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AVMA Addresses Raw Food Diets

The American Veterinary Medical Association House of Delegates is meeting August 3 through 7, 2012, in San Diego, Calif. Among the items on the agenda is a proposed policy on the feeding of “raw or undercooked animal-source protein diets” for pets.

The new position statement, drafted by the AVMA Council on Public Health and Regulatory Veterinary Medicine, states, “The AVMA discourages the feeding to cats and dogs of any animal-source protein that has not first been subjected to a process to eliminate pathogens because of the risk of illness to cats and dogs as well as humans.”

The proposed policy is based on the fact that studies have shown that raw or undercooked animal protein might be contaminated with pathogenic organisms such as Salmonella, E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus, among others. According to the AVMA, if raw foods are not cooked to a specific temperature prior to feeding, pets may be contaminated with these organisms, which can lead to illness or possibly death. Although animals that have ingested these harmful pathogens may not become ill, they can harbor the microorganisms and transmit them to other animals or humans.

The AVMA’s proposed policy on raw diets includes feeding of beef, pork, poultry, fish and other meat and bones from domesticated or wild animals. Photo © canstockphoto.com.

The organization’s “Facts on AVMA’s Proposed Policy on Raw Pet Food Diets” has received almost 850 comments on the AVMA website, many that take the issue of pet foods and feeding well beyond the initial proposal.

Dave Chico, chair of the CPHRVM, noted in a lengthy comment regarding the controversy that members of the council include veterinarians that are employed fulltime in the field of public health. These professionals “felt that it was important to acknowledge that ‘raw’ or undercooked protein sources carry some risk of disease development for the animals fed them, as well as for the people in contact with animals fed these diets.” He went on to say, “Certain segments of the human population, including the immune compromised, the elderly and the young, may face greater risks when exposed to pathogens potentially found in ‘raw’ or undercooked protein. … The intent of the policy was not to dictate a specific diet type for all companion animals. It was developed to acknowledge that there is some risk presented to both animals and humans when companion animals’ diets contain ‘raw’ or undercooked protein sources, just as there are risk for humans that eat ‘raw’ or undercooked protein.”

Numerous comments on the website address past recalls of commercially prepared pet foods and the fact that the AVMA does not currently have a policy statement regarding the safety of these products. Chico responded with a promise to bring this before the house of delegates when he said, “I will make those concerns known at our next scheduled council meeting in August, and will discuss potential policy development on this topic with the CPHRVM members.”

Advocates of raw food diets for pets cite improvements in skin issues; absence of allergic reactions; clean, healthy teeth; and better overall health as just a few of the reasons that a raw diet is superior to commercially manufactured pet foods.

In a statement posted on the AVMA website on July 18, 2012, the organization states, “This proposed policy is about mitigating public health risks, not about restricting or banning any products. … Our policies are based on a thorough review of the scientific literature and are drafted by veterinarians with expertise in relevant fields (in this case, public health).”

Studies cited by the AVMA were reported in the “Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association” and the “Canadian Veterinary Journal,” as well as one published in ”Clinical Infectious Diseases,” the official publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. The study was entitled

“Human health implications of Salmonella-contaminated natural pet treats and raw pet food.”

The AVMA was established in 1863 and is a not-for-profit association that represents more than 82,500 veterinarians who work in private and corporate practices, government, industry, academia and the military.

Written by

Christi McDonald is a second-generation dog person, raised with a kennel full of Cairn Terriers. After more than a decade as a professional handler’s apprentice and handling professionally on her own, primarily Poodles and Cairns, she landed a fortuitous position in advertising sales with the monthly all-breed magazine ShowSight. This led to an 11-year run at Dogs in Review, where she wore several hats, including advertising sales rep, ad sales manager and, finally, editor for five years. Christi is proud to be part of the editorial team for the cutting-edge Best In Show Daily. She lives in Apex, N.C., with two homebred black Toy Poodles, the last of her Foxfire line, and a Norwich Terrier.
  • Tammy Kinkade August 3, 2012 at 6:53 AM

    The AVMA’s statement on raw foods may be just a statement to them, but our concern, as raw feeders, is that their position will be misconstrued as policy and used by commercial kibble/canned manufacturers and others to make it difficult for those of us who’ve fed this way for decades to find accessible, quality, reasonably-priced food sources. As it is, the commercial raw food companies already have had difficulty with the FDA and AAFCO over ingredient statements, random testing, and more. We just want to be able to feed what we’ve always fed, without interference.

