Are Raw Foods Safe?

veterinary news

Recall on Primal Pet Food Raw Diet

 

A recall has been announced for Primal Pet Food’s Chicken and Salmon Formula.  Are raw foods safe?  I’ll tell my opinion as a veterinarian as you read through this article.

But first, you can read the details about the recall here.

Here is a summary:

  • The recall is because of possible Salmonella contamination
  • It affects the 4 lb chicken & salmon nuggets (UPC# 8 95135 00025 0) with a “Best By” date code of 043112-17
  • So far, no animals have been reported to be sick.

Is raw food safe?

 

raw food

Raw meat - photo by n0nick of flickr

You just can’t win.  In 2007 there was a massive recall on commercially made pet foods.  Pets were getting sick because of contaminated gluten from China.  This prompted a lot of people to run to more “natural” foods.  I found this article here that was written at the time of the recall that describes how people were turning to natural foods.  In this article, Matt Koss, the founder of Primal Pet Foods says,

 

“Think about what dogs eat in the park. It doesn’t harm them…Primal’s orders are up 30% since the recall…Before the recall, people had a lot of faith in the big brands … but people are starting to figure out they don’t always start with the best ingredients.”

And now, Primal Pet Foods itself is affected by a recall.

I have never been a fan of feeding raw foods to pets, for a few reasons.  But the main reason is that the risk of Salmonella poisoning is there.  I have seen a dog die a horrible death from Salmonella poisoning and it was awful.  Another risk is that humans can get salmonella from handling the food or even from cleaning up the feces of their dogs.

Do all vets hate raw food diets?

 

Every time the raw food debate comes up, you will hear pet owners proclaiming that all of their pet’s health problems went away after feeding raw foods.  You will definitely read a lot of testimonials.  Here’s something I read on another website:

“The only reason that vets don’t like the raw food diets is becuse they have almost no nutritiional training in vet school and the little that they do have is provided by hill’s science diet, i have feed raw foods for years and i sell dog food as a career so i think i know what i am talking about”

Ahhh….it’s amazing how many people think that my decisions on which foods to recommend are based on the fact that I sell commercially made prescription foods in my clinic.  I really don’t care whether you buy pet food from the veterinary hospital or elsewhere.  I am definitely not going to advise you to feed a certain food just so that I can make money on it!  What I look at is real, hard research.  So, what does the research say about raw feeding?



Scientific Evidence:

 

 

I spent a lot of time searching for research that spoke of the benefits of feeding raw foods.  I couldn’t find any!  There are a lot of people who swear by it…but this is not scientific proof that these diets are better!

If any of you know of research articles that talk about the benefits of feeding raw food, I’d love to hear of them.

Conclusions:

 

In my opinion, the risks of feeding raw foods outweigh the benefits.  I don’t recommend them for my clients’ pets.

The research shows that there is risk of bacterial contamination to the pets and to the owners.  Also, it is really hard to balance a raw diet so that your pet is getting the right amount of nutrients.

I know this is a controversial subject!  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Dr. Marie.

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Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie is a veterinarian treating dogs, cats, and pocket pets. Click here to ask Dr. Marie a question.


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15 Responses to "Are Raw Foods Safe?"

  1. Kate says:

    Can you correct the link to the pdf above? thanks

    1. DrMarie says:

      Thanks for catching that Kate! It’s fixed now.

  2. veterinary.surgeon says:

    Additionally, feeding raw food completes the infrastructure necessary to get tje carnivore-prey parasitic cycle going. It’s not just bacteria, its worms etc as well!

    1. DrMarie says:

      Great points!

  3. Connie says:

    I am trying to decide whether to switch to raw for my dogs. Do you know of any similar tests that were performed on commercial dog food? Particularly re salmonella and e coli?
    I do have a lot of questions, and would really like to get away from highly processed food for my dog – we know its not really very good for anyone. It seems there are few studies available to the general public to see. Do commercial pet food companies do cruel experiments on animals? SO many questions in this age of trying to get proper, organic nutrition for humans as well as our pets. I try to stay away from preservatives, etc in my own food, now trying to get away from it in pet food, too. I have read lots of anecdotal evidence that lots of people have tried raw and didnt like it as well, so the anecdotal evidence in favor doesnt sway me a lot. I just want to care for my pets’ diets the way I care for my own. Thanks, Connie

    1. DrMarie says:

      Hi Connie…good questions!

      You will find that all of the well known pet food companies are constantly doing research to improve the quality of their foods. Yes, that research does involve pets…but they have VERY strict guidelines to ensure that none of the pets are suffering. You may be interested in this article that I wrote about the concerns over Iams testing on animals.

      I’m not sure if the food companies test for salmonella and e.coli as the foods are cooked and so this really shouldn’t be an issue.

  4. Marie says:

    Hi Dr. Marie What about some of the more recent recalls with salmonella contaminated dry dog food. It seems raw food may not be the only food product to watch for.

