Here we go again. The veterinary establishment continues to find ways to tackle the increasing prevalence of raw food diets for pets. Yet another study is out on the adverse effects of raw feeding on animals. This time, however, it’s not the Salmonella that can make your pet sick. It’s about the Salmonella that can make YOU sick when you feed your pets a raw meat diet. 

Actually, this study was not really meant for most of you. Its discussion was aimed squarely at the assistance dog community, particularly those in animal-assisted interventions (AAI programs, as for therapy pets). Because the humans these pets interact with are presumably immunocompromised, it makes sense that their public health issues might be more significant than for the majority of the pet owning public. 

In the case of this one study of about 200 dogs (“Evaluation of the risks of shedding Salmonellae and other potential pathogens by therapy dogs fed raw diets in Ontario and Alberta”), the 20% of dogs fed raw meats (intermittently or as part of their regular diet during the year-long study) were found to be eight times as likely to shed Salmonella in their feces. When the authors corrected for those who had diarrhea and consumed pig ear chews during this period, the difference in the odds of shedding was 20-fold. 

Diarrhea makes sense...but pig ears? I guess pig ear chews are believed to have something to do with Salmonella shedding––something I hadn’t heard of (though I don’t recommend those fatty nasties anyway). 

This most recent study’s findings, for which the entire article is unavailable to me at the current time, seems to back up an earlier, 2008 study on the risk of human exposure to Salmonella from the feces of dogs fed raw, Salmonella-contaminated, commercial raw food diets. Because another 2008 study found a 21% prevalence of Salmonella in commercial raw food diets, it’s clear the trend for raw, commercial feeding deserves public health scrutiny.

The next study is one that determines what the true risk of human exposure to these dogs might be. As of 1991, a study reported that no confirmed cases of Salmonella transmission had ever been reported, though a 2005 study found that handling of Salmonella-containing pet treats and food (not necessarily raw) did result in nine cases of human Salmonella infection. I’m still waiting for a current one that re-visits the topic of direct transmission.

Despite the lack of evidence to support transmission, however, this newest round of raw food recrimination was perhaps a tad overstated. After all, within the abstract of this paper, the conclusions and recommendations were clearly stated so as not to be misinterpreted:

“We recommend that dogs fed raw meat should be excluded from AAI programmes, particularly when the programmes involve interaction with humans at high risk of infection or adverse sequelae attributable to infection. Furthermore, although AAI dogs may not be representative of the general population of dogs, we also recommend that feeding of raw meat to dogs is to be avoided in homes where immunocompromised people live.”

It makes sense. But unfortunately, studies like this continue to play into the hands of the conservative veterinary establishment. With each additional study identifying the possible risks of raw, it seems increasingly unlikely that its potential benefits will be researched anytime soon. And that’s a shame.