Is Raw Food Safe For My Pet?

In early 2018 there has been a recent social media circulation of the issues pet owners may face when feeding raw food, specifically chicken, to their dogs. The same issues can be potentially occur with cats.

Campylobacter, the bacteria identified in the recent study is a known food contaminant in human and pet chicken. Eating raw or undercooked, poorly stored chicken of any food can lead to Campylobacter or food poisoning.

Typical effects of this are classic food poisoning symptoms of vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach cramps. The same organism is usually responsible in both humans and pets.

Chicken wingsMany homes and pet owners will feed raw chicken to their pets and there will be no consequences. However there is a risk spectre with food that we all eat, or feed our pets. The additional less common, but more serious “reaction” of the immune system becoming overactive and triggered by this organism can lead to the more serious consequences reported of paralysis and even death. In humans this is referred to as Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS).

This information and evidence has been around in humans for some time and it is not surprising that the same risks exist in dogs (and possibly cats).

At Albany Creek Veterinary Surgery we diagnose 3 to 5 cases of Campylobacter a year. While we can usually treat these quite successfully with a specific antibiotic it does leave the normal healthy flora of the gut deranged for some time often needing extended probiotics. We have not experienced the more serious immune mediated symptoms, but this is always possible.

What to do?

The options:

1. You can stop feeding raw food (this could mean your pet will give you a poor TripAdvisor review)

2. Or; if you choose to feed your pet raw food then we recommend you consider these actions:

  • Choose human grade food over pet grade food,
  • Store the product in the fridge promptly,
  • Defrost frozen raw food in the fridge, feed from the fridge, 
  • Do not feed your pet food you would not eat (yes, really!)
  • Purchase from a reliable and known supplier and follow best by or use by dates
  • Check the origin of the food.  

Read on to see more information and studies. But do always keep this information in perspective to be informed and minimise risk by good food practices that we should follow for all the family!

Read the recent dog study from University of Melbourne Vet School

The Risk of Feeding Raw Food to your pet – Other reported food related concerns.

The following is information we have long supplied to our clients who ask about raw diets.

Raw food diets for dog and cats have become increasingly popular, with people electing to switch in the hopes of improving their pets' health or providing a diet closer to what their predecessors would have consumed in the wild.

 A 2008 Australian study showed 16.2% of dogs and 9.6% of cats are receiving mainly raw food as their daily meal; this figure has likely risen in recent years.

Although no diet is perfect, 100 % raw feeding is inherently risky, both to your pet and to human health.

A 2010-2012 study by the FDA of commercial raw diets showed 8% contained

Salmonella spp and 16% Listeria monocytogenes. E.coli (up to 60% contamination rate), Clostridium perfringens. Campylobacter spp and Toxoplasma gondii are also commonly isolated.

 Although these can cause severe disease in our domestic pets, many are able to avoid becoming clinically unwell. However, the risk is still present; a 2007 study revealed 43% of dogs fed a single meal of a contaminated raw food, shed Salmonella in their faeces for up to seven days. Many of these isolates are resistant to up to 75% of antibiotics, which obviously poses significant human health risks.

Salmonella is the number one food borne pathogen in Australia. Although much rarer, Listeria has a 20-30% mortality rate and can have devastating effects in pregnant women including miscarriage. Toxoplasma gondii can cause encephalitis and death, and in pregnant women can lead to blindness or mental retardation in the foetus.

If raw foods make up 100% of your pet's diet, this can pose other risks. A 2001 American study found NONE of the tested raw food diets were nutritionally balanced (not even the commercial ones). Vets are seeing re-emergence of diseases such as Rickets, which with the introduction of commercial dry foods had become extremely rare.

Dogs that have contact with high risk family members (the very young, elderly, pregnant or immunocompromised), or the dogs which participate in therapy or school programs, should not be fed a primarily raw meat diet.

Otherwise when feeding your pet raw foods, simply follow these rules:

  • Ensure proper hygiene when storing and preparing raw food
  • Try to avoid letting them lick your face and do not kiss your pet's face
  • Ensure fast and hygienic disposal of animal faeces
  • Select appropriate raw bones for your pet,
  • Trim excess fat and do not allow pets to consume bone marrow to avoid complications like pancreatitis
  • Cook meat prior to feeding; this does not lower the digestibility or nutritional value
  • Consult with a Vet to develop a balanced home prepared diet

Remember as with anything in life, balance is best.

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