Feeding raw meat to pets could be risky, say scientists

Alicia Farmer
January 13, 2018

A recent trend in feeding pets raw meat, bones and organs in diets that are considered more "natural" by some owners, is receiving heavy criticism from experts who say these "food" sources could be unsafe for both animal and human alike, the Guardian reported.

A team led by Paul Overgaauw at Utrecht University analysed 35 commercial frozen raw meat-based diets (RMBDs) from eight different brands that are widely available in Netherlands.

Four products (11 percent) contained the parasite Sarcocystis cruzi, another four contained Sarcocystis tenella and in two products (6 percent) Toxoplasma gondii was found.

Despite the relatively low number of products tested in the study, the authors say it's clear that commercial RMBDs may be contaminated with a variety of zoonotic bacterial and parasitic pathogens, which can pose a risk to pets and to their owners.

This isn't the first time researchers have warned pet owners against raw meat-based diets.

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By feeding this diet to pets, owners are not only risking the health of the animals but also their own health.

Pet owners and other household members can come into contact with antibiotic-resistant bacteria in several ways, including direct contact with the food or with an infected pet, through contact with contaminated household surfaces, or by eating cross-contaminated human food. But when we feed our pets raw meat, that bacteria thrives. The foods contained raw meat, bones, and animal by-products from beef, duck, chicken, lamb, and horse, along with additional ingredients. Escherichia coli O157 was isolated from eight products (23%), Listeria species were present in 15 products (43%) and Salmonella species in seven products (20%). "I think that in the USA especially, owners are much more liking the convenience, and buy these products instead of preparing raw food on their own". The study also stressed that there is no difference in the possible danger between packaged, frozen meats and raw food prepared at home.

Raw meat-based treats for pets is becoming increasingly popular in Europe but scientists in the Netherlands, where 51% of pet owners - an estimated one million people - have adopted the trend, are warning against the diet.

The study was published January 11 in the journal Vet Record.

Overgaauw said dry, semi-moist and canned pet food is rarely contaminated with pathogens. They should be educated about proper handling of the products and personal hygiene measures, and the products should include warnings and handling instructions, the investigators said. Some manufacturers say it's what dogs and cats would eat in the wild, claiming it will give them shinier coats, fresher breath, and higher energy levels.

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