What bacteria are a concern for people feeding
raw-meat diets to their pets? (Salmonella, E. coli, other?)
E.coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter,
Clostridium, Strep and Staphylococcus are the primary organisms that
can cause trouble, plus another one called Listeria. Keep in mind
the pet may have no signs of sickness (the term is asymptomatic)
even if these organisms are consumed. There is very real danger
the dog or cat will become symptomatic as will the humans who
neglect proper safe handling techniques. People and pets may be
infected by these bacteria and their toxins and can get very sick.
How common are such bacterial infections
in dogs? Is it accurate to say that a dog's digestive system is more
able to handle a raw diet than, say, a human digestive system? Why?
Considering all the organic matter, commercial
and natural, that dogs and cats consume, food poisoning in pets is not,
from a numbers standpoint, a large part of small animal medicine case
Whether or not any specific
individual actually becomes physically affected by microorganisms and
their toxins present in raw food products is determined by a large set
of variables. For example, the dog that is free roaming and
scavenging will, in general, be much better acclimated to the presence
of potentially pathogenic bacteria in its digestive system than the
pampered, apartment dwelling, five pound poodle.
Cats that capture and consume rodents on a
regular basis will be less affected by pathogens than the housecat that
eats nothing but sterilized canned foods. The same can be said
for human exposure... the potential for disease is related
directly to the individual idiosyncrasies of the organism, the numbers
and types of organisms impacting the individual and the individual's
physical state of health and immunologic competence.
Are these bacteria transmissible to humans?
Food borne pathogens do have potential
to infect humans IF improper handling or storage principles are not
observed. Keep in mind that almost all foods we purchase from the
grocery store have bacteria present on or in them. Only very
specific strains of very specific bacteria will potentially cause
disease and then only when their numbers get to fairly high
If pathogenic bacteria are present when the
consumer purchases the food product and the consumer ignores safe
handling procedures, those organisms may proliferate to a point where
their numbers may cause disease in humans. The organisms can be
present and proliferate on utensils, containers, cutting boards, wash
cloths… anywhere there is organic material upon which to grow and where
temperature and moisture encourage bacterial reproduction.
Are parasites an issue? With which kinds of
Fortunately parasites such as
Trichinella worms, protozoa or flukes are extremely rare in food
products purchased through normal commercial channels.
Governmental standards and enforcements are in place to help protect
the public food delivery systems. See
FDA and pet food.
Is it correct that chopped/ground meat is more likely
to carry bacteria than an entire piece of meat?
Generally, bacteria such as E.coli start out
contaminating the surfaces of a food product through exposure to a
contaminated source such as human hands, processing machinery or
possibly airborne carriers. Mixing, chopping, and combining other
ingredients may distribute the organisms throughout the food, which,
under certain temperature/moisture conditions, could enhance the
organism’s proliferation throughout the food product.
Can pets with impaired immune systems be fed a
raw diet? What about very young or old but otherwise healthy animals?
Surely there would be greater risk to immune
incompetent individuals. However, those risks can be minimized by
safe handling techniques and the benefits to the patient of consuming
raw products must be taken into account. Thoughtful analysis of a
Risk versus Benefit scenario in these cases would be wise.
it correct that raw food builds up the immune system?
Direct, irrefutable evidence from controlled studies comparing raw and
cooked foods and their effects on “the Immune System” are difficult to
find. As a practitioner for over thirty years I can tell you I
have seen some very old, healthy and normal dogs and cats that were
never fed any raw foods. Many individuals believe intuitively
that raw foods are better for overall health than cooked foods.
Even the term “Building up the immune system”
has different meaning for different people. Personally, I wouldn’t
argue with anyone who believes raw foods are more health enhancing than
cooked foods but many raw vegetables actually are better digested and
utilized if they are heated. The reason is that heat breaks the
nutrient molecules apart so the smaller nutrient molecules are
Think of this as if the veggie was a bicycle
chain. Consume the chain whole and all the individual links'
benefits are tied up. Break the chain apart by cooking and you
release all those beneficial little links that now can be easily
assimilated through the wall of the small intestine.
