Raw diets are currently increasing in popularity. There are many books available which describe how to prepare them, and pre-made commercial options are readily available for purchase. Even so, many veterinarians are not on board with the hype. Both the World Small Animal Veterinary Association and British Veterinary Association discourage raw feeding. So why not?
Table of contents
- Raw food prep can introduce bacteria into the home
- Bacteria found on the surface of raw meats can infect pets and people
- There are reported cases of raw diets causing illness in pets and people
- Lack of evidence demonstrating the benefits of raw diets
- Nutrient inadequacies in home-prepared raw diets
- You might also be interested in:
Here are some of the reasons many veterinarians will not recommend raw diets:
Raw food prep can introduce bacteria into the home
The surface of any raw meat can carry bacteria. Even commercially prepared pet foods have been shown to carry pathogens. They can also easily be spread around the home if we aren’t careful when preparing our pet’s raw food. Dishes used to serve raw foods have to be properly cleaned and disinfected after each use. Young children and immunocompromised individuals are at risk of falling ill even when very low numbers of infectious bacteria are present.
Bacteria found on the surface of raw meats can infect pets and people
Infections caused by bacteria found on raw meat can cause diarrhoea, hospitalisation, and death in both people and pets. Although it appears that cats and dogs are sometimes able to carry pathogenic bacteria without showing clinical signs, they are still able to pass them on to the people they live with. It has been documented that pathogenic and antibiotic-resistant bacteria are shed in the droppings of dogs and cats.
There are reported cases of raw diets causing illness in pets and people
One example was thoroughly documented and published in a scientific journal. In 2018, a raw cat food was linked with tuberculosis in the gut; a very rare form of the disease. One hundred and thirty cats throughout the UK were diagnosed with an infection. It was very likely that the cats picked up the infection from their commercial food as they lived indoors and were consuming the same batch of raw food. There were no other potential sources of infection identified. In the end, a total of five people in contact with the infected cats also contracted tuberculosis, with one requiring medical treatment.
Lack of evidence demonstrating the benefits of raw diets
Research investigating the true benefits of feeding dogs a raw diet is still in its infancy. Dog owners who feed raw diets often report a link between raw-feeding with improved health. This includes beliefs that a raw diet will make a dog’s coat shiny, enhance muscle condition and improve teeth cleanliness. However, more scientifically rigorous methods would be required to draw definitive conclusions. Until then, it appears that the risks of feeding a raw diet are greater than the potential benefits they would provide.
Nutrient inadequacies in home-prepared raw diets
Many people have taken it upon themselves to formulate raw meals for their pets. Unfortunately, this can lead to many nutrient deficiencies and imbalances. Even the majority of published recipes have ambiguous instructions which make them inconsistent or are not formulated with a proper nutrient balance in the first place. When looking for recipes to cook at home, the best source is from a board-certified veterinary nutritionist. They will have the expertise to formulate a diet and can tailor the nutrient profile to closely match your dog’s specific needs.
Every veterinary surgeon will adhere to the first rule of care: “first do no harm”. Many vets believe that recommending feeding a raw diet goes against this principle, especially because of the lack of research demonstrating the benefits.
At the end of the day, your vet’s recommendations will be made to safeguard the wellbeing of your pet while being mindful of any public health implications.
You might also be interested in:
- Dégi, J., Imre, K., Herman, V., Bucur, I., Radulov, I., Petrec, O. C., & Cristina, R. T. (2021). Antimicrobial Drug-Resistant Salmonella in Urban Cats: Is There an Actual Risk to Public Health?. Antibiotics, 10(11), 1404.
- Empert-Gallegos, A., Hill, S., & Yam, P. S. (2020). Insights into dog owner perspectives on risks, benefits, and nutritional value of raw diets compared to commercial cooked diets. PeerJ, 8, e10383.
- Morelli G, Bastianello S, Catellani P, Ricci R. (2019) Raw meat-based diets for dogs: survey of owners’ motivations, attitudes and practices. BMC veterinary research. 2019 Dec;15(1):1-0.
- O’Halloran C, Tørnqvist‐Johnsen C, Woods G, Mitchell J, Reed N, Burr P, Gascoyne‐Binzi D, Wegg M, Beardall S, Hope J, Gunn‐Moore D. (2021) Feline tuberculosis caused by Mycobacterium bovis infection of domestic UK cats associated with feeding a commercial raw food diet. Transboundary and Emerging Diseases. 2021 Jul;68(4):2308-20.
- Runesvärd, E., Wikström, C., Fernström, L. L., & Hansson, I. (2020). Presence of pathogenic bacteria in faeces from dogs fed raw meat‐based diets or dry kibble. Veterinary Record, 187(9), e71-e71.
- Wilson SA, Villaverde C, Fascetti AJ, Larsen JA. (2019) Evaluation of the nutritional adequacy of recipes for home-prepared maintenance diets for cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2019 May 15;254(10):1172-9.