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Zoonotic Concerns and Raw Diets

J. Scott Weese, DVM, DVSc, DACVIM, FCAHS, Ontario Veterinary College, Ontario, Canada


|May 2017

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Raw meat-based diets (RMBDs) can be homemade (eg, biologically appropriate raw food diet) or available commercially. Commercial RMBDs are typically frozen or freeze-dried, but some are available as fresh, refrigerated products, and others can look like regular dry food (eg, diets with a raw meat coating); there is also a variety of raw-dried or freeze-dried treats. When a client mentions feeding a RMBD, consider the following:

In General

  • There are no scientific studies supporting the health benefits claimed by RMBD proponents.
    • Numerous studies have shown potential health risks: nutritional imbalances, potential ingestion of bones, diet-induced hyperthyroidism, and bacterial infection.1,2 
    • RMBD and raw animal-based treats have an inherent risk for bacterial contamination, with Salmonella spp contamination rates between 20% to 48% for RMBDs.3-8 
    • Other bacteria identified in RMBDs include Escherichia coli O157:H7, Campylobacter spp, and Listeria spp.6,9 
  • Raw food-associated infections in pets have been diagnosed, and pet-treat–associated salmonellosis in humans has been reported.10-16 
  • It may be prudent to consider the potential for public health risk.
    • Consider reports of disease in humans and animals—along with potentially high rates of pathogens (eg, Salmonella spp) in the feces of pets fed RMBDs. 
  • Methods to eliminate or reduce pathogens (eg, irradiation, high-pressure pasteurization) are available and have been used by some manufacturers. 
    • Irradiation should eliminate some pathogen risk, whereas high-pressure pasteurization may eliminate or reduce bacterial burdens. 
  • Clinicians should collect a detailed diet history for all patients at every visit—including pet food, treats, table food, rawhides, dietary supplements, and foods used to administer medications.
    • This is also important for the client’s health. 

Human Health

  • For the physician, if a patient has signs compatible with infectious disease, the types of pets or animals in contact with the patient, as well as their diets, should be discussed. 
    • This can help to identify potential sources of infection. 
  • Although infection can occur from any pet food, it is more likely to occur when owners feed RMBDs or treats.

Note: Dr. Weese is editor in chief of Clinician’s Brief.

References and Author Information

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