Feeding raw meat to pets could be risky, say scientists

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Veterinarians are warning people about the potential risks of feeding dogs and cats raw meat-based diets-not just for the pets, but for their human owners, as well.

Raw dog and cat foods often carry parasites and bacteria that could be harmful to your four-legged friend, new research in the journal Veterinary Record warns.

Among the ideas fuelling the movement is that these diets are more "natural" for pets, avoid problems of additives or contamination in processed food, and can help to tackle issues like skin problems and allergies. Lastly, researchers found two products (six per cent) with Taxoplasma gondii.

By feeding this diet to pets, owners are not only risking the health of the animals but also their own health.

"We see that more and more people are feeding (cats and dogs) this kind of product and we know that meat is infected with bacteria and parasites", co-author of the new research, Paul Overgaauw, told the Guardian.

As such, researchers said that the bacteria and parasitic pathogens found in the foods may be a possible source of infection in pets and, if transmitted, pose a risk for human beings too.

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As well, four products (11 per cent) also contained the parasite Sarcocystis cruzi, while another four was found to have Sarcocystis tenella. More than half of the food had listeria species present, 20% contained salmonella and 23% had sarcocystis - a parasite that causes anorexia, nausea and abdominal pain.

It said the pathogens can be transferred "through direct contact with the food; through contact with a contaminated pet, such as sharing the same bed and allowing licking of the face and hands; through contact with household surfaces; or by ingesting cross-contaminated human food".

"We have known that there are risks associated with raw meat feed diets since the early 2000s, but this is the first [research] in Europe that has gone as far as to check commercially available frozen raw meat diets", he said. "I think that in the US especially, owners are much more liking the convenience, and buy these products instead of preparing raw food on their own".

"T$3 he claimed health benefits attributed to the feeding of raw meat-based diets are mostly anecdotal, and no studies have produced results in support of these statements", the team writes in the study.

The study was published January 11 in the journal Vet Record. Pet owners should also be educated about personal hygiene and proper handling of raw meat products.

If you're concerned about how best to feed your cats or dogs, chat to a vet for their recommendations. In an email, the study authors said that raw-meat pet foods for sale in the United States are "without a doubt similar" to those tested in the study.