by Jean Hofve, DVM, Veterinary Advisor to Only Natural Pet
One of the leading vendors of raw food recently recalled a number of its
frozen raw chicken products because they may have been contaminated with
Salmonella, a bacteria that can cause gastrointestinal illness.
When considering the risks and benefits of raw diets, we should remember that
the recalled brand’s raw foods are vastly outnumbered by the hundreds of canned
and dry foods that sickened or killed tens of thousands of dogs and cats in the
2007 recall fiasco and others since then. How many animals got sick from the raw
foods? Zero. On the other hand, the benefits of a raw meat diet are many. Skin,
ear, digestive, weight, allergic, and immune-related diseases usually improve on
a good quality, balanced raw diet.
However, raw food has potential drawbacks as well as benefits. The bacteria
Salmonella is the most commonly cited danger from feeding raw meat. However,
even though this bacterium is a common contaminant of meat, eggs, and soil, it
is not a significant threat to dogs and cats, due to the carnivore’s shorter
gastrointestinal tract and faster transit time (compared to humans). Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) warnings typically emphasize the risks to frail people
like young infants, the elderly, and immune-compromised people (e.g., those with
immune system diseases such as Lupus or AIDS, or those on immune-suppressing
drugs like steroids or chemotherapy).
According to experts—including the FDA—Salmonella does not pose any real
threat to healthy animals. In fact, it’s estimated that 30% of normal healthy
dogs and 18% of healthy cats (nearly all of whom eat processed commercial pet
food) are already carriers, simply from environmental exposure. One study on raw
diets showed that, even when 80% of meat samples were positive for Salmonella,
70% of dogs eating that meat tested negative, and none got sick. The vast
majority of human cases are completely unrelated to dogs and cats. It is
prudent, however, to avoid feeding pets non-organic raw ground beef, due to
severe contamination problems in the meat packing industry.
Listeria is another common environmental bacteria. The vast majority of
Listeria cases in people come from processed foods, like hot dogs, cold cuts,
cheese, and raw vegetables. Healthy people (and pets) are resistant and don’t
usually become ill from this bug.
Common sense says that handling raw meat diets for pets is no different from
buying raw meat at the grocery store to make hamburgers for your family. By
always following normal safe meat-handling procedures with all raw animal
products, you’ll virtually eliminate the risk of illness for your pet and your
So why feed raw? Raw meat diets are credited with restoring the health of
thousands of dogs and cats. Guardians universally report big improvements in
skin, coat, energy, and overall well-being. Raw diets have helped innumerable
pets heal from a wide variety of health problems, including allergies, asthma,
urinary tract problems, digestive issues, dental disease, immune disorders,
degenerative diseasess, and epilepsy.
However, raw diets aren’t for every pet. Animals with inflammatory conditions
of the gut, and those taking immune-suppressing drugs, should not be fed raw
meat until their systems have time to heal. You can lightly cook raw meat or
even raw complete diets without losing essential nutrients. As your pet’s health
improves, cook the meat less and less until your pet is ready to transition to
raw. It’s usually best to make any diet changes gradually.
If you haven’t fed your pet raw meat or “people” food before (or it’s been a
long time since you did), be sure to make all dietary changes slowly and
cautiously. The whole digestive system has to restructure itself to digest the
new food properly.
To ease the transition, extra digestive enzymes and probiotics are helpful.
Omega 3 fatty acids are deficient in all commercial pet diets, and even in
homemade raw diets, so it’s a good idea to add a good quality Omega 3 oil to
your pet’s diet. Of course, these supplements are beneficial for all pets, no
matter what they eat!
Only Natural Pet Store carries a wide variety of probiotics, enzymes, and combination
products for you to choose from. To name just a few:
Only Natural Pet Vital Digest,
Biozyme provide important
enzymes to help your pet’s digestive system break down the food properly.
Ark Naturals Gentle Digest,
NF Spectra Probiotic, and
Only Natural Pet Probiotic Blend are all probiotics that supply friendly bacteria and nutrients to support proper
absorption and elimination of toxins and bad bacteria.
Pet Naturals Digestive Support for Cats and Dogs and
Plant Enzymes & Probiotics contain both enzymes and friendly bacteria.
Only Natural Pet Sockeye Salmon Oil and
Nordic Naturals Pet Cod Liver Oil are good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.
Even if you don’t want to feed a raw diet full-time, adding a little fresh
meat to your pet’s regular diet a few times a week, or feeding part raw and part
regular commercial food, will go a long way toward better health for your pet.
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