Where raw food diets are concerned, bacterial issues will probably always remain at the forefront of conversations. The general feeling is if people can become ill after consuming cooked meat products contaminated with pathogenic E.coli. or salmonella, then the problem is likely to be as great for their pet, and even greater if the food is raw! In today’s society, if a pet food looks like it hasn’t been sterilized; some people fear their dog will be poisoned.
Do raw foods cause health problems for domestic pets? Statistically, the answer is not often. Human quality, raw foods that are properly handled can generally be considered safe. If this were not the case, then thousands of pets consuming raw foods would not be alive today! However, it’s important to acknowledge that there is always potential for any food, cooked or otherwise, to cause trouble. As long as life exists, there will be bacteria. Bacteria are everywhere, including processed dry or canned pet foods.
Some bacteria release toxins known as exotoxins, which multiply in food. These toxins are not easily destroyed by heat and may remain in food once they have developed. Other bacteria produce toxins inside the body after the food has been eaten. These are called endotoxins. Endotoxin is formed from part of the cellular structure of gram-negative bacteria, such as E. coli, which is normally found in the colon. Endotoxin can also contaminate ingredients in dry pet foods. Pet foods that use poor quality ingredients, that are manufactured with inadequate sanitation procedures or recontaminated after processing, may expose a pet to bacteria.
Even though the principal source of bacterial infection may be the ingestion of contaminated food another cause of contamination is water. Most species of bacteria in water are harmless, but a few may cause disease. Among them are Pseudomonas, Flavobacterium, Achromobacter, Proteus-Klebsiella, Bacillus, Serratia, Coryne-bacterium, Spirillum, Clostridium, Arthrobacter, Hallionella and Lepothrix, E.coli O157:H7 and Salmonella (found in ice cube trays).
Person-to-person contact may also be a cause of bacterial contamination. Some people can be long-term carriers and shed the organism for weeks to months. Pets may also be carriers, despite what they are fed. Harmful bacteria are also present in soil, sneezes, coughs and unwashed hands. These bacteria could cause problems if they come into contact with food and are allowed to grow. Children may be more susceptible to disease caused by bacteria in part because their immune systems are not as well developed as adults and in part because they tend to have inferior hygiene compared to adults. Encourage children to wash their hands after handling any pet and discourage licking, if you like, but the likelihood of significant bacteria being present is doubtful.
Today it seems that everywhere we turn, there is another product to eradicate bacteria, but that may not necessarily be a good thing. If there is no exposure to bacteria, immune systems won’t build the antibodies they need to stay healthy. Humans and dogs have both good and bad bacteria in their bodies. When we are healthy, there is a balanced level of each. For instance, at any given time, we have traces of E.coli or Salmonella strains running through our systems, along with good bacteria. The body has an amazing health-regulating ability that combats a diverse amount of environmental factors. As bad bacteria are introduced, the immune system fights back with its own army of bacteria.
In carnivores, the colon is short and simple because meat can go off quickly and produce toxins. The longer such food stays inside the body, the more toxins are produced. The meat-eater’s intestine is designed to take out this waste as quickly as possible so the risk to your dog is negligible under normal conditions. Don’t forget that dogs are scavengers. They have evolved to eat rotting and buried flesh and the feces of other animals. Sometimes it may even be their own! Dogs routinely clean their “private” parts which are, quite frankly, home to all sorts of bacteria.
If you are considering a raw diet for your dog but you are worried about bacteria for yourself or your family, ensure that foods are purchased from reliable sources and that they are handled correctly from processing to the time you purchase them. Make certain raw pet food products are kept frozen until thawing prior to feeding. Proper handling at home is an important key. Good hygiene, especially washing your hands often and for at least one minute, is the most effective way to control the spread of bacteria. Keep countertops and cutting boards sanitized and wash your dog’s bowl after feeding. Pick up your dog’s feces immediately following defecation and dispose of them appropriately.
A Word about Antibacterial Agents
We must understand that bacteria are necessary to life and by using antibacterial agents we are helping to create super-bacteria that will be immune to the strongest antibiotics. Antibacterial agents are now added to dishwashing and laundry detergents, and hand soaps. Products containing antibacterial agents are currently a big marketing ploy used by companies trying to find a new reason for you to buy their products. Research has discovered that E.coli can develop resistance to Triclosan, one of the common antibacterial ingredients in antibacterial soaps. Triclosan works by acting on a single gene to kill the bacteria. Creams and ointments are also loaded with antibacterial agents so even these should be used cautiously as bacteria may develop resistance.
Raw Pet Food Manufacturer Protocols
Be certain your raw meat sources come from a reliable place. If you purchase products from a raw pet food company, you have the right to inquire as to their protocols and manufacturing process.
- Meat should be fresh or fresh frozen prior to processing and flash/deep frozen at -20C for a minimum of seven days.
- The manufacturer should have a facility that follows human-grade standards. That means the raw material should arrive at their door in a refrigerated truck whether it’s frozen or fresh and it should leave in a refrigerated truck that is maintained at proper temperatures for the products.
- The entire manufacturing process should occur under controlled (chilled) temperatures, right through to packaging.
- Each level of the manufacturing process should be accountable for sanitary measures.
- The products should, at the very least, be randomly tested for various bacteria. This is simple to perform in-house by any company.