One topic I have not really wanted to weigh in on is the raw-food diet controversy.
Proponents of feeding a raw diet and those who are against it are as far apart ideologically as Western Europe and Australia are geographically. But recent articles in the American Animal Hospital Association newsletter, NEWStat, made me think there are some facts pet owners should know if they are considering the diets.
The first concern involves a new study published in Vet Record. It shows that “raw meat-based diets can pose a health threat to both pets and humans.” Research at Utrecht University in the Netherlands tested 35 frozen pet-food products from eight brands. They all contained some combination of raw meat, bones and animal byproducts from beef, duck, chicken, lamb and horse.
Looking for infectious bacteria and pathogens, they found potentially deadly E. coli bacteria in 28 products, or 80 percent, of the pet foods tested. Eight products, or 23 percent, tested positive for a virulent strain of E. coli that was implicated in a recent outbreak that killed two people and hospitalized more than 50 in the U.S. and Canada. In that particular outbreak romaine lettuce was the source of the E. coli. Another pathogen, Listeria monocytogenes, was found in 19 products, or 54 percent, of the foods.
All told, these results do confirm that zoonotic pathogens can be present in frozen raw meat-based diets. This would mean these bacteria could be a source of infection in pets and could be transmitted to their human owners if infected.
More than 9,000 miles away at the University of Melbourne’s U-Vet Werribee Animal Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, a study found dogs who consumed raw chicken meat had a 70 percent greater risk of developing a condition called polyradiculoneuritis. This is a debilitating condition similar to the human Guillain-Barre Syndrome in humans. It is also known as “coonhound paralysis” because it is associated with dogs that have been bitten by raccoons.
The cause of the disease is unknown but it is associated with a bacterium called Campylobacter. Campylobacter was 9.4 times more likely to be in stool samples collected within seven days of the dog contracting the disease. While this study is not conclusive because there is no proof that Campylobacter is the cause of polyradiculoneuritis, the increased incidence of the disease in dogs eating raw chicken shows yet another link between raw meat and bacteria.
Lead researcher of the Netherland study, Paul Overgaauw DVM Ph.D., encourages “better regulation for the origin of the raw materials and processing and better information to the pet owners about the risks.” Personal hygiene and proper handling of these products is needed to prevent outbreaks of food borne illness.
AAHA also goes on to say “many of the pathogens in raw diets can be transmitted to humans by contact with the food itself, the pet or environmental surfaces.” People at highest risk of contracting these pathogens would be the very young, old or immune-compromised.
So there you have some documented examples of concerns involving the use of raw diet and the presence and spread of pathogenic bacteria. In the end each pet owner will have to make their own educated decisions about what to feed their pet. But please keep these thoughts in mind when you are preparing your pet’s next meal.
Have a question for Dr. Johns? E-mail her at [email protected] Write to Pet Peeves, P.O. Box 2949, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32549. Johns is a Niceville veterinarian.