This blog examines and debunks some common challenges to raw feeding and concludes that with sensible hygiene precautions, raw feeding is no more hazardous than feeding any other type of dog and cat food, and enhances the health and wellbeing of the animals fed this way.

Is botulism a concern?
A recent article on the Hill’s Pet Nutrition website entitled Facial Paralysis in Dogs: Is Your Pup Looking Droopy” (dated 13th June 2019) has caused some concerns among dog owners. This article stated that facial paralysis could be caused by toxins, such as botulism, from raw meat.

As many CAM4animals supporters are also raw feeders, we were interested in understanding whether raw feeding might put our dogs, cats, and us, at risk. So, while we are not veterinarians or canine research scientists, a very brief follow up on the topic, which included consultation with the Raw Feeding Veterinary Society, showed that the Hill’s article is inaccurate and misleading. The following points are worth noting:

1. The Hill’s article misquotes the article by Wag by stating that botulism can be caught from eating raw meat. The Wag article does NOT say this. The actual wording is:

Botulism is caused by consuming a toxin that is produced by Clostridium botulinum. The organism multiplies quickly in the decomposing tissue of deceased animals, as well as sometimes in plant material.  When your dog eats something with the toxin, the toxin can cause paralysis. When a dog suffers from botulism, it is usually due to ingesting the decomposing tissue of a deceased animal.” Read more here.

2. Citing Wag as a quotable source seems strange when it is purely a US dog walking service and does not purport to be a veterinarian advice site. The advice itself has no author, date or references included.

3. According to Vetstream Limited (a WSAVA* Educational partner), botulism is found in rotting meat, NOT fresh meat, and that the most common source of botulism transmission is the: “Ingestion of preformed toxin from carcasses or rotting vegetation in contaminated food or water”.

4. Reputable raw food suppliers use human grade meat and process it according to very strict guidelines (see below) which are overseen by DEFRA** in the UK.

5. Good food hygiene is of the utmost importance whether feeding raw, processed or home cooked food, for dogs or ourselves.

6. Botulism in dogs is very rare.   

It would appear in this instance that Hills, a manufacturer of highly processed dog foods, has produced a poorly researched article that has caused unnecessary concerns for some pet owners.

The history of raw feeding
Feeding dogs on bones and leftovers was the norm for past generations of dog owners, but as processed dog food became available, this common sense healthy way to feed dogs fell by the wayside. The benefits of raw feeding were rediscovered by an Australian vet, Ian Billinghurst, and is now supported by an increasing number of vets who see the widespread benefits of raw feeding in the general health and wellbeing of dogs and cats.

The Raw Feeding Veterinary Society, RFVS
The RFVS formed in response to this increase in popularity and aims to optimise all aspects of raw feeding.

The RFVS position statement includes the following: “The RFVS recognises that a pet food should meet the minimum nutritional needs of a pet as a starting point. The food must be safe for the animal being fed, and for the pet owner handling the pet food.”

Based on evidence from the wider nutritional literature, the RFVS defines the gold standard diet for pets as: “The gold standard diet is as close to the evolutionary diet of dogs and cats as is practically possible, is made from fresh frozen raw meaty bones, meats, organ meats, fruits and vegetables, minimally processed by mincing and freezing. The diet contains no added synthetic supplements, additives or preservatives.”

If you have any questions or concerns regarding raw feeding, or would like more up to date information and guidance please contact the RFVS direct.

It is also worth reading the information on the Raw Feeding Veterinary Society website which explains the science behind raw feeding. 

For more information read Dr Billinghurst’s books Give Your Dog a Bone and Grow Your Pups with Bones.

Other arguments against raw feeding
As can be seen from the RFVS information, there are lots of other arguments surrounding raw feeding including:

  • Dogs aren’t wolves
  • Raw food is home to (dangerous) salmonella (see below)
  • Raw food contains dangerous parasites
  • Raw fed dogs are at risk from neospora
  • Raw fed dogs are at risk of renal failure
  • Raw fed dogs are at risk of choking on bones
  • Raw food is covered in bacteria

All these issues are outlined in a great article by a leading raw dog food supplier, Honeys Real Dog Food.***

Let’s look at two of them against raw feeding very briefly:

Dogs and wolves are the same species. The digestive system of a Chihuahua and the digestive system of a wolf are identical in everything but scale. Dogs may have been eating a certain amount of cooked food for the last 8,000–20,000 years, but palaeontologists believe that it takes at least 100,000 years to adapt to a new diet.

Raw food and bacteria
Raw food is highly regulated with regard to salmonella. In effect, there is zero tolerance to salmonella in EU legislation and DEFRA registered raw food manufacturers must send samples for independent testing. This is stricter than legislation for raw materials intended for human consumption. Raw materials must also be traceable.

In many respects, it could be said that raw feeding is safer from a bacteriological point of view than other types of feeding, as people DO take sensible hygiene precautions, whereas with kibble, there have been multiple recalls and cases of salmonella, for example.

Informed choice
CAM4animals believes in the importance of informed choice with regard to animal care and that animal owners should do their own research as part of this approach. Suitably informed, they should then be free to choose a diet appropriate for their animal and their own lifestyle.

Of course, the up-to-date accuracy of your source is vital whichever diet type is considered, but it should be noted that this may be difficult with regard to some aspects given that Hill’s, Nestle (Purina), Mars, and Royal Canine all support and fund the WSAVA which provides general dietary guidelines. However, as mentioned above, there are an increasing number of vets who recommend a raw diet reflecting the current upsurge in raw feeding as the overall benefits are recognised.

With sensible hygiene precautions, raw feeding is no more hazardous than feeding any other type of dog food and brings many benefits.

One author neatly summarised the benefits of a raw fed approach by stating: “In this era of evidence-based medicine, the current and emerging science supports the feeding of a raw prey-based, species appropriate diet, to domesticated carnivores for optimal health and wellbeing.”

At the end of the day, it is down to customer choice. CAM4animals supporters wish to be able to access up to date, accurate information and make their own decisions.

* WSAVA World Small Animal Veterinary Association
** DEFRA Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (UK)
***There are many reputable raw feeding companies which provide similar information.