Feeding pets a raw protein diet (raw meat) is a trend that has become increasingly popular. Although the American Veterinary Medical Association discourages the feeding of raw animal protein to cats and dogs, the debate on whether or not there are health benefits for the animals is ongoing. Pet health considerations aside, the practice of feeding pets raw meat poses health risks to humans.
Raw protein from animal sources (meat) is known to contain bacteria that can cause illness or death. Examples of foodborne illness-causing bacteria linked to raw or undercooked meat include Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter. Symptoms of illnesses caused by these bacteria can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), abdominal cramps, fever, and dehydration. These bacteria are destroyed by cooking the meat to the proper internal temperature and are controlled by proper handling and cleaning/sanitizing.
When a pet eats, the meat comes in contact with the animal’s nose, whiskers, jowls, and, of course, its mouth and tongue. When a person pets an animal or the animal licks a person’s face, hands, or any other surface, bacteria can be transferred. Disease-causing bacteria can also be left behind on the surface of the feeding bowl and the floor surrounding the feeding area. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Veterinary Medicine conducted a study comparing the presence of Salmonella and Listeria bacteria in different types of pet food. The study revealed that 8% of raw food samples tested positive for Salmonella and 16% samples tested positive for Listeria, while less than 0.5% of traditional pet food contained Salmonella and 0% contained Listeria. Those percentages may not sound high, but based on this data, a raw meal containing Salmonella is served once every other week and a raw meal containing Listeria is served once per week.
Feeding raw meat diets to pets is not recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA. Both organizations warn specifically of the dangers of this practice, but give some recommendations if a pet owner chooses to feed a raw diet:
- Wash your hands with soap and water immediately after handling raw pet food.
- Clean and disinfect all surfaces that come in contact with raw food such as cutting boards, knives, bowls, refrigerators, and countertops.
- Store and thaw raw pet food in the refrigerator and do not allow it to come in contact with other food in the refrigerator.
- Do not let your pet lick around your mouth and face after eating.
- Wash your hands after playing with your pet and wash any parts of your body that your pet licked.
- Do not let your pet lick your open wounds or broken skin.
Whether you are preparing raw meat to feed to your pet or making dinner for your family, it is important to always keep good food handling practices top of mind. The simple step of washing your hands with soap and water for at least twenty seconds before and after preparing food will go a long way in preventing a foodborne illness!