The American Animal Hospital Association, AVMA, & Canadian Veterinary Medical Association have policies discouraging inclusion of raw or under cooked animal source protein in dog and cat diets. The Delta Society in 2010 adopted a policy excluding animals that eat raw diets from participating in their animal therapy program due to shedding of Salmonella spp. Obviously sick or immune compromised people should not be exposed to Salmonella! What has NOT been addressed is the OTHER problems with feeding raw diets-there are no high quality controlled studies to show ANY of the diets are nutritionally complete as well as other safety issues. Most information on nutritional risk or benefit is from testimonials (i.e. “Dr. Google”) and not high-quality studies.
One argument for feeding raw diets is that “that’s what dogs ate in the wild”. While cats have remained obligate carnivores, dogs have adapted to eating an omnivorous diet and can consume a variety of plant and animal products to meet their essential nutrient requirements. There are 36 regions of the genome that differ between dogs and wolves, 10 of which play a critical role in starch digestion and fat metabolism. A raw diet may meet optimal requirements in wild animals for the short lifespan they live, but may NOT be optimal for domestic dogs and cats living in a home environment with a long lifespan. This is why controlled long term, high quality studies are needed for feeding raw diets to domestic animals–we want our pets to live long lives and there are no studies to show that raw diets will provide that.
Two studies have shown that home-cooked and commercially prepared raw diets had multiple nutritional imbalances particularly in the calcium/phosphorus ratio of the diet, vitamin A and E deficiencies, and too high of a vitamin D concentration. In another study, 60% of the diets tested had major nutritional imbalances. Of 200 recipes for dogs, 190 had at least 1 essential nutrient below AAFCO (the governing body of pet foods) minimums and 167 recipes recipes had multiple deficiencies.
Safety risks of raw diets show that freezing and freeze-drying do not destroy all contaminating pathogens. Prevalence rates for contamination by Salmonella spp. in commercial raw diets range from 20-48%. A recent study showed 21% of 166 commercial raw diets were contaminated with Salmonella spp. A 2001 study showed that 1 out of 5 raw diets tested was contaminated with E. coli spp., 20% were contaminated with Clostridium spp. All of these bacteria can cause serious disease in normal humans but particularly in immune compromised or babies/toddlers. Not only are raw diets under consideration but also treats like pig ears which are known to have a high degree of Salmonella contamination.
Other health issues of feeding raw diets to dogs include bones that can fracture their teeth or cause gastrointestinal obstruction, elevations in serum thyroid, albumin, cholesterol, BUN, and creatinine concentrations. Health risks for people as mentioned above include exposure to E. coli, Salmonella, Clostridiu, Campylobacter, and Toxoplasmosis.
If you decide or are feeding raw diet to your pet be aware of the risks to YOU and YOUR PET! If feeding commercially prepared raw diets, be aware that there is wide variation in quality-control standards among manufacturers of raw or cooked commercial diets. The necessary information may not be apparent from reading a label or from advertisements.
**Freeman LM, et al. Current knowledge about the risks and benefits of raw meat-based diets for dogs and cats. JAVMA, Vol 243:11, December1, 2013, pp. 1549-1557.
**Nemser SM, et al. Investigation of Listeria, Salmonella, and Toxigenic Escherichia coli in various pet foods. Foodborne Pathogens and Disease, Vol 11:9, 2014. pp. 706-709.