New Study Finds Raw Meat Diets May Not Be Safe for Dogs or People

raw food diets dangerous for pets and people

Over the past few years, food diets for dogs that include raw meat, vegetables and fruit have really been growing in popularity. Many people who feed their dogs this diet were probably spooked by the major recall of Iams, Hill’s Pet Nutrition and nearly 200 other pet food brands in 2007 after thousands of dogs and cats were sickened or died from kidney failure due to contaminants in these products. (My sister’s cat was one of the victims.)

Raw diets have been fed to racing dogs for decades, and were first recommended for family pets by Dr. Ian Billinghurst, an Australian veterinarian, in 1993. He and other raw diet proponents said pets thrive on uncooked meaty bones and vegetable scraps, since that’s what their ancestors ate long ago — not processed, grain-based commercial food. It was Billinghurst who coined the term “BARF” diet, an acronym for Bones and Raw Food, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food.

But speaking of barf, could feeding your dog raw food make both you and your pet sick? A new study, published in Vet Record, found that some raw diets can be unhealthy for pets as well as people.

Researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands tested 35 products from eight brands of commercially available raw meat-based diets (RMBDs) to see if they contained bacteria and parasites that can be transmitted from pets to humans.

And yes, they sure did. Forty-three percent of the products contained species of Listeria, which can seriously sicken pregnant women, babies, elderly people and anyone with a weakened immune system. Nearly 25 percent contained E. coli, while 20 percent contained Salmonella. These could cause bacterial infections in pets — and can be transmitted to their owners who handle contaminated pet food or surfaces, touch their infected pet or eat cross-contaminated human food.

But what about feeding your dog non-commercial raw meat? Not a good idea, according to the researchers.

“Feeding of freshly prepared, non-frozen raw meat based-diets to companion animals can not only result in infection and disease in the animals, but also poses a risk to public health and livestock farming through shedding of pathogens into the environment,” they stated in the study. “Pet owners should therefore be informed about the risks associated with feeding their animals RMBDs.”

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) discourages feeding pets “any animal-source protein that has not first been subjected to a process to eliminate pathogens because of the risk of illness to cats and dogs as well as humans.”

To prevent your dog or yourself from getting sick from raw meat, the AVMA recommends “cooking or pasteurization through the application of heat until the protein reaches an internal temperature adequate to destroy pathogenic organisms.”

For more information about the pros and cons of a raw food diet for your dog, check out WebMD.com.

Photo: dewkort