Raw meat whether for humans or animals carries a certain number of bacteria some of which can potentially cause illness in people handling them or the animals consuming them. There are potential other risks discussed blow as well.
I am going to run through ways of minimising this risk and try to explain why you should be careful but not too concerned. Bacterial contamination in a Food hygiene issue NOT a problem with raw feeding per se.
Salmonella, E Coli and Campylobacter
These bacteria are found in the guts of both healthy animals and humans. During the process of slaughtering livestock there is a potential risk of the outside of the carcases being contaminated with some of these bacteria and indeed many are as you may be aware.
Some strains can potentially cause illness particularly if individuals have a weakened immune system or poor gut micro-flora.
There is therefore a potential risk in handling the raw meat in the kitchen, if you do not wash hands between handling raw meat and a product which is eaten by the rest of the family uncooked there could be a risk to them, in theory.
I have been using raw food both on my animals and those of my clients and have never had any problems in the patients or their families.
How to minimise this:
- Buy meat from a reputable source who buys only meat that is "Fit for Human Consumption" This means it has been inspected in the abattoir and disease animals or parts of them has removed from the food chain. Excessive dirty animals are rejected and the whole process is monitored for hygiene. The best raw meat suppliers will have their own microbiological testing monitoring and good food hygiene practices and be registered with DEFRA.
- Defrost in a sealed container ideally in the fridge overnight, store in the fridge at the bottom
- Wash hands and utensils in soapy water before doing anything else particularly preparing human foods such as salad which is not then cooked.
- Once at room temperature discard any unused food.
- Keep the diet raw based or at least no starchy foods to keep the gastric acid of the stomach levels high in your pets and keep their gut micr-biome healthy
Potential Risks are Broken Teeth, Choking and Obstruction.
Choking and Obstruction
Alway feed appropriate sized bone that are which are large enough not to be swallowed whole or so small (such as wing tips that cannot cause and obstruction.
e.g Necks are suitable for small dogs and cats but could potentially choke a medium sized breed unless part of a larger carcase and therefore torn apart. Ribs perhaps are better for medium breeds and larger.
Avoid weight bearing - leg bones - of larger animals - chicken bones are softer unfortunately for their welfare.
NEVER FEED COOKED BONE
Feed meaty bones, not those excessively trimmed of all meat it encourages chewing.
Observe your pets feeding at lest at first see if they are an individual who gulps it all down and adjust the size accordingly.
If your pets are competitive about feeding next to others try to avoid this situation at feeding time. One may eat without chewing and try to gulp down foods.
This may be something your vet warns you as a risk, we have all had to open dogs up because of a foreign body in the intestine or constipation. This can occur with cooked bone in large amounts but raw bone in a dog with healthy gastric acid levels can digest raw bone. In the wild both cats and dogs can eat rabbits bone and skin and not have problems.
But keep an eye on dogs which gulp.
Older, Sick, Pregnant or animals which have had dental implants it it may be as well to avoid meaty bones but ask us.
A puppy having rib bones - softer for smaller teeth
Cats also benefit from chewing bones
These are a potential risk if the diet is not balanced - see elsewhere if you follow the guidelines here especial variety you will be fine.
Calcium and Phosphorous levels will be fine if you feed minces which include bone such as those we supply or you supplement with raw meaty bones. But do not feed an excessive amount of bone.
Most people are aware calcium and phosphorus interact and the ratio is important, but high calcium also interacts with (impedes) the absorption of zinc, magnesium and manganese.
The common symptom we see is poor skin and coat health (zinc plays a big role in healthy skin and hair, among other things). On occasion, clients have tried to improve the skin/coat by adding various oils or increasing the fat in the diet to no avail. Reducing RMB’s to meet overall nutrient requirements but not excess can make a huge difference in skin and coat very quickly.
Nutrient imbalances can be found in processed foods particularly if poorly stored
Hyperthyroidism in Dogs
There have been reports of this as a problem. It was found to be most likely to be caused by feeding excessive amounts of neck which had not been properly trimmed and so the dog was eating excessive amounts of thyroid gland and rapidly reversible.
Feed only those necks which have been inspected for human consumption and properly trimmed and a again a variety of meats/bones.
I have seen many dogs and cats with broken, chipped or cracked teeth whether fed bones or not.
I have seen even more pets with rotten stinking gums because of plaque and tartar build up who need dental work and are fed in appropriate or processed foods. It is some you will not see to anything like the same extent in RMB fed animals.
I would rather see the odd broken tooth than this.
But yes bones can brake teeth how do we reduce the risk?
Feed softer no weight bearing bones not big hard weight bearing bones - see above.
If your dog has poor teeth and you are starting a RMB diet do not introduce bones that are too large and hard before either having a dental at your vets or until the dental hygiene has improved with your new diet. - It will!
Worms and Parasites
You may also read about catching worms from Raw Foods. This is another theoretical risk we can all catch tapeworms and trichinella if we eat un cooked worm larvae or cysts in meat or offal.
there are two ways to avoid this risk.
1. Buy meat fit for human consumption from a licensed supplier. All meat on the human market is inspected in the abattoir for worm cysts and they are removed or rejected as unfit. Wild meat may contain these tapeworms or "knacker" meat. Even then the risk is not great if you do feed wild unfrozen rabbit etc. go to step 3.
2. Freeze the meat - Freezing kills the worm larvae and cysts
3. . Perform regular worm counts on your pets to check for worm larvae.
Round worms, lungworms and whip worms do not come from eating raw meat.
An example of poor teeth in a dog. The reason poor diet and dental care. Feed raw you will not see this.
Avoid these late weight bearing bones in most dogs- they can break teeth
There have in 2018/2019 some cases of Tuberculosis forum in cats in the UK
This was caused, we believe by feeding offal - lungs and lymph nodes probably - from venison supplied by a raw food company in minces. No other products have been found to be a problem.
You can read more about it here
Only source meats that have been inspected in the normal way for human consumption not "knacker" meat or fallen stock.
Detail Q and A from RVFS