    1. DrMarie says:

      Good point! It looks like salmonella contamination can be a problem on many fronts. Recently there was a recall on Purina One food because of salmonella. I guess my thought though would be that it is much more likely to see salmonella contamination in raw foods.

  5. Charles says:

    I simply want to make a observation. Now I understand you speak of limiting the risk and nutritional imbalances of feeding raw vs feeding commercial. But in light of the recent outbreaks of illnesses and deaths in commercial dog food these days don’t risks outweigh the benefits in every category now? What I mean to say is that I understand and respect your point on not taking unnecessary risks and I feel the same way. Now I have a raw meat based diet for my dog. I only use the meat produced on local farms that I can actually go to and see how their animals are raised and I use the same butcher for my own animals, so I know from sending in my own tests to labs that they have a surgical standard of cleanliness. After all with my egg and chicken operation I pasture them and process them myself, we have tested our chickens every few months for the past two years, and have NEVER had a salmonella contamination problem in our raw eggs or meat. And yet the large scale factory based operations that supply all commercial dog foods have more outbreaks year after year. I supplement with a vegan based commercial kibble to ensure a balanced diet as well as healthy snacks that help to introduce any nutrients I may have overlooked. If someone follows such strict standards on their raw feeding plan would you still advise them to only use commercial dog food? I am asking not as a challenge but as an honestly concerned dog steward. I want the best for my boy and I would appreciate your thoughts in light of these questions.

    1. MsDiva says:

      Dr. Marie:
      I can site dozens of references to the benefits of raw feeding not to mention dozens if not hundreds of references by your peers in your field.
      To quote a few:

      “There are many reasons why the commercial pet foods have never been close to a dog’s natural diet. Those reasons include the fact that they are based on grain, and that they are cooked.”
      -Dr. Ian Billinghurst, B.V.Sc.(Hons), BSc.Agr., Dip.Ed.

      “Science Diet & Hill’s dog & cat food products are not good diets. They use chemical preservatives that have been shown to cause problems in some animals & they use by-products, which are words on the ingredient label that need to be avoided at all costs. This generally means food not utilized for human consumption.”
      -Dr. Charles E Loops, DVM

      “Healthy cats & dogs can eat just about any meat & survive, if not thrive. Their stomachs contain high concentrations of hydrochloric acid & digestive juices & their digestive tracts host an abundance of beneficial bacteria, making it difficult for harmful bacteria to survive.”
      -CJ Puotinen, The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care

      “I don’t believe it is possible for cats to be truly healthy when living on commercial foods for a long period of time. This belief came about after contrasting the condition of house cats with feral cats who have access to adequate prey.”
      -Christina Chambreau, DVM

      From the British Journal of Small Animal Practice: “A growing number of vets state that processed pet food is the main cause of illness and premature death in the modern dog and cat. In December 1995, the British Journal of Small Animal Practice published a paper contending that processed pet food suppresses the immune system and leads to liver, kidney, heart and other diseases. This research, initially conducted by Dr Tom Lonsdale, was researched further by the Australian Veterinary Association and proven to be correct.”
      -Canine Health Concern

      “The sad truth is that prepared pet foods help provide patients for vets.”
      -Dr. Ian Billinghurst, DVM

      “Despite our domestication of the canine and feline and the fact that a Chihuahua may not look much like a wolf, the truth is that we haven’t changed their gastrointestinal systems. Cats and dogs are carnivores, designed to eat meat, bones and the intestinal contents of their prey.”
      -Dr Susan Krakauer DVM

      “The very best way to feed pets is to turn them loose to eat their natural prey.”
      -Dr. Wysong, DVM

      “Dingoes and feral cats keep themselves healthy by eating whole carcasses. The closer you come to this ideal for pet dogs and cats the better.”
      -Dr. Tom Lonsdale, B.Vet.Med.

      “Salmonella has even been found in samples of commercial pet foods & treats. Bacteria is not a problem for a pet with a strong immune system, & a strong immune system is encouraged by eating species-appropriate raw food.”
      -Kymythy Schultze, CCN

      If salmonella really is a problem, then we should be just as concerned with processed pet food”. He states that “Salmonellae has been found in commercial pet foods, something the public never learns.”
      -Dr. Donald Strombeck, Phd, DVM

      “As the natural pet food industry increases, so the artificial industry, together with its harmful effects, should go into decline… No more slurping of canned stew, no more rattle of dry pellets; instead, the sounds of nature, the crunching of raw meaty bones.”
      -Dr. Tom Lonsdale, DVM

      Shall I continue? or should you consider doing a considerably more diligent search for those advocates and peers as well as scientific articles that abound at the tip of a Google search…
      sincerely serious about Raw food for all living things
      Ms Diva
      breeder of Dobermans and rare breeds since 1985 and feeder of raw food since around the same time.

