Raw deal: Vet says feeding your dog uncooked meat can put both of you at risk

Vet says social media and word of mouth keep feeding a trend despite potentially serious health consequences, for both humans and canines.

Dr. Maggie Brown-Bury says growing trend has zero proven benefits, transmits bacteria

Veterinarian Maggie Brown-Bury with her dog Ollie speaking to the CBC's Debbie Cooper about the risks of raw meat diets. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

The head of the Newfoundland and Labrador Veterinarians Association blames social media and the power of word of mouth for the fact that people continue to feed their dogs raw meat, despite potentially serious health consequences, for both humans and canines.

"You know one person says, 'This saved my dog,' and another person says, 'Well, my dog's allergies are really bad and I'm going to try that too,'" said veterinarian Maggie Brown-Bury.

"The fact that the meat is raw has zero proven benefits whatsoever."

Brown-Bury said a switch from commercial pet foods to raw meat can be beneficial if an animal is sensitive to a certain ingredient in the processed food, and it is usually the elimination of that ingredient that gets positive results, not the raw meat.

Your dog is not a wolf 

Brown-Bury said there are many different reasons why people believe in the benefits of the raw meat diet, and a big one is because it's what animals eat in the wild.

While it is true that wolves aren't setting up a fire and cooking their prey, "There's over two-dozen genetic differences between a dog and a wolf that just have to do with digestion," she said.

Brown-Bury says studies have proven a raw meat diet may be digested more easily than a kibble for some dogs, but there's no difference between raw and cooked meat. (Erik White/CBC)

"How long would you like your pet dog to live? Probably 12 to 16 years. Very few wolves are actually living that long, so copying the wolves' diet might not get you the lifespan that you're hoping for for your pet."

What are the risks? 

Brown-Bury said many veterinarians have an issue with the diet because it doesn't provide balanced nutrition for the animal, but the bacteria contained in raw meat is an even bigger concern. 

"There is a huge body of research that goes back over 10 years that proves that feeding a raw food diet to your pets puts people at risk, and the big thing is these diets are contaminated with salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, which are all bacteria we've heard about in the news with food safety concerns."

Brown-Bury says a colleague recently told her about a client who was feeding their dog a raw food diet, and their child ended up in hospital with sepsis due to E. coli contamination. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

There is also the misconception that freeze-drying commercially prepared raw meat dog food kills bacteria.

"That is 100 per cent false, and I'm not really sure who started that rumour, but they're not doing anyone any favours," Brown-Bury said.

The fact that the meat is raw has zero proven benefits whatsoever.- Maggie Brown-Bury

"Something like 20 to 48 per cent of commercial or homemade raw meat diets are contaminated with bacteria," she told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.  

Bacteria can live on the dish used to feed the animal — which is often left on the floor — and around the dog's mouth, which can pose a risk to people in the household, especially those with weakened immune systems.

"The dog is shoving his whole face in that dish, so there's bacteria in and around his mouth and then he goes and licks your young child … or you have someone in your home who is on chemotherapy or some sort of medical treatment that's compromised their immune system, and then you have this dog that's walking around with bacteria on him."

Brown-Bury says many people may never encounter a problem from feeding their pets raw meat, but they need to be aware of the risks. (The Associated Press)

Brown-Bury said E. coli can survive the dog's digestive tract and ends up in its feces, which — like it or not — also ends up in your home. 

"Dogs don't wipe their bum, so they always have small particles of feces on the fur around their bum. No one wants to think about this, but there are particles of dog feces all around your house," she said.

"If you're feeding a raw meat-based diet those particles could be contaminated with E. coli."

Brown-Bury said many veterinarian hospitals don't allow raw meat diets, and will put animals in isolation if they've been fed raw meat at home to protect other patients.

"That dog will be treated as a contaminant."

Bottom line 

Brown-Bury's last piece of advice is simple: if you're turning to a raw food diet because of the perceived health benefits, consider home cooking instead.

"The benefits you think you're going to get, you'll get from home cooking, without the same risks."

With files from the St. John's Morning Show