Wednesday, March 3, 2010

feelin' feisty | risks of raw

The following is from a 'tidy' little blurb about how feeding raw meat to your dog is going to cause you, well, death. Or at least a nasty case of salmonella.

Let's explore the blurb:
Risks of Raw
The study looked at 138 dogs from 84 households in Ontario.  One-quarter of households (21/84, 25%) had at least one dog (32/138, 23.2%) that was shedding Salmonella at one time, which is considerably higher than the 1-4% of pet dogs that are typically expected to be shedding this zoonotic pathogen.

1. Consuming a commercial or homemade raw diet, a homemade cooked diet, or raw meat and eggs, increases a pet dog’s risk of carrying Salmonella.
Raw is raw, and by now we're hoping that people are getting the message that raw is contaminated, whether we're talking about a commercial or homemade raw diet, or feeding any raw animal products (e.g. meat, eggs).  The fact that homemade cooked diets also made the list could be explained by the fact that in order to make such a diet, owners still need to start with the raw ingredients.  Handling and cooking raw meat and animal products for your pet should be done with the same precautions as handling and cooking raw meat for yourself or your family.  If these homemade diets were not cooked as thoroughly as they should have been, or if there was contamination of the dog's dishes with raw product, that could explain the association with Salmonella shedding.  Although traditional commercial diets can also be contaminated with pathogens (usually after processing), the risk with these is much lower.

Can I just say that handling an egg for yourself to fry can also pose a risk of salmonella?
This is my favorite line, like ever, "homemade cooked diets also made the list could be explained by the fact that in order to make such a diet, owners still need to start with the raw ingredients". Because commercial products (that they are so very much for, I gather?) are never ever made with fresh, raw ingredients? Science Diet gets their chicken ingredient from already cooked chicken that was never, ever raw?
And... isn't this how we prepare our own food? Shouldn't there be a 1-4% increase in Salmonella in my own stool samples?

Can I also just say that perhaps all these homes visited were never taught how to wash their hands? Never taught how to store, handle and prepare raw meat? If feeding myself comes at somewhat of a "no brainer", feeding my dog should also.
Ever eat sashimi? Specifically chicken sashimi dipped in raw egg? It is fabulously tasty. Risky? Sure, but most Japanese cuisine (that I've had the good fortune to consume) that is served raw is handled with the utmost care and selected from only the best of sources. I aim to do the same with myself and dogs. Choose meat intended for food with the utmost care and selected from the best source.

Or maybe its luck that I've been preparing and eating flesh & eggs & spinach & tomatoes for decades, and feeding my dogs raw for over two years... and none of us have contracted any parasites or bacteria.

2. Testing multiple consecutive whole fecal samples greatly improves Salmonella recovery in dogs.
This is no great surprise either.  Dogs (and many other species) shed Salmonella intermittently, so not every fecal sample from a Salmonella-positive dog is going to yield Salmonella on culture.  The authors tested five daily fecal samples from each dog.  Based on this study, the sensitivity of testing a single fecal sample in a dog (i.e. the likelihood that a Salmonella-positive dog will test positive on one fecal sample) was only 35.5%.  That means almost two-thirds of positive dogs will be missed if they're only tested once.  The take-home message on this point is that in order to find Salmonella in a healthy pet dog, multiple samples should be tested.
 FIVE daily samples. FIVE. I can't imagine any raw fed dog providing a fecal sample FIVE times a day. I'm lucky if I get ONE a day (because of how wonderfully a raw diet is digested).

I want to explore how one gets infected with Salmonella.
From the Center for Disease Control:
How do people catch Salmonella?
Salmonella live in the intestinal tracts of humans and other animals, including birds. Salmonella are usually transmitted to humans by eating foods contaminated with animal feces. Contaminated foods usually look and smell normal. Contaminated foods are often of animal origin, such as beef, poultry, milk, or eggs, but any food, including vegetables, may become contaminated. Thorough cooking kills Salmonella. Food may also become contaminated by the hands of an infected food handler who did not wash hands with soap after using the bathroom.

Salmonella may also be found in the feces of some pets, especially those with diarrhea, and people can become infected if they do not wash their hands after contact with pets or pet feces. Reptiles, such as turtles, lizards, and snakes, are particularly likely to harbor Salmonella.  Many chicks and young birds carry Salmonella in their feces. People should always wash their hands immediately after handling a reptile or bird, even if the animal is healthy. Adults should also assure that children wash their hands after handling a reptile or bird, or after touching its environment.

Also, the Risks of Raw study points at raw-fed dogs shedding Salmonella. Not infections, not infections of family members, but just that it is present in their feces. As the public is not prone to rub dog feces in their face, the risk of infection should be low. Is there proof otherwise? Not in this study.
Dogs also shed E.coli! Shouldn't we be having a state of emergency over E.coli as well?
Shouldn't we never own reptiles? Never eat peanut butter? Spinach? Tomatoes?

3. Having multiple dogs in a household, using probiotics and contact with livestock are important potential risk factors that need to be investigated further.
These were factors that were flagged by the authors for future investigation, because at first they seemed to be associated with Salmonella shedding in the dogs, but when the feeding of raw diets was taken into account the associations were no longer significant.  A larger study, or one using a different design, will be needed to help tease apart the potential effects of these factors from feeding practices.
The bottom line: Feeding raw is risky business.  Some people swear by the benefits of raw diets, but the objective evidence is lacking.  There is clear evidence of the risks.  In my mind, the potential up-side simply cannot outweigh the well-established down-side of feeding raw diets to pets.

The unbelievably biased point of view is most evident in their final paragraph.
Well-established? When? By whom? How much risk, exactly, and of what?

Now that my feisty has run out... I'm just trying to see if from their perspective... do you think its also a case in knowing TOO much? Being TOO aware? Never doing what could be biologically the best thing ever for your dog (feeding raw) because you are too hyper aware of the POTENTIAL risks?

Maybe a bit of ignorance is truly bliss... I don't worry as much about the risks of parasites, bacteria and zoonosis thereof because I'm confident in how I safely/smartly handle, store, prepare and feed the raw food.

Man, I wish I worked for Mythbusters!


  1. I've been eating raw eggs for 25 years and I'be never been sick because of it! I think that people in good health and dogs only have a slight risk of catching salmonella although I would take supplemental care if I was living with someone who has a low immune system (kid, elder, pregnant)

  2. The ladies over at PetConnection make an excellent point, that instead of worrying about raw-fed pets shedding Salmonella, we should all be concerned about the fact that Salmonella is in our (as in human) food supply in the first place.

    We should be more concerned about the issues in the food supply chain, not the potential issues in the, um, "end" result :)

  3. Thats awesome Cynthia!
    I think the supplemental care is a great point, and I think thats why many therapy dog certification groups chose not to work with raw fed dogs. Though, our local group doesn't have that stipulation (yet).

    K - SUPER point! Super super.