Raw diets banned by Delta Society

Delta Society has recently announced a policy prohibiting animals fed raw meat or raw animal products from participating in their Pet Partners program. This policy was established because of research indicating dogs fed raw meat are much more likely to be shedding harmful bacteria like Salmonella and drug resistant E. coli in their feces compared to dogs fed commercial or home cooked diets, and the fact that these dogs come into close and frequent contact with people that are more susceptible to infections and at increased risk having severe infections.

Not surprisingly, internet chat sites are abuzz, and there's much condemnation and consternation from some. Some of the more vocal minority are stating that they'll just lie and say that they're not feeding raw.  I guess such dishonest actions would be based on a combination of ignorance and arrogance - feeding raw is your own decision, but blatantly flouting a policy that was put in place to reduce risks to those most susceptible is stupid and irresponsible.

One of the problems with peoples' reactions is the fact that they are confusing two separate issues. One debate is whether raw feeding is more healthy or more harmful to the pet. That's a controversial area, but this policy has nothing to do with that. This policy deals with the increased likelihood that raw-fed pets are shedding harmful bacteria. That's been very well proven in scientific studies. Do raw-fed pets cause disease in people in hospitals? We don't know. However, we have enough evidence to indicate there is the potential for increased risk to patients, and that added risk can be eliminated by not feeding raw meat products.

Hopefully, people will realize that this policy has been put in place for a good reason, and that it's focused on protection of people at high risk of serious illness. It's not a broad condemnation of raw diets, it's just a statement that it is not considered appropriate for dogs that will have contact with high risk populations - a recommendation that's far from new.

Details about this policy can be found here.

Disclosure: I'm a member of Delta Society's Medical Advisory Board. However, the opinions expressed here are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of Delta Society.

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Comments (11) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
K.B - May 20, 2010 5:43 AM

So, has any research been done to assess the risk of dogs that go outside? That are exposed to bird feces, rabbit feces, squirrel feces, etc.?

That is why I thought it was SOP for therapy dogs to have a bath before going for a site visit.

And don't kibble-fed dogs also have the potential to shed microbes like E.coli and Salmonella?

As yes, I'm sorry, but you are a member of the board, and thus help set policy, no? Then your opinions DO reflect the views of the Delta Society.

Scott Weese - May 20, 2010 5:57 AM

There is a risk of disease transmission with any animal-human interaction. However, it has been clearly shown that raw-fed animals shed certain bacteria at much higher rates. It's hard to find Salmonella from a non-raw-fed dog but up to 25%of raw fed dogs shed the bacterium. People that have compromised immune systems are at high risk for disease from this bacterium. We can do something simple (stop feeding raw) to largely eliminate the risk of Salmonella exposure. That's the point.

K.B. - May 20, 2010 2:36 PM

[Comment edited to number questions, so they can be answered below]

1) I get the point, Scott. But kibble-fed dogs that go outside and snack on animal feces would also shed harmful bacteria, no?

2) And if it's "hard to find Salmonella from a non-raw-fed dog", then a increase ("more likely", according to one study, "5 times as likely", according to another of your sources) would still be a rare event, no? (Which also makes me wonder about the stats used in the paper, as "more likely" isn't really specific. And yes, I realize that is probably just a quote from the abstract).

3) Raw diets are continually held up as a bogeyman, without any critical analysis of WHY so many people are turning to them.

4) Do you, as a vet, honestly believe a 100% processed diet is the healthiest choice for any animal, humans included? Do you eat processed food as 100% of YOUR diet, or do you think fresh foods are better for you? And why are dogs so different?

5) I'd also like to see some information of the shedding times. Is it just after eating? What are the comparative rates after, say, 12 hours? After a bath? Instead of simply banning a raw-fed dog from this important work, why not look at factors that can lessen the risk for ALL dogs?

I would REALLY like to see you address these topics, not just cite scare factors.

Scott Weese - May 20, 2010 2:48 PM

Fair questions. Some comments below.

1) Certainly. Every dog has some harmful bacteria, just like every person. But, studies comparing raw fed versus non raw fed dogs clearly show the raw fed dogs have higher rates of shedding of pathogens of particular concern for high risk people. Presumably, both groups (raw and non-raw) in those studies would have the same likelihood of exposure from feces, and the only difference is the raw diet.

2) That's my oversimplification. The statistical analyses in these papers were excellent, and done by epidemiologists. The absolute numbers and relative rates are variable between studies, but all point to significantly higher rates in raw fed dogs.

3) I can't answer that. There's little evidence indicating a health benefit (actually the only study showing a health benefit is one from my lab...more info in the Raw Diet archives).

4) I think a COOKED diet is the key. Homemade cooked diets can be very good, they just take a proper formulation and lots of time and effort.

