencies and excesses in adult animals are insidious and can lead to long-term complications if not detected and corrected. In young growing animals and pregnant or lactating animals, nutrient deficiencies and excesses can cause severe and sometimes life-threatening complications.
I believe the debate is overheated- the problems of feeding a raw diet are often overstated, as are the benefits of feeding a raw diet. I see pets doing extremely well (and badly) on both types of diet in the numbers I would expect if raw feeding was neither doing amazingly badly or amazingly well. However, I must temper this advice with a giant warning: raw feeding has been shown to cause food borne illness (see references at bottom). You MUST be extremely careful when sourcing, handling and cleaning up raw pet food. Please follow the tips in this article.
What are the professional opinions?
American Veterinary Medical Association
“The AVMA discourages the feeding to cats and dogs of any animal-source protein that has not first been subjected to a process to eliminate pathogens because of the risk of illness to cats and dogs as well as humans. Cooking or pasteurization through the application of heat until the protein reaches an internal temperature adequate to destroy pathogenic organisms has been the traditional method used to eliminate pathogens in animal-source protein, although the AVMA recognizes that newer technologies and other methods such as irradiation are constantly being developed and implemented.”
American Animal Hospital Association
“Feeding a raw protein diet no longer concerns only each individual pet, but has become a larger community health issue; for this reason, AAHA can no longer support or advocate the feeding of raw protein diets to pets.”
American College of Veterinary Nutritionists
“Safe and proper handling of raw foods is crucial for reducing the risk, but safety cannot be guaranteed. At this time, the vast majority of purported benefits of feeding raw foods remain unproven, while the risks and consequences have been documented. It is best to discuss the choice of feeding raw foods with your veterinarian so that an informed decision can be made with regard to your pet’s diet.”
US Food and Drug Administration
“In a two-year study spanning from October 2010 through July 2012, the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) screened over 1,000 samples of pet food for bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses.1 (The illnesses are called “foodborne” because the bacteria are carried, or “borne,” in or on contaminated food.) The study showed that, compared to other types of pet food tested, raw pet food was more likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria.”
US Center for Disease Control and Prevention
“raw food diets can make you and your pet sick, and for that reason CDC does not recommend feeding raw diets to pets.”
Tips on handling raw food
- Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water (for at least 20 seconds) after handling raw pet food, and after touching surfaces or objects that have come in contact with the raw food. Potential contaminated surfaces include countertops and the inside of refrigerators and microwaves. Potential contaminated objects include kitchen utensils, feeding bowls, and cutting boards.
- Thoroughly clean and disinfect all surfaces and objects that come in contact with raw pet food. You can also run items through the dishwasher after each use to clean and disinfect them.
- Freeze raw meat and poultry products until you are ready to use them, and thaw them in your refrigerator or microwave, not on your countertop or in your sink.
- Carefully handle raw and frozen meat and poultry products. Don’t rinse raw meat, poultry, fish, and seafood. Bacteria in the raw juices can splash and spread to other food and surfaces.
- Keep raw food separate from other food.
- Immediately cover and refrigerate what your pet doesn’t eat, or throw the leftovers out safely.
- If you’re using raw ingredients to make your own cooked pet food, be sure to cook all food to a proper internal temperature as measured by a food thermometer. Thorough cooking kills Salmonella, L. monocytogenes, and other harmful foodborne bacteria.
- Don’t kiss your pet around its mouth, and don’t let your pet lick your face. This is especially important after your pet has just finished eating raw food.
- Thoroughly wash your hands after touching or being licked by your pet. If your pet gives you a “kiss,” be sure to also wash your face.
1. Billinghurst I The BARF Diet (Raw Feeding for Dogs and Cats Using Evolutionary Principles) Bathurst, Australia: Ian Billinghurst; 2001.
2. Cantor GH, Nelson S Jr, Vanek JA, et al Salmonella shedding in racing sled dogs J Vet Diagn Invest 1997;9:447–448.
3. Caraway CT, Scott AE, Roberts NC, et al Salmonellosis in sentry dogs J Am Vet Med Assoc 1959;135:599–602.
4. Carter ME, Quinn PJ Salmonella infections in dogs and catsIn: Wray C, Wray A, eds Salmonella in Domestic Animals Wallingford, UK: CABI Publishing; 2000:231–244.
