Raw Diet Risks
In light of the recent controversy surrounding the pet food recall and an overwhelming urgency to feed unadulterated or all natural foods, raw meat diets for our pets have become quite common. The rationale behind feeding raw diets is that dogs and cats evolved eating raw foods and commercial foods are heat processed, which alters or destroys nutrients and essential enzymes; therefore, the raw diet more closely approximates that which is fed in the wild and should essentially be healthier than commercially prepared foods; however, owners should be mindful of the hazards in feeding a raw diet. Among the most important hazards of this type of diet are nutritional imbalances, gastrointestinal problems, and parasitic and bacterial contamination. In fact, the bacterial and parasitic contamination presents a risk not only to pets but to humans as well.
The closest living ancestors of domestic dogs are wolves. In the wild, wolves feed on carrion (dead animals), small mammals, birds, amphibians and the feces of herbivores that may contain plant material. Both coyotes and wolves feed on plants, fruits, and berries, while some canine predators may actually consume the intestinal tract of large herbivores, which may also contain plant material. Thus, the domestic dog is essentially an omnivore, who has the ability to digest a variety of plant and animal material.
The nutrient composition of organ or skeletal meat, including the bone, does not meet the nutrient requirements of the domestic dog. Some of the raw meat diets may even contain bones; the acronym for this particular alternative is the B.A.R.F. (bone and raw food diet). Most pet owners are well aware that dogs like to eat meat and chew on bones; however, that does not necessarily mean that the nutrient composition of such a diet is complete and balanced for our domestic dog. Most of our commercial foods are made with both plant and animal material. It is also noteworthy to mention that the lifespan of animals in the wild is considerably less than our domestic dogs and cats, which may also be attributed to nutrition.
In addition, most purebreds, and the mixed breeds from which they came were produced from generations of breeding programs. These breeding programs were mostly based on feeding kibble. If the animals that they were breeding did not do well on this form of nutrition, they could no longer be used as a breeding stock.
Some supporters of raw diets may also argue that “digestive enzymes” in raw food are more effective than the digestive enzymes in the animal’s body. These enzymes would be otherwise destroyed by extreme heat, which is common to commercial preparation of pet foods. Enzymes are actually made up of proteins, and during normal digestion the body breaks down proteins so that they can be utilized by individual cells. If these enzymes are indeed present they will eventually be degraded in the digestive tract of the animal consuming the food.
Proponents of feeding raw meat that includes bones (B.A.R.F. diet) should be aware of its potentially disastrous consequences. Animals that eat only raw food can be “inexperienced” eaters, so to speak, and “gulp” rather than chew. These animals may be susceptible to asphyxiation; in other words, they may suffocate or choke on the bones and potentially die if help to dislodge the object is not provided. In addition, bones in the gastrointestinal tract can cause trauma from their abrasive edges and may obstruct or block the tract itself. An intestinal blockage is an emergency situation and surgery may be required to remove the piece of bone.
Cooking meat is essential to removing bacteria, bacterial toxins, and parasites from food. Bacterial and parasitic contamination of raw diets is of particular concern. Since there is no regulatory agency responsible for monitoring bacterial contamination in raw meat, milk, or eggs for pet foods, owners feeding these diets should be aware of their pet’s health as well as their own. Most of the diseases that can be transmitted to humans are detected with microscopic examination and culture; however, this is not done during meat inspection. SOME of the organisms that can be transmitted are hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter. These diseases are all transmissible to humans. In fact, infants and immunocompromised individuals are extremely susceptible.
A recent study conducted by the USDA and Colorado State University evaluated 21 commercially available raw meat diets from 3 different stores. All of the diets were stored frozen until evaluated. The study revealed 53% of the diets contained E.coli, which can cause intestinal problems in dogs and humans. Salmonella, another bacteria that causes intestinal disease was found in 5.9% of the samples. It has also been shown that animals that consume this food will even shed live bacteria in their feces!! Some adult dogs will not have any symptoms but can shed Salmonella in their stool for up to 6 weeks, thus acting as a source of exposure to animals and people.
If you do choose to feed an alternative to commercial food, we recommend that it be nutritionally complete and balanced. For those that opt to feed homemade diets, there are various nutritional consulting services that will formulate a recipe for a complete and balanced diet. One website, that has nutritional consulting services is http://www.petdiets.com, please feel free to contact them if interested. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns about raw diets or wish to have a homemade diet formulated please contact any of the veterinarians at Rutherford Animal Hospital or make an appointment. We will be happy to refer you to any of the nutritional counseling resources or answer any of your questions.