The BBC, "Trust Me I'm a Vet" & the Truth About Raw Feeding

  • by RawRoar
  • 09 May, 2017

This week the BBC covered raw feeding.   Here's what they did & didn't tell you...

What the TV programe did:
As an experiment  they swabbed a dog owner's (unwashed) hands, the dog's tongue and the dog's bowl following a raw meal.  They did this in association with Liverpool University, who claim to have an unpublished study showing the following:

 "The faeces of 114 dogs fed a variety of raw diets and 76 fed cooked diets (which includes kibble and tinned) were tested for the presence of some pathogens known to be harmful to human health. The percentage of dogs carrying antibiotic-resistant E. coli and Salmonella was significantly higher in the raw-fed cohort of dogs, compared to the cooked-fed cohort."    

As a result of this the authors claim:
 "This suggests that the spread of resistance to antibiotics used in human medicine is encouraged through the feeding of raw food diets, and supports existing research that there is a higher risk of coming into contact with potentially harmful pathogens if you feed your pet a raw food diet. " (BBC Scotland)
What they didn't do on the TV programme:
No swabs were taken after feeding other types of food to check for harmful bacteria and compare the two. They didn't explore what the two levels meant in terms of absolute risk, nor did they have any sort of control group. 
What they said:
  • There's no conclusive evidence raw food provides better nutrition
  • Raw meat is known to contain many different kinds of bacteria, could you spread these around the home?  
  • These bacteria are Campylobacter and Salmonella, which can cause illness in humans
  • Harmful strains of E-coli were also found in their faeces
  • The bacteria could be very harmful to your family
  • "So as a vet and a pet owner, my feeling is I hope raw food is just a fad, I certainly don't feed it to my own dog".
What they didn't say (but perhaps should have):

  • There's no conclusive evidence cooked/processed foods provide nutrition comparable to raw feeding; in fact the evidence we do have suggests it doesn't:
  • This study found pets fed a commercial diet has a lifespan of up to 3 years less than those fed a home-made raw food. 

  1. High meat diets are more digestible for dogs
  2. More nutrients from a high meat diet are able to be absorbed
  3. Dogs on a high meat diet had higher levels of the bacteria associated with protein and fat digestion
  4. Dogs on a high meat diet had smaller poo and better faecal health

  • This study highlights similar changes to the types of resident bacteria occurs in cats.
  • This study suggests reduced bio-availability from processing.

The gut of a raw fed cat or dog is incredibly acidic (to digest bone).  Pets fed processed foods develop a less acidic profile,  as this vet explains  the health implications are not fully understood beyond more sluggish digestion and reduced effectiveness destroying bacteria and contaminants.

  •  The study from Liverpool University is unpublished and not peer reviewed meaning  it isn't available to the public.  We don't know who authored or funded it.  Combining the results of kibble (a product regularly contaminated as we'll discuss) and tinned (one that typically isn't due to the processing involved) as "cooked", will also skew data results.  As we can't see the full paper, we can't examine what the individual levels were and whether a "higher risk of coming into contact with", does indeed result in increased rates of infection.  The evidence we do have (as discussed more below) suggests not.  
  • Liverpool University would appear to be associated quite heavily with Royal Canin, processed food manufacturer.  They run a  Royal Canin Weight Management Clinic  and employ a Alex German, a " Royal Canin Reader ".  For those not familiar, a reader is a lecturer who has a distinguished record of original research...
  • All meat products carry bacteria
What's typically more surprising to people is kibble has caused numerous outbreaks of illness; a 2012 report notes an " Explosion of Salmonella Cases in Past 5 Years" in pet foods,  resulting in recalls from many major brands (full details within the report).

