AVMA's Position on Raw Food Diets for Pets

AVMA's Position on Raw Food Diets for Pets

Concerning raw protein pet food diets - I should have known that even by posting general comments/concerns from the American Animal Hospital Association on the topic of raw food on my blog, I would receive tons of mail.

I am glad people take what we feed our pet seriously. But I don't understand the passion embedded in this issue....I swear, it's easier to discuss religion or politics.

My view on all things is pretty much where the science goes. In this instance, the science is pretty clear. There are safety concerns relating raw protein pet food diets.

But please don't take my word for it.

The American Veterinary Medical Association has an extremely well documented position paper, Raw or Undercooked Animal Source Protein in Dog and Cat Diets.

The AVMA also offers a comprehensive (and as always - science based) list of common questions/answers concerning raw diets. Some of the questions are very frank. At least they are asked, even if cynics don't 'buy' the answers. I appreciate the candor. And the science-based information. Here are a few examples (lifted from their site):

Q:  Does the AVMA policy apply to all raw food fed to pets, or only a certain type?

A:  It only addresses raw or undercooked animal-source protein, which includes meat or products from chickens (including eggs), turkeys, cows, pigs, sheep, fish, deer, buffalo, or other animal sources.  It also includes raw, unpasteurized eggs and milk. And more specifically, it addresses the need for eliminating pathogens from these diets if they are to be fed to pets.

 

Q:  How did the AVMA policy come about?

A:  The Delta Society (now Pet Partners) contacted our Animal Welfare Division and inquired as to whether or not the AVMA had a policy addressing raw feeding, primarily due to concerns about therapy animals being fed raw diets. At the time, we did not have a policy on the subject. Pet Partners did not request that AVMA develop a policy, and did not suggest a specific policy. The Animal Welfare Division staff contacted the AVMA Council on Public Health and Regulatory Veterinary Medicine (CPHRVM) and notified them of the inquiry. The CPHRVM discussed the matter and felt that the AVMA should have a science-based policy addressing the public health risks of raw food.

 

Q: What influence did the pet food industry have on the AVMA’s policy?

A:  None. Neither commercial nor raw diet manufacturers were contacted during development of this policy because it was based on public health risk, and not on nutritional comparisons, health benefits, or economic factors. None of the pet food companies were aware that a policy was being developed.

 

Q:  What is your response to allegations that the AVMA is “in the pockets” of the pet food industry?

A:  These allegations are false. We are a science-based organization, and this policy is based on scientific research. Veterinarians are pet owners too. We love our animals and have the experience and training to make educated decisions about what to feed our own pets. Veterinarians choose and recommend diets based on what is best for the animal – e.g., it is medically appropriate and nutritionally balanced to meet that pet’s need. Many veterinarians feed commercial diets, and veterinarians are free to make their own choices when it comes to feeding their pets.   Contrary to the internet rumors that have been propagated, none of our Executive Board or House of Delegates members are employed by pet food companies. AVMA Convention Sponsorship provides financial support for programs and activities that are designed to enhance the attendees’ overall experience through unique educational programs, networking events and entertainment options.   AVMA Convention Sponsorship provides visibility and engagement with attendees for the sponsor, as well as an opportunity to support important educational initiatives.  AVMA Convention attendees are invited to attend and participate in sponsored events without any obligation to promote, purchase or sell the sponsor’s product or services.   The development of AVMA policy is independent of sponsorship. This is critically important to us because we are expected to be objective, science-based experts on animal health and welfare topics. Sponsorship is necessary to allow us to provide experiences for our members, but we do not allow sponsorships or sponsors to drive AVMA policy.   Veterinarians are independent thinkers, and are free to promote and sell the products they feel will serve their patients’ and clients’ needs. We encourage you to have an open discussion with your veterinarian about your pet’s nutritional needs, and work with them to find the optimal diet for your pet.

 

Q:  Why does the policy only address raw protein diets, and not other foods?

A:  The Council on Public Health and Regulatory Veterinary Medicine (CPHRVM) felt that the science supported a policy that specifically addressed the public health risks associated with raw/undercooked animal-source protein that hasn’t been adequately treated to remove pathogens. At a future meeting, the CPHRVM will discuss the pet food recalls and the hazards associated with commercial pet foods to see if a policy is needed. If the CPHRVM or another council or committee determines that other policies addressing pet foods are indicated, they will be developed separately.   Note that with this policy we aren’t encouraging commercial diets, we’re encouraging “commercially prepared or home-cooked food” (as stated in the policy). As long as it isn’t raw or undercooked and doesn’t contain pathogens, we’re not concerned with what it is or where it came from. Regardless of what you feed your pet, the diet should be free of pathogens that can sicken you, your pet and your family. Just like you, we also want pets’ diets to be nutritionally balanced.  We support the FDA’s efforts to ensure that pet foods and treats of all types are safe and healthy for pets.

