Raw pet food is becoming popular, despite the increased health risk to people and animals. Raw pet food is considered to be any animal meat, innards, eggs, or bone that has not been cooked using high heat, defined as 145 - 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Studies have shown they carry more bacteria, when compared to cooked dry kibble and wet canned, tub, or pouch pet food.

The American Veterinary Medical Association, Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly discourage raw pet food, because it contains significant health risks, especially when products are brought into the home to feed pets.

Raw pet food has the highest number of recalled products since 2012, compared to cooked and smoked pet food due to bacteria contamination. High heat is necessary for killing bacteria and maintaining shelf stability. The most common bacteria found are Salmonella spp., Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes and Campylobacter spp.

They cause diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting, weakness and fever in animals and humans. Some people are at higher risk and can suffer more severe symptoms with longer duration that can lead to death.

High-risk groups include:

• Young children, especially younger than 5 years

• Older adults, 65 and older

• Pregnant women

• Immune compromised people, with, for example, cancer, immune disease, diabetes, etc.

Raw diets are sold as fresh frozen, freeze-dried, or dehydrated meals or treats for dogs and cats. The claimed benefits of feeding raw food diets have not been proven in any scientific study. They can also be nutritionally incomplete and imbalanced, which may seriously harm pets’ health. Pets might be infected and carry the bacteria in their mouths and feces, without showing any signs of illness, and might lead to contamination of the home environment.

Always follow safe food handling and good hygiene, especially when feeding raw pet food.

• Choose lower-risk pet foods that are cooked with high heat (145-165 degrees Fahrenheit)

• Use stainless steel bowls, which are easily disinfected with soap and hot water or in the dishwasher

• Replace ceramics and plastic bowls with scratches and cracks. Bacteria grow in these crevices and cannot be reached with disinfectants.

• Have a designated pet-feeding area, separate from the kitchen or meal preparation area

Always consult your veterinarian about their nutrition and keep their vaccinations and preventive medications up-to-date.