A study has revealed that feeding your pets raw meat could negatively impact both their health and yours.
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Raw meat-based diets (RMBDs) for cats and dogs have become increasingly popular among pet-owners around the world. RMBD believers have claimed that raw meat is a healthier alternative than processed pet food, and that it can help with animals' skin problems and allergies.
However researchers say there's no evidence to support these claims, and a recent study shows raw meat often contains bacteria and parasites that can pass between animals and humans.
Writing for the journal Veterinary Record, Dutch scientists analysed samples from 35 commercial raw meat products across eight brands available in the Netherlands. More than half of all dog owners in the Netherlands feed their pets raw meat for some, if not all, of their diets.
The most concerning finding of the study, released on January 12, was that a substantial amount of the raw meat samples had been contaminated with zoonotic bacteria, which can be transmitted from animals to people.
Some 23 percent of the tested products contained a strain of E coli bacteria that can cause renal failure in humans. Eighty percent of the products contained E coli that is resistant to antibiotics.
More than half of the products contained listeria, a type of bacteria that can cause severe illness. Species of salmonella were found in 20 percent of the products, sarcocystis in 23 percent and Toxoplasma gondii in 6 percent.
Many people freeze meat before thawing it and giving it to their pets, which can render parasites harmless - but not bacteria.
The researchers say the data shows that commercial RMBDs are likely to contain "a variety of zoonotic bacterial and parasitic pathogens".
"Cats and dogs that eat raw meat diets are also more likely to become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria than animals on conventional diets, which could pose a serious risk to both animal health and public health."
They say humans can be infected with zoonotic bacteria by making direct contact with the contaminated meat or a pet who has been infected, or by simply touching surfaces that have come into contact with contaminated meat.
Eating human food that has been cross-contaminated with infected meat can also spread the pathogens to people.
The researchers say pet owners need to be informed about the risks of feeding their cats or dogs RMBDs, and that they should be educated about food hygiene to minimise the risks of contaminating raw meat with bacteria.