The other day, my mum sent a picture of a piece of raw meat on bone and asked if it’s okay to feed it to our golden retriever, Ollie, since he’ll like the bone. On hindsight, I responded with more horror than was necessary. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not because I’m opposed to raw food—I’m a huge fan of a good medium rare steak and some fresh ceviché. But to compromise food safety all because our dear Ollie is chomping on a piece of raw bone is just…mind boggling.
Apparently raw food for dogs is trendy thing now, like low carb diets for humans (They never really left, did they? Just coming and going in waves.) But I cannot turn a blind eye. As I told my sister (proud mother of Ollie), I’m not a vet, and definitely not a dietitian for dogs. But this is not a dog nutrition issue. This is a serious human food safety issue and should not be taken lightly. Read on to find out how feeding your dog raw meat can make you really sick.
Why is raw meat dangerous?
When we cook food, we expose it to high temperatures, which kills bacteria in it and makes it safe to eat. Raw food, being uncooked, has the risk of containing harmful bacteria like Salmonella, Listeria, and E.coli. If you had cooked it, you would have killed these buggers and your risk would be almost zero. But when served raw, you always risk a chance of that piece of meat containing some of these harmful critters.
The USA Food and Drug Administation Centre for Veterinary Medicine conducted a study and found that of 196 raw pet food samples analysed, Salmonella was found in 15 samples while Listeria was found in 32. There was another study of 35 commercial frozen raw meat-based diets that found E.coli in 80%, Listeria in 54%, and Salmonella in 20% of products.
If your dog’s raw food happens to contain harmful bacteria, not only will your dog fall sick, you will too. This is because when your dog is exposed to such a bacteria, it becomes a carrier. The bacteria is then easily passed on to you through your dog (scroll down to “Ways that your dog can pass bugs on to you”). In 2013, there was an incident where humans were infected with Salmonella because of exposure to chicken jerky pet treats, leading to the hospitalisation of 16 people.
Furthermore, antibiotic resistance is on the rise in today’s world. If your fur baby happens to carry a bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics, treatment can become very tricky (read: difficult, expensive, and life-threatening) for man and man’s best friend.
What about raw fruits and vegetables?
Raw fruits and vegetables have a much lower risk of containing these harmful bacteria. Having said that, there has been a recent outbreak of Listeria in rockmelons in Australia. So make sure you wash these thoroughly too, before feeding them to your dog.
Other nutritional concerns of raw diets
Apart from risk of bacterial contamination, here are some other nutrition concerns when it comes to raw meat-based diets.
- Exclusive raw meat-based diets may lack certain nutrients such as calcium, leading to bone fractures and weak teeth. This makes them unsuitable for puppies who rely on such minerals for bone development and growth.
- Raw diets that contain large amounts of animal liver may provide excessive amounts of vitamin A that can lead to toxicity.
- Dogs that have cancer and are on immunosuppressive treatment would have a weakened immune system that does not fight bacteria well. Thus, they should avoid all raw foods in order to prevent risk of bacterial infection.
Ways that your dog can pass bugs on to you
- Contact of saliva/faeces
- Surfaces in the house e.g floors and furniture
How you can feed your dog to ensure food safety
Food safety is important when handling food, whether it’s raw or cooked.
- Defrost meats in the fridge, preferably in a container. If the meat is already in a plastic bag, place the bag on a plate in the fridge to prevent dripping and contamination of fridge shelves.
- As much as possible, to prevent cross-contamination, separate utensils (tong, spoon, knife) and equipment (frying pan, sauce pan) should be used for your dog and your family. You may choose to use the same utensils and equipment during food preparation for your dog and your family, as we do. However, food should always be transferred carefully to your dog’s food bowl that’s exclusively for it. We never let Ollie eat straight off dishes that we use. A separate sponge should also be used to wash your dog’s bowl.
- Wash food preparation surfaces, kitchen equipment, utensils, and hands with soap thoroughly and frequently.
- Store human equipment and dog equipment separately.
- Avoid allowing your dog into the kitchen, where food preparation happens.
Of course, it is entirely your choice if you firmly believe in the benefits of raw food and choose to feed it to your dog. But it is important that you understand the risks involved and take precautionary measures. Always prioritising food safety is a simple way of keeping the bad food bugs at bay. It may seem tedious, but once you have the systems up in place, it wouldn’t take up much time at all. If done right, these measures can minimise risks of bacterial infection not just for your dog, but also you and your family.
- Get the Facts! Raw Pet Food Diets can be Dangerous to You and Your Pet [document on the internet]. US Food and Drug Administation; 2018 [cited 2019 May 26]. Available from: https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/get-facts-raw-pet-food-diets-can-be-dangerous-you-and-your-pet?_sm_byp=iVVDKKjQs1Z74QPP
- Antibiotic resistance [document on the internet]. World Health Organisation, 2018 [cited 2019 May 26]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/antibiotic-resistance.
- Schlesinger DP, Joffe DJ. Raw food diets in companion animals: A critical review. Can Vet J. 2011; 52 (1): 50-54.