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Raw Food Diets May Be Dangerous for Pets

Thursday, October 18, 2012 - 11:45am

Just like fad diets for humans, popular diets for your pets come and go. However, there’s one particular pet diet trend that gives us pause: ASPCA experts say raw food diets for pets that include raw meat, eggs and milk may be dangerous for your furry friends. We typically recommend that pet parents opt for well-balanced, high-quality commercial and cooked foods instead.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) agrees. In studies published in AVMA’s journal, homemade and commercial raw food diets for dogs and cats were found to contain dangerous bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella, just to name a few. Other tests showed that unprocessed food diets can lead to nutrient deficiencies or excess that can cause serious illnesses in pets. Also, pets chewing on raw bones can lead to obstruction or perforation of their gastrointestinal tracts, and fractured teeth.

If you don’t want to feed your dog or cat a commercial diet, consider a homemade diet that will diminish the risks of foodborne illnesses. These meals should be thoroughly cooked and need to be formulated by a veterinary nutritionist or by your veterinarian to make sure they’re nutritionally sound.

If you are passionate about feeding your pet raw foods, please consider the following tips.

  • Work with your veterinarian to ensure that your pet’s diet is nutritionally balanced.
  • Avoid feeding raw foods in homes with babies and toddlers (who put lots of things in their mouths), the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.
  • Practice regular hand washing before and after feeding pets.
  • Practice appropriate disposal methods when cleaning up pet feces.

For more information about pet-safe diets, consult your veterinarian and check out our complete list of people foods that are dangerous to pets.

Tell us in the comments below: Do you feed your pet raw foods or a homemade diet?

Comments

Comments

Nadine

I am a huge proponent of raw food and have done tons of research regarding this. I don't have my 2 Chihuahuas on a BARF diet, but feed them dehydrated raw, while supplementing my oldest Chi's food with either a Primal nugget or Bravo patty (my youngest had liver issues in the past, so I try to keep her protein minimal). They have been on this kind of diet for over 3 years now and they have never been healthier. Most vets know nothing regarding nutrition, what they do know is what the sales reps that come into their practice tell them about their garbage food. Vets only push these foods because they get a cut of the sales, one way to boost their income, just like they push the vaccines (vaccines cost little to produce, vets jack up the prices). I became disenchanted with my regular vet when they looked at me like I was crazy when I used to refuse many of the unnecessary vaccines, and whenever I asked them questions about a particular food or nutrition, they never had answers for me. That's why today we see a holistic vet.

I have a friend who recently adopted 2 kitties, when I asked her what she was feeding them, I nearly fell over when she told me it was Hills Science Diet, on the recommendation of her vet!!! I tried vainly for several months to get her to switch to a better food, threw all kinds of facts at her, and it took (hopefully) a recent article stating that Hills was going to start adding polyethylene to their food to extend the shelf life. I am hoping that scared her enough to finally listen to me and not her uninformed vet.

Kibble is baked at high temperatures to obtain that dry, hard stage, and therefore, because it is baked at high temperatures, most of the nutrients are baked right out of it. With raw, or dehydrated diets, the food contains all of the nutritional value. Like it has been already mentioned, there has been numerous recalls of kibble because of salmonella contamination, yet has anyone ever heard of a prepared raw food being recalled because of this? The big pet food manufacturers are behind the AVMA and that is why that poppycock report was published.

