Dr. Mike Paul, DVM, brought to you by IDEXX & PetHealthNetwork
In recent years there has been a heightened awareness that consuming undercooked meats present a risk for exposure to potentially deadly infectious organisms. In contrast, there has been a resurgence of interest in feeding cats raw diets. Advocates stress the fact that in their wild state animals eat uncooked and unprocessed foods. The reasoning I’ve heard is, “It closely approximates the diet cats would get in the wild—the diet to which their physiology is naturally attuned.” Wild cats do eat a varied diet in the wild including organs, brains, small mammals, birds, fish, snakes other reptiles, insects and occasionally stomach and intestines of mice and other rodents. Some people believe that raw food or so called “BARF” diets are better for pets because the food is not processed and is perceived to approximate a cat’s evolutionary “natural” diet. Though there may be some nutritional value to feeding raw foods or eating them ourselves there are significant health concerns to be aware of that make this diet dangerous. Just because wild animals eat raw meats does not imply that these foods are safe!
What’s dangerous about a raw diet?
While cooking foods may in fact break down some nutrients, the unquestionable truth is that cooking some foods, particularly meats, makes them safer by destroying parasites and bacteria that can cause diseases in cats and humans. During a 2012 study by the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), 1000 samples of pet food were analyzed for food borne disease contamination. The study showed that, compared to other types of pet food tested, “raw pet food was more likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria.”
Subsequently, CVM expanded the study to include 196 samples of commercially available raw dog and cat food. Raw pet foods were analyzed for harmful bacteria, including Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes. In past projects, CVM had monitored dog and cat food for the presence of Salmonella, but before this study the center, “had not investigated the occurrence of Listeria in pet food,” said CVM researcher Dr. Renate Reimschuessel. “A large percentage of the raw foods for pets we tested were positive for the pathogen Listeria monocytogenes.”
What do the experts say about feeding pets raw diets?
A number of professional associations have condemned the practice of feeding raw food to dogs and cat:
- The American Veterinary Medical Association policy (AVMA) adopted a policy statement addressing the issue in 2012 opposing the feeding of raw foods.
- The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) approved a policy in August 2012 that discourages feeding raw meat to pets.
- The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) states, “Pets should be fed cooked or prepared food (not raw diets)”
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend feeding raw foods to a pet because of the risk of food-borne infection to the pet and to household members.
Any modest benefits to consuming raw foods are overwhelmingly undercut by the risk of diseases that can be avoided simply by cooking.
Questions to ask your veterinarian
- Don’t animals sense when food is spoiled or unsafe?
- I know a lot of people eat raw vegetables and some who eat meat raw or nearly so. Is that dangerous?
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian — they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.