5. Chengappa MM, Staats J, Oberst RD, et al Prevalence of Salmonella in raw meat used in diets of racing greyhounds J Vet Diagn Invest 1993;5:372–377.
6. Cherry B, Burns A, Johnson GS, et al Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak associated with veterinary clinic Emerg Infect Dis 2004;10:2249–2251.
7. Clark C, Cunningham J, Ahmed R, et al Characterization of Salmonella associated with pig ear dog treats in CanadaJ Clin Microbiol 2001;39:3962–3968.
8. Finley RLSalmonella in Commercially Available Pig Ear Treats and Raw Food Diets: Prevalence Survey and Canine Feeding Trial [MScthesis]Guelph, Ontario, Canada: University of Guelph; 2004.
9. Finley R, Reid-Smith R, Ribble C The occurrence and antimicrobial susceptibility of salmonellae isolated from commercially available canine raw food diets in three Canadian cities Zoonoses Public Health 2008;55(8–10):462-469.
10. Finley R, Reid-Smith R, Weese JS Human health implications of salmonella-contaminated natural pet treats and raw pet food Clin Infect Dis2006;42:686–691.
11. Finley R, Ribble C, Aramini J, et al The risk of salmonellae shedding by dogs fed salmonella-contaminated commercial raw food diet sCan Vet J2007;48:69–75.
12. Food and Drug Administration Guidance for Industry: Manufacture and Labelling of Raw Meat Foods for Companion and Captive Noncompanion Carnivores and Omnivores http://www.fda.gov/downloads/AnimalVeterinary/GuidanceComplianceEnforcement/GuidanceforIndustry/UCM052662.pdfRevised November 9, 2004.
14. Freeman LM, Michel KEEvaluation of raw food diets for dogsJ Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;218:705–709.
15. Galton MM Humans and pets as sources of salmonellosis J Am Chem Soc 1969;46:230–232.
16. Galton MM, Harless M, Hardy AV Salmonella isolation from dehydrated dog meats J Am Vet Med Assoc 1955;127:57–58.
17. Greene CE Enteric bacterial infections—salmonellosis In: Infectious Diseases of the Dog and Cat 2nd edCE Greene, ed Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders; 1998:235–240.
18. Joffe DJ, Schlesinger DP Preliminary assessment of the risk of Salmonella infection in dogs fed raw chicken diets Can Vet J 2002;43:441–442.
19. Kahrs RF, Holmes DN, Poppensiek GD Diseases transmitted from pets to man: an evolving concern for veterinarians Cornell Vet1978;68:442–459.
20. Kozak M, Horosova K, Lasanda V, et al Do dogs and cats present a risk of transmission of salmonellosis to humans? Bratise Lek Listy 2003;104:323–328.
21. Laboratory Centre for Disease Control Human health risk from exposure to natural dog treats—preliminary report Can Commun Dis Rep2 000;26:41–42.
22. Lefebvre SL, Reid-Smith R, Boerlin P, et al Evaluation of the risks of shedding Salmonellae and other potential pathogens by therapy dogs fed raw diets in Ontario and Albert aZoonoses Public Health 2008;55:470–480.
23. LeJeune JT, Hancock, D.D Public health concerns associated with feeding raw meats diets to dogs J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;219:1222–1225.
24. Lenz J, Joffe D, Kauffman M, et al Perceptions, practices, and consequences associated with foodborne pathogens and the feeding of raw meat to dogs Can Vet J 2009;50:637–643.
25. Leonard EK, Pearl DL, Finley RL, et al Evaluation of pet-related management factors and the risk of Salmonella sppcarriage in pet dogs from volunteer households in Ontario (2005–2006) Zoonoses Public Health 2011 Mar;58(2):140-149.
26. Marks SL, Kather EJ Bacterial-associated diarrhoea in the dog: a critical appraisal Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 2003;33:1029–1060.
27. Mead PS, Slutsker L, Dietz V, et alFood-related illness and death in the United States Emerg Infect Dis 1999;5:607–625.
