Feeding Your Pet A Raw Meat Diet Can Be Harmful To Your Health

Cindy Min, National Center for Health Research

Can the recent trend to feed a raw-meat diet to pets be dangerous for their owners and others?  Feeding raw meat-based diets (RMBD) to dogs and cats has been an increasing trend in the last decade. Many owners have moved away from diets recommended by veterinarians in search for a more organic and homemade diet.[1,2] A RMBD diet includes ingredients such as skeletal muscles, organs, and bones from mammals. Additionally, the diet can include unpasteurized milk and uncooked eggs.[3] In this article, we will focus on answering the question: Is that harmful to humans?

Reasons for Owners to Feed Raw Meat-Based Diets

Although there is no scientific evidence to support their claims, some people say that a RMBD has many benefits for pet health, such as better coat and skin and increased energy.[3,4] These claims are based on the assumption that raw meat is the natural diet for cats and dogs because they evolved from wild animals that eat raw meat.

Human Health Risks

Normally, raw meats are cooked in order to kill potentially harmful bacteria in meat.[7] It’s logical that Salmonella, E. coli, Clostridium, Campylobacter, and Listeria in raw meat can be transmitted to humans who prepare their pets’ raw meat meals or cleans up the pet’s bowl.[2.3,6] It can also be transmitted by direct contact with the pet, such as when the pet licks face and hands, or cleans up the pets’ feces.

There are important safety steps which can be overlooked. For example, many owners do not clean feeding bowls immediately, and the contaminated bowls can sit out for hours. A study from 2006 found that Salmonella can be easily found in feeding bowls that are contaminated with bacteria.[8] This study also reported that warm water and common household disinfectants were not sufficient to kill the Salmonella on feeding bowls.

Risk of Foodborne Infection

Salmonella has been identified as the most common type of bacteria in raw pet food, and research has shown this can cause diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps, nausea, and headaches for pet owners (and their pets).[5]  If food poisoning is severe, the person will need to be hospitalized. Infants, children, and elderly and immunocompromised individuals are at higher risk for severe disease.[9]

Surveys of raw pet foods in the United States have indicated 7.1% to 21% contained Salmonella, compared to 0.2% of conventional dog food.[10,11] In a study conducted in 2020 in Brazil, dogs given RMBD were almost 30 times more likely to have Salmonella than dogs on a conventional diet. These dogs were also more likely to have other infections such as Clostridium diff.[13] (For more information about Clostridium diff, check out this article) Studies have also shown that pets fed this type of diet can spread Salmonella into the environment through their feces.[5,13]  This suggests that this raw meat diet can put neighbors at risk as well as pet owners.

The Bottom Line

RMBD diets can pose a threat to human health. Both the American Animal Hospital Association (AVMA) and Canadian Veterinary Medical Association have discouraged feeding raw or undercooked animal-source protein in pets’ diets in an effort to protect the health of  humans and animals.[3]  If you’re interested in this diet for your pet, consider the unproven benefits compared to these known risks.

All NCHR articles are reviewed and approved by Dr. Diana Zuckerman and other senior staff.

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