raw pet foods

In the first part of this blog post, I set out the American Veterinary Medicine Association’s policy that raw fed diets for cats and dogs are dangerous and to be avoided, and uncovered the background behind this bold statement. If you haven’t yet read Part I, please do!

What I went on to discover was even more disturbing: how that policy was developed and finalized.

According to the AVMA’s statement:

We are a science-based organization, and this policy is based on scientific research…Note that with this policy we aren’t encouraging commercial diets, we’re encouraging “commercially prepared or home-cooked food”. As long as it isn’t raw or undercooked and doesn’t contain pathogens, we’re not concerned with what it is or where it came from. Regardless of what you feed your pet, the diet should be free of pathogens that can sicken you, your pet and your family.

So the AVMA is trying to ensure that the food we handle does not contain any nasty bugs. While this is commendable, it completely ignores the fact that harmful pathogens can be found all around us and in all sorts of food that we routinely handle for our families – chicken, eggs, milk, cheese, pork, fruit and so on. No one has tried to ban these, yet chopping up a chicken breast to feed to your dog is no different whatsoever to chopping up that same meat to feed to your family. Unless that meat is correctly prepared, utensils and work surfaces are properly washed, and cross contamination of meats avoided, there is a risk that your family will become sick from the bacteria in that chicken breast. That is well established.

Q:  What are the risks of raw diets, and how do they compare with commercially processed kibble diets?

Chicken

A: It’s common knowledge that raw meat is likely to be contaminated with bacteria; it’s not sterile by any means. Even USDA-inspected, “human grade” meat is not free of bacterial contamination. [In a US study in 2013, it was found that 97% of all tested chicken breasts from national retailers contained potentially harmful bacteria: E.coli (65% of samples), Campylobacter (43%), Klebsiella (14%), Salmonella (11%) and Staphylococcus aureus (9%) – to name but a few.] The same applies to raw meat fed to pets. If the raw food isn’t adequately treated to eliminate pathogens, you could be feeding your pet potentially harmful pathogens that could cause illness in your pets and/or your family. 

Scientific studies have confirmed that pets fed raw diets contaminated with Salmonella can become Salmonella carriers; this means that they don’t develop any illness, but the Salmonella bacteria are shed in the pet’s feces (stool) and can contaminate the environment and potentially infect people with the bacteria.

Salmonella infections have certainly been associated with commercially prepared kibble diets, but there have been no studies to determine the relative risks associated with raw vs. kibble diets. Keep in mind that raw pet foods account for about 1% of the total pet food market, which makes accurate risk comparisons difficult.

In this last small paragraph, the AVMA appears to shoot down its own argument – if there have been no studies to determine the relative risks of raw vs. kibble, then why come down so hard against raw – and not kibble?  The AVMA admits that there have been salmonella cases caused by dried pet foods, but one suspects that the influence of those manufacturers in the background has meant that this fact has been conveniently ignored. It further admits that “accurate risk comparisons” are difficult – and yet they have gone ahead and made that comparison on the basis of virtually no evidence in support, from a minuscule proportion of the total market, and against a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

There is also, finally, one vital missing element in the whole of the AVMA’s consideration, one which I submit that if it had been properly considered, a very different policy may have emerged: at no point does the AVMA confirm that the food to be fed is prepared in a species appropriate manner.

So, the AVMA (correctly) does not distinguish between meat fed to your family and that fed to your pet; but (and it is a very big but) the whole basis for this statement appears to be that your family should only eat cooked meat to avoid pathogens, and therefore the same applies to your dog. This is fundamentally flawed for the following reason:

Dogs are not humans.

This sounds straightforward and obvious, but it is shocking that a scientific body such as the AVMA fails to make this distinction or to recognize why the above statement is really nothing more than scaremongering. Humans can no longer tolerate many natural bacteria in their foods and therefore are the only species to have to cook their meat. A dog has a significantly different physiology and better natural defenses to pathogens, and is therefore perfectly equipped to eat raw meat.

Consider:

  • Salmonella and other potentially dangerous pathogens are naturally occurring bacteria, which live in the environment around us. You or your family are no more likely to catch salmonella from grocery store bought chicken than from your dog’s raw dinner – or from your dog.
  • While it is not unheard of for a dog to become ill from salmonella, this is usually because the dog has an already compromised immune system, or is generally unwell to start with. Research of 1000 dogs via the Rawfeeding Rebels Facebook page found that no dog caught salmonella from raw feeding (and the only dogs that did become ill caught it from non-pet food related sources).
  • A dog’s intestinal tract is 5% as long as that of a human, meaning that any pathogens are only in the body for a very short period of time (usually a day or less), and there is insufficient time to cause problems; those pathogens are then shed naturally in the dog’s stool.
  • It is an undisputed fact that dog’s stool contains harmful bacteria – whether or not the dog is fed raw. For example, it has been estimated that a single gram of dog waste can contain 23 million fecal coliform bacteria, which are known to cause cramps, diarrhea, intestinal illness, and serious kidney disorders in humans.

So doesn’t it appear that the real issue about which the AVMA is concerned is not what your dog is fed, but inconsiderate dog owners not cleaning up after their pets? It is well known that salmonella can be found in dog feces (along with numerous other non-raw food related bugs), but no one in their right mind advocates handling dog poo for any reason. Why single out the waste of a raw fed dog?  The vast majority of dogs are house trained (and PP take note: I submit that therapy dogs are often better trained than most due to the nature of their work) and normal hygiene rules apply when cleaning up after you pet, whether in your home, on a walk, or where ever. You would no more handle the poo of a kibble fed dog than that of a raw fed one – so why does the AVMA perceive the risk of illness to be any greater in one than the other?

Find out how you can switch your dog to a raw diet today. Click Here!

In Part 3 of this post, to be released shortly, I will examine the AVMA’s stance with regard to the alleged benefits of raw feeding, and the consequences of their policy. You may be surprised!