Lucy

It seems to me that everyone gets really upset about the food question...it is almost as bad as politics! I have a lovely, 4-year-old sheltie. I show him in obedience and Rally and take him on long walks. he is quite fit and his coat is absolutely gorgeous. I feed him homemade (cooked) food, usually turkey or chicken, sweet potato or some whole-grain pasta or rice, green beans and yogurt. I also give him fish oil. In addition, I also give him small amounts of Artemis Fresh Mix kibble; I often use it as a training treat.
I would not choose to feed raw because I worry about the possibility of food-borne illness. I also like preparing his basic foods myself, knowing that they are lowfat and low calorie, which is good for a sheltie who gets a lot of treats! I make him his treats myself or I use reduced-fat string cheese or a good-quality sliced turkey.
Having said that, I have some very good friends who use a raw diet, and their dogs are also beautiful and healthy. I suspect there are many good choices for feeding and many bad ones. Moreover, what is good for one dog may not be so good for another. It is no different with humans. I am allergic to raspberries and any other berry in that family; I also cannot eat most raw vegetables without getting very sick. These are healthy foods but are bad for ME. My dog has no problem with eating grains; I choose healthy, whole grains for him as I do for myself. Another dog may not do well with grains. My dog cannot eat carrots; they make him vomit. Other dogs eat them with no trouble.
Let's just not get mad at each other over this!

bartthegenius

All these statements about "oh my pets are on raw diets and they are so much healthier" are ridiculous...it doesnt prove anything. If you go from feeding crap food to raw youre probably going to see an improvement - and when I say crap I'm not just talking about alpo and ol roy types, even Science Diet and Iams are crap. There are some very good commercially processed pet foods out there, do your research.

J

Actually many people I know dogs were on "High Quality" commercial food prior.

Debbie

I have fed a raw food diet for over 18 years and I have had no problems whatsoever. And if you are scared about those little bacteria that everyone one warns you about, I highly suggest you read Dr. Pitcairn's book on Natural Health care for dogs and cats. I know my vet, at the time I started, voiced her concerns and I truly appreciate her concern as that is why I go to her to talk of ideas. However, I have chosen raw food diet for several reasons, most importantly given the latest problems with commercial foods of constant recalls. With no true answers as to why this happened creates trust issues with these food manufacturing giants. Most of the foods that have been recalled are not brands I would even consider feeding as they are ladled with known toxins and carcinogens allowed even in human food by the FDA. However, the ones I have tried a couple have been recalled or at a minimum called into question. So to completely avoid that and to ensure that I know what they are getting, I choose raw and will never change. I certainly recommend consulting an alternative veterinarian for the best advice on how to approach this type of diet. There are great mixes that can be added to the raw food to create a nutritionally balanced diet. Urban Wolf is one of them. Feeding a raw diet I have experienced an almost 30% increase in their longevity. No one can do a thing about genetic, or the environment, a problem even humans deal with, so why not take control of one of the areas that you have control of and that is their dietary intake!! One of the latest issues I had to deal with that was quickly resolved by the raw food diet is one of my dogs who competes in agility had severe stress dirrhea from travel and showing. After consulting with my alternative vet, she indicated that commercial kibble is too extruded in the process and thus passes too quickly through his intestines and thus the dirrhea. And I am sure a nutritional deficit!! She highly recommended going back to the raw diet. I did and it two days his problem cleared up and had not returned. Another resource to enlighten one about commercial pet food is "Food Pets die for". If you don't want to take things into your own control after that you need to read it again!!

bartthegenius

Human food is also constantly recalled for contamination, often fresh produce is the culprit not just processed food, so does that mean we should all quit eating anything from the grocery store? We can't all hunt and forage our own food every day. I mean the argument that because sometimes processed pet foods are recalled we should not feed processed pet foods is ridiculous, it happens in human food too and it happens in RAW food. You dont here about it because there's not some big kibble company to blame who's food went out to thousands of households, it's one person here and there, but I promise you it happens. At least one person here already pointed out that a dog they rescued that was on a raw diet had giardia when she got it. It happens. If there is an argument for raw food it's not because it's safer because processed pet food is sometimes recalled. Do any of you possess an ounce of logic?

Teresa F. Roberts

People wake up! Raw diets have saved my animals! Use caution, do your research, etc. Make sure they get supplements, etc. There are many "enlighted veterinary personnel" who recommend a raw diet. And know full well of the detriminal effects of packaged food!

