The Dangers of Raw Meat Diets

The Dangers of Raw Meat Diets

By Dr. Tracy Dewhirst for Exceptional Canine

The Dangers of Raw Meat Diets

Raw meat diets have attracted the interest of a sector of dog owners looking for alternatives to commercial dog food because they believe raw is healthier. However, feeding raw meat leads to many problems, most of which I’ve seen in my own practice.

At this time, the benefits of raw diets lack scientific support; they are mere anecdotal accounts. Scientific evidence proves over and over that raw diets are a public health risk, making dogs and humans sick. The diets also often lack the necessary nutrients for canine health.

The Dangers of a Raw Diet
The potential for harm from raw food is daunting. Take a look at this list:

  • Infectious pathogens Dogs are exposed to bacteria and protozoa like E. coli, salmonella, campylobacter, Enterobacter, streptococcus, staphylococcus, pseudomonas and toxoplasmosis. These organisms can cause gastroenteritis, diarrhea, vomiting, septicemia, seizures and death.
  • Zoonotic spread to humans Bacteria remain in the dog’s mouth and saliva for hours and can be transmitted to humans, causing illness.
  • Environmental contamination Healthy dogs can shed bacterial pathogens into the environment via feces. Dogs then contaminate their mouths while grooming after bowel movements, setting up the potential to spread to humans.
  • Contaminated prep and feeding areas Food preparation areas and feeding bowls are a constant source of pathogens and must be meticulously cleaned after every feeding.
  • Dangers to high-risk individuals Children, pregnant women, the elderly, chemotherapy patients and immune-compromised individuals should not be around animals that are fed raw diets or around the areas where food preparation occurs.
  • Nutritional deficiencies Most raw diets are not nutritionally balanced. The deficiencies lead to medical problems, diseases of the heart, urinary tract, liver and more.
  • Developmental abnormalities Puppies fed raw diets often suffer fractures from poorly developed bones due to imbalances in calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D.
  • Surgical intervention Bones that are not finely ground can cause trauma in the mouth, intestinal punctures and impactions leading to emergency surgeries and life-threatening infections.

Freezing meat does not eliminate most pathogenic bacteria. In fact, freezing is a preferred way of storing bacteria for scientific laboratories. To date, irradiation is the only method that eliminates pathogens from raw meat. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines recommend cooking pet foods, and most service and therapy organizations do not allow dogs that are fed raw diets to participate because of the human health risk.

As dog owners explore the vast world of information on the Internet, they may be convinced that an alternative raw diet would improve their dogs’ health. I strongly recommend against this and ask them to thoroughly research the scientific evidence.

Owners who want to experiment with a home-cooked diet must understand the importance of achieving a nutritionally complete diet every day. Home-cooked diets should be specifically formulated for your dog by a veterinary nutritionist.

Veterinary nutritionists formulate high-quality commercial dog foods, taking the guesswork out of balancing a diet, and you can find a diet tailored for your dog’s particular needs. Not all dog foods are created equal, so choose a high-quality food in which meat protein is first on the ingredient label.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/Kolbz

Dr. Tracy Dewhirst, a graduate from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, practices small-animal and equine medicine in Knoxville, Tenn. She is a long-time columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel. Dewhirst also sits on the East Tennessee Peer Review Board. Dr. Dewhirst blogs frequently for Exceptional Canine.


Note: This section of the Canada's Guide to Dogs website is intended as a source of information only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional care. Always consult with your Veterinarian about health related matters.