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Carst and Walker

The dangers of a raw food pet diet – for you and for them

In the last few months South Africa’s listeriosis crisis has highlighted to the public how to avoid becoming ill from pathogens like Listeria monocytogenes. The potential risks associated with raw foods including poultry and meat have been stressed, and these risks are not just for humans.

Raw food pet diets are becoming an increasing trend, but their health claims are unsubstantiated say some veterinary professionals, and may even be harmful. Others will say the direct opposite, but here are some of the potential dangers of feeding raw food to your pets – both for you and for them.

What could be lurking in the pet food?

  • A recent study in the Veterinary Record analysed 35 commercial frozen raw meat products from eight different brands in the Netherlands. It found E. coli in 28 products, Listeria monocytogenes in 19 of them and Salmonella species in seven. Several products also contained parasites. 
  • Scientists from the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) analyzed 196 frozen raw cat and dog food samples they purchased online in a 2014 study.  Fifteen tested positive for Salmonella, and 32 contained Listeria monocytogenes.
  • Dried or freeze-dried rawhide chews, pig ears, cattle hooves, hearts, tracheas, and bull or steer penises (often called bully or pizzle sticks) can also be contaminated with Salmonella and other bacteria.

Cross contamination risks

Raw food diet also introduces the hazards of nutritional imbalances, gastrointestinal problems, and parasitic and bacterial contamination. For animals, the issue is exposure to enteropathogens with the possible development of disease, particularly salmonellosis and clostridial diarrhea.

For humans, the risk of exposure to pathogens via direct or indirect contact with animal faeces, or via contact with raw diets, must be considered.

Bacterial contamination of pet food bowls may be a potential source of infection for humans, particularly high-risk individuals, such as infants, elderly persons, and immuno-compromised individuals.

Authors of a 2017 study published in the journal BMC Veterinary Research found that, compared to dogs given commercial diets, those fed raw food are about 23 times more likely to shed Salmonella organisms in their faeces.

Handling these potentially contaminated products in domestic kitchens means there is a risk of cross contamination. Observing the same practices for storing and preparing food for human consumption should apply raw meat pet food.

  • Wash hands and surfaces thoroughly and often.
  • Separate different foods to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Defrost frozen items in the fridge, ideally in sealed containers and on the lowest shelves.
  • Handle pet food bowls with care to prevent bacteria spreading to other surfaces and utensils.

“If you are feeding your pet raw food, you should know that you can become exposed during touching, petting, licking and even sharing when sharing your pillow with your furry friend. Make sure you discuss this with your vet!” says Linda Jackson of FoodFocus.

Past proponents of raw food diets believed that this was the healthiest food choice for pets. It was also assumed that feeding such a diet would cause no harm to other animals or to humans. There have subsequently been multiple studies showing both these premises to be false. Based on overwhelming scientific evidence, AAHA does not advocate or endorse feeding pets any raw or dehydrated non-sterilized foods, including treats that are of animal origin.
American Animal Hospital Association

The FDA does not believe raw meat foods for animals are consistent with the goal of protecting the public from significant health risks, particularly when such products are brought into the home and/or used to feed domestic pets. 

FDA Consumer Advice 

 References:

Bacteriological evaluation of commercial canine and feline raw diets

Scott Weese, Joyce Rousseau, and L. Arroyo, Department of Clinical Studies, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario

 https://www.aahanet.org/Library/Raw_Food_Diet.aspx

FDA Guidance for Industry – MANUFACTURE AND LABELING OF RAW MEAT FOODS FOR COMPANION AND CAPTIVE NONCOMPANION CARNIVORES AND OMNIVORES

Source: FoodFocus.co.za

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