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?




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.


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).


The list of foods supposedlydangerous to pets is so bogus. I agree that grapes and raisins shouldn't be fed, but they don't list onions which should also not be fed. But my dogs love fruit of all kinds. I've been feeding my dogs a raw meaty bone diet with various supplements since the late 90s. I never have to have their teeth cleaned and never have any anal glad problems. Canines eat raw food in the wild. It's a fact that cooking, regardless of rendered or baked commercial foods are NOT good for canines because it's highly processed food. Canine digestive systems are very different from our own in that theirs are designed to eliminat waste rapidly. So the E Coli and Salmonella issue is not a problem for canines. It never has a chance to take hold. The one exception is if the canine has a comprimised immune system. I would not and will not ever feed my dogs commercial food again. You really have no idea of what's in it. They can move the ingredients up and down the list with no repercussions. They are big business and they do NOT have your pet's interest formost in their agenda......profit is their agenda. Even veterinarians are somewhat brainwashed to feed commercial foods. But then who pays for scholarshipe etc for vets at the vet schools. Ask yourself that?

Bonnie Daut

the layout of this page is horrible the print is tiny and the color is horrible. you should fix this so people can at least see it

I prefer a rotational diet. My feeding routine involves high quality kibble, fresh home cooked, and BARF. This provides a variety that no single diet can come close to. Check with your vet, I think they will agree.


This is ridiculous! This they used t be wild, but the aren't anymore stuff is just asinine. Their digestive systems haven't gone through a metamorphosis because we brought them into our homes. And to say that raw food leads to deficiencies, come on! If you do it right and feed them organs and bones and some additives then they are getting more nutrition and a more well rounded diet than they will ever get from packaged food. Of course if you are feeding raw food it's best to make your own and use organic meet from a trusted butcher. It's what's natural for them, what they are designed for. Commercial food kills pets and gives them cancer in ever increasing numbers and cooking food destroys much of the nutrition. My guys have been eating raw food for 6 years now and I couldn't be happier with the results and neither could they. The is pure fear mongering by the pet food companies. Take a look at the cancer stats for pets. Why do you suppose they keep going up. I'm a pet sitter and have seen too many animals die and none of them of old age and none of them from eating raw food for that matter. And don't listen to what you traditional vet tells you about diet and raw food. Nutrition classes in vet schools are taught by Purina and I would never in a million years give my cats anything made by Purina even in an emergency. And I can't believe the ASPCA is perpetuating this ridiculousness. Shame on you! And Dr. Marty rocks!!

William Schmonsees

I find this discussion fascinating and must agree with the RAW advocates, although I rarely practice what I preach. I have an 11 yr old lab with a torn ACL and two 2yr old mixed toy dogs. All are getting Costco's Natures Domain kibble with turkey and sweet potato as first ingredients, along with about 50 other things, but no grains. All have good bowel habits, clean teeth and fine coats.
When my lab first tore her ACL, our holistic vet suggested chicken feet, raw eggs, yogurt, and fish oil. She did fine with that for years, until I got lazier. I also have fed them raw steak and cooked chicken. Bottom line for me: no grains, high end kibble, raw and cooked human food when possible.
When I asked about the dangers of E.coli in raw meat, vet said that she had never heard of dogs getting ill from E. coli. I am curious as to whether there are any studies of this matter. Do dogs not have an issue with E. coli?
Another minor question regards grapes. Common advice is no, but the dogs of CA vintners eat them routinely.
Great discussion.


I have had all my animals on a raw food diet for about 7 years, and
their health is spectacular. They look and act amazing for their age. Yes, you can feed them chicken bones if they are raw, just not cooked ones. The cooked ones splinter and will puncture the internal organs. I personally make my food for them. I buy chubs of ground turkey necks and ground turkey organs and make blend for them along with supplements. My only regret is that I
did not know about feeding animals raw when they were little.
If you are interested in learning about it, there is a book written by a New Zealand vet called B.A.R.F. (bones and raw food
diet) Google it.


Scientific study on the effectiveness of raw feeding- Very interesting and informative for those who are undecided:

<br>Pottenger Cat Study: <a href=",_Jr.#section_2">,_Jr.#section_2</a>


I wouldn't trust that study as later studies have proven it false. This is from the Wikipedia page that you linked to: “This article needs additional citations for verification. This article relies on references to primary sources (original materials that are close to an event, and are often accounts written by people who are directly involved. They offer an insider's view of an event).”