There is always a mass concern with pets getting sick from harmful pathogens in raw diets. Multiple recalls on raw meats lead pet parents to wonder “Is my pet at risk to get Salmonella from raw meat?” However, it is important to know Salmonella is a naturally occurring bacteria.
Regulatory bodies such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issue recalls on raw meat. Many of these recalls cause concern among raw feeders regarding if their pets will become ill from eating raw food. However, it is important to have a full understanding of Salmonella and the digestive system of dogs and cats.
Salmonella has multiple strains of bacteria and few are pathogenic.
Standard food safety practices are needed when handling raw meat.
A healthy dog and cat will not become sick from salmonella.
Salmonella is more of an issue for humans than it is for pets. This does not go to say that appropriate food handling and safety should not be used when preparing raw diets. However, it’s not a major concern for illness in healthy dogs and cats.
What is Salmonella?
There are two species of Salmonella – Salmonella enterica and Salmonella bongori which includes more than 2,600 serotypes. There are two groups of Salmonella serotypes:
Salmonella serotype - Nontyphoidal
Usually causes gastrointestinal disease.
Salmonella serotype - Typhoidal
Typhoidal serotypes are adapted to humans and do not occur in other animals.
Salmonella serotype - Nontyphoidalserotypes
Can be transferred between humans and other animals.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Salmonella is a bacteria that infects the intestinal tract and causes extreme sickness in humans. The illness people get from a Salmonella infection is called salmonellosis. Salmonellosis can last 4 to 7 days, with symptoms appearing 12 to 72 hours after infection. Most people recover without medical treatment. However, salmonellosis can lead to hospitalization due to dehydration or an infection in the bloodstream. In some cases, Salmonella can lead to death.
The CDC estimates Salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations, and 450 deaths in the United States every year. The majority of these cases are linked to contaminated food sources.
Our entire world is made up of bacteria, including our bodies. There are many different strands of bacteria. According to the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A., there are as many as 1 trillion different types of bacteria. Most strands of bacteria are harmless and even beneficial!
Pathogenic bacteria, however, are the bacteria that can cause diseases. These bacteria produce different effects with humans and animals. These bad bacteria attack host cells within the organism and produce various symptoms. Pathogenic bacteria can be prevented with sterilization, disinfectants, and cooking food to temperatures above 73 °C (163 °F).
When pet parents voice their concerns about giving their pet raw meat and it becoming sick from Salmonella, an additional question is asked in response:
"Do you prepare raw meat to cook for yourself and your family?"
Unless the person is a vegetarian or vegan, the answer is “Yes.” Although humans do not eat a raw meat diet, basic food handling practices are used when preparing and cooking raw meat. According to FoodSafety.gov and the CDC, there are four methods of food safety when cooking in the home – clean, separate, cook, and, chill.
This article will focus on clean, separate, and chill in relation to food safety and handling when feeding pets a raw diet.
The cleaning recommendations from FoodSafety.gov apply to raw feeding. Maintaining a clean and tidy space is step number one in preventing cross-contamination and foodborne illnesses.
Wash hands for 20 seconds with plain soap and warm running water immediately after touching raw meat, bones, and organs. Always sanitize surfaces and utensils after each use. Using dirty knives and cutting boards is unsanitary and further risks cross contamination. Wash fruits and veggies but not meat, poultry, or eggs!
Contrary to popular opinion, washing meat is not recommended. This further spreads bacteria and increases cross contamination on other surfaces, utensils, and food.
Portions of the separation guidelines from FoodSafety.gov apply to raw feeding. The concepts can be adapted to preparing raw pet food.
Do not prep raw pet food while cooking or preparing a human-grade meal. This is a preventive measure against cross-contamination. Some raw pet food products are not human-grade, an example is unprocessed green tripe. It is best to prepare raw pet food separately from preparing a human-grade meal.
A small section of the chill recommendations from FoodSafety.gov applies to raw feeding. The guidelines can be adjusted to storing raw pet food.
Store raw muscle meat, bones, and organs in the refrigerator or freezer to prevent spoilage. Always dispose of any raw product if it has spoiled. Keep all raw pet food products separate from all other foods in the fridge to prevent cross-contamination.
The Carnivore’s Digestive Tract
Regardless of the diet a dog or cat consumes, it will be a host of Salmonella bacteria. Pets are natural hosts for a wide range of Salmonella species and humans are more likely to become sick from Salmonella than pets.
“But there have been recalls on dog and cat food due to Salmonella outbreaks!”
That is correct, but those recalls have been for the safety of humans handling the food. The concern is for the human, not the dog or cat.
A dog’s and cat’s digestive system has a unique way of preventing and fighting against pathogenic Salmonella. There are two main factors – pH level of the stomach and the incubation period of Salmonella.
The hydrochloric acid in a dog’s and cat’s stomach has a pH level of 1 to 2. Salmonella cannot survive in conditions other than a pH range of 3.8 to 9.5. The low acidity of a dog’s and cat’s stomach is a protective enzyme against ingested pathogens and is not conducive to the growth of Salmonella.
The average amount of time it takes a dog to fully digest and eliminate waste is 6 to 8 hours and a cat’s digestive tract is even shorter than a dog’s digestive system! The incubation period of Salmonella is 8 to 72 hours. Within this time, the dog or cat has completed the digestive process and any remaining Salmonella that may have survived digestion is passed in the feces.
However, this isn’t to say it is impossible for a dog to become sick from pathogenic Salmonella. Healthy dogs and cats have the necessary tools to withstand salmonellosis. If a dog or cat has a compromised immune system, it is possible they could contract Salmonella. The chances are small and rarely happen when a healthy gut flora is maintained.
Healthy Digestive System
Supporting the digestive system and gut flora promotes healthy immune function. An estimated 70% to 80% of immune cells are located in the digestive tract. Beneficial bacteria found within the colon is an additional protective measure against ingested pathogens.
Probiotics support the colonization of healthy bacteria in the colon and help fight against pathogenic Salmonella. Probiotics can be provided in a few different ways, including feeding fermented vegetables, kefir, or dietary supplements.
Fiber is another key factor in promoting a healthy digestive system. Fiber resists enzymatic digestion in the small intestine and is fermented in the colon by the beneficial bacteria. Short-Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs) are produced as a byproduct of fiber fermentation and provide the colon wall with energy. Fiber is easily available in green leafy vegetables, berries, and fur/feathers from whole prey.
"RAW FOOD IS NOT STERILE."
Ronny LeJeune, CertCN, CPDT-KA, CCC
There is no such thing as sterile raw food, it will contain bacteria just like there are bacteria that make up every human’s digestive tract. The important take away is to understand there is a difference between harmless, beneficial, and harmful bacteria strains.
Additionally, always remember to follow basic food handling safety guidelines and feed foods to support a healthy immune system. Dogs, cats, and humans alike can contract illness from Salmonella-contaminated foods. However, it is important to remember a dog and cat with a healthy immune system has an extremely low chance of becoming sick from Salmonella.