5) Finley et al, Can Vet J 2007: 16 dogs were fed a single meal of raw meat that was naturally contaminated (commercial raw meat, tested and found to be positive, then fed to the dogs). 44% shed Salmonella in their feces. None of the control dogs shed Salmonella. They started shedding Salmonella from 1-7 days after eating the contaminated food and shed for up to 11 days. That's a pretty impressive time period to be shedding Salmonella from a single meal.

Again, this debate isn't (or shouldn't be) about the impact of raw feeding on dogs. What we're focusing on here is the potential risks to high risk people in hospitals and similar places. We have an ethical duty to do all we can to reduce the risks while maintaining the positive aspects of animal interaction.

rawfooddoggie - May 21, 2010 3:51 PM

There is data pointing to the shedding of Salmonella and other pathogens in kibble fed dogs. Despite the difference in numbers (?, significant or otherwide, between kibble and raw fed dogs, there is still shedding by the kibble eaters. Seems to me that the genie is out of the bottle now and Delta Society, with this directive, has picked up the shovel to begin digging their own grave. Any infection control officer with half a brain cell is going to pick up on these data. The information that even kibble fed dogs can shed pathogens is damning. Were I in that position, I would say "Pet Assisted Therapy has to be reevaluated in our facility!" The logical conclusion is that pets of any kind, raw or otherwise, represent a perceived risk and the facility is liable should an infection occur (that could be documented genetically!). It is my conclusion that Delta has thrown the baby out with the bathwater and has endangered the entire enterprise of Pet Assisted Therapy. How very sad for those of us who love to volunteer in this venue but have been kicked out for the flimsiest of reasoning!

Scott Weese - May 21, 2010 4:20 PM

That's pretty over the top. Facilities aren't going to ban visitation over this. Any concerns I've heard about banning visitation animals tend to involve pathogens like MRSA, not Salmonella. Salmonella is a concern but the risk can be kept minimal by things like keeping raw fed dogs out of hospitals. Addressing this proactively to reduce risks to patients is the ethical and appropriate thing to do. It's been proven time and again that the 'head in the sand' approach to infection control doesn't work.

MRSAinKIBBLE - May 21, 2010 7:46 PM

Ready, fire, aim: Delta misses with dogmatic decision
By Christie Keith

>

a slideshow from the University of Guelph in Canada, purporting to show how scary raw diets are from a deadly pathogen point of view. I have to wonder if they even looked at their own data, though, because, well… you look at it:

Raw fed dogs (40)

0 for Vanomycin resistant
enterococci
1 for Methicillin resistant S Aureus
5 for Clostridium difficile
19 for Salmonella
31 for E Coli

Dry food fed dogs (156)

1 for Vanomycin resistant enterococci
8 for Methicillin resistant S Aureus
40 for Clostridium difficile
12 for salmonella
32 for E Coli

Sure, the raw fed dogs have higher counts of salmonella and e. coli, and their numbers are lower so that’s even more significant. But MRSA, clostridium, and vancomycin-resistant enterococci are higher in the kibble-fed dogs.

And obviously, perfectly healthy dogs, raw-fed or kibble-fed, can have salmonella and other pathogenic bacteria in their systems.

http://www.petconnection.com/blog/2010/05/21/yet-another-round-in-the-raw-diet-debate/

Scott Weese - May 21, 2010 8:00 PM

Yes, the numbers of MRSA were higher in the non-raw fed group. The number of dogs was also higher. There was no significant difference in MRSA, VRE or C. difficile between groups. There was a statistically significant difference in Salmonella and E. coli shedding. It's cut-and-dry. They certainly looked at, and understood the data.

karl emrich - May 22, 2010 1:03 AM

I have a therapy dog, certified by Valley Humane Society and the Veteran's Administration. BAILEY is also a U.S. Navy "companion dog.
BAILEY is fed a barley/chicken kibble, supplemented with two table spoons of unflavored yogurt.

Is that small amount of yogurt considered RAW food?

Neither the US Navy, Valley Humane Society nor the Vet's Admin. have any issues with his diet.

Scott Weese - May 22, 2010 6:42 AM

Yogurt is fine. It's raw meat and eggs that are the concern, because they are often contaminated with harmful bacteria.

rawfooddoggie - May 22, 2010 7:46 AM

Re MRSA shedding: Whether or not the differences in MRSA were significant is not the point re therapy visiting. The percentages are similar; 5% in kibble fed dogs and 2.5% in raw fed dogs. Shedding is shedding. If MRSA is the concern then kibble fed dogs are also creating a risk. Moreover, I question the statistical validity of tests done on samples of such disparate sizes; e.g. 40 in raw fed vs 156 in kibble fed.
Most people can understand a problem with excluding raw fed dogs from acute care or severely immunocompromised facilities. But schools for reading programs and assisted living facilities-where there are frequently resident dogs who get all manner of food? Please!!! Delta has thrown the baby out with the bath water.

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