  1. In a 2012 a total of 49 individuals (47 individuals in 20 states and two individuals in Canada) were infected with Salmonella from multiple brands of dry food processed at a single plant.  This resulted in the death of  two cats and the CDC reported the outbreak here
  2.  University of Alberta graduate student Bushra Alam reviewed scientific studies and government reports.  Her findings showed that more than 150 outbreaks in humans were recorded in Canada and the United States between 1999 and 2013, from handling dry pig’s ears and beef patty dog treats, dog and cat kibble and chicken jerky treats.  Read more here
  3. Two commercial, dehydrated feeds contaminated by Salmonella were shown to be the cause of a large outbreak in military kennel dogs.   This journal entry states :  " This outbreak demonstrates that large outbreaks occur after feeding dehydrated dog feeds . Especially in households with known risk group patients this finding demonstrates a particular risk for their owners, as they often live in close contact with their animals."
  •   EU Regulation  gives a restricted list of raw materials which can be used in the preparation of raw pet foods specifically. It also sets the microbiological standards and ZERO TOLERANCE for Salmonella in raw pet foods.   Read more here.    The problem we have with products like chicken is levels can be so low they test negative, but these levels can increase whilst "on the shelf".    This means preparing raw meat for your dog is comparable in terms of risk, to preparing raw meat for yourself.
  • I think we can safely say raw feeding isn't a fad - unless the above vet believes that when cats hunt mice, voles, small birds and insects, they have the ability to cook them before consumption.  Kibble and processed foods are in fact a very recent "fad" in biological terms.
  •  Raw feeding is increasing in popularity, but given tipping kibble from a pack is easier than sourcing, storing or preparing raw food - we surely have to ask why?  What benefits are pet owners experiencing that make it worthwhile?
  • We are currently experiencing epidemic levels of tooth decay,  diabetes, obesity and urinary/kidney issues in our pets.  This shift correlates with the recent fad for feeding dehydrated foods (an experiment in biological terms), containing cheap fillers, grains and vegetable proteins.
Graph - pet food recalls involving salmonella
Kibble pet food recalls involving Salmonella
What this means for pet owners:
  • It's really important that we recognise that all types of pet diet can carry risks of bacterial contamination.  It's extremely irresponsible of the BBC and "Trust Me I'm a Vet" to infer there is only a risk from raw meat.
  • Numerous people have theorised about a risk of pet owners being contaminated by their pet's raw diet, yet a a study exploring this acknowledges that whilst there is a theoretical risk because it's meat:  " No confirmed cases of human salmonellosis have been associated with these [raw food] diets.  " here
This is probably because those feeding raw food, undertake the same hygiene measures they would when preparing raw meat for themselves.  Washing their hands after touching food or bowls before touching other surfaces, thoroughly cleaning food preparation areas and so on.

 In contrast there is virtually no awareness of the contamination risks from processed foods like kibble or dried treats .  Owners may not employ the stringent protocols they would for raw meat, simply because they don't know they need to;  leading to a far greater likelihood of infection.  Coverage like this from the BBC, enforces this belief.

  • Many foods for humans are associated with increased bacterial risks, chicken for example commonly shelf tests as contaminated.   In fact a 2011 study found the outer packaging of 40% of chickens tested were covered with levels so high they were more likely to result in food poisoning than handling the raw bird itself! 
  • A 2016 report found 1 in 4 samples of supermarket chicken we contaminated with antibiotic resistant E-coli. 
However we don't as a result see doctors advising typical healthy patients to avoid touching supermarket chickens, to never buy or eat a fresh bird.  They don't suggest instead we should eat processed and dehydrated chicken because it may have a slightly lower bacterial count.  

The issue of resistant bacteria is one that absolutely needs addressing, regardless of whether we're putting it in a baking tray or a pet dish.

  • Don't let pets lick your mouth, however you feed your pet.  This is particularly important for those more vulnerable and the bacteria you're most at risk from isn't related to diet; Capnocytophaga canimorsus  is relatively common in the saliva of cats and dogs and can result in serious illness.
  • Wash your hands after picking up cat or dog faeces, however you feed your pet.  Roundworms can result in Toxocariasis, which can result in blindness.  Most people are aware dog poop contains bacteria!
What this means for pets:
Very little.  The digestive tract of a cat or dog, is shorter and more acidic than a human ; this gives them less time to absorb nutrients, but also less time for bacterial counts to increase to a harmful rate, which combined with the acidity makes it extremely unusual for pets to suffer from these bacteria in the way humans do.    Studies that have found harmful pathogens in dog faeces, note they were asymptomatic or only had mild diarrhoea. [ 1 , 2 ]
Is "Trust Me I'm a vet a reliable source of information"?

Pet owners must now be extremely confused about what to feed their pet.  Only a couple of weeks ago the same programme, claimed to have unpublished research showing most processed pet foods on the market contained inadequate levels of vitamins and minerals.

The Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA), who tightly regulate pet food production in the UK, released a statement in response to the programme.  The  full report can be found here .  They express disappointment the programme was aired and highlight the research methodology and testing regime used in this study, did not follow the strict legal requirements.  They also noted Nottingham University laboratory is not accredited to carry out tests on pet food.
Is your vet the most reliable source of information regarding pet nutrition.

Your vet may be a valuable source of information, however this should perhaps be considered alongside other literature and new studies.

