While I hate to initiate another round of emails from raw diet supporters, here are a few of the more common questions that I get about these diets and some answers:
I use frozen raw food. Doesn’t freezing kill harmful microorganisms?
- No. Freezing is an effective way to eliminate most parasites (with an adequately low temperature and adequate time, which varies between parasites). Campylobacter also does not survive freezing well. However, other bacteria, including Salmonella, tolerate freezing quite well. Studies of previously frozen raw diets have found high rates of bacteria like Salmonella.
My dog doesn’t defecate in the hospital, so why are we paying attention to intestinal bacteria?
- Inadvertent exposure to fecal bacteria is common. Most gastrointestinal infections in people are from ingestion of bacteria and viruses from feces (e.g. Salmonella, Clostridium difficile, norovirus). We don’t knowingly ingest feces, but we get exposed to these organisms nonetheless. Fecal bacteria can end up on pets’ haircoats, people’s hands and many surfaces in the general environment, and then wind up in the intestinal tract of a susceptible person.
Is there any way to eliminate Salmonella and other harmful bugs from raw meat?
- Yes. Besides the obvious (cooking), there are a couple options. One is irradition, which is a safe and highly effective way to eliminate bacteria. The main problems are cost and consumer fears of irradiation (which is actually harmless). Another approach is high pressure pasteurization. This process uses high pressure (with a slight increase in temperature) to kill harmful organisms. The effectiveness of this for raw meat hasn’t been clearly determined, but it’s an option, and one company is now doing this for all of their diets.
Why don’t you just go into hospitals, ask nurses whether animals visit and compare infection rates, so you can see if there is a true health risk?
- It would be nice if it was that easy. Firstly, asking nursing staff doesn’t give enough information. You need to know if animals visit, but also if they visited particular patients, and whether they visited before those patients developed infection. Just comparing infection rates between hospitals or wards that allow dogs to visit, and knowing the dietary status of the dogs, is useless. A proper study would require clear documentation of which animals visited which patients (something that is rarely recorded) and whether patients subsequently developed any infections that were not present before visitation (which is not easy to document), while concurrently investigating other possible sources of infection (similarly challenging). Ideally, bacteria causing human infections would be compared to those found in animals to provide stronger evidence of a link. Because the incidence of infections is relatively low, a large number of people would need to be enrolled. There are significant logistical issues, research ethics board issues, problems with the quality and availability of medical records and other things that make this very, very difficult. It needs to be done but it’s not as simple as many people think. If it was easy, it would have been done by now.
Dogs have a short and acidic intestinal tract and are not susceptible to Salmonella.
- This statement appears thousands of times on the internet and there’s absolutely no evidence supporting it. Dogs can and do get salmonellosis. For every email I’ve had talking about how a raw diet has made a big difference in someone’s dog’s health, I get at least one email from an owner or vet whose dog got salmonellosis while eating raw meat (and sometimes people in the house also got sick). A dog that eats Salmonella can shed it in its feces. The bacterium can clearly survive passage through the intestinal tract. Most dogs that ingest Salmonella do not get sick. Some do. Sometimes their owners do as well.
Wild dogs eat raw meat. That’s what they’ve evolved to do.
- Wild dogs also have a much, much shorter lifespan than domestic dogs. It’s obviously not all related to diet, but I don’t want my dog to have the lifespan of a “natural” dog, I want her to have the longer and healthier lifespan of a modern pet dog. Take a look at older cemeteries and see the number of headstones of very young children. Raw milk played a big role in many of those.
- Regardless, the question isn’t about the health of dogs fed raw meat. That’s a completely separate issue. The issue is the risk that raw-fed dogs might pose to the highly compromised people that are found in healthcare facilities. People need to think about the health of those susceptible individuals when they get involved in this debate.