 

Q:  What are the benefits of raw diets, and how do they compare with commercially processed kibble diets?

A: There are many anecdotal reports of benefits associated with feeding raw food – including easier weight management; reduced dental disease; healthier coat and skin; elimination of allergies; improved overall health and immunity; and more – but there is no scientific evidence to support these claims. Raw food advocates also contend that the diet more closely resembles what dogs’ and cats’ ancestors ate, but this does not account for the evolutionary, biological and dietary changes that have accompanied domestication to produce the pet dogs and cats that currently share our lives. According to the Pet Food Institute raw pet foods comprise approximately less than 1% of the pet food market.   Commercially processed canned or kibble foods are formulated to meet dogs’ and cats’ nutritional needs for proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. They are convenient, cost less than raw or homemade diets, and are readily available in most grocery stores, pet stores and “big box” stores. These pet foods comprise the majority of the pet food market. Commercial foods are nutritionally balanced and they undergo a process of quality control/ inspection that is meant to catch any contaminants or pathogens before they affect pets or people.   At this time, there are no scientific studies comparing the health benefits of raw and commercially prepared foods. The decision to feed one diet or another is a personal decision made by the pet owner.

 

Q:  What are the risks of raw diets, and how do they compare with commercially processed kibble diets?

A:  It’s common knowledge that raw meat is likely to be contaminated with bacteria; it’s not sterile by any means. Even USDA-inspected, “human grade” meat is not free of bacterial contamination. Some of the commonly-known pathogens that can be present in meat include Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter. Other pathogens that may contaminate raw meat include Toxoplasma gondii (the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis), Cryptosporidium, Echinococcus, Clostridium, Neospora and Sarcocystis  The same applies to raw meat fed to pets. If the raw food isn’t adequately treated to eliminate pathogens, you could be feeding your pet potentially harmful pathogens that could cause illness in your pets and/or your family.   The biggest difference is that raw meat is cooked (which kills the bacteria) before it is fed to your family, but the meat is not cooked prior to being fed to a raw-fed pet. When you feed meat to your family, precautions should be taken to store, handle and prepare the meat in order to prevent foodborne illness. Therefore, your family’s risk of infection with these bacteria is low when the appropriate precautions are taken, but the risk of your pet being exposed to and infected with the bacteria is higher because the food isn’t cooked to kill the bacteria. Scientific studies have confirmed that pets fed raw diets contaminated with Salmonella can become Salmonella carriers; this means that they don’t develop any illness, but the Salmonellabacteria are shed in the pet’s feces (stool) and can contaminate the environment and potentially infect people with the bacteria. For example:

  • Salmonella has caused illness in dogs fed raw diets.5
  • Salmonella has been found in the stool of sled dogs and racing greyhounds fed raw diets.6-8
  • An outbreak of Salmonella associated with raw feeding caused illness in 27 puppies from 8 litters at a Greyhound breeding facility. Ten of the affected puppies (37%) died. Salmonella was cultured from the raw diet and the environment. Salmonella was cultured from 57 of 61 (93%) stool samples.9
  • Salmonella organisms were isolated from 8 of 10 samples (80%) of homemade raw diets. The bacteria were also found in the stool of 3 of 10 dogs fed homemade raw diets, but in none that were fed commercial diets. While 3/10 may seem like a low number, actual number infected   may be significantly higher. It is well known that Salmonella is shed intermittently, therefore others may have been infected but not shedding at the time the stool samples were tested.10
  • Five of 7 dogs shed Salmonella after consuming a raw diet, and the type of Salmonella was identical to that cultured from the raw food. Healthy dogs became infected with Salmonella after a single meal.11
  • Salmonella was recovered from the stool of 6 of 42 dogs (14.3%) fed raw meat, versus 0 of 49 dogs that were not on raw meat diets.
  • Salmonella cultured from the gut and lungs of two cats that died from salmonellosis was identical to the Salmonella cultured from the raw diet they were fed.

