Foods containing raw meat and raw meat by-products have been available for many years to zoo's and other privately used facilities. Over the past few years there has been an increasing awareness of raw meat foods in the general dog and cat community. These foods are now available commercially and gaining widespread popularity. The feeding of raw foods has been marketed as a diet more consistent with the natural diet of an animal in the wild and as being more nutritionally balanced. However, the feeding of raw meat poses significant health risks to both animals and humans and their nutritional completeness is also in question. This article hopes to shed some light both on the safety and nutritional adequacy of raw meat diets for your pets.
The Center for Disease Control (C.D.C.) has estimated 76 million cases, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths annually from food-related illnesses in humans. The most common cause is E.coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Noroviruses, and several different parasites. Humans become infected with these parasites from eating improperly cooked meat, failing to separate raw from cooked meat, improperly cleaning up after handling raw meats, and from improper refrigeration of raw foods. The prevalence of bacterial and viral contamination of human grade raw meats has been documented between 50-100%. Numerous studies performed on animal grade raw meat has documented 66-100% of all raw meats as contaminated with Salmonella and other dangerous bacterial species. Due to the public health risks, the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) and the C.D.C. strongly discourage the feeding of raw foods to your family and/or pets.
There are thousands of documented reports of animals experiencing severe illness and even death from feeding raw meats. There are also many reports of humans contracting food borne illness from their pets being fed raw meats. Particularly at risk are young children, older adults, pregnant woman, and those who are immunosuppressed. However, any adult coming in contact with food-borne pathogens could potentially become ill.
It is common practice for raw meat manufacturers to claim nutritional superiority over commercial dog and cat foods. The FDA has stated, "there have been claims made that raw meat foods are superior with respect to providing adequate nutrition than other products substantiated to be complete and balanced, and the FDA is not aware of any scientific evidence to support such claims." In fact, the FDA warns such raw meat diets have been shown to be deficient in calcium, phosphorus, fat soluble vitamins, and trace minerals, and must be supplemented. Furthermore, the risk of trauma to the gastrointestinal tract from feeding raw bones has been well documented. Raw meat diets have also been shown to be saturated with Vitamin A which can lead to vitamin toxicity.
While it is true wild animals do not eat commercially processed foods, wild dogs and cat diets have been well documented and shown to consist mostly of freshly killed meat. Wild dogs and cats do not eat raw meat or meat that has been rotting, frozen, or thawed. Scavenging animals, such as vultures, only eat raw or decaying meat because they have special adaptations that allow them to digest the numerous bacteria and parasites present in meat not freshly killed.
An animal's diet is an essential component of its overall health and the feeding of this diet should not pose a health risk to the members of the family. There are many reports of raw meat being dangerous for both your animals and yourself but very few reports of the benefits of raw meat. So protect your loved ones and feed only cooked meat, freshly killed meat, or commercial cat and dog foods. Remember, preventing diseases is far more effective than treating them.