Re-thinking raw meat pet food for dogs

raw meat dog food

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.”

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3 Comments

  1. Good morning…

    I read your article about raw feeding for pets and wanted to offer an alternative point of view. My name is Kimberly and I’m raising four dogs and a cat on a raw food diet. I switched my dogs to raw in April 2013 and my cat has been feeding raw for a year (he was harder to transition and I gave up many times). There is a lot of information on the Internet about raw feeding and I quickly became overwhelmed and confused when I began researching how to switch my pets. That confusion inspired me to start blogging about raw feeding and today I manage Keep the Tail Wagging®, one of the largest blogs on raw feeding, and I published a book sharing my experience as a raw feeder, A Novice’s Guide to Raw Feeding for Dogs.

    Like many pet parents, I transitioned my dogs to raw dog food because one of my dogs kept getting sick and his veterinarian didn’t have a solution other than antibiotics. When the vet told me that my dog would live a short life, I saw this as him giving up, but I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. I had heard about raw feeding and decided to give it a try. Within two weeks of feeding my dogs a partial raw diet (commercial raw in the morning, kibble in the evening), most of his health issues had vanished. Today, he’s lived twice as long as his first veterinarian predicted. Imagine how many pets have died unnecessarily because someone refused to explore alternative medicine and natural diets.

    I understand that there is a concern about bacteria and balanced nutrition and I believe that the concern is valid. I like to call myself a DIY raw feeder, which means that I make most of my dogs’ food at home. I practice safe food handling habits by washing my hands and thoroughly cleaning the kitchen and washing my dogs’ dishes to avoid the spread of bacteria. With regard to balancing my dogs’ diet, I did a lot of homework, worked with several veterinarians and nutritionists, and created a nutrient spreadsheet for my dogs. Also, I have my dogs nutrient levels tested annually to make sure I’m covering everything they need.

    As humans, we’ve come to understand that eating a diet of processed foods on a daily basis isn’t healthy. Raw feeders have taken this understanding one step further as we see kibble as a processed food and believe that feeding it on a daily basis contributes to many of the health issues we’re seeing in our dogs. I don’t believe that kibble is all bad; I believe that our failure to add fresh food to our dogs’ diet is the problem. Therefore, I recommend raw feeding, home cooking, and adding fresh vegetable and cooked ground meat to a kibble. All of these, in my opinion, can help to improve a dog’s life.

    With regard to the threat of bacteria, please remember that the same threat exists with kibble and pre-washed salad. We have a tendency to forget other salmonella and E.coli recalls and focus solely on raw feeding and I look forward to your article that explores why this is the case. If you’re concerned about salmonella, kissing kibble fed dogs comes with a risk as well.

    Thank you for your time.

    Kimberly Gauthier
    Keep the Tail Wagging®
    A Novice’s Guide to Raw Feeding for Dogs
    Founder of National Raw Feeding Week, April 1 – 7, 2019

  2. I understand the concern for bacterial contamination in raw feeding. But I wish you would provide the whole story. Well over 100 humans contracted salmonella, but this was not from raw feeders but from contaminated dry dog food. Then you have 2004, 2007 and how about 2018/2019 were thousands of dogs and cats have died from feeding commercial pet feed. And many of these deaths and illnesses are from common and expensive foods including Science Diet, Purina and many other brands.

    The risk of illness or death from commercial food far exceeds the risks of a balanced raw or home cooked meal.

    Anyone wishing to improve their pets health needs to consider the pros and cons of all feeding methods and if you choose a home based meal do your research so your pet is provided a healthy and balanced meal

  3. I love the post above which seems very sensible to me. I believe that dogs would consume a lot of bacteria in the wild anyway and that it probably improves their own gut bacteria and therefore their immunity. Dogs have evolved to eat raw food as you know. I believe that vets promoting processed foods are doing a disservice to their clients.

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