In a 1999 study indoor-only cats fed raw meat in addition to a home-cooked or commercial diet were significantly more likely (19.1% vs. 2.2%) to be positive for antibodies to Toxoplasma gondii (indicating exposure and infection); outdoor cats fed raw meat were almost twice as likely to test positive for antibodies to T. gondii (30.3% vs 18.4%) than those fed only home-cooked or commercial diets. Another study in 2008 determined that cats fed raw or undercooked viscera (organs) or meat were more than twice as likely (53.5% vs 22.9%) to be antibody-positive for T. gondii.   In addition, some raw diets may not be nutritionally balanced for pets. This can result in deficiencies or imbalances, particularly of vitamins and minerals, that can be harmful.16 This can be particularly problematic in puppies and kittens, because calcium/phosphorus imbalances can lead to bone deformities and growth problems. If you choose to feed raw foods, consult with a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist to develop a diet that meets your pet’s nutritional needs. The high protein levels in raw meat-based diets can be harmful to pets with liver or kidney disease.   Bones or bone fragments in some raw diets can result in intestinal obstruction or perforation, gastroenteritis and fractured teeth.16   Salmonella has been cultured from raw diets in several studies,8 underscoring the need to adequately treat the diets to eliminate pathogens. In contrast, commercially prepared diets – kibble or canned – are considered adulterated and unfit for consumption if they test positive for bacteria.

 

Q:  Have cases of human illness been associated with raw food diets?

A:  To date, there have been no reports of human illness associated with raw food diets. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t occur; it could mean that illnesses have occurred but the link to the pet’s raw diet wasn’t made.  In addition, if the pet is eating the same food the humans are eating (but raw instead of cooked), tracing the origin back to the pet’s raw food could be very difficult. Keep in mind, too, that most cases of foodborne illness are never reported because they are usually mild and untreated. However, if someone from a high-risk group (very young, old, and/or immuno-compromised) is exposed, the resulting illness is more severe and could even be fatal. Q:  Have cases of human illness been associated with commercially processed kibble diets?A:  Yes, there have been cases of human salmonellosis associated with commercially prepared diets.

  • From 2006-2008, there was a multistate outbreak of Salmonella enterica serotype Schwarzengrund infections in humans. A total of 79 cases from 21 states were reported. The source of infection was identified as dry dog food produced at a manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania. This investigation was the first to identify contaminated dry dog food as a source of human Salmonella infections
  • In spring 2012, an outbreak of Salmonella Infantis was traced to a Diamond Foods production facility in Gaston, SC. A total of 49 individuals (47 individuals in 20 states and two individuals in Canada) were infected with the outbreak strain. Seventeen brands representing >30,000 tons of dry dog and cat food produced at the facility were recalled as a result of the outbreak.

There have also been human illnesses associated with “natural” animal by-product pet treats, such as pig ears and dehydrated/dried beef and fish.

  • In 1999, contaminated pig ear pet treats were confirmed as the source of an outbreak of human S. Infantis in several provinces in Canada.19
  • In 2002, contaminated pet treats imported from Texas were associated with human S. Newport infections in Calgary, Alberta.20
  • In 2004-2005, contact with Salmonella-contaminated pet treats of beef and seafood origin resulted in nine culture-confirmed human Salmonella Thompson infections in western Canada and the state of Washington. This was the first outbreak associated with pet treats in the United States.

Q:  Why haven’t raw foods been recalled due to Salmonella or other bacteria?

A:  Bacteria are expected to be present in raw meat, so the presence of Salmonella or other bacteria in raw diets does not trigger the same regulatory process that applies to commercially made canned or kibble pet foods.   That said, we are aware of a recall of raw food. In May 2011, Primal Pet Foods recalled their Feline Chicken & Salmon formula due to contamination with Salmonella.

Again, click HERE for the entire AVMA document, including all the citations.

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  • I converted to Raw for my dog Teddy years ago. His teeth and breath were terrible when I fed him commercial food and within a week of going Raw he has been fine; no daily tooth brushings or expensive traumatic cleanings since. Now we have 2 dogs and 4 cats. The cats prefer commercial pet food but the dogs love Raw and have thrived on it. Cats and dogs are carnivores: they have sharp teeth designed for pulling meat and skin off of bones. Humans and cows have blunt teeth designed for eating vegetation (Actually I would be a vegetarian if I weren't so darn lazy). Raw may not be for every pet but just try it--you can always go back to commercial pet food. Plus there is 0% chance Raw won't poison your pet with a melamine additive. And after that scandal now we have the Waggin' Train brand dog treats (which both dogs loved) accused of killing dogs. Google it. I highly recommend everyone read the book "Raw Meaty Bones" by Dr. Tom Lonsdale, http://www.rawmeatybones.com

  • That's is the think about generalizing your circumstances - others have cats who prefer and dogs who don't. Dogs, by the way, are not carnivores any more than we are. They are omnivores. There are safety issues is you read the info here. And the CDC - not involved politically in any way with pet food companies - offers severe concerns advising against it. I don't care what Dr. Tom says....he's one author where MANY scientific papers say otherwise.