Cheryl

Please see http://www.truthaboutpetfood.com/articles/a-review-of-avma-raw-pet-food-policy.html

As far as I can tell, there's no hard evidence that raw food is more dangerous than prepared food: there's just a bunch of "studies" without valid control groups, instituted to obtained pre-ordained results. There are recalls of prepared food because of salmonella and other pathogens, the very reason AVMA supposedly objects to raw food, at least once a month; check out the FDA's website sometime. Nonetheless, on the basis of pseudo-research, which is nothing but big dog food manufacturer marketing in cheap disguise, AVMA has instead put every single US veterinarian in a position of risking having her license pulled if she does not to push the "no raw" party line, no matter what her conscience and research tell her is better for a particular patient, when asked. Raw food certainly hasn't caused the loss of life melamine has done, but small companies don't have the money of large companies.

Personally, I feed by-product-free, cooked, pre-prepared, name brand food and am not a raw food groupie, so I have no personal stake in raw food per se. Nonetheless, I find it troubling that what should be an independent body whose sole concern is pet health because its decisions have a direct bearing on veterinary policy throughout our country, is instead a blatant tool of big pet food manufacturers. If AVMA truly gave a rat's heinie about pet food safety, it would come out with a "recommendation" against by-products, rendered products, sugar, and food ingredients that come from diseased animals, rather than against a type of feeding that almost no one uses unles they've done a whole lot of research and care a whole lot about their animals; it's more expensive and time-consuming that opening a bag of whatever's cheapest at the local grocery. It's no coincidence AVMA's first food "recommendation" - and is it really just a "recommendation" when going against it can be reason to pull people's licenses, should a patient complain? - in years happens to be about a trend that threatened to cut into the profits of pet food giants? What about recommending against the practices of those pet food giants which have, over and over in the very recent past, caused thousands of sick and hundreds of dead animals?

Clare

Safe raw diets are actually really simple. Just choose your meat source carefully! Factory farms are notorious for sending feces-smeared and sickly animals to slaughterhouses. The feces on these animals gets into the meat, and that's what makes people and pets sick when it's eaten raw. Instead of getting meat from the grocery store or butcher, get it from a local farm. Your farmers' market will have plenty of local farms, or, better yet, get a CSA subscription from the farm of your choice (this is cheaper than buying by the pound). Small farms that don't utilize feedlots have happier, healthier, and CLEANER meat. Feel free to inquire about their husbandry and slaughtering practices; most farmers are happy to give you the details or even let you visit to see for yourself. If you'd like, you can even swab some meat and have it lab-tested to be sure that the bacteria count is low, but really, if they're using a small local slaughterhouse or slaughtering themselves, and if they're not using feedlots (they should have "grass-fed" or "free-range" or "pastured" meant), their meat will be MUCH safer. I have actually eaten raw meat from a local farm as part of a gourmet meal. If I trust them to feed me safe raw meat, I trust them to feed my pets. Plus, it's more humane to buy meat from places like these. The livestock on small farms generally is happier, healthier, and allowed to live comfortably until they're slaughtered, and small local slaughterhouses treat them MUCH better than the processing plants that grocery store meat comes from.

Tran

People get so heated about raw vs. cooked diets that it sometimes makes me angry just reading what people write! Advocates of raw diets are so adamant about their viewpoints without providing much empirical, scientific evidence but instead basing their claims on personal experiences. I haven't yet made up my mind yet about whether raw is better for dogs, but I'm leaning more towards cooked just to err on the side of caution against parasites, bacteria, etc. I've done a lot of research on this issue, I have discussed dog evolution with professors, and I have a BA in Biological Anthropology and Evolutionary Psychology. Some points I'd like to make and questions that I'd like to find out the answers to, regarding raw and cooked:

Are the improvements raw-advocates see in their dogs from feeding raw, or from feeding fresh human-grade meat?

