Researchers from Utrecht University and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands analyzed 35 commercially available raw meat products and found that they contained a menagerie of bacteria and parasites.
While a lot of these products are frozen, this only kills of parasites, not bacteria.
Past year a charitable scheme which sends dogs into schools to help children read, Burns By Your Side, announced it had banned the use of animals fed on raw meats because of the health risk to children. But even a little meat can be harmful to pets if it's still raw and not heated, Overgaauw says. When the meat is thawed and then given to pets, the bacteria's still there to pose all kinds of risks to both pets and humans.
A recent trend in feeding pets raw meat, bones and organs in diets that are considered more "natural" by some owners, is receiving heavy criticism from experts who say these "food" sources could be unsafe for both animal and human alike, the Guardian reported.
The team said the bugs risked the health of the animals themselves, as well as their owners.
"It has been claimed that feeding pets raw meat results in a better overall condition of the animals and could have a supportive role in controlling and preventing certain medical conditions in both dogs and cats such as allergies, skin and gastrointestinal tract problems", said lead researcher Paul Overgaauw, from Utrecht University. "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.
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Products containing raw animal products are either homemade from ingredients bought from butchers or pet shops. Even more worrisome, E. coli 0157-a particularly risky strain now responsible for a lettuce-based outbreak in North America-was found in 23% of the samples.
"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 add.
Four of the products analysed contained the parasite Sarcocystis cruzi and four contained Sarcocystis tenella.
But the study, published in Vet Record, exposes these so-called health benefits as "mostly anecdotal" which have not been properly studied. "They think they are feeding dogs how they would eat in nature, like a wolf".
The researchers found that 43% of the products (15 packs from eight brands) contained species of listeria, which causes extremely invasive illnesses. The study also stressed that there is no difference in the possible danger between packaged, frozen meats and raw food prepared at home.