Brown Cocker Spaniel sitting at a dinner table, paws up with a raw steak on a plate

Dogs fed raw food have a higher fecal population of pathogenic bacteria

Raw food for dogs has become a popular fad diet in recent years. Unfortunately there has been a lot of research showing that these diets may not be as healthy as people perceive. With even veterinarians and the FDA preaching about the dangers of raw food, it should be enough to turn people away from these types of diets, right? Unfortunately, not. The problem with raw dog food diets is that they are not only dangerous for dogs but the human families around them as well. 

A new study by researchers at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Sweden tested the difference in pathogenic fecal bacteria populations in dogs fed raw diets versus kibble. Here’s what they found.

Natural raw meat, beef tripe, poultry gizzard, egg, and vegetable dog food in a brown bowl on white floor and dog's paws in the background.


Background

Whether it is called a raw meat-based diet (RMBD), bones and raw food/biologically appropriate raw food (BARF), or raw animal products (RAP), these types of pet foods consist of raw animal products and do not undergo any form of cooking or heating before chilling or freezing. 

Raw diets carry a lot of controversy, with proponents of the raw diets claiming benefits in immune, coat and skin health and opponents proclaiming dangers involved with malnutrition and dog-to-human pathogen transfer. 

Previous studies have shown that some raw diets have a high population of zoonotic bacteria and the bones in raw food may perforate the gastrointestinal tract. The most notable pathogens that pose a risk with raw food are Salmonella, E. Coli and Campylobacter.

The researchers in the Swedish study investigated differences in the occurrence of E. coli, Campylobacter species and Salmonella species in faeces samples from dogs fed raw food and faeces samples from dogs receiving a strict kibble diet.

What they did

A total of 50 client owned dogs were used for sampling and analysis in the study. All dogs used were at least 6 months old, considered clinically healthy and and not treated with antibiotics in the previous two weeks.The dogs were split into 2 different groups, a raw-fed group and a kibble-fed group. Each group was fed their respective diet for at least 1 week before sampling. 

Fecal samples were collected immediately and analyzed within 24 hours. All 50 fecal samples were analyzed for the presence of E coli, Campylobacter species and Salmonella species. 

Person wearing latex gloves holding clear container in a food lab.


What they found

Results of the study showed that feeding a raw food diet has a high pathogenic risk. Pathogenic bacteria in fecal samples were significantly higher in dogs fed raw food compared to the kibble fed dogs. The bacteria observed in the fecal samples pose a significant risk to humans cleaning up after their dogs, transmission to other animals and even environmental contamination. The study also noted that dogs should not be fed raw food if they are receiving antibiotics, as it may increase the risk for resistant bacteria.

Overall, if you are thinking of feeding your dog a raw diet, consider the risks involved. It may be safer for both your dog and your human family to feed a cooked diet, as there is a lower risk of pathogenic contamination.

View Sources

Runesvärd, Ellinor, Camilla Wikström, Lise-Lotte Fernström, and Ingrid Hansson. "Presence of pathogenic bacteria in faeces from dogs fed raw meat-based diets or dry kibble." Veterinary Record (2020).

Morgan, Stewart K., Susan Willis, and Megan L. Shepherd. "Survey of owner motivations and veterinary input of owners feeding diets containing raw animal products." PeerJ 5 (2017): e3031.

van Bree, Freek PJ, Gertie CAM Bokken, Robin Mineur, Frits Franssen, Marieke Opsteegh, Joke WB van der Giessen, Len JA Lipman, and Paul AM Overgaauw. "Zoonotic bacteria and parasites found in raw meat-based diets for cats and dogs." Veterinary Record 182, no. 2 (2018): 50-50.
Guardabassi, Luca, Stefan Schwarz, and David H. Lloyd. "Pet animals as reservoirs of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria." Journal of antimicrobial chemotherapy 54, no. 2 (2004): 321-332.

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