KSLA INVESTIGATES: Are raw food diets safe for your pets?

KSLA Investigates: Safety of feeding raw food to pets
"Dogs that are fed raw diets, or cats for that matter, are at a high risk to transmit bacterial diseases," said Dr. Rachel McNair, associate veterinarian at University Veterinary Hospital.  (Source: KSLA News 12)
"Dogs that are fed raw diets, or cats for that matter, are at a high risk to transmit bacterial diseases," said Dr. Rachel McNair, associate veterinarian at University Veterinary Hospital.  (Source: KSLA News 12)
Look for an AAFCO statement on your dog food bag. It means the food has been tested and what's in the bag is actually in the bag.  (Source: KSLA News 12)
Look for an AAFCO statement on your dog food bag. It means the food has been tested and what's in the bag is actually in the bag.  (Source: KSLA News 12)

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - It's a growing trend.

Ditch the packaged dry and wet foods and put your pet on a diet of raw food.

But could that be putting you and your pet at risk?

From chicken to beef, some pet owners claim better health and more energy in their pets.

"They're cutting it up, and maybe they're mixing it with vegetables and rice," said Dr. Rachel McNair, associate veterinarian at University Veterinary Hospital.

"Maybe they found a recipe on the Internet, or there are some commercial diets that may be freeze dried. Maybe they're found in the refrigerator, but they do contain raw meat as a product."

Sales of raw pet food have skyrocketed in recent years.

The market for raw frozen and refrigerated pet food generated $158.7 million in 2017, according to consumer reports.

However, even raw pet food that you buy in a pet store still is potentially dangerous because it can contain harmful bacteria.

That could put you and your pet at risk.

"Dogs that are fed raw diets, or cats for that matter, are at a high risk to transmit bacterial diseases," McNair said.

"These are things like salmonella campylobacter. These are the types of bacteria that we associate with food recalls.

"So recently we had the E. coli outbreak with romaine lettuce," she continued. "So these are substances that when people get exposed to these bacteria, they're very sick. They often need to be hospitalized. You're having severe G.I. signs - vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss - and can often be fatal."

In fact, McNair said she witnessed the devastating effects of the raw diet firsthand.

"We had a case come in that was a family with three young children. All the children were very, very sick; they had very terrible G.I. signs. The parents were also ill; and their dog was sick suddenly.

"And they wanted to know 'Why are we all sick? There's obviously something going on, there's a connection here'."

As it turns out, that dog had been fed a raw diet since the family had it.

"She was a little over a year. And that dog was positive for salmonella; and these people were positive for salmonella," the doctor said. "And this whole family was devastating illness from this dog and electing to feed this dog this type of food."

A diet of only raw meat also might not contain everything your pet needs. That can cause nutritional deficiencies.

A raw food diet also can be time-consuming and hard to balance enough nutrients to keep your pet healthy, McNair said.

She thinks there are more cons than pros.

"I don't like seeing these diets. But I want people to understand and research and feel comfortable with what they're feeding. So I think that's the best way is talk with your veterinarian."

While there are plenty of reviews and opinions about raw diets online, McNair said there's no scientific evidence to support claims of better health and immunity in pets that consume raw food.

So what do you do?

"Do a commercial diet. Do your research, talk to your vet, say 'I like this over-the-counter that I found' because there is somebody evaluating that diet doing that work for you. And we know nutrition is so much better these days. That's why we see patients that are 17 and 20 years old because nutrition is better and asking questions about what that label means."

McNair also suggests that you look for an AAFCO statement on your bag of dog food. That statement means the food has been tested and what's in the bag is actually in the bag.

If you do choose to feed your pet raw food, Consumer Reports says take these important precautions:

  1. Use hot, soapy water to clean everything the raw food has touched.
  2. Then disinfect with a commercial product or a solution of 1 tablespoon bleach per 4 cups of water.
  3. Wash your hands after handling raw food, playing with your pet or cleaning up after them.
  4. Remember, kisses from your pet can transmit bacteria. So avoid that practice as well.

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