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The raw facts on feeding your pets uncooked food

By Tram Le, DVM
Burien Veterinary Hospital


In recent years, feeding raw food diets to dogs and cats has become common practice.

Companies that make these diets claim the pros outweigh the cons of feeding raw. The main concern for feeding raw is infectious diseases for pets and owners.

If you want to feed raw food diets these are the facts you need to know to make sure you are not at high risk.

Home prepared, as well as commercially available products, have been evaluated for bacteria contamination. Salmonella spp was found in 80 percent of home-prepared diets containing chicken.

Other investigations found most commercial products to be contaminated with Escherichia coli and 6-20 percent contaminated with Salmonella spp. A highly drug-resistant strain of E. coli, Toxoplasma gondii and Cryptosporidium spp were also detected.

People living in the same household as the pet eating the raw diet are also at risk from the food itself, the mouth, and fecal shedding of these bacteria. Pets can be asymptomatic (no symptoms) shedders, but if either owners or pets are immunocomprised they are at even higher risk.

How to reduce the risks:
1. Raw meat should be purchased from reputable suppliers. Do not feed condemned meat or any meat unfit for human consumption.
2. Any raw meat should be kept frozen if not used immediately. Freezing meat does not kill bacteria, but stops growth until thawed.
3. Frozen meat should be thawed in the refrigerator, ideally in a sealed container on the bottom shelf.
4. Thawed meat should be used within 48 hours.
5. Prevent contamination of kitchen surfaces when handling raw meat.
6. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling raw foods.
7. Uneaten raw meat should not be left in food bowls. Harmful bacteria can grow quickly in the meat at room temperature. Discard disposable containers. Wash and disinfect food bowls every time used.
8. Stainless steel food and water bowls are best for disinfection. Water bowls need to be cleaned and disinfected from oral contamination.
9. Restrict young children from food and water bowls.
10. Since a large amount of bacteria is shed in pets’ stools, be sure to pick up and clean areas of fecal deposits.
11. If your pet has diarrhea, consult your veterinarian. Diarrhea is not normal in animals fed raw meat.

On a risk scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest risk, healthy adults and older children are about a 4, young children or immunocompromised persons 9 or higher.

Many people believe that raw food diet has its benefits, but know your risks. Wild dogs and cats do survive on raw, but their average lifespan is shorter. The domestic dog and cat is far removed from their wild cousins with potentially weaker immune systems and any physical traits that make them susceptible to problems.

Wild animals usually eat their prey right away and do not rely on butchers, grocery stores and refrigeration. People eat rare steaks, raw meat and fish, but we minimize our risk by buying high-grade items and not eating when our stomach feels a little off.

Humans at one point ate all raw until the discovery of fire. Since that discovery, we live longer and healthier lives and so do our pets. Many of our pets will thrive on raw diets, but be aware of potential risks.

Our goal is to help both us and our pets to have healthier lives.

(Truth about Cats & Dogs is a monthly column written by local veterinarians. Participating hospitals are Marine View Veterinary Hospital in Des Moines, Des Moines Veterinary Hospital and Burien Veterinary Hospital.)

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