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Feeding pets raw meat may make them severely ill

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Feeding pets raw meat diets may cause them to become severely ill, as studies have shown the meats are likely to contain pathogens, such as E. coli or Salmonella.

Many people think feeding their cats and dogs raw meat is healthier than commercially prepared pet food, but a new study says that raw meat may actually make animals severely ill.

The study, published in the Journal of American Veterinary Medicine, reports that many claim feeding animals raw meat-based diets, or RMBDs, is a more natural diet, therefore making it better for pets.

But that is not the case, according to the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Veteran Association, both of which suggest that raw and undercooked meat for pets could cause food-borne illnesses – not just for the pets, but also for the humans who touch them.

Study leader, Dr. Lisa Freeman of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Massachusetts, says that those who feed raw meat to their pets usually do so with good intentions, but she also says that it’s important to “look at what the evidence tells us about the benefits and safety of a certain diet" for pets.

Accordingly, Dr. Freeman led a team of researchers as they set out to explore what pet owners thought about RMBDs, and then compare their perceptions with existing research on raw meat diets.

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What the research team found was that many pet owners believe that RMBDs are nutritious and good for their animals, providing them everything they need.

In contrast, however, at least two studies exist that indicate RMBDs do not provide animals what they need because they offer too little nutrition – or, in some cases, too much. The researchers note that these studies primarily focused on home made RMBDs, although commercially prepared RMBDs were also found to be problematic.

On the other hand, there are three other studies showing at least some evidence that pets more easily digest RMBDs, but whether this offers any meaningful health benefits for the animals remains unclear.

The researchers did find evidence supporting food safety concerns with RMBDs and contamination from various pathogens. Such pathogens included Salmonella, E. coli and Clostridium, both of which existed more in RMBDs than commercially prepared pet foods.

One study found Salmonella in up to 48 percent of RMBDs. Another found the bacteria contaminated 80 percent of home-prepared raw chicken-based diets that researchers had tested. Other studies showed evidence that such pathogens in RMBDs led to severe sickness and even death in some pets.

Dr. Freeman concluded that the existing research on RMBDs shows that the "risks outweigh any minimal benefits." She also advises pet owners to talk to their veterinarian about nutrition for their pets and review the evidence on raw meat diets for animals if they’re considering feeding it to their animals.

SOURCE: Current knowledge about the risks and benefits of raw meat–based diets for dogs and cats, doi: 10.2460/javma.243.11.1549, Lisa M. Freeman, Marjorie L. Chandler, Beth A. Hamper, Lisa P. Weeth, published in the Journal of American Veterinary Medicine, 1 December 2013; Tufts University Press Release: Risks outweigh benefits of raw meat-based diets for pets, 2 January 2014.