28. Morse EV, Duncan MA Canine salmonellosis: prevalence, epizootiology, signs, and public health significanceJ Am Vet Med Assoc1975;167:817–820.
29. Morse EV, Duncan MA, Estep DA, et al Canine salmonellosis: a review and report of dog to child transmission of salmonella enteritidis Am J Public Health1976;66:82–84.
30. Murphy CP Occurrence of Antimicrobial Resistance in Selected Bacteria in Healthy Dogs and Cats Presented to Private Veterinary Clinics in Southern Ontario [MScthesis]Guelph, Ontario, Canada: University of Guelph; 2004.
31. Pitout JDD, Reisbig MD, Mulvey M, et al Association between handling of pet treats and infection with Salmonella enterica serotype Newport expressing the AmpC b-lactamase, CMY-J Clin Microbio l2003;41:4578–4582.
32. Public Health Agency of Canada Advisory: Salmonella infection in humans linked to natural pet treats, raw food diets for pets July http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/media/advisories_avis/salmonella_e.html.
33. Sanchez S, Hofacre CL, Lee MD, et al Animal sources of salmonellosis in humans J Am Vet Med Assoc 2002;221:492–497.
34. Sato Y, Mori T, Koyama T, et al Salmonella Virchow infection in an infant transmitted by household dogsJ Vet Med Sci 2000;62:767–769.
35. Schlesinger DP, Joffe DJ Raw food diets in companion animals: A critical review Can Vet J 2011;52:50–54.
36. Schlultze KT he Ultimate Diet—Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats Carlsbad, CA: Hay House; 1999.
37. Sega, MK9 Kitchen: Your Dog’s Diet New Castle, DE: Doggie Diner, Inc.; 2002.
38. Stehr-Green JK, Schantz PM The impact of zoonotic diseases transmitted by pets on human health and the economy Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 1987;17:1–15.
39. Sokolow SH, Rand C, Marks SL, et al Epidemiologic evaluation of diarrhoea in dogs in an animal shelter Am J Vet Res 2005;66:1018–1024.
40. Stiver SL, Frazier KS, Mauel MJ, et al Septicemic salmonellosis in two cats fed a raw-meat diet J Am Anim Hosp Assoc 2003;39:538–542.
41. Stone GG, Chengappa MM, Oberst RD, et al Application of polymerase chain reaction for the correlation of Salmonella serovars recovered from greyhound feces with their diet J Vet Diagn Invest1993;5:378–385.
42. Strohmeyer RA, Hyatt DR, Morley PS, et al Microbiological risk of feeding raw meat diets to canines [abstract 75]In: Program and Abstracts of the 2004 Conference of Research Workers in Animal Diseases (Chicago) Ames, IA: Blackwell Publishing; 2004.
43. Taylor MB, Geiger DA, Saker KE, et a l Diffuse osteopenia and myelopathy in a puppy fed a diet composed of an organic premix and raw ground beef J Am Vet Med Assoc2009;234(8)1041–1049.
44. Voetsch AC, Van Gilder TJ, Angulo FJ, et a FoodNet estimate of the burden of illness caused by nontyphoidal Salmonella infections in the United States Clin Infect Dis 2004;38(suppl 3):S127–S134.
45. Voisard M, Voisard Y Becoming the Chef Your Dog Thinks You Are: A Nourishing Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Your Soul New York, NY: Stray Dog Press; 2001.
46. Wall PG, Davis S, Threlfall EJ, et al Chronic carriage of multidrug resistant Salmonella Typhimurium in a ca tJ Small Anim Pract 1995;36:279–281.
47. Weese SJ, Rousseau J, Arroyo L Bacteriological evaluation of commercial canine and feline raw diets Can Vet J 2005;46:513–516.
48. White DG, Datta A, McDermott P, et al Antimicrobial susceptibility and genetic relatedness of Salmonella serovars isolated from animal-derived dog treats in the USA J Antimicrob Chemother 2003;52:860–863.
49. Wright JG, Tengelsen LA, Smith KE, et al Multidrug-resistant Salmonella Typhimurium in four animal facilities