Have you heard the latest news?
The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) just made an official statement that they do not condone feeding dogs and cats raw meat because of the risk of salmonella and E.coli pathogens (and its potential transmission to humans).
With so many varying opinions on the raw meat debate, it can be hard to know the truth about feeding raw foods (especially meat) to pets.
- Is it beneficial?
- Is it harmful?
- Is it more “natural?”
And now with the AVMA taking an official stance against feeding raw meat to pets, you might be feeling even more nervous about what the right option is for your pet’s nutrition.
In this article, I’m going to help you figure out the truth about feeding raw meats to your pets, and help you determine if it’s appropriate for your pet’s diet.
What’s the Big Deal?
Here’s the official statement from the AVMA, as well as the reasons why they decided to publicly take this stance on pet nutrition.
THE AVMA’s Official Statement
The AVMA discourages the feeding to cats and dogs of any animal-source protein that has not first been subjected to a process to eliminate pathogens because of the risk of illness to cats and dogs as well as humans. Cooking or pasteurization through the application of heat until the protein reaches an internal temperature adequate to destroy pathogenic organisms has been the traditional method used to eliminate pathogens in animal-source protein, although the AVMA recognizes that newer technologies and other methods such as irradiation are constantly being developed and implemented.
Animal-source proteins of concern include beef, pork, poultry, fish, and other meat from domesticated or wild animals as well as milk* and eggs. Several studies reported in peer-reviewed scientific journals have demonstrated that raw or undercooked animal-source protein may be contaminated with a variety of pathogenic organisms, including Salmonella spp, Campylobacter spp, Clostridium spp, Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, and enterotoxigenic Staphylococcus aureus. Cats and dogs may develop foodborne illness after being fed animal-source protein contaminated with these organisms if adequate steps are not taken to eliminate pathogens; secondary transmission of these pathogens to humans (eg, pet owners) has also been reported.1,4 Cats and dogs can develop subclinical infections with these organisms but still pose a risk to livestock, other nonhuman animals, and humans, especially children, older persons, and immunocompromised individuals.
To mitigate public health risks associated with feeding inadequately treated animal- source protein to cats and dogs, the AVMA recommends the following:
- Avoid feeding inadequately treated animal-source protein to cats and dogs
- Restrict cats’ and dogs’ access to carrion and animal carcasses (eg, while hunting)
- Provide fresh, clean, nutritionally balanced and complete commercially prepared or home-cooked food to cats and dogs, and dispose of uneaten food at least daily
- Practice personal hygiene (eg, handwashing) before and after feeding cats and dogs, providing treats, cleaning pet dishes, and disposing of uneaten food
* The recommendation not to feed unpasteurized milk to animals does not preclude the feeding of unpasteurized same-species milk to unweaned juvenile animals.
This recent ruling is very interesting, especially when considering that the studies referred to in the AVMA statement weren’t conducted using the same quality of meat that you would likely be feeding to your pets.
Most of the clients and pet owners that I consult with purchase human-grade quality meats from their local supermarket. It’s the same quality of meat that you’d feed to your family members and friends, so the risk of pathogens is minimal.
If you’re purchasing high-quality meats to add to your pets’ diets, there is a much lower risk of contaminants and zoonotic transmission of harmful bacteria.
And it’s not just meat that poses a risk of pathogens. If we really want to get technical, it’s important to note that:
Fact: Traditional commercial pet foods are also subject to toxins and pathogens (as evidenced by the numerous pet food recalls over the years).
The AVMA may caution that raw meats contain harmful pathogens, but in reality, raw meats aren’t the only kind of food to contain Salmonella and E. coli pathogens. Commercial dry and canned dog foods have been recalled for the same problems, as well as the issue of high levels of melamine, heavy metals, and the presence of aflatoxin for many years.
Fact: The frequency of pet food recalls of commercial dry and canned food because of pathogens and contamination is higher than with commercial raw foods.
So okay, maybe the AVMA is being just a little overcautious. But is there any truth to the idea that raw meat for pets is a bad thing?
Well, dogs have eaten raw meat for thousands of years. They even bury it and let it ferment, then eat it later. Or, they will eat dead “things” that they have scavenged.
It’s not really a new idea, but after years of the pet industry advocating for commercialized diets for pets, going back to raw foods was a bit unorthodox. The idea seemed to really resonate with people, especially those looking to move towards a more natural approach to living.
