Raw meat diets for pets are dangerous, veterinarian group decides

Should dogs and cats have raw, cooked, or no meat? Photo: Sheri Berliner (courtesy AVMA)

By Katerina Lorenzatos Makris

No stranger to controversy, the nation’s largest veterinary group served themselves yet another bowl of it yesterday, stirring up a lot of raw feelings.

People who give their dogs and cats raw meat diets can get pretty passionate on the subject. Many of them really, really hate being told they ought to stick to the cooked or packaged stuff.

“It certainly has been a controversial topic, as shown by the large number of comments on our previous AVMA@Work blog entry,” read a on the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) website.

Indeed, raw feeders have been expressing themselves heatedly since the meeting at the group’s annual convention in San Diego Friday voted to recommend that pet owners “avoid feeding” what it terms “raw/undercooked animal-source protein diets for companion animals.”

The vets’ reasoning

“This proposed policy is about mitigating public health risks, not about restricting or banning any products,” read an on the organization’s website. “Our policies are intended to present the scientific facts, which in this case are:

“1) Scientific studies have shown that raw and undercooked protein can be sources of infection with Salmonella, Campylobacter, Clostridium, E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes, and enterotoxigenic Staphylococcus aureus. These infections can sicken pets and pet owners alike, and can be life-threatening;

“2) Unless a raw protein product has been subjected to a process that eliminates pathogens that can make pets and people ill, it poses a significant public health risk to both pets and pet owners.”

During discussion and voting, the House of Delegates changed the language for the official policy from “never feed,” to “avoid feeding,” but rejected a proposed amendment that would have acknowledged “there are some pet owners who prefer to feed these diets, and “vets should ensure that owners are aware of the risks and measures that should be to prevent mitigate the health risks.”

Anticipating an onslaught of criticism from raw feeders, the blog tried to clarify the situation. “This proposed policy would be an AVMA policy if approved, not state or federal law. The AVMA cannot, and will not, regulate what pet owners choose to feed their pets. If you already feed raw food to your pet, that’s your choice.”

‘Congratulations Purina’

As expected, the decision earned strong reactions—even some accusations—in public , such as the following:

  • “I won`t feed commercial dry or tinned food ever again to my dogs. The difference in their whole well-being since I have fed raw food is totally unbelievable. It’s the pet food companies who must be behind this.”
  • “Considering the AVMA gets a large share of funding from large pet food companies and some members of the board have direct ties to these companies, the ruling is not at all surprising.”
  • “I doubt any of us expected anything else. Congratulations Hills, Purina, et al.”

Raw fans say it’s safe

Supporters of a raw diet for pets downplay any health risks, and tout what they claim are its many virtues.

“Why try a raw diet?” asks Savanna Y Lujan on . “The primary reason to switch your dog to a raw diet has to do with the fact that it’s the way your dog would have eaten in the wild. It’s more natural, and will provide your dog with more essential nutrients than the average commercial dog food. Not only do you have control of all the ingredients (instead of struggling to read a long list of ingredients from a bag), but your dog can more easily absorb the nutrients that come from those ingredients.”

Dr. Tamara Hebbler, a California veterinarian who specializes in holistic medicine, said on her , “I have never personally seen a problem with bacterial overload such as E. coli or Salmonella as a result of feeding raw meat. Everything has a natural balance and the digestive tracts of dogs are designed to ingest raw meat. As long as care is taken and the meat is not spoiled, there is not an issue with feeding raw meat. However, precautionary steps may be indicated in animals with severely depressed immune systems.”

Vegans weigh in

Some argue in favor of another alternative for feeding dogs and cats, avoiding the problem of contamination simply by eliminating meat and other animal-derived products altogether.

For example an on the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) website claims, “Many vegetarians and vegans feed healthful, meatless diets to their companion animals. One remarkable example is that of Bramble, a 27-year-old border collie whose vegan diet of rice, lentils, and organic vegetables earned her consideration by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest living dog in 2002.

“Studies have shown that the ailments associated with meat consumption in humans, such as allergies, cancer, and kidney, heart, and bone problems, also affect many nonhumans. Pet food has also been recalled during mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), scares because of the risk that contaminated meat was processed into the food.”

“Supermarket pet foods are often composed of ground-up parts of animals deemed by U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors unfit for human consumption. The flesh of animals who fall into one of the categories of the four D’s—dead, dying, diseased, or disabled—is what often goes into pet food. Many of these animals have died of infections and other diseases.

“Vegetarian or vegan dogs and cats enjoy their food and good health, and a vegetarian diet for your companion animal is ethically consistent with animal rights philosophy.”

Visit AIR again soon for a follow-up article with response on these issues from the AVMA, and for continuing coverage of the AVMA convention in progress by AIR’s correspondent on the scene, Trisha Lord St. George.

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