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Pet Foods And Food Borne Pathogens

Dog and cat owners often wonder about the safety of feeding raw foods to their pets.  Occasionally raw foods can harbor bacteria that will cause disease in people and pets.  Until about the 1920s when manufactured "dry" kibbled pet foods became available pets were fed whatever left-overs they could get.  Below you will find answers to common questions about feeding raw foods to pet dogs and cats.

TheAnswerVet.com info about dogs and cats

 

     Bacteria inhabit an incredible variety of environments.  They are always present on the skin and oral cavities of dogs and cats. They reside in our drinking water and  food, on household surfaces and dust and within our intestinal tracts.  Bacteria can be beneficial to us, our dogs and cats, to plants and all sorts of living creatures and therefore we should not consider "bacteria" as being universally bad or pathogenic (capable of causing a disease). 
     There are many strains of E. coli, staph and streptoccoccus and other bacteria.  Typically only a few specific strains create havoc in the host individual under certain conditions of temperature, moisture, light and competitive agents.  Most healthy individuals (humans, dogs, cats, squirrels, birds, etc) are able to coexist with small numbers of pathogenic organisms; their immune defenses prevent proliferation of the bacteria.  But when overwhelming numbers of bacteria are banging at the door once they enter the skin, mouth, intestine, or other tissue very dangerous events can occur.
     Micro-organisms cause sickness due to the direct effects of the bacteria on the tissues or can be triggered by the toxins produced by the bacteria's metabolic waste products.  
Dish rag and food borne pathogens
The majority of "food poisonings" occur because of poor hygiene practices... such as reusing contaminated dish rags.
Question:
     What bacteria are a concern for people feeding raw-meat diets to their pets? (Salmonella, E. coli, other?)

Answer:
     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.
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Question:

      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?

Answer:
     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 loads.
    
Feral cat hunting in urban area for rodentsWhether 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.
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Question:
     Are these bacteria transmissible to humans? How?

Answer:
      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 levels. 
     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.
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Question:
     Are parasites an issue? With which kinds of meat?

Answer:
      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.
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Question:
   Is it correct that chopped/ground meat is more likely to carry bacteria than an entire piece of meat?

Answer:
    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.
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Question:
     Can pets with impaired immune systems be fed a raw diet? What about very young or old but otherwise healthy animals?

Answer:
     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.
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Question:
     Is it correct that raw food builds up the immune system?

Answer:
     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 absorbed. 
     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.
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Learn about the protocols for safe
food handling procedures here
.

Dog licking a person

Dogs' and cats' oral cavities are definitely not sterile.

 

 

Little dog looking over human table foods

"Human food" can be an excellent source of nutrition for dogs and cats but must be formulated properly.

 

 

 

FROM FoodSafety.gov

MEAT, POULTRY and FISH

Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures

Meat and Poultry Roasting Chart

Storage Times for the Refrigerator and Freezer

More on meat, poultry, seafood

PATHOGENS

E. coli
Salmonella
Parasites
More on illnesses
EGGS and DAIRY
Fresh Eggs: Playing It Safe
Egg Storage Chart
The Dangers of Raw Milk
More on eggs and dairy

FRUITS and VEGETABLES

Fresh Produce Safety
Two Simple Steps to Juice Safety
Sprouts:
What You Should Know
More on fruits and vegetables

 


Intestinal pathogenic bacteria reside in feces

Feces can be analyzed for pathogenic bacteria.

 


Dog passing feces in the yard

Pet cats and dogs deposit bacteria laden feces in areas of human activity.



Freeze dried meat for pet foods

Freeze dried meat pet foods inhibit bacterial growth because of the very low moisture content.

Question:
      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?

Answer:
     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 procedures.
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Question:
     How should meat be handled to prevent contamination? Should defrosting be done in the refrigerator rather than on an open counter.

Answer:
     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 still defrosting.
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Question:
     Are there any other ways people can disinfect raw meat such as dipping in hot water briefly?.

Answer:
      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.
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Question:
     How should raw food be stored? How long can it be refrigerated safely?

Answer:
     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.
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Question:
     How should bowls and meat grinders be cleaned?

Answer:
     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.
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Question:
     Do people who feed raw diets need to be concerned about pets licking a person's face?

Answer:
     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.
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Question:
     Should fresh meat be frozen to kill bacteria or parasites? Does freezing reduce the meat's nutritional quality?

Answer:
      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.
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Question:
     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.)?

Answer:
     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.
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Question:
     What handling practices can contribute to bacterial contamination?

Answer:
      Probably the most critical facto
r 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!

Important point:
     We should keep in mind that food safety is similar to a linked chain… if each link in the chain of food production, harvesting, distribution and final preparation is done properly, with strict adherence to sanitary techniques, raw foods can be consumed safely by both humans and pets.

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