I think it is both useful & important to understand why many veterinarians are afraid of raw food. If we can understand their fears, we can begin to prove that we are responsible raw feeders who are feeding balanced meals to our pet’s and not putting animals at risk.
Vets tend to see the worst-case scenarios. Healthy, raw fed dogs are not the ones coming into their clinics all the time. Dogs being fed unbalanced foods and inappropriately sized bones are.
So let’s talk about some common concerns that vets will have about raw feeding and what you can say to show that you are an educated pet parent who is not putting your animal at risk.
Note: this was inspired by Dr Karen Becker’s 2015 Raw Roundup talk called ‘Why Most Vets Fear Raw Food and What You Can Do About It”
The fear of unbalanced food is probably the number one concern that veterinarians have, and rightly so. The raw food industry is completely unregulated in Canada. Unbalanced raw food can and does cause severe musculoskeletal issues, vitamin and mineral deficiency, and endocrine damage, just to name a few.
Dietary imbalances can show up within six months in adult dogs and within just a few weeks for puppies and kittens. Pregnant & lactating dogs and cats can also pass deficiencies on to their litters. If you are feeding just chicken necks or ground beef to your carnivore, your vet has every right to be concerned for your pet’s welfare.
It is our job to ensure that we are responsible pet owners who are feeding our pets a varied and balanced raw diet. It is a good idea to bring a written copy of what you are feeding your pet, whether that’s written amounts of your DIY food or a picture of the guaranteed analysis of their raw.
In the wild wolves have been found with up to 38 different foods in their stomach at one time. Variety is essential to balance. So, make sure you are feeding a minimum of 5 different proteins, and five different organs. With a minimum 50% spilt or red meats and white meats. If your pet has sensitivities or allergies that prevent you feeding a larger variety be sure to work with a veterinary nutritionist to ensure you are meeting minimum nutrient requirements.
The next major concern that many veterinarians have surrounds bacteria and parasites.
A few general points before we get into any specifics:
- The discussion of whether or not it is safe for you or your family members should handle raw meat is one to have you your medical practitioner and not your veterinarian, it is not their job to give you medical advice. If your doctor has advised you against handling any raw meat (i.e., not bringing anything home raw meats from the grocery store), then you can consider discussing sterile raw foods with them.
- Our pet carnivores are meant to eat raw meat. Their digestive system is exceptional at handling bacteria that could cause harm to humans. Dogs sniff each other’s butts and eat poop… clearly they can handle bacteria much better than we can.
But, for the safety of yourself and your family members you do want to use food safe handling practices when feeding your pet’s raw AND KIBBLE (because kibbles are recalled for contamination all the time).
Wash your hands after handling raw meat and disinfect all surfaces & points of contact
- Clean your pet’s dishes after each meal regularly
- Keep small children away from your pet’s food dish and any raw meat. Also do not let small children handle your dog’s kibble (free feeders → make sure the bowls are not left in easily accessible areas)
Bacteria like Salmonella, Listeria, and E Coli are all a risk factor when handling any type of food including fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and raw meats. They are of most concern to young children, pregnant woman, and the elderly. In short, people with compromised immune systems. Healthy pets rarely have issues with these bacteria (again, remember these are animals that sniff buffs and eat poop).
“The CDC reports that in 2009-2010, 23 people were killed by Listeria, Salmonella, and E. Coli combined. To put that in perspective, NBC News reported that in 2013, a record low of 23 people were, wait for it …
… killed by lightning.” (http://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/raw-dog-food-fda/)
If your pet has a compromised immune system or you are terrified of making your dog sick by feeding raw, start with sterile, HPP raw and slowly switch to non HPP raw. Or choose a food with eggshell calcium instead of bone and start by cooking it.
An interesting note:
Many commercially prepared raw foods that contain human grade meats are inspected MORE intensively than meats found at a grocery store. The meat is inspected before leaving the slaughter facility by a certified meat inspector then again at the food facility where it is bacteria batch test. Meaning it is inspected twice whereas meat at our grocery store is only inspected once.
Okay let’s talk about some specifics…
- Can be isolated from up to 36% of healthy dogs, and 18% of healthy cats regardless of what they consume (Dr Becker’s talk)
- Dogs and cats naturally have Salmonella in their GI tract and can shed it in their feces regardless of what food they eat. That is why we should always wash our hands well after handling their poop… However raw fed dogs have not been shown to have higher amounts of Salmonella in their feces.
- To date there is no known incidence of humans being infected with Salmonella by raw fed cats or dogs
- Assure your vet that you are thoroughly washing your hands, as well as any surfaces or dishes that come into contact with your pet’s raw food and move on.
* Note: if your pet is severely immunocompromised (e.g. from chemotherapy) you can always discuss HPP (sterile) raw food with your vet. If YOU are severely immunocompromised, I would recommend discussing this with your doctor.
- This is a parasitic disease caused by eating infected raw or undercooked wild game or pig. The game meats of most concern are wild boar, bear, and fox meat.
- The larvae can be inactivated by heating, freezing, using HPP, or by irradiation.
- Assure your vet that you are freezing wild game for 3 weeks before feeding it to your pet and move on.
- * Note- there is an arctic species that is not killed by freezing so refrain from feeding polar bears, arctic foxes, or walruses to your pet….
- This is parasitic based disease that can infect most mammals
- Is not of major concern except to pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems
- Oocysts are killed by cooking, HPP, or freezing meat for 24 hours
- Assure your vet that you are freezing your pet’s meat for at least 24 hours and move on
- GI parasites are, not surprisingly, can be found in the GI ( gastrointestinal) tract of the animals, including the prey you may be feeding to your pet. The simple solution is to not feed the guts to your pets.
- If you are a hardcoare raw feeder and are feeding whole animals (like rabbits) without breaking them down at all, take a fecal sample to your vet twice a year and then deworm (naturally) as needed.
- To my knowledge, there is no commercially prepared raw food on the market that contains entrails.
- Assure your vet that you are not feeding entrails (guts) to your pet and move on
Why all the recalls with raw food lately???
One reason is that the FDA sets a standard of “zero-tolerance” for pathogens like Salmonella, Listeria & E Coli.
This is actually a stricter standard than the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets for human food (and for kibble).
Also I think it is extremely important to note that there the FDA is going after raw food aggressively right now because prior to 2017 there were only a handful of raw foods ever recalled. In my opinion it is a scare tactic that is going to pass eventually.
As Gandhi said “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”