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Should You Feed Your Pet A Raw Meat Diet?

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Some advocates of homemade pet foods insist that raw meat should form the basis of dog and cat diets. These pet owners believe strongly that a raw meat diet comes closest to the diet that the ancestors of our pets ate in the wild and that such a diet is, therefore, more "natural'' than conventional, commercially prepared foods.

Assessing the risk

All of the nutritional caveats about homemade pet diets using cooked ingredients apply to those made from raw meat. But the use of raw meat poses the additional risk of contamination with bacteria and parasites. A study reported in the February 2006 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that 53 percent of the commercial, raw meat dog food samples tested were contaminated with Salmonella, a bacteria that can cause serious, sometimes fatal, intestinal tract infections. In addition to the risk of infection to pets, the owners who handle these foods on a daily basis may be placing themselves and their families at risk of cross-contamination by tainted meats.

Veterinarians say to be careful

The risks of raw meat diets have led the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association to take a strong position against raw meat diets. Their Position Statement is unequivocal: "To date, no scientific evidence to support the efficacy or safety of these diets have been published. There are now multiple peer-reviewed studies documenting potential risks from bacterial pathogens present in raw meats for both pets fed these diets and for in-contact humans.''

Dissenting voices

Nevertheless, in spite of the disapproval of the veterinary establishment, a significant and growing number of pet owners are resorting to raw meat diets without apparent harm to their pets. In addition, some veterinarians -- while advising caution -- maintain that the dangers of such diets have been overstated.

The bottom line: Play it safe

If you are considering the raw meat option, do your research first. Make sure that you understand the risks and make the switch only if you are confident that the benefits justify the change. Finally, always check with your veterinarian before making a significant change to your pet's diet.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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