Adapted from CVC proceedings 3/31/2015 in Washington D.C. by Rebecca L. Remillard, Ph.D., DVM, DACVN. Some pet owners that want to do what is best for their pet feel that feeding a raw food diet is a good idea. The owner may think that a raw diet more closely resembles the type of diet a pet would eat in the wild, and it is more nutritionally complete. Unfortunately, there are several problems and challenges in feeding both homemade and purchased raw diets.
One of the most critical problems is that most if not all raw diets (both homemade and purchased) contain harmful bacteria. Many also contain parasites that can infect the pet. One study of raw diets found that of the diets tested 20% contained Salmonella, 20% contained Clostridia, and 100% contained coliform bacteria – 64% of which were E. coli. Another study found that 80% of the diets tested were positive for Salmonella, and 30% of the dogs fed the diets were passing infectious Salmonella in their stool. Therefore, not only might the pet become sick from these diets, but the family can be exposed to these bacteria and become ill as well. Exposure may occur due to the handling of the food itself or by exposure to the pet's hair or environment that may contain fecal contamination. This is most worrisome for people with weaker immune systems, such as the very young, very old, or immunosuppressed individuals.
Bones, either raw or cooked, can be harmful to pets. At Birdneck Animal Hospital, of Virginia Beach, we have seen numerous dogs with fractured teeth due to chewing on bones or other hard items such as antlers or "bully sticks." We have also seen mouths, stomachs, and intestines become severely damaged by shards or large chunks of bone.
There is no nutritional advantage to feeding raw diets. Many raw diets, especially those made at home, are not nutritionally complete. If purchasing a raw diet, make sure it contains a phrase on the label stating that the diet is "complete and balanced according to..." Consult with your Virginia Beach veterinarian, at Birdneck Animal Hospital, concerning how to create a diet that contains all the necessary nutrients in the proper amounts, if you want to make a homemade diet.
Dr. Jonson does not recommend raw diets due to the above-stated reasons. If you do feed a raw diet to your pet, please do not offer bones of any kind, wear disposable gloves when handling the food, be careful not to contaminate areas that may be used for other food items, and immediately dispose of the pet's feces without becoming contaminated yourself.