Experts raise concerns over raw meat diets for cats and dogs

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Raw meat diets for pets have become increasingly popular, but there is no evidence that they are healthier than typical pet foods, the researchers said. But when we feed our pets raw meat, that bacteria thrives. Conventional pet food is also heated during processing, which kills all germs.

This isn't the first time researchers have warned pet owners against raw meat-based diets.

The team said the bugs risked the health of the animals themselves, as well as their owners.

Overgaauw and his colleagues analyzed 35 commercial frozen raw meat diet products for pets that are widely available in the Netherlands and found E. coli bacteria in eight products (23 percent), listeria bacteria in 15 products (43 percent), and traces of salmonella in seven products (20 percent).

A raw meat-based diet (RMBD), also known as Bones and Raw Food (BARF), contains a number of parasites and bacteria that could be passed on to humans, say researchers from the Institute of Risk Assessment at Utrecht University's Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment. "But I can imagine that cross-contamination in the kitchen during preparation of the food, and cleaning of the food bowls-as well as direct contact with infected animals-are the highest risks", he says.

23% of the products tested contained E coli - a type that can cause kidney failure in humans - and 80% contained antiobiotic-resistant E coli. Even more worrisome, E. coli 0157-a particularly unsafe strain now responsible for a lettuce-based outbreak in North America-was found in 23% of the samples.

"We see that more and more people are feeding (cats and dogs) this kind of product and we know that meat is infected with bacteria and parasites", co-author of the new research, Paul Overgaauw, told the Guardian.

Four products contained the parasite Sarcocystis cruzi and another four contained Sarcocystis tenella, both of which can cause nausea, stomach ache and diarrhea.

As such, researchers said that the bacteria and parasitic pathogens found in the foods may be a possible source of infection in pets and, if transmitted, pose a risk for human beings too. "I think that in the US especially, owners are much more liking the convenience, and buy these products instead of preparing raw food on their own".

Overgaauw said dry, semi-moist and canned pet food is rarely contaminated with pathogens.

If you're concerned about how best to feed your cats or dogs, chat to a vet for their recommendations.

The study was published January 11 in the journal Vet Record.

Pet owners who are interested in raw meat-based diets should talk to a professional rather than feeding their pets uncooked meat.

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