Raw pet food trend risks E.coli and Salmonella in owners

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Overgaauw and his colleagues analyzed 35 commercial frozen raw meat diet products for pets that are widely available in the Netherlands and found E. coli bacteria in eight products (23 percent), listeria bacteria in 15 products (43 percent), and traces of salmonella in seven products (20 percent). Humans can get sick from bacteria and parasites lurking in raw-meat products, too.

Warnings and handling instructions should also be included on product labels and/or packages, they advise. But when we feed our pets raw meat, that bacteria thrives. The meat carries bacteria that can be unsafe to both animals and humans.

By feeding this diet to pets, owners are not only risking the health of the animals but also their own health.

Those risks don't just apply to the pets themselves, says Paul Overgaauw, a veterinarian and visiting researcher at Utrecht University.

Pet owners and other household members can come into contact with antibiotic-resistant bacteria in several ways, including direct contact with the food or with an infected pet, through contact with contaminated household surfaces, or by eating cross-contaminated human food.

A growing trend has seen pet owners plump for products such as meat, bones and organs which can be bought frozen and then thawed before being fed to dogs and cats.

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Overgaauw noted that while the parasites are rendered harmless by freezing, bacteria are not, and that both posed a risk in home-prepared raw meat diets - not only to the pet but owners as well, either directly, as a result of cross-contamination of human food, or through exposure to pathogens shed by the animals. Even more worrisome, E. coli 0157-a particularly unsafe strain now responsible for a lettuce-based outbreak in North America-was found in 23% of the samples.

Two potentially harmful parasites-Sarcocystis cruzi and Toxoplasma gondii-were also detected in 11% and 6% of the products.

Commercial dry or canned pet foods are safer because the composition of the food is complete and optimally balanced in terms of nutrients, he said.

Among the ideas fuelling the movement is that these diets are more "natural" for pets, avoid problems of additives or contamination in processed food, and can help to tackle issues like skin problems and allergies.

This is important, researchers say, because the bacteria and parasitic pathogens found in the food may possibly be a source of infection in pets, which may also become a risk for humans.

Caroline Kisko, the organisation's secretary, said: "We would recommend that dog owners speak to their vet about which option might be best for their individual dog, particularly if they have concerns over a product".

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