Feeding Pets a Raw-Meat Diet Can Be Dangerous for Them—and for You

Veterinarians are warning people about the potential risks of feeding dogs and cats raw meat–based diets—not just for the pets, but for their human owners, as well. In a new analysis of 35 commercial raw dog and cat foods, researchers found that 86% of products contained potentially dangerous bacteria.

The new study, published in the BMJ’s Vet Record, looked at dog and cat food commercially available in the Netherlands. In an email, the study authors said that raw-meat pet foods for sale in the United States are “without a doubt similar” to those tested in the study.

Raw meat–based pet-food diets (sometimes referred to as RMBDs) have become increasingly popular around the world, the study authors wrote in their paper. “Yet claims of health benefits are not backed by evidence,” they wrote, “and several studies have reported possible risks.”

Those risks don’t just apply to the pets themselves, says Paul Overgaauw, a veterinarian and visiting researcher at Utrecht University. Humans can get sick from bacteria and parasites lurking in raw-meat products, too. In fact, humans may face higher risks than their pets, who can be carriers and shedders of these pathogens even when they don’t become sick themselves.

Most reports of infections being transmitted from pets to owners have been anecdotal, says Overgaauw. “But I can imagine that cross-contamination in the kitchen during preparation of the food, and cleaning of the food bowls—as well as direct contact with infected animals—are the highest risks,” he says. Humans may also be exposed to harmful pathogens when cleaning up an infected animal’s waste or when an infected animal licks its owner’s face or hands.

To find out how real these risks are, Overgaauw and his colleagues analyzed samples of 35 frozen pet-food products from eight different brands, all of which are available at pet shops and supermarkets in the Netherlands. The foods contained raw meat, bones, and animal by-products from…

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