September 27, 2016

Raw Food Diets: High Risk and Little Reward

Organic and clean eating trends may be good for human consumers but, raw food diets put both companion animals and their owners at risk for food-borne illnesses and nutritional deficiencies.
By Jenina Pellegren
For many people, companion animals are members of the family. Keeping them healthy and active is important, and nutrition plays a large role in maintaining complete and balanced health for pets.

In 1993, Dr. Ian Billinghurst, BVSc, an Australian veterinarian, proposed what he called, a Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (BARF) diet that consists of raw, meaty bones and vegetable scraps. There are many reasons pet owners choose raw and home-prepared diets for their companion animals, one reason being that pet owners are moving towards more organic diet alternatives for themselves.

Additionally, the move to BARF-based diets increased after many pet owners began fearing that commercial products were unsafe. This was in response to several major recalls in 2007. Many animals became ill and 16 animals died as a result. In these cases, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) laboratories found melamine in samples taken from more than 150 brands, including Menu foods, Purina, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, and Del Monte. Melamine was also discovered in the wheat gluten used as an ingredient in the pet food. According to the FDA, “The recalled products represent less than 1% of all pet foods.”

However, recent studies show that there are risks pet owners should consider when feeding pets raw food diets. Between October 2010 and July 2012, the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) screened over 1,000 samples of pet food. The Pet Food Study tested for bacteria that can cause food-borne illnesses. Although raw pet food was not included in the first year, in the second year it was expanded to include 196 samples of commercially available raw pet food. The study found that compared to other types of pet food, raw food is more likely to be contaminated with bacteria such as Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes.

Authors of another study pertaining to raw food diets, said, “Although there is a lack of large cohort studies to evaluate risk or benefit of raw meat diets fed to pets, there is enough evidence to compel veterinarians to discuss human health implications of these diets with owners.”

The American Veterinary Association (AVMA) agrees and discourages owners from feeding their pets, “any animal-source protein that has not first been subjected to a process to eliminate pathogens because of the risk of illness to cats and dogs as well as humans.” 

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