Every five years, the Australian and New Zealand Veterinary Associations come together to deliver a combined veterinary conference. This is the largest veterinary conference in the Australasian region, and Dr Renee O’Duhring  attended the PanPac conference in Brisbane in May, 2015. One contentious topic was the presentation on Raw Food Diets by Dr Daniel Chan. Dr Chan works in the Emergency and Critical Care sector of the Royal Veterinary College, and presented data showing that raw fed dogs excrete high levels of MDR (multi-drug resistant) organisms including E coli and Salmonella in their stool.  Dr Chan suggested in his presentation that it was dangerous to recommend raw feeding for companion pets due to the potential human health risk.

This was of particular interest to Dr Renee, as like most Integrative Vets, she has for many years been recommending raw diets for companion pets. This is what Dr Renee has to say in response to Dr Chan’s presentation:

A number of studies have been done that show raw fed companion pets shed a significantly higher number of bacteria in their stool than pets on cooked or processed food diets, and asymptomatic shedding is common (ie., they can be shedding bacteria even though they appear to be healthy).  Some of these organisms are resistant to multiple strains of antibiotics and this certainly is a public health concern.
Dr Chan’s take on this, however, is yet another example of the typical knee-jerk reaction so common in the medical industry, looking to cover up symptoms without determining the root cause.

If raw fed dogs are indeed shedding high levels of MDROs (multi-drug resistant organisms), why are they ingesting these organisms with their natural diet in the first place? Why are the organisms they are ingesting with their food multi-drug resistant? And why aren’t these raw fed pets maintaining gastric acidity levels capable of bactericidal action as happens in nature, so that the bacteria are killed in the stomach and don’t turn up in the stool?

Dr Bruce Symes of Vets’ All Natural advises that (properly) raw fed dogs maintain a gastric pH level of 1.5 or lower, and that this low pH is ‘highly effective at killing bacteria, particularly potentially pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella spp, Clostridia, Campylobacter and E coli.’

So why do these stool samples contain these bacteria which should be killed in the stomach?  Are these raw fed pets eating too much carbohydrate or plant protein? Are they eating a portion of their diet as processed foods? All of these foods will alter the pH levels in the dog’s stomach acid, making it less capable of killing off bacteria.

Why are we blaming the dogs, rather than looking to the source of the problem?

The actual source of the problem of MDRO’s in raw fed dog stool is related to two things: incorrect feeding of dogs, and improper farming and processing of their food sources resulting in high levels of faecal contaminants on raw meat products.

More than half of human-grade meat samples tested in supermarkets in the USA contain faecal contaminants such as E coli, and about half of those harbour at least one bacterium that is resistant to three or more commonly prescribed antibiotics.  Poultry meats were one of the most contaminated samples, but faecal contaminants and MDROs were also found in pork and beef, and there was no significant difference between organic and conventionally farmed produce, or brands or cuts of meat.

According to consumer reports, in the late eighties more than 65 percent of commercial chicken broiler flocks tested positive for Salmonella contamination in Denmark. The country revised their production standards, addressing the root causes of the problem, and prohibited daily doses of low-level antibiotics in animal production. Salmonella contamination declined sharply, with rates less than 5% by 2000. Proactive solutions were implemented throughout the European Union, and in 2010 government data showed that 22 countries met the European target for less than or equal to 1% contamination of two important Salmonella types in their broiler flocks. Sweden has the lowest Salmonella rates of anywhere in the world, and this is no doubt due to their food production policies. The government requires chicken producers to practice good hygiene in hatcheries and farms, prohibits chemical disinfectants and sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics, and requires extensive testing and monitoring. Flocks are tested before entering the slaughterhouse and are destroyed if a bird tests positive. The chickens are tested again post-slaughter and contaminated birds are never sold to consumers.

At the moment, if you are handling raw meat in Australia, for yourself, your family, and/or your pets, it is highly possible that faecal contaminants come as part of the parcel, and cross-contamination in the kitchen is the most common means of infection. You take the meat out of the package, get bacteria on your hands, then touch the handle of your tap, garbage bin, or kitchen cabinet. Once the bacteria have been transferred to these surfaces, they can reside there for hours and sometimes days, remaining a potential source of infection. Children, immunocompromised people and the elderly are most at risk of illness. If you are feeding your pet/s raw foods, particularly in households with higher-risk family members, be sure you are familiar with safe food handling procedures.

The other part of this puzzle has to do with incorrect dietary choices for pets.  If dogs were fed their natural, species-appropriate diet of raw meats, organs and bones with some leafy green herbaceous foods and good sources of fats, but very low starch, their stomach acid levels would likely be strong enough to kill any bacterial pathogen on entry.

Raw feeding is still the most natural dietary choice for their pets, and in order to protect your family from potential cross-contamination choose quality products, feed your pet a correctly balanced, species-appropriate diet, and remain vigilant about safe food handling practices.

The raw feeding companies we recommend include:

  • Complete Pet Company
  • Organic Paws
  • Whoa Nelly!
  • Raw 4 Paws
  • Proudi by Raw Feeders’ Kitchen

We will certainly continue to advocate for raw feeding in our pet populations and recommend supporting companies such as those listed above who are striving to produce a safe and ethical product that pets are designed to eat.