Share on Pinterest
Bacteria found in raw food has the potential to make both animals and their owners sick. Getty Images

If you’re following the latest health trends — eating raw, paleo, and gluten-free — you might be inclined to think your dog should, too.

Dogs are descended from carnivorous wolves after all. They should be eating raw meat, not these mass-produced grain pellets, right?

Not exactly.

So-called raw meat diets for dogs, which go by acronyms like B.A.R.F. (Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods) or R.A.P. (Raw Animal Products), have become increasingly popular in recent years.

These diets can be made at home from meat scraps, bones, and veggies but are more commonly purchased from retailers.

The diet consists of meat, bones, organs, veggies, and occasionally more exotic elements like fruits, seeds, and nuts.

That may sound pretty healthy, except for one problem.

Raw meat diets are typically frozen before sale, not treated with heat or pasteurized to kill bacteria.

In a new study published in the journal Vet Record, researchers found that raw meat diets contained numerous types of bacteria that can be dangerous to both humans and pets, including Salmonella.

Researchers in Europe tested 60 different packages of raw meat diet food for dogs from 10 different manufacturers and found potentially harmful bacteria in every single one.

Enterobacteriaceae, known to cause diarrhea and intestinal distress, are commonly an indicator of fecal contamination. They were found in all 60 samples.

More than half of the samples exceeded the Enterobacteriaceae safety standards set by EU regulations.

Researchers also discovered Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Clostridium perfringens in the samples.

Campylobacter was found in 5 percent of the samples. It’s one of the most common causes of food poisoning in the United States.

Salmonella species were present in 7 percent. The bacteria are responsible for around 23,000 hospitalizations in the United States each year.

Unlike other bacteria found in the samples, such as Enterobacteriaceae, which have a threshold for safety, Salmonella has a zero-tolerance policy according to EU regulators. This means that if it’s found in food — for animals or humans — it can’t be used.

C. perfringens, another indicator of fecal contamination, was found in 30 percent of the samples, with two of them exceeding the safety threshold.

“This and several other peer-reviewed studies have shown raw and undercooked animal-source protein can contain pathogens that are harmful to animal and human health, particularly the very young, the elderly, and immunocompromised individuals,” said Michael San Filippo, MLIS, a spokesperson for the American Veterinary Medical Association who wasn’t affiliated with the study.

“The AVMA has a policy advising against the feeding of raw or undercooked animal-source protein in dog and cat diets,” he added.

The bacteria found in the study have the potential to make both animals and their owners sick, especially if you let your dog give you the occasional wet kiss on the face.

The study authors conclude that not only do the bacteria and juices from the meat have the potential to splash around during mealtimes, but that dog “kisses” and other close contact are a great opportunity for the transfer of pathogenic bacteria.

“The results obtained in this study show that it is highly important to handle [raw meat diets] carefully and to maintain good hygiene due to the potential risks these feeds pose to human and animal health,” Ingrid Hansson, DVM, one of the study authors and a senior lecturer in bacteriology in veterinary medicine at Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, told Healthline.

The same safety procedures you practice in your kitchen around meat, fish, and poultry should be exercised just as diligently when handling raw food for dogs.

That includes taking precautions like the following:

  • Keep raw meat frozen until use.
  • Handle raw dog food in a separate area away from human food.
  • Wash and sanitize surfaces and dishes after use.
  • Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and warm water after handling raw dog food.

Bacterial infections can be serious. For many, including dogs, they could manifest as stomach or digestive problems. But they can be harmful and even fatal for the elderly, young children, and the immunocompromised, who are more susceptible to infections.

While the authors don’t say dog owners shouldn’t feed their pets a raw meat diet, they do recommend owners avoid these diets in households with any of these high-risk groups.

The AVMA, on the other hand, advise pet owners to pass on “feeding inadequately treated animal-source protein to cats and dogs.”

Instead they advise owners to provide fresh, clean, nutritionally balanced and commercially prepared or home-cooked food for their pets.

“No matter what you feed your pet, you should wash your hands after feeding cats and dogs, providing treats, cleaning pet dishes, and disposing of uneaten food,” San Filippo said.

And if you’re still inclined to feed your dog anything other than kibble, make sure to check out Healthline’s handy guide to all the human foods you should or shouldn’t give to your pet.