The debate over raw food is one that is clouded by misinformation and controversy.
The following has been taken from “Raw Food Diets chock-full of controversy, complexity” by Carrie Peyton.
Dr. Richard McAroy, clinic owner in New Hampshire, has instituted a rule for boarders: no raw diets!
He believes the diets bring too high a risk of spreading pathogens in the environment. “If one of my staff members gets signs of something like Samonella or E. coli, that would hit my workers compensation (insurance)”, McAroy says. “I can’t guarantee the sterility of the food as delivered to me by the owner.”
His concern is not unique. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention caution against raw diets and the Delta Society, a non-profit group that promotes the use of therapy and service animals to improve human health, banned raw-fed animals from its “Pet Partners” program, saying the animals may shed pathogens that could infect vulnerable people.
However, “There are a number of people who are skeptical about commercial diets and for good reason,” says Dr. Bree Montana, a practitioner in California. This interest in alternative diets seemed propelled by recent recalls of commercial diets, especially the massive pet food debacle of 2007 in which melamine-laced products sickened pets by the tens of thousands, many fatally.
People who give their dogs and cats raw meat regularly report that the animals have fewer allergies, better coats and healthier teeth and are less likely to fall prey to a wide range of diseases.
For the most part, the claims are supported by anecdotal reports and testimonials. By contrast, potential nutritional and bacterial risks of raw diets have been documented in published, peer-reviewed, scientific studies.
Current research makes it clear that while some dogs and cats can tolerate the bacteria load and stay healthy, they may shed Samonella or other pathogens at higher levels than animals that eat cooked food.
Instances of dogs and cats passing infections to humans have been documented in published studies as well as instances of animals becoming seriously ill or dying from illness linked to pathogens contracted by ingesting raw meat. [*LefevreSL, Reid-Smith R, Boerlin P. Weese JS. Zoonoses Public Health. 2008 Oct; 55(8-10): 470-80,, **Cherry B, Burns A, Johnson GS, et al; Emerg Infect Dis. December 2004; 10(12):2249-51]
On top of that, clients who feed their pets significant amounts of raw meat must ensure the diets are properly balanced, or the animal could be ay risk of nutritional deficiencies, experts say.
Often, whether owners prefer an organic food supply, fewer additives or better control of what their pets are eating they can accomplish the same thing by feeding cooked food, either home-prepared or commercial says Dr. Jennifer Larson, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine.
High-pressure pasteurization might hold some promise, but more study is needed, Larson says. More research is also critical to determining whether any of the benefits claimed for raw diets outweigh the potential risks.
Until research comes up with more definitive answers, veterinarians have their own experiences with the effects of raw food diets to consider.
Dr. Cynthia Easton, a holistic and conventional veterinary medicine practitioner in the San Francisco Bay area, has happy and horror stories alike.
In one case, a family opted to give their golden retriever raw meat without discussing it with her. The family had an infant, and the baby spent a week in intensive care fighting an E. coli infection that was traced to the dog’s raw food. Easton says,
“It just never occurred to them that the dog would be licking their baby.”
Easton is not against raw diets. She occasionally recommends them for certain conditions but always asks first if anyone in the household is very young, elderly, on chemotherapy treatment or otherwise immune suppressed.
In a case for which Easton suggested raw food, the patient was a black lab named Lucky that was so miserably itchy, he had to wear a cone for five years. Following the diet change, his skin improved significantly, and the cone came off.
If you are considering an alternative diet, the best thing you can do is talk to your veterinarian. They will be able to answer questions and help you develop a balanced diet for your pet. Remember to wash your hands after handling any pet food, whether it is cooked, raw or commercial. If anyone in your household is immune suppressed in any way, reconsider raw and look into cooked diets.