Despite a lack of clear scientific evidence to support the feeding of raw diets to dogs and cats, and an ongoing debate amongst members of the veterinary profession, raw feeding is becoming increasingly popular. Anecdotal reports certainly support that for at least some dogs raw feeding appears to be give health benefits over other mainstream commercial diets, for example in patients with skin disease and gastrointestinal disease. However, currently the royal college of veterinary surgeons do not support the feeding of raw diet.
The main concern around raw feeding is the risk of contagious and zoonotic diseases i.e. the spread of disease to other pets and humans. If an owner opts to feed raw to their pet selecting an appropriately balance diet is crucial as well as ensuring the highest level of hygiene is maintained when handling the diet and interacting with their pet/s. Only specifically prepared balanced raw diets should be used, an owner should ensure there is clear evidence these products have the highest level of food safety. Dog and cats should not be fed home prepared diets with meat from the butchers as the level of pathogens, e.g. E.coli, salmonella, on this will be higher, given that butchers meat is designed to be cooked to eliminate the pathogens. The bacteria and parasites associated with raw meat are not killed by freezing so it is important that the process used to produce the product minimises these pathogens. Owners feeding raw diet must ensure that they follow the preparation guidelines carefully; defrosting only as much is needed; ideally wearing gloves when handling the product; thoroughly washing hands after handling the food; carefully disposing of any uneaten food and thoroughly washing food bowls with hot soapy water after each meal. Raw food should not be mixed with cooked food. Animals eating raw diet will also have an increased risk of spreading pathogens in their faeces, saliva and even on their coats. It is even more important to ensure good personal hygiene is followed after interacting with a raw fed pet and handling their excrement than that of a pet fed on a more mainstream pet food. Because of the increased risk of exposure to intestinal parasites, pets fed a raw diet should be routinely maintained on monthly worming. It is important to remember that the pathogens in raw food are a zoonotic risk, young, immunocompromised and pregnant individuals should be extra careful when interacting with raw fed pets. It is undeniable that raw feeding suits some pets and their owners but it is important that owners who are choosing to raw feed their dog or cat are aware of the risks, and take all possible precautions to minimise the risks posed to themselves and others.