Learn about the
protocols for safe
food handling procedures
cats' oral cavities are definitely not sterile.
can be an excellent source of nutrition for dogs and cats but must be
Feces can be
analyzed for pathogenic bacteria.
Pet cats and
dogs deposit bacteria laden feces in areas of human activity.
meat pet foods inhibit bacterial growth because of the very low
There is very little evidence that
freezing has any deleterious effects on nutritional quality. Do
you recommend sterilization with food-grade hydrogen peroxide or
grapefruit extract? Where can these products be found?
I have no experience with these products but
have read where they may be of limited benefit when certain criteria
are met. Be careful when you use the term "sterilize". It
means the total absence of live bacteria. When referring to food
substances sterilization is less important than following safe handling
How should meat be handled to prevent
contamination? Should defrosting be done in the refrigerator rather
than on an open counter.
Washing your own hands before handling the food is a good start.
Almost all meat products now have safe handling details on the labels
so those should be read and followed. Defrosting in a
refrigerator is an excellent idea. Defrosting at room
temperature, though, allows the outside sections of the meat to be at
room temperature for an unfavorable time while the inside sections are
Are there any other ways people can disinfect
raw meat such as dipping in hot water briefly?.
There may be some benefit in physically removing surface bacteria with
hot water prior to storing or preparing. However, hot rinses
alone won't eliminate all bacteria.
Actually, today’s processing methods and
regulations should provide acceptable quality raw food products.
Studies have shown that most of the problems arise from improper
handling procedures on the part of the consumer. The safest way
to ensure low bacterial counts is to thoroughly cook the meat product;
the choice whether or not to do that rests with each consumer.
How should raw food be stored? How long can it
be refrigerated safely?
Store each product individually; don’t mix
different products together. Keep all raw products refrigerated,
follow safe handling directions on package labels.
Safe lengths of storage time is highly
variable and only one piece of the safety puzzle because time,
temperature, type of organism, moisture levels and numbers of organisms
originally present all interact to impact the safety of each food item.
How should bowls and meat grinders be cleaned?
Thorough cleaning with hot, soapy water to
remove all organic material is the key. Actual disinfectants
should be considered for porous or difficult-to-clean apparatus.
people who feed raw diets need to be concerned about pets licking a
The oral cavities of dogs and cats are NOT sterile, contrary to popular
myth. Although there may be organisms present in pets’ mouths
that could pose a threat to humans, it is unlikely that food-borne
pathogens would be a factor in this common type of contact.
Should fresh meat be frozen to kill bacteria or parasites? Does
freezing reduce the meat's nutritional quality?
Freezing is not very effective in
killing any pathogenic bacteria already present on the food product;
freezing will only impeded further growth of those bacteria already
present. Parasites, if present, must be frozen at temperatures so
low that household freezers probably
will have no effect on killing any parasites such as Trichinella.
Are there any types of feeding dishes that
should be avoided? For instance, could plastic dishes retain bacteria
in crevices if water isn't hot enough (more than 140 degrees F.)?
Plastic has the potential to cause an allergic contact allergy in pets
but I believe ordinary cleaning practices would be sufficient for
plastic containers. Stainless steel bowls may be the best choice
of feeding container.
What handling practices can contribute to bacterial contamination?
Probably the most critical factor in the consumer’s handling of food products is attention to
refrigeration. Huge numbers of bacteria can result from providing
pathogenic bacteria ideal reproductive temperatures for only short time
periods. Generally, if the temperature range is sixty to ninety
degrees, pathogenic food borne bacteria have a reproductive bonanza as
long as some moisture is present.
Freeze-dried products have a clear advantage
in that the moisture content of the product is so low that even at room
temperatures bacterial growth is exceedingly slow. So… keeping foods
refrigerated will slow the growth of any organisms that happen
to be present but won't kill the bacteria.
Failure to clean food containers and feeding
dishes on a regular basis contributes to unsanitary conditions.
Hot, soapy water provides good cleansing effects. And don’t
forget to sanitize that cutting board!