Raw food a risk for dogs and their owners

Feeding dogs primarily raw meat diets represents a potentially severe health threat for the people who share a house with them, a team of veterinary researchers has revealed.

Raw meat diets for dogs have become increasingly popular over recent years, sometimes marketed under the label of Biologically Appropriate Raw Food, or its faintly disturbing acronym, BARF.

Yet while they have clear appeal to many pet owners – who perhaps associate them with the benefits to humans of reducing the amount of processed food in the diet – quite a lot of vets and microbiologists aren’t so sure.

There have been several studies published that raise red flags over the potential for raw meat diets to pass on bacterial and parasitic pathogens, not only to dogs but also to dog owners.

A study in The Netherlands, published in 2018, reported analysis of 35 BARF packs from eight commercial packagers. The research found Escherichia coli in 80% of them, Listeria species in 43%, and Salmonella in 20%.

Raw meat pet diets, the researchers concluded, “may be a possible source of bacterial infections in pet animals and if transmitted pose a risk for human beings”.

In 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration moved to investigate three cases of pets falling ill, and using whole genome sequencing of bacteria isolated from the animals traced the source back to raw meat products.

In the latest research, published in the journal VetRecord, scientists led by Josefin Hellgren from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, in Uppsala, Sweden, analysed 60 frozen BARF packs from 10 different manufacturers.

Results showed that bacteria from the family Enterobacteriaceae, which includes E.coli, were present at levels above the European Union safety standard in 31 of the samples. Salmonella and Campylobacter species were found in 7% and 5% of samples, respectively.

Hellgren and colleagues warn of “potential health risks to animals and humans, especially young and immunocompromised individuals”.

The researchers offer tips for pet owners geared to reducing the chances of fostering pathogenic overloads in raw food. They include ensuring that all meals are kept frozen until use, and then thawed in an environment no warmer than 10 degrees Celsius. Dog food and human food should be stored separately, and handled using different sets of tools and equipment.

Raw food should not be given to dogs on antimicrobial medication.

They also offer one further piece of advice: don’t lock lips with the pooch.

“A great opportunity for dogs to transfer potential pathogenic and antimicrobial-resistant bacteria to humans is by ‘kissing’ people in the face immediately after they have eaten,” they note.

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