The dangers of a raw food pet diet - for you and for them

By Linda Jackson on 29 June 2018

In the last few months we have had a lot of advice given about ensuring we cook food thoroughly to ensure that we don’t become ill from pathogens like Listeria monocytogenes. The potential risks associated with raw foods including poultry and meat have been repeatedly highlighted, and these risks are not just for humans.

Raw food pet diets are becoming an increasing trend, but their health claims are unsubstantiated say veterinary professionals, and may even be harmful. A recent chat with a vet shone a whole new light on the dangers of feeding raw food to your pets - both for you and for them.


What could be lurking in the pet food?

The recent study in the Veterinary record analysed 35 commercial frozen raw meat products from eight different brands in the Netherlands. It found E. coli in 28 products, Listeria monocytogenes in 19 of them and Salmonella species in seven. Several products also contained parasites.  Scientists from the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) analyzed 196 frozen raw cat and dog food samples they purchased online in a 2014 study.  Fifteen tested positive for Salmonella, and 32 contained Listeria monocytogenes. Dried or freeze-dried rawhide chews, pig ears, cattle hooves, hearts, tracheas, and bull or steer penises (often called bully or pizzle sticks) can also be contaminated with Salmonella and other bacteria.


Cross contamination risks for you and your family

A raw food diet also introduces the hazards of nutritional imbalances, gastrointestinal problems, and parasitic and bacterial contamination. For animals, the issue is exposure to enteropathogens with the possible development of disease, particularly salmonellosis and clostridial diarrhea. For humans, the risk of exposure to pathogens via direct or indirect contact with animal feces, or via contact with raw diets, must be considered.


Bacterial contamination of pet food bowls may be a potential source of infection for humans, particularly high-risk individuals, such as infants, elderly persons, and immunocompromised individuals


Authors of a 2017 study published in the journal BMC Veterinary Research found that, compared to dogs given commercial diets, those fed raw food are about 23 times more likely to shed Salmonella organisms in their faeces.


Handling these potentially contaminated products in your kitchen means there is a risk of cross contamination. You should observe the same practices for storing and preparing food for human consumption to raw meat pet food.

  • Wash hands and surfaces thoroughly and often.
  • Separate different foods to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Defrost frozen items in the fridge, ideally in sealed containers and on the lowest shelves.
  • Handle pet food bowls with care to prevent bacteria spreading to other surfaces and utensils.


If you are feeding your pet raw food, you should know that you can become exposed during touching, petting, licking and even sharing when sharing your pillow with your furry friend. Make sure you discuss this with your vet!


My pets aren't wild animals, and I refuse to risk their health with diets that have caused illness and death.  I've seen case after case of pets suffering while on a raw diet, yet the owners attribute the problems to everything but the diet. 
Ann. N. Martin

Past proponents of raw food diets believed that this was the healthiest food choice for pets. It was also assumed that feeding such a diet would cause no harm to other animals or to humans. There have subsequently been multiple studies showing both these premises to be false. Based on overwhelming scientific evidence, AAHA does not advocate or endorse feeding pets any raw or dehydrated nonsterilized foods, including treats that are of animal origin.
American Animal Hospital Association

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. 

FDA Consumer Advice 



Bacteriological evaluation of commercial canine and feline raw diets

Scott Weese, Joyce Rousseau, and L. Arroyo

Department of Clinical Studies, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario N1G 2W1.




Thanks to  Dr’s. Graeme and Leaura King of Parkmore Veterinary Clinic for their input and alerting us to this potential hazard