Raw food diets for companion carnivores: an untapped panacea or a disaster waiting to happen?

Conor O'Halloran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Raw food feeding is the practice of providing domestic dogs and cats with a diet consisting primarily of uncooked meat, bones, and viscera (Schlesinger and Joffe, 2011; Freeman et al, 2013; Goh, 2016; Fredriksson-Ahomaa et al, 2017) Owners who feed their pets raw diets, alternatively referred to as either biologically appropriate raw feeding (BARF) or feeding raw meat based diets (RMBD), are divided into two groups: those
who choose to make homemade raw diets to feed their animals and those who predominately feed commercially available raw
food diets (Schlesinger and Joffe, 2011; Freeman et al, 2013; Goh, 2016; Fredriksson-Ahomaa et al, 2017). For both groups of owners in the UK, the majority of these diets are comprised of meat that has been deemed fit for human consumption, though in England and Wales, but not Scotland, under European Union Animal By-Products Regulations
(Regulation No 1069/2009) Category 3 material can also be fed raw to pets (Schlesinger and Joffe, 2011; Freeman et al, 2013; Goh,
2016; Fredriksson-Ahomaa et al, 2017). The practice of raw food feeding has becoming increasingly widespread in the UK and Europe as well as Australia and the USA during the last decade, very much in parallel with the changes in human dietary trends for more organic products and more ‘natural’ diets such as veganism (Laflamme et al, 2008). In the USA, sales of RMBD doubled in the five years to October 2017 while in the UK
seven companies supplying RMBD were registered in 2007, which rose to more than 80 registered suppliers in 2018 (Wall, 2018).
In Europe, a study from The Netherlands found that 51% of dog owners fed their animals either completely or partially a RMBD,
while a survey of Australian cat breeders found that raw meat was fed as an integral constituent of the diet by 89% of respondents
(Shapiro et al, 2017). The most recent publication questioning owners over the internet about RMBD practices highlighted that
1-in-25 respondents had handled raw pet food in the previous 7 days (Raschkowan et al, 2018). People who feed their dogs and cats raw food diets do so for a multitude of reasons including, but not limited to, cultural trends; beliefs surrounding the health benefits; what is perceived to be
more natural for their pets; and allowing the pet to ‘stay in touch’ with their wild, pre-domesticated ancestry (Morgan et al, 2017).
However, there are concerns regarding the risk of food-borne illnesses, including zoonoses, and nutritional imbalances (Dodds,
2018). As such, the veterinary profession has not yet formed aconsensus regarding the best raw feeding advice for clients, and
practitioners may have strongly held personal opinions that may be in conflict with those held by clients and colleagues alike. This
short discussion aims to highlight and briefly explore the key areas of raw food feeding where there remains least consensus:
the possible risk of microbiological contamination of RMBD including by zoonotic agents; the evidence in support of the health
benefits for feeding RMBD; and the risks of nutritional deficiency
and/or excesses.
Original languageEnglish
JournalUK-VET Companion animal
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2020

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