I try to keep track of new research on the subject of raw food for pets. So far, the research only allows us to conclude:
- There is no evidence to support claims that raw diets are healthier than cooked commercial foods.
- There is consistent evidence that raw diets are contaminated with potentially harmful bacteria.
- It is not yet clear what the likelihood of infections in people or pets from these bacteria.
- Raw bones, often included in raw diets, may reduce calculus and periodontal disease risk, though this isn’t clearly demonstrated. However, they also present a real danger of injury, including broken teeth.
- Most homemade raw diets, and some commercial raw diets, may have significant nutritional deficiencies.
The latest study adds to point number 2, that such diets are far more likely than cooked pet foods to be contaminated with bacteria that can cause disease in humans and other animals.
Nemser SM, Doran T, Grabenstein M, et al. Investigation of Listeria, Salmonella, and Toxigenic Escherichia coli in Various Pet Foods. Foodborne Pathog Dis. 2014 Sep;11(9):706-9. doi: 10.1089/fpd.2014.1748. Epub 2014 May 13.
Conducted by the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine, this study looked at over 1000 food samples over a two-year period. The results clearly show that the risk of contamination with disease-causing organisms is much greater for raw commercial foods than for cooked pet diets.
Of the 480 dry and semimoist samples, only 2 tested positive: 1 for Salmonella and 1 for Listeria greyii. However, of the 576 samples analyzed during Phase 2, 66 samples were positive for Listeria (32 of those were Listeria monocytogenes) and 15 samples positive for Salmonella. These pathogens were isolated from raw foods and jerky-type treats…
This study showed that raw pet foods may harbor food safety pathogens, such as Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella. Consumers should handle these products carefully, being mindful of the potential risks to human and animal health.
While this doesn’t answer many of the other questions about the risks and benefits of raw diets, it strengthens the position that until some tangible benefits are shown through controlled scientific research, not simply armchair theorizing and anecdotes, there is little reason to take the risk of feeding these diets to our pets. If proponents of these diets want to convince the rest of us the risk of disease is worth taking, they have to do more than say, “It makes sense” or “It worked for me.” They will need to produce genuine scientific data to show the benefits they claim are real and greater than the risks.