It's unfair to say vets don't receive any training on animal nutrition.  They do, but it's really only the focus of a small part of their long training (in America it's one semester with the option to become a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and considered an expert).  The bigger problem is the sheer paucity of studies as " Skeptvet " explains:

" Given the limited research data available on many important questions in small animal nutrition, even the real experts are often forced to rely on extrapolation from basic science or research in humans and their own clinical experience, which are important sources of information but always less reliable than studies specifically designed to answer these questions ."

Much of what we do have has been funded by the bigger pet food manufacturers, who of course can choose which studies to undertake and publish.  They can market their products to vets,  providing data and literature (and often supplying products that can be sold for profit) intended to influence the advice given to pet owners.

This mean many are holding commercial, processed and dehydrated foods as the gold standard for pets; the norm against which we should compare.  Education, the language used and so on, are all fundamentally assuming kibble is optimal; those raw feeding are expected to produce evidence supporting "their theory" that the food pets have eaten for millennia is superior.  Despite the fact this evidence doesn't exist as nobody has undertaken any such studies, which equally means nobody has demonstrated processed foods are as good for pets and don't result in increased rates of obesity, diabetes, tooth decay or any other health condition.

Learn more?
Trust me I'm a holistic vet  is a response to the programme from another vet.
Petfooled explores the pet food industry, products used and the implications of what you feed your pet.   You can watch a short trailer here

Roar Raw

by RawRoar 17 Jul, 2017
We often read online that crunching biscuits helps to clean cats' teeth; yet despite the majority of cat owners now feeding some dried food, i t is thought that as many as 85% of cats aged three years and older have some sort of dental disease ( 1 ).

Clearly this is a problem for more than just elderly cats, the big question everyone should be asking is why.

First, is it even logical biscuits clean teeth?   It's comparable to suggesting wolfing down half a packet of Hobnobs will give us humans pearly whites.  Simply eating something hard doesn't clean teeth - particularly if you have massive canines that cut through biscuits like a knife through hot butter.   For this theory to even be on the table, cats would have to chew their biscuits.

Cats (unlike humans) don't chew food to mix it with saliva before swallowing.  The acidity of their gut is such that saliva and mastication would destroy their teeth.  Instead cats only use their teeth to rip something small enough to be swallowed whole - their digestive system takes care of the rest.

This means kibble is swallowed not chewed.
by RawRoar 13 Jul, 2017
Due to the glorious weather across the UK recently, there has been much discussion online about helping cats through the heat.

I was surprised to read how many noted their cats vomited or didn't eat well when the temperatures soared, after all we're always hearing cats originate from the desert.

 What confused me more is that we didn't experience any issues from the heat,despite the fact one is a long coated and extremely thick, fluffy feline; on the contrary they both basked in the sunniest and hottest room (on back legs akimbo to help keep themselves cooler) despite repeated attempts to lure them out. 

I mentioned this to a vet friend of mine and after a chat I decided to dig more.  I'm quite shocked at what I found and think it should be more widely shared with pet owners.
by RawRoar 29 Jun, 2017
Single protein feeding is something frequently discussed online, and when it comes to cats that generally means chicken.

Whilst the general consensus is multiple proteins are needed, some raw feeding group on Facebook disagree; instead they argue variety is "optimal" not "compulsory"
by RawRoar 03 Jun, 2017
Many of us have had it drilled into us you should  never  feed bones to your pets, and they're absolutely right that you should never feed cooked bone to your pet.   They splinter easily even when chewed appropriately and can become lodged in a cat's throat or stomach.

Raw bones however are a different ballgame.

Whereas many of us are used to seeing the image above, many of us forget our  domestic cats are basically tiny lions .

Whereas humans have molars (creating a flat surface for grinding plant materials),  along with canines  - cats have a completely different configuration.
by RawRoar 17 May, 2017
They informed their Facebook readers that when you dehydrate fresh meat (a process which involves removing water from food), the resulting product contains less water.
by RawRoar 09 May, 2017
What the TV programe did:
As an experiment  they swabbed a dog owner's (unwashed) hands, the dog's tongue and the dog's bowl following a raw meal.  They did this in association with Liverpool University, who claim to have an unpublished study showing the following:

 "The faeces of 114 dogs fed a variety of raw diets and 76 fed cooked diets (which includes kibble and tinned) were tested for the presence of some pathogens known to be harmful to human health. The percentage of dogs carrying antibiotic-resistant E. coli and Salmonella was significantly higher in the raw-fed cohort of dogs, compared to the cooked-fed cohort."    

As a result of this the authors claim:
 "This suggests that the spread of resistance to antibiotics used in human medicine is encouraged through the feeding of raw food diets, and supports existing research that there is a higher risk of coming into contact with potentially harmful pathogens if you feed your pet a raw food diet. " (BBC Scotland)
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