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Is Raw Feeding Safe?

By: Emily Hendren

One of the very first things we think of when considering switching our dog or cat to a raw diet is: “What about the bacteria? Is this way of feeding really safe?” We’ll put your mind at ease with a little lesson on anatomy to start but first please note that if your dog or cat has a compromised immune system we would recommend speaking with a holistic vet prior to getting started.

 

Dogs and cats are well-equipped at dealing with bacteria. Within their saliva they have various lysozymes that act as a natural oral disinfectant. Lysing means that the lysozyme attaches itself to the cellular wall of the bacteria and weakens it until the cell wall ruptures and the bacteria dies. Their saliva also contains other enzymes such as; peroxidase, lactoferrin, defensins, cystatins, and the antibody IgA which are all antibacterial. Another is thrombospondin which is anti-viral as well as protease inhibitors and nitrates that break down into nitric oxide on contact with skin inhibiting bacterial growth. (1,2,3,4,5) In a study in 1990 Hart and Powell (6) discovered that canine saliva was highly effective at killing Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Streptococcus Canis among other bad bacteria. This is what helps protect the dogs that eat the not-so-fresh meat like the random carcass or even the meaty bones they’ve buried who knows how long ago in the backyard.

 

Having a highly acidic (low pH) stomach acid is another vital benefit. This low pH is highly effective at killing bacteria, especially certain strains of Salmonella spp., Clostridia, Campylobacter and E.coli. This is an adaptation of a scavenging carnivore especially for those that have thrived off of carcasses. When you look at the studies performed on the gastric acidity of the Griffon vulture you’ll find, much like our companion animals, they’ve been noted to have a pH between 1.0 and 2.0 which helps to minimize infection from rotten meat.(7)

 

The digestive tracts of dogs and cats are short and are designed to push through food and bacteria quickly without giving bacteria time to multiply. It’s also been noted that they (raw and even kibble fed dogs and cats) shed salmonella in their feces proving that they can pass salmonella effectively through their system with no problems. The highest number of documented cases of severe septic infection are actually from kibble-fed animals or animals suffering from reactions to vaccines. 

 

What about parasites?

 

Another worry people have when switching to raw is parasites. One of which has been found in pork called Trichinella. There’s been reported outbreaks of humans in the United States contracting Trichinella spiralis. However, there’s been no reported cases of domestic dogs suffering from this parasite. In the Trichinellosis Fact Sheet (CDC 2012) the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported that this disease is almost fully under control, with only 20 cases per year being reported. In some other countries the parasite is almost entirely absent. 

 

Another parasite that causes concern is called Neospora caninum which shares similar symptoms to Toxoplasmosis gondii. A common parasite of wild canids and wolves, Neospora can use sheep, cattle, goats, horses and deer as immediate hosts. Although cattle will rarely exhibit issues, the sign of a large infestation would be through aborted fetuses. Transmission of this parasite is a possibility where dogs and cattle cohabitate. A pregnant dog can pass Neospora on to her pups via the placenta.   

 

The good news is that freezing meat is highly likely to kill most of these parasites with the exception of certain strains of Trichinella that’s found in wild hogs. We recommend avoiding feeding wild hog altogether. Farm raised “wild” hog is fine to feed. 

Recommended freezing times for store bought meat: 10 days. (Freezing store bought meat isn’t a must but if your dog is around cattle or other farm animals we do highly recommend it.)

Recommended freezing times for wild meat and fish: This is an absolute must! Please freeze any and all wild caught meat and fish for a MINIMUM of 3 weeks prior to feeding.

 

*Note freezing DOES NOT kill bacteria. Only causes it to lay dormant.**

How safe is raw feeding for the humans in the household?

 

When it comes to us, we’re not as well equipped at handling all that bacteria load. The key thing to remember is to use proper safety and sanitary measures:

  • Wash your hands properly or wear gloves when prepping

  • Don’t rinse or “wash” the meat. This spreads bacteria

  • Clean your prep space thoroughly

  • Clean and disinfect the area in which your dog or cat eats regularly or feed them outside if possible.

 

 A recent survey performed by the University of Helsinki showed that out of the 16,475 participants from 81 different countries “only 39 households (0.24%) reported having been contaminated by pet food, and were also able to name the pathogen.” So that means, 99.6% of the raw feeding households did not report any pathogens being transmitted from the raw food to humans.(8)

 

In conclusion, 

Raw feeding is indeed safe as long as you follow proper handling, sanitation and freezing precautions. 



 

 

References:

  1. Benecke, N. (1987). Studies on early dog remains from Northern Europe. Journal of Archeological Science, 14: 31-49

  2. Ashcroft, G.S., Lei, K. and Jin, W. (2000). Secretory leukocyte protease inhibitor mediates non-redundant functions necessary for normal wound healing. Natural Medicine, 6(10): 1147-1153

  3. Baron, S., Singh, I., Chopra, A., Coppenhaver, D. and Pan, J. (2000). Innate antiviral defenses in body fluids and tissues. Antiviral Research, 48(2): 71-89

  4. Abiko, Y., Nishimura, M., and Kaku, T. (2003). Defensins in saliva and salivary glands. Medical Electron Microscopy, 36(4): 247-252

  5. Ihalin, R., Loimaranta, V. and Tenovuo, J. (2006). Origin, structure, and biological activities of peroxidases in human saliva. Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, 445(2): 261-268

  6. Hart, B.L. and Powell, K.L. (1990). Antibacterial properties of saliva: Role in maternal periparturient grooming and in licking wounds. Physiology and Behavior, 48(3): 383-386

  7. Houston, D.C. and Cooper, J.E. (1975) The digestive tract of the white back griffon vulture and its role in disease transmission among wild ungulates. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 11: 306-313

  8. University of Helsinki 2019  

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