Are Raw Meat and Dairy Products Safe?
By Christie Keith
I got a letter from a member saying that, after posting to a discussion list that she feeds raw meat to her pets, she was warned in the direst of terms about risks such as salmonella, e. coli, and many more.
This challenge is very familiar to those of us who feed raw meat and dairy products to our carnivorous pets. Most vets draw back in horror, as do a vast majority of pet-owners and even butchers.
But those pathogens are not an intrinsic, innate part of meat, eggs, or dairy products. They are contaminants, mostly caused by inhumane and highly industrialized livestock producing practices. Hens live in wire cages, several to a cage and one on top of the other, so that the droppings and urine of the hens drip all over the hens below, and the eggs. Cattle are crammed into small feedlots, stuffed on grains laden with antibiotics, and sprayed with pesticides to kill the flies that swarm all around the filthy stockyards. Chickens are fed a diet of processed grains, animal by-products, and antibiotics.
Dogs and cats are carnivores, and evolved eating raw meat. Their systems can handle a certain amount of bacteria; indeed, they were designed for it. But the bacterial load of most commercial foods is so high, many carnivorous animals would indeed sicken if they ate them raw. The rationale of cooking is, in short, to kill these contaminants.
So how do we dare to suggest that it's not just safe to feed raw meat and dairy products to our dogs and cats, but beneficial?
This is a multi-dimensional issue. First of all, I never feed my animals commercially raised foods. This makes a huge difference, as bacterial counts are much lower when the animals are allowed to get out, move around, spread their droppings and urine around, and let fresh air and sunlight do their work of disinfecting. The animals are also healthier themselves, requiring fewer drugs. (Most free-range meats are raised without any drugs or hormones; if the producer is not willing to state that in writing, I'd look elsewhere for a supplier. Also, in many states, the term "free range" is not regulated or defined by law. Be sure and investigate the practices of the grower, and make sure the animals actually are getting the benefits of ranging.)
In addition, our dogs and cats evolved eating raw meat, and the consumption of cooked flesh is totally and completely unnatural for them. They do not get optimum nutrition from it, it is not well digested by them, and it not what their organs were designed to process. Eating a raw diet, based on the evolutionary diet of the dog or cat, will make the animal healthier. This healthier animal will be able to handle a certain amount of bacteria in its food, and will be resistant to most disease-causing microorganisms it encounters.
Further, dogs are not just predators but scavengers, and evolved eating rotten and decaying flesh, as well as the droppings of herbivores and even other carnivores. They can handle bacterial loads that would kill us, without blinking an eye.
Genetically and evolutionarily speaking, today's dog and cat are no different from their flesh and bone-eating ancestors. However, they may not be in good enough health to handle even the smaller load of bacteria that is present in free-range or organic meat and dairy products. This is part of the art of natural rearing: to evaluate the health of the animal, and find the best way to bring them to optimal health as quickly and safely as possible.
The feeding of the raw, species-appropriate diet can, by itself, work literal miracles on many animals. I rarely do anything but just start feeding raw, even with very young, convalescent, or very old dogs and cats. I have never had a single problem with food borne illness in any dog, cat, puppy, or kitten since I began feeding raw in 1986. With an animal that is sick, or on antibiotics, or who has been given immune-suppressing drugs like cortisone, however, I ease them over to it.
I begin with a cooked version of the raw diet, using poached eggs, cooked meat, steamed bone meal, the usual supplements, and raw, food-processed veggies. I never use ground meats; the contaminants are on the surface of the meat, so when the meat is ground it is spread all through the resulting mixture. With chunks, you can poach the meat, leaving the inside rare or raw, and still kill the surface contamination.
As the animal's health improves, I simply cook the meat or eggs less and less, until they are raw. I then introduce soft raw bones, primarily chicken necks, and from then on I ease them into the new diet. Those who are very fearful can also soak the meat in a mixture of standardized grapefruit seed extract and water; this will kill surface contamination. I have seen a number of recommendations for potency and length of soaking time; I would suggest that you buy the product at your health food store and then phone the manufacturer for the specifics.
Is feeding raw without risk? No, it's not. Feeding a raw diet does entail risk, but having fed raw since 1986, I have to conclude the risk is far smaller than the huge benefit I've seen. There are dogs and cats (and people) who contract salmonella and other illnesses from raw meat and dairy products (and many of them who contract them from contaminated cooked foods), and it's possible that your pet might succumb as well. It is a question of weighing the risk against the benefit, and making up your own mind.
To shudder with horror at the thought of giving a carnivorous predator raw meat is silly; shudder instead at the sad state of the modern factory farm, and how the livestock industry has trained us to accept that our foods are so filthy we don't dare any longer to "give the dog a bone."