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Raw Diets and Your Pet

Due to the recent activity on our Facebook account, we thought our clients might be interested in these articles published by veterinary professionals.  This information is based on university research and actual case studies.  This scientific and quantifiable data is the basis on which our doctors advise their patients.

American Animal Hospital Association

Raw food diets are a growing trend among pet owners hoping to improve their pet's health. However, a study published in the November/December 2003 issue of the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association found that these diets may cause a potentially fatal Salmonella infection.

"While raw food diets are becoming increasingly popular among pet owners, there is a growing body of information showing that these diets pose a health risk not only for the pets that consume them but to their owners as well," says Link Welborn, DVM, AAHA past president.

Shane L. Stiver, DVM, Kendall S. Frazier, DVM, Michael J. Mauel, PhD, and Eloise L. Styer, PhD, from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine conducted a case study of two cats that developed salmonellosis (Salmonella infection) as a result of a raw meat-based diet. The salmonellosis caused gastrointestinal upset, weight loss and anorexia that resulted in the death of both cats. Salmonella in tissue cultures isolated from one of the cats was identical to cultures from the raw beef used in the cat's home-prepared diet, and the resulting infection was confirmed as the cause of death in both cases. The report is the first to describe the occurrence of salmonellosis in cats as a result of feeding a raw meat-based diet.

The JAAHA study also found that while most human cases of salmonellosis result from direct exposure to contaminated food, there are documented cases of infection due to direct and indirect contact with infected pets. In cats and humans, the very young and very old, as well as those with an immune-compromised state, have the highest risk of infection. Since people often spend a great deal of time in close proximity to their pets, there are many opportunities for exposure to disease causing organisms, such as Salmonella, through petting, grooming, food preparation, water bowls and litter boxes.

The study concluded that cats fed raw meat contaminated with Salmonella are at risk for development of salmonellosis and may pose a disease risk to their owners and handlers. Feeding of raw meat contaminated by Salmonella and recovery of Salmonella from the feces of sled dogs and greyhounds has been documented, suggesting a risk of human infection from contact with infected dogs as well as cats. Due to these risks, AAHA recommends that pet owners not feed their pets a raw-meat based diet and encourages owners to ask their veterinarian for advice regarding a nutritionally balanced diet that is appropriate for their pet's age and lifestyle.

"A substantial body of science-based nutritional data has contributed to the longer life span that our companion animals currently enjoy," says Dr. Welborn. "Your veterinarian uses these resources to provide nutritional recommendations that will help your pet live a long and healthy life."

Veterinary Partner - Dr. Bob Judd

Feeding raw meat diets to high performance dogs such as greyhounds and sled dogs has been a common practice for some time.  Recently, feeding raw meat diets has become popular with owners of pet dogs.  The proponents of these diets believe the dogs feel better, have more energy and less disease.  However, there is no scientific evidence whatsoever to support these claims.  The concern about these diets is the bacterial contamination in these foods.  Although the people who sell the raw food diets indicate bacterial contamination is not important in most dogs, it is possible it could cause a problem in pets as well as their human owners. 

To determine the actual contamination of these raw meat diets, the staff at Colorado State University in conjunction with the USDA evaluated 21 commercially available raw meat diets from three different retail stores.  All diets were stored frozen until evaluated.  The study revealed 53% of the diets contained e. coli, which can cause severe intestinal problems in dogs and humans.  This is the same bacteria that usually cause illness in humans who eat undercooked hamburgers.  Salmonella, another bacteria that causes intestinal disease, was also found in 5.9% of the samples.  Although the federal government regulates processing of meat for human consumption, these laws do not apply to pet foods.  Ninety-nine percent of the samples had some form of bacterial contamination in this study.  Because there is no regulatory agency responsible for monitoring bacterial contamination in raw meat, milk, or eggs for pet foods, owners feeding their pets these diets should be concerned about their pets’ health as well as their own health.

Published in 2007