    In my experience with feeding raw for more than 15 years, this published statement is going to hurt those of us who raw feed in more ways than one. I have, over the years, walked out of several vet offices because of being berated for feeding my dogs a raw diet. I will not tolerate a veterinarian who treats me or my dogs shabbily, and this new viewpoint on raw feeding may make getting our dogs treatment more difficult if vets take it to the extreme. I know we have vets who will refuse treatment if dogs aren’t vaccinated annually, regardless of the newer 3-year vaccine protocols. What’s to say they won’t refuse treatment if we feed raw?

    I think the AVMA needs to stay out of people’s choice of what to feed. Period. It serves no real purpose, other than being a scare tactic for people who don’t feed raw. We who do, already know the risks involved, but feel that the long term benefits far outweigh the short term risks.

  • Dana Gary August 3, 2012 at 9:59 AM

    The problem I see with feeding raw is the way our industrial agriculture processes meat for human consumption. Chicken, for instance, is cooled after slaughtering in a giant vat of super cooled water.

    One contaminated piece of chicken spreads pathogens to the entire batch. Unless meat is seared on the outside surface the pathogens will be ingested. Don’t get me started on ground meats where pathogens are throughout the meat…

    So what, you say? Healthy, robust animals will fight off the infection; but as I sadly learned with a 14 year old Chesapeake Bay Retriever I had been feeding raw for years, raw almost killed her because her immune system was not as strong as when she was young. Being in intensive care for days and one thousand dollars later she was saved (thank goodness).

    Pathogens are, ahem, ‘passed’ and people handling your dog that has licked itself or dogs in a park are exposed to them. Not good from a public health stand point!

    • John August 3, 2012 at 8:22 PM

      Dana ,

      Sorry about your dog , at any age they are tough to lose . However , the same dog eating tainted “manufactured ” food would have had the same outcome . The issue is whether there is any increased risk compared to ANY food , weighed against the health benefits that gave your dog a long life to start with .

  • Danita August 4, 2012 at 4:06 AM

    I find it odd that the AVMA can’t put any “real” examples of these dangerous “pathogens” in their statement. These pathogens are everywhere, folks! Where were they when we had all the processed dog food recalls? The ingredients that go into raw, are human grade. So does this mean we have to start eating dog food? They have not addressed the real issue, which is: raw is better for our dogs than dried out, over-processed food that comes in a bag that has been sitting on a shelf for who knows how long. Further, processed foods have taken over our universe and are NOT good for us! Just take a look at the ingredients in a box of, let’s say, macaroni and cheese. It has been so over-processed and so many preservatives have been added, it will last forever in the box. If we are healthy, if our dogs are healthy, it will mean better health and therefore, less trips to the Doctor/Veterinarian. I say, ulterior motive, here.

  • Nancy Strohmaier August 4, 2012 at 8:20 AM

    1. AVMA Council on Public Health and Regulatory Issuses proposal is an internal policy with no legal or regulatory standing. No members of the council are employed by pet food companies. Agreed – the pet food industry will misconstrue the information to the unknowing public and elected officials….

    2. AVMA voicing their objection to raw diets containing pathogens. They discourage the feeding of raw diets “unless aa raw protein diet has been subjected to a process that eliminates pathogens….” The AVMA is not advocating irradiation. High pressure processing (HPP) is a method that uses pressure, not irradiation or heat, to iradicate pathogens in raw proteins.

    3. The pathogens can be shed in the feces and “leftovers” from dog hair, residue in the bowls… Since a potential for at-risk humans (low immune resistance) to become ill, the AVMA council on public health has voiced their concerns. Washing food bowls, work surfaces, tools and your hands thoroughly with bleach and hot soapy water after each feeding and promptly picking up feces will help deter “shedding pathogens” to “at-risk” humans.

    4. Most raw diet manufactures test each batch for pathogens. Only pathogen-free batches are distributed. Bravo, Nture’s Variety, Primal, Stella and Chewys, and Northwest Naturals have pathogen testing programs in place.

    5. Remember, food-borne pathogens pose almost zero risk to the animals (why dogs can eat 3-day old road-kill squirrel that has been in the sun and not get sick) and with some common sense (cleanliness), don’t pose a danger to humans either.

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