Many raw meat dog food products contain high levels of bacteria that pose potential health risks to both animals and people, according to new research from Sweden.
This is a particular issue for infants, the elderly, and those with poor immunity, warned the researchers, whose study is published in Vet Record.
A raw meat-based diet has become increasingly popular for dogs in recent years, because it is seen as a ‘healthier’ and more ‘natural alternative’ to widely available commercial products.
But, unlike commercial feeds, raw meat products are not heat treated or freeze-dried to pasteurise their content.
To try and gauge the levels of bacteria in these products, the researchers took samples from 60 packs of raw meat products, bought from a range of stores within a 200km radius of their laboratory between March and September 2017.
The products, which were all intended for dogs, contained at least one of uncooked meat and edible bones and/or organs from cattle, chicken, lamb, turkeys, pigs, ducks, reindeer or salmon. Some of the products also included vegetables, vegetable fibre, and minerals.
All the products, made by 10 different manufacturers, originated from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany or England.
The samples were analysed for bacteria that could potentially pose a health risk to animals and people.
All 60 samples contained Enterobacteriaceae species, which are indicators of faecal contamination and hygiene standards. Levels varied widely among the different manufacturers, and in some cases, among the different products from the same manufacturer. But 31 of the samples contained levels that exceeded the maximum threshold set by European Union (EU) regulations of 5000 bacteria per gram.
Most of the species identified are not known to cause infection, apart from E. coli, which was found in about a third of the samples.
C perfringens, another marker of faecal contamination and hygiene standards, was found in 18 samples; two of the samples exceeded the maximum limits set by Swedish guidelines.
Salmonella and Campylobacter are zoonotic species of bacteria capable of passing from animals to people and causing infection. EU regulations don’t permit Salmonella in any animal feed.
Salmonella species were found in four of the 60 samples, while Campylobacter species were found in three samples from three different manufacturers. This is a relatively low level, but possibly because Campylobacter species are very sensitive to freezing, the researchers said.
“This research offers further compelling evidence to support vets’ concerns about the potential animal and public health risks associated with feeding pets a raw meat-based diet,” British Veterinary Association junior vice president Daniella Dos Santos said.
“We would advise any owner wanting to try a raw meat-based diet for their pet to first consult a veterinary surgeon.”