Recently the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association have issued policy statements warning pet owners from feeding raw diets. Their warnings are based on studies suggesting that raw diets for pets are more susceptible to Salmonella contamination. These precautions are not without merit.
A recent study showed greater Salmonella contamination with raw diets compared to dry, commercial diets. Salmonella is a health risk for family members feeding these products. “Therapy pets” fed raw diets may also be a threat to patients in nursing homes and hospitals. Some therapy organizations have banned raw fed pets from their therapy pet ranks. The implication of these policies is that commercial, dry dog food is safer than raw diets. In fact, Salmonella contamination is widespread in commercial foods and poses a similar threat to family and individuals exposed to dogs fed Salmonella contaminated raw food.
Salmonella and Commercial Dog Food
In the last 2 years the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has posted recall and safety alerts for over 76 commercial pet foods and treats. Salmonella contamination led the lists. Little reported were the human illness cases related to commercial dog food contamination.
A recent case report in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association documents the findings of an investigation that led to commercial, dry pet food that caused Salmonella illness in 53 family members and 31 of their dogs. The epidemic was caused by one manufacturer in South Carolina that produced pet food for 30 different brands. Victims, human and dogs, were found in 21 US states and 2 provinces of Canada.
This is not the only incident. In 2006-2008, 29 human patients were infected from recalled dry dog food. Salmonella contamination is reported to range from 21% to 44% of chicken based commercial dry food throughout the US. Other studies have also confirmed other human outbreaks resulting from commercial, dry pet food.
The Sword Cuts Two Ways
Salmonella contamination is not going away in dog food as long as chicken is used as a common protein source. But it may be unfair to condemn those feeding raw. I am not a proponent of raw pet diets. Arguments about the natural aspect and higher digestibility of raw meats are attractive but not scientifically sound. The risk/benefit far favors cooked meat over raw. However, I offer a raw homemade program because that philosophy needs to have respect with an informed source.
The evidence suggests that commercial food has just as many concerns. To pick on the raw feeders is unfair. Dog food, commercial or raw has the potential for infecting the humans of the household. The same precautions that are advised for raw feeders should apply to those feeding commercial dry food. Utensils from pets should be washed separately to avoid cross contamination. Utensils should be sanitized daily. The young, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems should not come in contact with dog food or feeding utensils. Fecal material (poop) should be disposed of daily in fly-proof containers.
~Dr Ken Tudor
THE DOG DIETITIAN