  6. Kolchak, Felix & Jodi says:

    We are big advocates of raw feeding at our house *for some dogs* and advocates of kibble fed for others. Personally, my dog had a severe reaction to every single kibble diet we tried . He did not thrive on home cooked and raw has been the only thing that has offered him some relief. He is now thriving, finally at a healthy weight and I wouldn’t change his diet for the world. Is this scientific “proof”? No. Is it enough to convince me that this particular dog needs a diet that is less processed and that there are other dogs out there who would benefit from the same? Absolutely. You make an excellent point – there is no real study backing up my opinion, but to my way of thinking, there’s no study that proves to me kibble feeding is any safer. There are frequently problems with processed food as well. I can’t think of any raw food recall that resulted in illness & death on the same scale as the Menu Foods recall, can you?

    *However* all that being said, it’s my responsibility to ensure I handle his diet in the safest way possible which means promptly refrigerating meats, sanitizing all surfaces and dishes, promptly picking up all feces. It is my responsibility to buy meat (preferably un ground, whole muscle meat) to minimize the risk of high bacteria levels and to ensure my diet is balanced by nutritionist. I need to make sure I’m monitoring my pet for worms and to ensure that they are not experiencing sickness on any kind of frequent basis.. It is not as simple as throwing a steak at Fido. It’s the people who believe that that make it look dangerous. Truthfully speaking, I was a naysayer, until I tried it. In four years, I haven’t had a single issue related to food.

  7. b webb says:

    Dogs are designed to eat raw meats, their stomach ph drops extremely low when raw meat is eaten, making it a hostile environment to bacteria, also. this biologically appropriate food passes through the dog quickly, before bacteria, (if present) has chance to do harm. Dehydrating kibble hangs around for hours in the gut, causing a multitude of issues, urinary tract/bladder stones etc. Are we as paranoid re contamination when we bake our family a steak and kidney pie, or prepare liver and onions? No. Normal hygiene practice is required. Simples. The ‘big companies’ have a lot to answer for, many health problems multiplying since their introduction, they spend millions with posh waxy packaging,advertising claims of nutritious ingredients, when in reality, it’s a pile of grain, with a few vitamins thrown in, grains are often split on the list to appear a lower precentage. If they spent as much on quality, species appropriate ingredients as they do on advertising and packaging they’d do better. If you feed kibble, get a good one, orijen, eden, canagan, there are a few out there. introduce a variety of topper foods, fresh and juicy, raw or cooked. ( some say don’t mix dry/raw, so maybe cook the meats if adding to kibble. Keep the raw as separate meal.)cook some veggies up for extra fibre, and real meat, as nature intended, NOT CORN!

  8. Carol says:

    I read your article with great interest because as you mentioned, many people who are really motivated feed their dogs raw food, and they say that the dogs’ skin, hair, eyes and teeth look way better. Problems like itchiness and dry hair are resolved, and tartar on teeth is soon gone. But my vet is strictly against raw feeding, and so is every other vet my friends take their dogs to. I myself don’t feed raw…I tried it a couple of times and my dogs loved it, but I watched them grip the turkey with their front legs and though, yikes. I use the hottest water and soap to clean off my counters after cooking with meat, how am I going to clean the dogs that well? Then I fed them raw in the bathtub, and bathed them right after. But a person can’t do that every day! So I don’t feed them raw anymore. What do you make of these anecdotal accounts though, that the dogs look and feel so much better after being fed raw?

  9. MIchi08 says:

    This is an interesting article. My only comment would be is that I have seen more Salmonella recalls in dry and canned dog food than I ever have for raw diets. I have worked in a pet supply retail store for a very long time and have recommended all different brands and types of food from premium dry food to freeze dried depending on the owner and dog’s needs. I have had some customer so paranoid of the dry food recalls that they would mix several brands of food into one mix hoping that if there was a recall he wasn’t just eating the one food. The pet food market is still evolving and for the better. I don’t think you will get a perfect answer either way but I do still always stick by not feeding inferior quality dry food products with poor ingrediants and manufactering processes.

  10. Rai says:

    I don’t understand what this argument is about. Are you arguing that, because there’s a risk of contamination, that raw diets should not be fed to our pets? If so… are we suppose to feed them air? The fact of the matter is, commercial foods (canned and dry) are CONSTANTLY being recalled. So… I don’t understand your argument if that’s the main point you are making. It seems to me that, given processed foods long history of contamination, feeding your pet canned or dry food offers more risk of sickness than raw diet foods ever had. So taking on what you said about what outweighs what, I’d say the risk of contamination in raw diets is lower, at this point in time, than the risk of processed foods.

    Granted, that may change as this ‘raw diet’ foods take off on the market and these small well managed companies because huge dysfunctional corporations with lower quality control standards. But at this point in time, raw diets are healthier, and offer less risk.

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