Raw Dog Food & Cat Food Diet Benefits and Risks
Written by: Dr. Jean Hofve, Holistic Veterinarian, DVM
Common Pathogens from Raw Pet Food
Every so often, raw food brands have recalls for formulas that have been contaminated with Salmonella, a type of bacteria that can cause gastrointestinal illness.
When considering the risks and benefits of raw diets and raw meat for dogs and cats, we should remember that recalled brands' 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. In reality, very few pets get sick from contaminated raw foods. 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 high-quality, balanced raw diet.
Raw food does have potential drawbacks as well as benefits, especially for pet parents. The bacteria Salmonella is the most commonly cited danger from feeding raw meat to pets. However, it is a common contaminant of meat, poultry and eggs in human food as well. 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 rarely poses any real threat to healthy animals. In fact, some dogs and cats are already carriers, simply from environmental exposure. 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 bacterium. 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.
Benefits of Raw Food
So why feed raw? Raw meat diets are credited with restoring the health of thousands of dogs and cats. Pet guardians universally report big improvements in skin, coat, energy, and overall wellbeing. Raw diets have helped innumerable pets recover from a wide variety of health problems, including allergies, asthma, urinary tract problems, digestive issues, dental disease, immune disorders, degenerative diseases, and epilepsy.
Which Pets Should Eat Raw
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.
Transitioning to Raw
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 entire 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!
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 improving your pet's health.