Raw Meat Not the Best Choice for Your Dog ... or You

Traditional fare Henry prepares to tuck into canned dog food in the 1970s advertisement alongside Clement Freud

Traditional fare Henry prepares to tuck into canned dog food in the 1970s advertisement alongside Clement Freud Credit BBC

The raw meat diet for pets has been criticised by scientists, who say it could potentially be harmful to both animals and humans.

What they found was a veritable smorgasbord of pathogens that can pose risks not just to pets, but to people and farm animals as well.

Despite the relatively low number of products tested in the study, the authors say it's clear that commercial RMBDs may be contaminated with a variety of zoonotic bacterial and parasitic pathogens, which can pose a risk to pets and to their owners.

Raw meat-based pet-food diets (sometimes referred to as RMBDs) have become increasingly popular around the world, the study authors wrote in their paper. Of 35 commercial raw-meat foods from eight brands that were analysed for the study, eight (23%) had traces of an E.coli type unsafe to humans, while nearly half tested positive for Listeria and one in five for Salmonella.

Four products contained the parasite Sarcocystis cruzi and another four contained Sarcocystis tenella, both of which can cause nausea, stomach ache and diarrhea. Humans can get sick from bacteria and parasites lurking in raw-meat products, too.

"This can be through direct contact with the food; through contact with a contaminated pet, such as sharing the same bed and allowing licking of the face and hands; through contact with household surfaces; or by ingesting cross-contaminated human food", he added. The former is known to be risky to farm animals, while the latter has been linked to illnesses in cats and humans (including mental illness in cat owners) in the United States.

It found that E. coli was present in eight products (23 per cent), Listeria species were found in 15 products (43 per cent) and Salmonella species in seven products (20 per cent).

So, even if the daily opening of weird-smelling canned food seems like doing your fuzzy friend a disservice, if it's well produced and nutritionally balanced, it may just be the best thing for the animals and yourself. Earlier analyses on raw pet food in the United States also found similar levels of contamination.

On the contrary, cats and dogs that eat raw meat diets are more likely to become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria than animals that are fed typical pet food.

In general, the microbial evidence that the researchers gathered from their samples fell within acceptable limits for commercially produced pet products in the Netherlands.

It also called for warnings and handling instructions on product labels and packaging.

Others argue that it's more natural for a carnivorous species to eat raw meat products.

The research team urged pet owners to educate themselves before handling RMBDs and feeding them to their pets.

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