While raw meat products may be a tasty treat for dogs, new research has found canines living in households with older people, those with compromised immune systems and infants should not be fed the products because of the risk of bacteria and infection.
This high level of bacteria is not only harmful for animals, but could pose potential health risk to their owners, according to new research published in Vet Record. While raw meat-based dog diets have become increasingly popular in recent years because they’re deemed “healthier” and a “natural alternative” to commercial products, raw meat products are not heat treated or freeze dried to pasteurise their content.
As part of the study and to analyse levels of bacteria in raw meat products, researchers took samples from 60 packs of raw meat, bought from a range of stores within a 200km radius of their laboratory in Sweden between March and September 2017.
The products contained at least one item including either edible bones or organs from cattle, chicken, lamb, turkeys, pigs, ducks, reindeer or salmon. Some of the products from 10 manufacturers from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany and England also included vegetables, vegetable fibre and minerals.
Researchers analysed samples for bacteria including Enterobacteriaceae species, Clostridium perfringens, Salmonella and Campylobacter species – all which pose a health risk to both animals and humans. It was discovered all 60 samples contained Enterobacteriaceae species, indicating faecal contamination and hygiene standards. Worryingly, 52 per cent of samples contained levels that exceeded the maximum threshold set by European Union (EU) regulations of 5,000 bacteria per gram.
While most of the species identified aren’t known to cause infection, E coli was found in a third of samples. C perfringens, another marker of faecal contamination and hygiene standards, was found in 30 per cent of samples, while Salmonella species were found in 7 per cent of the samples.
Campylobacter species – another zoonotic species of bacteria capable of passing from animals to people and causing infection – were found in three samples from three different manufacturers.
“It is most likely that Campylobacter was present in more samples before freezing, and that those samples in which Campylobacter was isolated contained very high levels of Campylobacter species before the freezing process, as some managed to survive the freezer,” authors of the study wrote.
Researchers highlighted the importance of careful storage, handling and feeding of raw meat dog food products because of the potential health risk they pose. To curb the risk of infection and antibiotic resistance, researchers said raw meat dog food should be kept frozen until used and thawed at 10°C, kept separate from other food and handled with separate kitchen equipment or with equipment washed thoroughly after use.
Good hygiene is also important as bacteria in the juices from raw meat dog food can splash and spread to other surfaces and foods. Dogs can also transfer harmful bacteria and antibiotic resistant bacteria when they kiss or lick faces after eating. Researchers said dogs on antibiotics shouldn’t eat raw meat products as it could increase the risk of antibiotic resistance.
“Dogs in families with infants, elderly people or immunocompromised individuals should also not be fed [raw meat products], as these groups are more susceptible to infections,” the authors said.
Vets and animal professionals have also warned about the risks of raw meat dog products and the potential danger to both pets and humans.
“This research offers further compelling evidence to support vets’ concerns about the potential animal and public health risks associated with feeding pets a raw meat-based diet,” Daniella Dos Santos, British Veterinary Association Junior Vice President, said in a statement.
“Bacteria such as E coli and Salmonella can cause significant gastrointestinal disease in animals. Pets can also shed potentially harmful pathogens present in raw food into their environment, so there is a risk to owners both in handling the food and coming into contact with the animal.”
Owners who feed their pet a raw food diet need to be aware of the potential health risks and take full precautions while storing and handling the food. It’s also recommended that owners seek help from veterinary staff to not only protect animals from bacteria, but to ensure they receive the correct nutrients.
Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.