Wolves have much shorter lifespans. Dogs can live 15+ years, even without veterinary care and modern medicine to treat illnesses. BUT obesity, diabetes, cancer, and other chronic diseases is a recent phenomenon. I attribute this to lack of exercise and inappropriate diets (sugar, grains, artificial preservatives, etc.)

Dogs are no longer wolves. Humans have spent tens of thousands of years selectively breeding dogs. Dogs are humans' oldest domesticates, before any crops or any other animal.
So how much has the dog changed since its evolution from the wolf?
One crucial point: dogs have lost their ability to hunt; they are mostly scavengers. How has that effected their bodies, and what is their (now) ideal food source?

The dog's ideal diet may indeed be what it has evolved to eat, which may be what humans have fed it for thousands of years, instead of what the wolf ate. But what did people feed dogs over the course of their evolution? This may be breed-specific. Arctic dogs were fed raw meat, but probably not so much lap dogs.

Humans have shorter digestive tracts than other omnivores. This is because we eat cooked foods, which are easier to digest. So dogs' short digestive tracts may be a combination of their history as carnivores AND their history of benefitting off of the digestibility of cooked foods (fresh, not kibble).
The digestive tracts of smaller dogs make up a larger proportion of their bodies than larger dogs. Years of selective breeding may have messed up their ability to safely process raw meats.

Humans greatly benefitted from cooked foods. Hominids once ate raw foods too. Cooking food increased the bioavailability of nutrients and aided in the development of larger brains in humans. Maybe animals in the wild would benefit from cooked foods too, but they haven't been able to man fire yet! (It's possible that cooked foods also allowed dogs to have increased cranial capacity and become more intelligent too).

It's true that cooking destroys some nutrients. But it also makes others more bioavailable, producing certain enzymes and allowing nutrients to be more easily absorbed.

I believe fruits and veggies should be cooked for dogs to allow for easier digestion and proper absorption of nutrients.
There are numerous studies showing that dogs who eat raw meat shed Salmonella and E. Coli in their stools but don't show clinical symptoms. I'm sure dogs can handle raw meat and its bacteria.
I'm not so sure about parasites, which have evolved to be able to survive stomach acid and attach themselves to the lining of the intestines.

I do NOT believe dogs should be fed any grains, especially not wheat, corn, or soy. Humans do not even do well on these cereals, which have spent hundreds of thousands of years evolving defense mechanisms to prevent mammals from ingesting them. Wheat makes mammals' digestive tracts more permeable, allowing larger food particles to pass through and be recognized by the body as foreign antigens. Thus, the large incidences of food allergies in dogs to things they should not otherwise be allergic to (beef, chicken, lamb, etc.).

And now for the personal anecdotes lol. I have two dogs: a chi-jack russell mix and a chi-doxie-terrier mix. My dogs LOVE cooked meats. They don't seem to like raw meat for some reason. Is this because they are less "primitive" than other dog breeds (Chows and Shibas for instance)?

I NEVER feed them any grains, and I feed them high animal-protein diets. They have full, soft, lustrous coats (for wiry hair!) and no bad breath whatsoever. Their vets always compliment their white, plaque-free teeth. (Btw, vets know NOTHING about nutrition! I've seen two vets and they feed their dogs Science Diet and Purina!) Little dogs have a lot of problems from selective breeding, such as dental problems and environmental allergies. They are very far removed from their wolf ancestors.

I take my dogs hiking a lot, and they drink from the streams when they are thirsty. I discovered this is a bad idea. One of my dogs contracted giardia and at least two other parasites, I'm assuming from scavenging (they tend to pick up meat, bones, other food on walks and parks) and drinking contaminated water, as they don't eat poop. So dogs can easily pick up parasites! Another reason I am very careful with raw diets, although I do feed seared meat and some raw meat. (Raw chicken bones, at least the leg bones, DO SPLINTER!)

Pet parents, please do your own research before making assumptions and believing unfounded facts and testimonials not based on empirical research and primary scientific studies (NOT the reporting/synopsis of the studies on websites, especially not dog food company or government sites).

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