Experts from The Netherlands are warning dog and cat owners to be aware of the risks associated with feeding their pets raw meat-based diets (RMBDs), instead of the more conventional dry or canned pet foods.
According to research published this month in Veterinary Record, these diets may be contaminated with bacteria and parasites and as such, may pose a risk to both animal and human health.
Feeding RMBDs to companion animals has become increasingly popular across the world, yet claims of health benefits are not backed by evidence, and several studies have reported possible risks.
Of most concern, however, is the risk to public or animal health due to contamination of RMBDs with zoonotic bacteria and parasites, that can pass between animals and humans.
So, a team at Utrecht University set out to determine the presence of four zoonotic bacteria and two parasite species in commercial RMBDs, available in most pet shops and supermarkets.
When they analysed 35 commercial frozen RMBDs from eight different brands, widely available in The Netherlands, they found E. coli O157 in eight products, Listeria in 15 products, and salmonella in seven products. Both E. coli O157 and salmonella infections in humans have been linked with serious illnesses.
In addition, four products contained the parasite Sarcocystis cruzi and another four Sarcocystis tenella. In two products, Toxoplasma gondii was found. The Sarcocystes species are not zoonotic but pose a risk to farm animals. T gondii is an important zoonosis with a high disease burden in humans.
“Despite the relatively low sample size of frozen products in our study, it is clear that commercial RMBDs may be contaminated with a variety of zoonotic bacteria and parasitic pathogens that may be a possible source of bacterial infections in pet animals and if transmitted pose a risk for human beings,” the researchers said.
“Cats and dogs that eat raw meat diets are also more likely to become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria than animals on conventional diets, which could pose a serious risk to both animal health and public health.”