What people decide to feed their pets is as varied as the pets and owners themselves. There are those that just buy whatever is on sale at the grocery store, those that buy prescriptions diets for various medical conditions, and those who like fancy packaging or buzz-words like “holistic and all-natural”. As for most veterinarians, we strive to make dietary decisions based on scientific facts attained by research and validated in peer-reviewed scientific literature. There are a number of great foods on the market today – and even more not-so-great ones. To discuss them all is far beyond the scope of this article,and I am going to narrow my focus to discuss only RAW diets (also known as Biologically Appropriate Raw Food or Bone And Raw Food, or BARF diets).
Proponents of RAW claim that they can aid in the control of a wide range of health conditions, and that cooked and processed food can lead to a weakened immune system. Unfortunately, there is no scientifically validated data to support these claims. In fact, there have been studies which have found these to be imbalanced or inadequate in their nutritional composition. Even more worrying is the potential for bacteria to be present in raw foods. Bacteria such as Salmonella, E.coli,Campylobacter, Clostridium spp., and more – all potentially dangerous to humans and pets – have been isolated from raw foods. Dogs eating these foods can then shed bacteria in their stool. One recent study showed that forty-four percent of dogs fed a single meal of contaminated raw meat shed Salmonella in their stool, compared to 0% of dogs fed Salmonella-free raw meat. These dogs developed no outward signs of illness, yet shed Salmonella in their feces for up to 11 days. Salmonella has been documented to be present in the homes of pets fed raw food almost two and a half times more commonly as it was in the homes of pets fed dry food. Also, a University of Guelph study showed that common cleaning and disinfection practices were inadequate for the complete elimination of Salmonella from dog food bowls.
Our bottom line is this: while we have yet to see any objective, scientifically-evaluated information indicating a health benefit to raw diets, there is mounting evidence to support concerns about such diets in terms of nutritional adequacy, bacterial contamination, and public health risk. If you would like to discuss specific dietary recommendations for your pet’s health needs, please give us a call or stop by the clinic. If you do want to feed your pet a raw meat diet, and would like more information on how to do so as safely as possible, please contact us as well.