Avian flu caused an uptick in discussion about health risks associated with feeding dogs and cats raw meat, based on the possible (and still pretty tenuous) link between raw poultry and a large number of H5N1 infections in cats in Poland.
The link between raw diets and flu infections is new, and something we need to look at more, but since common things occur commonly, we need to also pay attention to the traditional concerns with raw diets. A recent report from Quebec about multidrug-resistant Salmonella infections in people highlights one of the major human health risks of raw pet foods. Salmonella contamination of raw diets is common, and this bacterium can cause disease in both people and animals.
The report was based on an investigation of 15 human infections with a multidrug-resistant Salmonella enterica serotype 4,,12:i:- (not all Salmonella serotypes have specific – or pronouncible – names).
- The 15 infections were identified by 10 different health regions in Quebec between July 2020 and December 2022. They then found 2 more cases in Dec 2022.
- As is typical, kids bore the brunt of the problem. Nine of cases were in kids less than two years of age.
- The bacterium was resistant to a variety of antibiotics, including ampicillin, cefotaxime, ceftriaxone and trimethoprim sulfa, and resistant or of intermediate susceptibility to fluoroquinolones and azithromycin. That’s pretty concerning, because if you end up in hospital with salmonellosis, those are all the typical go-to drugs for initial treatment. If someone is seriously ill with Salmonella and is started on one of those drugs pending culture results, the treatment won’t work and they’ll get sicker or potentially develop more complications before an effective treatment is identified.
As is typical, when the investigation started, they asked questions about the common sources of Salmonella. Initial results indicated some patients had contact with cattle farms and some with raw pet foods. This led to a more detailed investigation, and then they found that 14 of 17 people had contact with raw pet foods. The same bacterium was also found in 2 dogs that were fed these raw diets, further supporting the link to pet food.
The report also briefly mentions 10 cases in Ontario with the same strain, at least 2 of which had contact with raw diets.
This doesn’t really change anything, since we already know that animal and human infections occur from exposure to raw animal-based pet diets. It’s important information to get out, though, because there is a still a general lack of awareness of these risks and lots of misinformation. Some manufacturers take steps to reduce (not eliminate) the risk of bacterial contamination in their raw diets (mainly high pressure pasteurization). Some try to explain the risks and how to reduce them (if you’re going to feed a raw diet, use those companies). Some do nothing, and worst of all some downplay the risks and even provide false information.
My typical take home messages for people thinking about feeding raw diets are:
- There is risk to people and animals.
- The risk can be reduced a lot with common sense, but not eliminated.
- The risk is probably low with common sense and in a low risk household.
- The risk is unacceptably high in households with high risk people (e.g. young kids, elderly, pregnant, immunocompromised individuals) and high risk dogs (similar groups).
- If you want to feed a raw diet, use some basic precautions to reduce the risks. We have more on that in our Raw Meat Infosheet available on the Worms & Germs Resources – Pets page.