Raw meat feeding suits some dogs, but owners should be aware of the risks: to listen to this podcast, see the foot of this page.
Raw meat feeding for dogs
Most people feed their dogs on nutritionally complete dry kibble, and despite occasional well-publicised contamination scandals in North America, there has been no peer reviewed research to suggest that this type of feeding causes significant problems. In fact, most dogs thrive on dry kibble: I have always fed my own dogs on this type of food, and they’ve enjoyed the best of health.
I have always said that there are many good ways to feed dogs, and for most people, the quality, safety, convenience and economy of dry food makes it the best choice.
For some people who prefer not to use this type of feeding, an option that has been increasingly popular is the feeding of raw meat and bones. Supporters of this feeding method maintain that because it is a diet similar to dogs’ wild ancestors, it makes intuitive sense, and it is more “natural”. While it suits some dogs really well, there are some recognised issues that owners should be aware of.
The main issue is that raw meat is likely to carry bacteria which can be zoonotic: i.e. they can make humans ill. Some microscopic parasites can also be carried in the food. Many people who feed raw food to their pets underestimate this risk, and social media groups, in particular, view warnings of this type as industry-led scaremongering. However, many independent scientists have called for vets to highlight this risk.
Recent study from Australia
The most recent study, published in Australia last week, confirmed a link between the feeding of raw chicken necks as treats and a paralysing condition called acute polyradiculoneuritis (APN), increasing the risk by more than 70 times. The condition is linked to Campylobacter (which is found in raw meat) causing dysregulation of the dogs’ immunity and then the symptoms of paralysis.
Recent report in the Vet Record
In an effort to highlight the risk to humans from feeding dogs raw meat, the Vet Record, the main UK veterinary journal, stated the following last month:
- Raw meat based diets may contain parasites, bacteria and other pathogens, some of which are zoonotic
- Pets used for therapeutic reasons and those living in the environment of people with a weakened immune system should not be fed with raw meat diets
- Dogs fed on raw meat diets should not be allowed to run free on pastures as their faeces may contain parasites harmful to livestock
- Raw meat diets should always be frozen at -20’C for three days before feeding in order to kill parasites
- Bacteria will not be killed by freezing, so sensible hygiene precautions should be taken (handwashing etc) if handling such products
Summary of the risks of feeding raw meat to dogs
When I have discussed this topic before, I have found myself the target of passionate raw meat feeders who mistakenly believe that I am “anti” their feeding method of choice. This is not true at all: I have always maintained that it’s important to find a diet that suits your dog, and that there is no single diet that suits every animal. For some dogs, raw meat and bones works well.
The point that I am making is that there are known risks involved with feeding raw meat, and owners who choose this method have a responsibility to be aware of these, and to take necessary precautions.
Please note: the fact that there is a “risk” does not mean that there are inevitably going to be problems. Some people never have problems of any kind. However looking at the broad population, feeding raw meat carries a higher chance of problems linked to these bacteria, compared to situations where sterile food (dry kibble or sachet/cans of wet food) is given.
I have a responsibility as a vet in the media to do my best to ensure that as many people as possible know these facts.
fundraising to End Leprosy
Pete is currently raising funds to help deal with Leprosy. He has a very personal reason to do this: my own daughter Anna, who is a young immunologist, is spending a year in a hospital laboratory in southern India as part of a team searching for a new way to tackle leprosy.
Many people mistakenly believe that Leprosy is a disease of the past. In fact, current treatment methods are not quick, easy or cheap, so leprosy is still a real problem.
To donate to Pete’s efforts, visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/pete-wedderburn
Questions about pets from listeners
The following questions were asked by listeners: to hear the answers, listen to the podcast below:
- I have been feeding my one and a half year dog a raw food diet for the last 3 weeks and she seems to be doing well on it. My question is about her poo, which has become really dry and hard. I imagine that it must be really uncomfortable to pass. Fresh water is available to her all day, so I don’t think she’s dehydrated. Is it just that this is normal for a dog on a raw diet?
- Two weeks ago we found a cut on our pet dog daisy’s paw. We clean it up and all seems well except she won’t jump up on any of the couches. She has her own in kitchen. Before couldn’t keep her off them. Wondering if there could be more to this prob. No probs running about…..
- I have a 16 year old Westie. She is on steroids continuously as her skin is very sensitive to grass and breaks out very bad. Her skin goes pink and non stop itching. Is there anything else i could do to soothe her skin? Thanks. Mary
- We’ve switched feeding our 9 month old setter dry dog food to real food, including protein, veg and rice etc. Is this more beneficial to her? We have tried to research this but would appreciate your advice. Ava
- I’m a farmer, I have to shoot rabbits every now and again, usually give them raw to my dog usually skin the rabbit first, but once she got the rabbit before I skinned it and she ate the whole rabbit skin innards everything and seemed delighted with herself. Is there any danger from this?
- “I saw blood in the urine of my 2.5 year old male neutered cat last Friday. Vet gave him an injection & put him on Metacam drops. We also did a urine sample which confirmed that he has crystals in his urine & so his bladder is inflamed. He’s getting a bit better now but he was very flaccid last Saturday night. He’s definitely not himself & is weeing in the tray much more now instead of weeing outside (as per usual), He’s also very clingy and licking his genital area a lot. I know this condition can be caused by several factors & Im treating the current infection; but I feel bad that maybe I contributed to it. He gets wet & dry food as well as sardines, mince, chicken, liver, kidneys, hearts etc; which he shares with his dog brother. The vet is talking about a special diet & or supplements to manage the condition, but Im blaming myself that he has it in the first place.
- My very clever jack Russell miniature is now 2 years old. He’s started doing poo,s in the kitchen at night. This is despite no changes in our circumstances, he,s left outside for a wee before midnight every night, he’s being doing this for a month now every two or three nights, please help, he was house trained after just 12 weeks and has a happy life. I don’t know what to do, he knows it’s bold and acts remorseful.