This week, CTV published an article (in the Lifestyle section on their website) discouraging pet owners from feeding raw food to their pets (https://www.ctvnews.ca/mobile/lifestyle/don-t-feed-your-dog-raw-meat-study-says-1.3756557). They used an article published in the VetRecord journal that surveyed a number of commercial raw foods in the Netherlands and confirmed the presence of pathogenic bacteria in some of the foods. The CTV article overinflates the overall risks that bacteria in raw food pose and completely misses the bigger story of food that’s actually putting our pets’ health at risk. The message of this article, shared via a respected national news network, is narrow-minded and misleading in many ways.To start, everything in our daily lives carries some kind of risk! When we get into our cars to drive somewhere, we take a risk of getting into a car accident. When we go swimming, we risk drowning. When we choose to eat processed foods, we increase our risk of getting cancer and other diseases. Volumes of data exist to quantify these risks. In contrast, neither the article nor the cited study quantify the risk they identify, i.e. how many pets or people actually get sick from raw pet food. You will be hard-pressed to find any verifiable statistics about the number of pets or people dying, or getting seriously ill from raw pet food. In fact, all documented salmonella outbreaks in humans caused by pet food were actually traced back to dry food!
The article and cited study also misrepresent the proportion of contamination risk between raw and dry food, stating that “in contrast with dry, semi-moist and canned pet food, which is rarely contaminated with pathogens” – this is contradicted by evidence-based statistics from the FDA – http://truthaboutpetfood.com/lets-get-the-facts-straight-fda/.
Food safety IS a serious issue and pet owners should be aware that ANY pet food they buy can be contaminated with bacteria and that they can take steps to manage the risks, including:
- Using products with human-grade ingredients from inspected facilities
- Using basic food safety handling procedures for handling any raw or cooked meat for yourself and your pet, including washing hands and any contact surfaces with soap and hot water.
Instead of addressing this simple point about food safety, the CTV article took the study to an extreme, akin to telling people to stop driving cars because it’s dangerous.
The key takeaway here is that we (humans and our pets) deal with some level of risk every day in the myriad of things we do, and getting sick from our pets’ food is fairly low on that list. Let’s certainly not ignore food safety, but let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill either. If we quantify the risks of serious illness in pets from these pathogenic bacteria, that number pales in comparison to the EPIDEMIC number of pets suffering from obesity, diabetes, renal failure, autoimmune disease, and cancer! These are real risks with real statistics! Our pets are dying from cancer at an alarming rate – higher than any other mammal on the planet. This is what we believe CTV should be reporting! People are not turning to raw food because it is a trendy thing to do, they have a purpose: they are searching for ways to get their pets healthy and to have them live longer lives!
On a side note, the reason there is so much speculation about the risks of bacteria and so little actual data to back it up is because our understanding of bacteria is still very limited. For many years, the approach to bacteria was to try and destroy it all with sanitizers, disinfectants, and antibiotics. We are now beginning to understand and appreciate the variety of bacteria around us and the vital role they play in our ecosystem and our health. We are learning that our bodies naturally contain both beneficial and pathogenic bacteria and that one of the primary keys to health is NOT to destroy those bacteria but to eat whole, minimally processed foods that support a healthy balance of bacteria. The field of science still has a long way to go in understanding this complex system but in time, food safety may become more about maintaining a microbiome balance than killing all bacteria.
Last, but not least, is the third factual error made in this article: the statement that the “benefits of a raw meat diet are not backed by evidence”. There are piles of studies for human health demonstrating that fresh, unprocessed food is better for us and that over-processed food increases our risk for disease. We are now seeing a number of surveys and studies emerging along this line for pets – here are a few:
- Long Living Pets Research Project (https://longlivingpets.com/) – a 30 year study to show the correlation between feeding your pet fresh food and longevity.
- DogRisk Group in Finland (https://www.dogrisk.com/) – researching raw diets and how they improve the health of pets
- KetoPet Sanctuary (http://www.ketopetsanctuary.com/) – a group working to cure dog cancer with ketogenic diets (and yes, they are raw diets!)
Not all of these studies are peer reviewed and yes, there is much work still to be done. However, they all point to the same thing – fresh, whole, minimally-processed food improves health. The link between nutrition and health is essential and complex – and despite decades of study we are just skimming the surface in our understanding for both people and pets. If we believe that it is possible to achieve better health, then we need to keep an open mind to learning and exploring new (and old) ideas – not let fear stand in the way of helping our pets live healthier and longer lives.
We are committed to building a list on our website: reddogbluekat.com of completed and ongoing studies about optimal animal health as they emerge. Please stay tuned and in the meantime, feel free to check out our blog (https://reddogbluekatblog.wordpress.com/) for more on this and other specific health topics.