Advocates of raw diets argue that raw diets are better for cats and dogs, but the purported benefits of raw diets are either not supported by research or are not due to the diet being raw per se (see "The Raw Truth, Part 1", located under Westgate Pet Clinic's "our veterinarian's page" under Dr. Karlin).
Since there are no demonstrated benefits and there are risks associated with feeding raw diets, the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) and AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) have both issued statements against feeding raw diets to cats and dogs. The main objections to feeding raw diets relate to concerns about bacterial contamination and concerns that raw diets may not be complete and balanced.
The Risky Business of Raw Diets
Studies analyzing raw pet food diets have repeatedly shown them to be contaminated by bacteria. In one study of chicken-based bone and raw food diets, tests revealed that 80% of the diets were contaminated with salmonella. In another study of 25 commercial raw food diets for cats and dogs, coliform bacteria were found in all of the diets. Even preparing a raw diet using “human grade” meat does not ensure the diet will be free from bacterial contamination. Warnings about bacterial contamination on meats sold for human consumption recommend thoroughly cooking poultry and ground meat products, and cooking beef, lamb and pork to an internal temperature of 140-145F. A recent Consumer Reports analysis of 316 packages of chicken breasts purchased at national and regional grocery stores found nearly all of them were contaminated with bacteria.
Some proponents of raw diets argue that pets are not affected by bacterial contamination, proposing that “cats and dogs have lower gastric pH and faster GI transit times so won’t get infections.” This is simply not true. According to the National Animal Poison Control Center, many bacterial pathogens have evolved to develop protective coatings that allow them to pass through the stomach and into the intestines of pets where they multiply and cause illness. There are several documented cases of both dogs and cats getting seriously ill and dying from raw diets. There are also public health concerns with feeding pets raw diets. Even if pets are not showing signs of illness, they can shed bacteria in their feces. People can get infections from bacteria shed by pets being fed raw diets and by improper handling of the raw diets themselves. In guidelines from the FDA, the “FDA does not believe raw meat foods for animals are consistent with the goal of protecting the public from significant health risks, particularly when such products are brought into the home and/or used to feed domestic pets.”
Bacterial contamination aside, another concern with raw diets is that many are not complete and balanced. One U.S. study performed a laboratory analysis on three popular homemade raw diets and two commercially available raw diets. In addition to concerns about bacterial contamination, all of the diets “had nutrient deficiencies or excesses that could cause serious health problems when used in a long term feeding program.” Similarly, a more recent study in Europe analyzed the nutrient composition of 95 raw food diets for dogs and found a majority had major nutritional imbalances as well.
Raw diets have not been demonstrated to be beneficial and pose health risks to both pets and their owners. Based on this, we recommend feeding pets a commercially available or home-prepared diet that is complete and balanced to meet their nutritional needs, and cooked to reduce concerns about bacterial contamination.
References available upon request.