Raw Food Diets: Healthy Pet/Happy Pet Jan2020
Over the past several decades, hundreds if not thousands of scientific studies have been performed to determine the safety of the foods we eat and those we feed our companion animals. The results of these studies establish food standards for the health of both humans and animals. Ongoing research helps us maintain food safety standards to keep us free of communicable diseases.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that over 48 million people become sick every year from foodborne illnesses, some 130,000 of those people are hospitalized. There will be over 3,000 people in the United States this year that die from a food related illness.
What we eat and what we choose to give our pets to eat can pose significant risks to our family members and to our animals.
Feeding pets “Raw-Food” diets has become a very popular and also very risky trend among some pet owners.
Typically, the ingredients of these diets include uncooked muscle meat from animals, bones, organ meats like liver and kidneys, raw eggs, raw vegetables and sometimes unpasteurized dairy products. They are also nutritionally deficient and imbalanced in vitamins and minerals. These problems show up in the form of bone deformities and growth problems, and are very harmful to pets with liver and kidney related disorders.
Proponents of Raw-Food diets believe that they offer benefits to weight control, reduced dental disease, an improvement in appearance, and the elimination of allergies. They feel that this diet more closely resembles what dogs’ and cats’ ancestors ate, but don’t consider that with evolution and domestication there have also been normal and natural dietary changes, just like in humans.
We recommend that pet owners feed their pets commercially available foods that are cooked and pasteurized. Canned foods and dry kibble are made specifically for our dogs and cats, formulated by veterinary nutritionists and they contain appropriate levels of protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
Commercially prepared foods make up the majority of the market and undergo quality control and inspection by the FDA and AAFCO, to look for and find contaminants and pathogens that are known to cause illness, before they affect pets or people.
Human regulatory agencies and veterinarians are ultimately responsible for food safety – both human and animal.
Under-cooked and raw foods should be avoided when making the decision of what to feed companion animals – the dogs, cats and other small mammals that share our lives.
These animals that live in our homes, sleep in our beds and often times eat at our same dinner table are so much a part of our lives that we treat them like small humans, but they are not. Each is a unique species with their own set of needs; nutritional, environmental, and social. Each can carry diseases and infections, some transmissible to humans, and to our children.
The pet food industry has become a $60 billion-dollar business over the past 10 years.
Thankfully, we have regulatory agencies that oversee our food safety, provide basic product standards and enforce those standards. This includes the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) which consists of local, state and federal agencies that establish manufacturing standards with regard to the ingredients and nutritional formulas acceptable in food production.
These agencies recommend laws and regulations related to the development of foods. Veterinarians work as food safety inspectors for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).
These government agencies ensure consumer protection for both human and animal health.
Scientific studies about food safety are published by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Clinical researchers and infectious disease specialists have published articles, and provided data in journals such as the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Journal of Food Safety, Veterinary Parasitology and the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, as well.
(Here are some titles of those studies: Coccidiosis of man, dog and cat from ingestion of insufficiently cooked beef, pork and mutton. – 1993, Public Health concerns associated with feeding raw meat to dogs – 2001, Salmonella-contaminated natural pet treats and raw pet food – 2006, Evaluation of the association between feeding raw meat and Salmonella infection-2006, Perspectives and consequences of foodborne pathogens and the feeding of raw meat to dogs-2009
Bacteriological evaluation of commercial canine and feline raw food diets -2015, Evaluation of bacterial and protozoal contamination of commercially available raw meat diets for dogs -2006)
In 2012 the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) House of Delegates approved a policy on feeding raw or under-cooked animal source protein to domestic dogs and cats.
The AVMA wrote that they strongly discourage feeding dogs and cats any animal protein that has not first been subjected to processing that will eliminate pathogens, due to the risk of those pathogens causing illness in our cats and dogs, and in humans.
These protein sources include beef, pork poultry, fish, wild animals, milk and eggs.
Peer-reviewed studies in scientific journals demonstrate that under-cooked animal proteins may be contaminated with a variety of pathogens (bad bugs) including Salmonella spp, Campylobacter spp, Clostridium spp, E. coli, Listeria and Staphylococcus species.
Dogs and cats can develop food borne illnesses after being fed under-cooked diets.
There is a high risk that secondary transmission of these pathogens will infect humans who are in contact with those animals. Subclinical infections (unknown and unseen by humans) become a risk to other pets, wildlife, livestock, and especially human children, older persons and immunocompromised individuals.
To mitigate the public risks associated with feeding inadequately treated animal protein (raw food) to cats and dogs, the AVMA recommends the following:
- Avoid feeding inadequately treated animal proteins to cats and dogs, as well as unpasteurized milk
- Restrict your pet’s access to animal carcasses
- Provide your pets with fresh, clean nutritionally balanced commercially prepared foods and dispose of uneaten food daily
- Practice good personal hygiene (handwashing) before and after feeding your cats and dogs.
The CDC’s statement regarding feeding raw food to pets says:
The CDC recommends against feeding raw food to dogs and cats because of the risk of illness to the pet as well as to people living in the household. Do not feed your pet a raw diet. Here’s why:
Raw diets consist of foods such as meat, poultry, milk and eggs that have not been treated to remove harmful germs, including Salmonella and Campylobacter.
The FDA says:
The FDA does not believe that feeding raw meat as food for animals is 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. We do understand some people still prefer to feed these diets to their pets.
The American College of Veterinary Nutritionists (ACVN) states:
Raw diets have become more popular. Advocates of raw food diets claim benefits ranging from improved longevity to superior oral health, general health and even disease resolution. However, proof for these benefits is restricted to testimonials only, and no published peer-reviewed studies exist to support claims made by raw-food advocates.
There are risks and concerns associated with feeding raw diets. Food poisoning for people is a major concern, and the public health aspects cannot be overlooked. It is best to discuss your choice of feeding raw food with your veterinarian.
There are similar policies from the American Animal Hospital Association, the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the National Association of State Public Health.
It is undeniably clear to those of us who work in the field of veterinary medicine that feeding a Raw-Food diet to your pet is dangerous and not recommended.
Unfortunately, we still find it difficult to convince people not to feed raw food to their pets.
It’s important that you know the facts, read and do your research. Understand where your information is coming from.
There are many raw-food-for-pets websites, mail order businesses and people that publicize their opinions and beliefs about this topic, but you should understand that there are real risks involved in the decisions you make for you and your pets when it comes to the quality of their food, and how it affects you and your family.
For more information, go to any of the aforementioned agency’s websites. There is plenty to read.