A:  Yes, it can be – both to your pets and your family.  Fortunately, this fad seems to be dying out.  Several years ago, our practice treated pets sickened by raw diets much more frequently than today.  Perhaps contributing to this decline was a policy statement adopted by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) nearly five years ago.  The statement reads:

“The AVMA discourages the feeding to cats and dogs of any animal-source protein that has not first been subjected to a process to eliminate pathogens because of the risk of illness to cats and dogs as well as humans.  Cooking or pasteurization through the application of heat until the protein reaches an internal temperature adequate to destroy pathogenic organisms has been the traditional method used to eliminate pathogens in animal-source protein, although the AVMA recognizes that newer technologies and other methods such as irradiation are constantly being developed and implemented.

Animal-source proteins of concern include beef, pork, poultry, fish, and other meat from domesticated or wild animals as well as milk* and eggs.  Several studies reported in peer-reviewed scientific journals have demonstrated that raw or undercooked animal-source protein may be contaminated with a variety of pathogenic organisms, including Salmonella spp, Campylobacter spp, Clostridium spp, Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, and enterotoxigenic Staphylococcus aureus.  Cats and dogs may develop foodborne illness after being fed animal-source protein contaminated with these organisms if adequate steps are not taken to eliminate pathogens; secondary transmission of these pathogens to humans (eg, pet owners) has also been reported.  Cats and dogs can develop subclinical infections with these organisms but still pose a risk to livestock, other nonhuman animals, and humans, especially children, older persons, and immunocompromised individuals.

To mitigate public health risks associated with feeding inadequately treated animal-source protein to cats and dogs, the AVMA recommends the following:

Avoid feeding inadequately treated animal-source protein to cats and dogs

Restrict cats’ and dogs’ access to carrion and animal carcasses (eg, while hunting)

Provide fresh, clean, nutritionally balanced and complete commercially prepared or home-cooked food to cats and dogs, and dispose of uneaten food at least daily

Practice personal hygiene (eg, handwashing) before and after feeding cats and dogs, providing treats, cleaning pet dishes, and disposing of uneaten food

* The recommendation not to feed unpasteurized milk to animals does not preclude the feeding of unpasteurized same-species milk to unweaned juvenile animals.”

While some have called the policy statement “controversial,” it should be noted that more than 90% of the AVMA delegates voted in favor of this policy.  That’s a pretty unified and decisive voice.   The policy was considered by a diverse group of doctors representing a wide cross-section of the veterinary profession.

The AVMA House of Delegates includes veterinarians representing all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.  It also includes representatives from the American Animal Hospital Association, National Association of Federal Veterinarians, American Association of Food Hygiene Veterinarians, American Association of Veterinary Clinicians, Uniformed Services Veterinarians, American Association of Corporate and Public Practice Veterinarians, Society for Theriogenology, Association of Avian Veterinarians, American Association of Avian Pathologists, American Association of Bovine Practitioners, American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Association of Feline Practitioners, American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners, Association of Swine Veterinarians, American Society of Laboratory Animal Practitioners, and veterinary students.  That’s a diverse body of experts to come to 90% agreement on anything!  Talk about “settled science.”

This group adds their well-educated voice to that of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).   They had already issued the following warning to pet owners:  “FDA does not believe raw meat foods for animals are consistent with the goal of protecting the public from significant health risks, particularly when such products are brought into the home and/or used to feed domestic pets.”

Please fully consider the dangers to both the four-legged and two-legged members of your family when contemplating the use of a raw diet for your pets.  Veterinarians take an oath to protect the health of both animals and people.  Your family veterinarian is your best resource for guidance on the ideal food for your pets.  Make an appointment today to discuss the care and feeding of your new puppy.  His health – and maybe yours – depends on it!