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 family.
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 Vital Digest,Prozyme, and 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 Animal Essentials 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.