    By the way, I realize anecdotal reports of many pets doing better on raw diets....but then many don't.....As for melamine, maybe, but then you need to stop buy most of your food, and likely stop taking vitamins, and stop buying children toys....the list is long (arguably way too long) of what we get from China. That was not a pet food issue, but a criminal event in China. Even in foods (for people or pets) manufactured in the U.S., ingredients in those foods are often sourced from China. That is the problem, the lack of control there.

  • In reply to Steve Dale:

    As told to me by my holistic vet: "Cats are obligate carnivores and should not have grains at all;dogs have the teeth and digestive system of a carnivore, but have adapted to what we feed them even though they don't digest it as easily."
    My dogs do well on grain-free kibble and the occasional raw lamb leg bone.
    Feeding raw meat is not a new idea; I grew up in a rural area and at least 50 years ago my uncle regularly fed his hunting dogs raw bones,vegetable scraps,ground beef,eggs...what is now called "people food". Those dogs were healthy, flea-free, and lived very long healthy lives. Luckily he did not have to worry about where the food came from - it was all locally produced and clean. Not the case today.

  • I am glad the AVMA came out with a position statement regarding raw foods. Now I am waiting for a position statement with regards to how to choose a dog trainer and behavior specialist, to rid the world of aversive, punitive, coercive, Cesar Millan’s style, force, and punishment based “Traditional trainers”. I am sure this wont win me any fans but it has to be said. Russell Hartstein CPDT dog training in Miami

  • 'Commercial' (i.e., cooked, baked, extruded,...) pet foods are often recalled due to microbial contamination. We seem to forget this in this and similar discussions.

    Why isn't it recommended to cook/boil,... everything? Does anybody remember the microbial contamination of (raw) spinach, cantaloupe, tomatoes, etc?

    As far as we could learn from our more 'evolved,' i.e., holistic vets, 'commercial' pet food companies heavily push their products in vet schools and the basic nutritional curriculum there is disappointing. They also think that the tests used for determining the recommended nutrient levels are poorly designed.

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    Steve, first of all I'm completely with you about the volatile nature of this issue, it does seem easier at times to discuss politics or religion.

    This is a review of the scientific literature that the AVMA proposed in support of their policy. Peer-review has fallen a long way and varies significantly from journal to journal and not every organization takes the process as seriously as it should. The AVMA is using some extremely poor studies to push this policy, which even the House of Delegates voted was over the top and amended it. There is evidence that more studies need to be done, however nothing the AVMA has presented even resembles conclusive evidence.

    http://www.examiner.com/article/a-review-of-the-avma-s-proposed-policy-against-raw-food

    I'm not, nor is the author of this review (James K. Russell, Ph.D.), suggesting that raw food is the messiah of pet health, in fact the author doesn't even feed raw food to his own dogs, however this policy oversteps what is supported scientifically in a very peculiar way which has led many to begin singing conspiracy theories, especially in the light of the incredible volume of owner reports regarding the health benefits they see in their pets.

    Regarding the AVMA Policy on Raw or Undercooked Animal-Source Protein in Cat and Dog Diets (by James K. Russell, Ph. D.)

    "Declarative policies should not close the door on practices without good evidence solely because they are relatively unfamiliar. It is not constructive to indiscriminately cite parades of bacteriological and parasiticological horrors to a public audience ill-prepared to evaluate them. For instance, one study cited in support of the AVMA policy described essentially every known pathogen of dogs, without any assessment of clinical or for that matter canine relevance.[x] Describing the risk of feeding everything from muskrat to walrus to pets is really more confusing than helpful, and discussion of anthrax, botulism and tuberculosis is little short of alarmist.

    Good studies of practical raw meat diets representative of use by pet owners, prepared and presented with good, well-documented methods and including appropriate controls remain to be done. It is too early, on the basis of present evidence, to conclude that raw food diets properly handled are particularly risky, and to be fair it is too early to conclude that they are not. Good studies are called for."

    I hope you take a few minutes to read the rest of the review and can take away a more neutral voice about what we know and what we still need to find out. The AVMA has really gone beyond the science with this issue.

    http://www.examiner.com/article/a-review-of-the-avma-s-proposed-policy-against-raw-food

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