WOW! I’ve received A LOT of feedback regarding this post! Please read ahead to my advice in BOLD for the takeaway.
Raw food is the purest, healthiest, and best diet (most expensive) available for your dog or cat, RIGHT? Well, maybe…there are life-threatening risks to feeding your pet a raw diet, potentially deadly to YOU and YOUR FAMILY.
Raw pet products are one of the fastest-growing segments of the pet food industry. Proponents of raw food diets claim these diets improve our pets’ longevity and can even cure diseases, because vitamins and enzymes are preserved in raw food diets. Remember, all enzymes necessary for digestion are made by the gastrointestinal tract and pancreas of healthy dogs and cats (and humans). Furthermore, most proteins (enzymes) are inactivated by stomach acid. Yet, there are no studies to refute such health claims. Anecdotally, pets on raw diets enjoy their food more, have nicer coats, and better stool consistency. Again, there’s no data (published peer-reviewed scientific studies) to support that raw products are superior to commercial kibble, canned, or home-cooked diets. And, yes, some human diseases are linked to refined foods (e.g., obesity, cancer)…it’s a puzzle everyone is still trying to piece together.
There is evidence, however, that raw diets fall short when it comes to food safety and nutritional adequacy. Stella & Chewy’s just announced a voluntary recall of a single lot of Chicken Freeze-Dried Dinner Patties for Dogs (Lot # 111-15) because Listeria was detected. Several studies have shown commercially available raw pet diets may contain pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, and verotoxogenic E. coli (Freeman, Michel 2001; LeJeune, Hancock 2001; Weese et al. 2005; Finley et al. 2006; Finley et al. 2007; Freeman et al. 2013). In one of those studies, E. coli was found in more than half of the samples. It’s critical to NOTE that freezing does not kill all microorganisms.
So, we know raw food can contain pathogenic microorganisms. Did you know that YOU may be eating those pathogens? It’s been shown that pets eating raw diets will shed (i.e., poop) dangerous bacteria (Busch et al. 2007, Finley et al. 2007, Morley et al. 2006, Stiver et al. 2003). One study reported that 14% of fecal samples of dogs fed raw diets were contaminated with Salmonella (Lenz et al. 2009). So, it boils down to my ANUS-TO-MOUTH (ATM) theory. If your dog eats a raw diet, he or she may pass pathogens in the stool…then lick his or her anus and give you a wet kiss…that’s NOT how you want to lose weight.
For this reason, I’ve always advised clients NOT to feed a raw diet if they live with young children, elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy adult dogs, cats, and people can handle pathogenic bacteria in certain doses. P.S., ATM happens with dry pet food too. In 2012, an outbreak of Salmonella was traced to a pet food production facility in South Carolina. A total of 49 PEOPLE were infected with that strain.
The nutritional adequacy of raw diets (as well as home cooked diets) must be considered…especially in growing pets. Issues of nutrient deficiencies in various recipes have been documented (Freeman and Michel 2001, Roudebush and Cowell, 2002, Streiff et al. 2002, Lauten et al. 2005). The 2001 study found all of the five raw diets (home-prepared and commercial) were below AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) minimum recommendations. A more recent study (2010) from Germany revealed 76% of raw dog diets had at least one imbalance. Taylor et al. documented nutritional disease in a puppy fed raw ground beef and an organic pre-mix (2009). Raw (or home-cooked) diets should be analyzed by a qualified nutritionist for nutritional adequacy before long-term feeding, and it’s best NOT to feed growing animals these diets.
In brief, there is simply no objective information proving the health benefit of feeding raw diets. And, these raw diets are a potential threat to human health. The AVMA, CDC, and the FDA all do NOT recommend feeding raw diets to pets. If you still are going to go RAW, please don’t feed to puppies or kittens, and certainly do not choose raw diets if your home includes very young, old, or immune-compromised people.