And Now a Short History Lesson
The concept of feeding raw meat diets originated with research physician Dr. Francis M. Pottenger, and was popularized by renowned herbalist and dog breeder Juliette de Bairacli Levy, and veterinarian Dr. Ian Billinghurst (author of Give Your Dog a Bone and the creator of BARF diets). Around this same time, Dr. Richard H. Pitcairn and I were also studying principles of animal nutrition, and we recommended cooked (and sometimes raw) foods for pets.
In Pottenger’s 10-year study of cats (1932-42), he became aware that cats needed to eat raw meat to stay healthy (while living in a cage). Those fed cooked meat did not live long and became sterile or passed on weak offspring. The Price-Pottenger Institute further discovered that cats had to have at least 50% raw meat to survive laboratory conditions.
How do these studies relate to cats and dogs living normal lives with exposure to sunlight, exercise, and a loving family? You simply can’t compare them!
To Feed or Not to Feed (Raw)?
Many people have very interesting opinions about how to relate raw foods with animals. Some have reasoned that because dogs can’t cook in the wild, they should be eating raw foods because that’s a more “natural approach.” (Side note: Where are all these “wild” dogs that people often refer to? Dogs have not been “wild” for many generations, thanks to domestication with humans. And true wild dogs are a different species entirely!)
Others say that feeding raw foods is just asking for trouble (and dietary imbalances, risk of pathogens, etc.).
The bottom line is that there is no one right answer for every dog or cat.
Each dog or cat needs to eat what is appropriate for its breed, evolution with humans, age, sex, physical condition, medical issues, lifestyle, personality, and body type.
For example, dogs living in colder climates tend to thrive on hardier foods that help their bodies adapt to the harsh cold of winter, while dogs living in warmer climates do better with cooling foods. Dogs that get tons of exercise on a regular basis (sled dogs, ranch dogs, etc.) will do better on a diet that includes more protein, while lap dogs and sedentary dogs seem to do better with less protein.
Larger dogs with the jaw structure necessary to chew bones tend to do better on raw diets, as compared with dogs like the Pekinese who are just not adequately developed (physically) to be able to digest raw meals properly.
In general, “wolf-like” dogs (and especially young dogs) thrive on raw meat, while others such as geriatric dogs need their food to be cooked so that it is easier to digest. And if your pets are on steroids and/or chemotherapy, have an immunological problem, or have diarrhea and other stomach problems, do not feed raw meat.
If you are going to feed raw meat to your pets, I recommend buying local, grass-fed meat (whenever possible) from the butcher section of your local supermarket. And yes, stick with human-grade quality meats instead of the commercially produced pet food-grade meats.
What’s the Bigger Picture?
When you think about it, the real issue at hand has more to do with the increased presence of Salmonella (and antibiotic-resistant strains) in our meat supply.
What caused this increase? Why are there so many resistant strains of pathogens?
Our current factory farming methods and the overuse of antibiotics in meat animals.
The main reason lies in the way we raise animals for food. We cram a lot of pigs, chickens, and cattle into little spaces that makes sanitation impossible, so antibiotics and worm medicines are given routinely. Shockingly, most of our human-grade meats contain antibiotics too! This increases the likelihood of pathogenic bacteria mutating, and becoming more resistant.
Also, because of the large volume of animals slaughtered (assembly line style), it isn’t uncommon for bits of fecal matter to become incorporated into the meat ground up for burgers and sausages.
What can you do? Vote with your dollars and choose to support smaller local farms that promote organic or free-range practices.
We always have a choice, and it’s important to make it count.
One Easy Way To Prevent Bacterial Infections
Use common sense.
As with many things these days, raw meat is becoming sensationalized as a potential danger. But a little bit of common sense can easily defray any risk of contamination, and enable you to best utilize meats (both raw and cooked) for the betterment of your pet’s nutrition.
The fear of a slight risk of food poisoning (which can, in most cases, be prevented) shouldn’t deter you from feeding your pets properly.
Take care to do the suggested practices below, and you should be fine.
- Wash your hands, after handling meat
- Sterilize the kitchen surfaces with bleach after prepping/cooking raw meats
- Wash your hands after handling your pets
- Bathe your dogs weekly
- Keep your pet’s living areas clean
- Have your dog’s stool checked for worms and other pathogens on a regular basis, by your local veterinarian
What are you feeding your pets?
Are you feeding raw diets right now? Share your experiences and diet preferences in the comments section below.
And as always, feel free to contact me for a consultation if you are currently struggling to find a nutrition plan that best supports your pet’s health.
We can go over your pet’s background, medical history, and individual challenges together, and I’ll then create a customized plan designed especially for your pet.