Despite what the ideologues at PETA would have their followers believe, both Canis lupus familiaris and Felis catus (no, seriously — that’s the scientific nomenclature for domestic cats) are natural carnivores.
Simply put, dogs and cats are born and bred to hunt, scavenge and otherwise consume animal foods.
Well, perhaps more accurately, animal parts.
That’s the main reason that the ads for virtually every premium brand of dog or cat food feature full-color imagery of slabs of beef, piles of fresh chicken breasts and fish filets that look appetizing enough to shoo Fido and Fluffy out of the way, ’cause that’s going to be served to the masters of the household.
Of course, I mean the humans who feed, nurture, shelter and basically gratify most every whim of their animal companions.
Interestingly, though, pet food ads typically display raw meat, fish and poultry, partly because they appear so much more colorful than cooked beef, pork or chicken, but also because, like retail and foodservice operators marketing to people, the trend is to position food products by what they don’t contain.
No GMOs. Gluten-free. No sugar added.
Thus, the hottest trend in pet foods is the “raw meat-based diet” (RMBD), which, of course, is labeled and marketed not as raw but as “grain-free.” According to a recent report in The Washington Post, it’s the fastest growing trend among pet owners in the United States, based on the belief that what dogs or cats in the wild would naturally be eating is the uncooked flesh of whatever prey they could kill or consume.
Some testimonials from true-believer pet owners even claim that RMBD diets have alleviated their animals’ allergies or skin problems.
Packed with Pathogens
Now, no self-respecting pet food marketer would even attempt to justify the use of “fillers” in their kibbles and bits and cans of product, and pet food formulas based on raw meat ingredients are now available at high-end and boutique (which is French for “high-priced”) pet stores nationwide.
But are such diets good for your dog or cat?
If you accept the credentials of a group of researchers writing in the journal Vet Record — and what pet owner doesn’t scan that periodical? — then the answer is no.
Their study, conducted at Utrecht University in The Netherlands, concluded that pet owners shouldn’t feed their pets a raw meat diet for the same reason people are urged to refrain from eating uncooked meat or poultry: because they likely contain pathogenic bacteria and/or parasites.
“The results of this study demonstrate the presence of potential zoonotic pathogens in frozen RMBDs that may be a possible source of bacterial infections in pet animals,” the study authors wrote, “and if transmitted, pose a risk for human beings. If non-frozen meat is fed, parasitic infections are also possible.”
To buttress their contention, the researchers analyzed 35 frozen varieties from eight different brands of raw meat-based pet food available in The Netherlands. Samples were thawed and tested for a variety of pathogens.
E. coli was found in 80% of samples, with 23% containing the E. coli O157:H7 strain. The researchers also found that 43% of the samples tested positive for listeria, 20% tested positive for salmonella; 23% of samples tested positive for the parasite sarcocystis, and 6% tested positive for Toxoplasma gondii.
Cats are the principal carriers of that latter parasite, best known as a danger to pregnant women who come in contact with the contents of a cat’s litter box. More than 200,000 cases of toxoplasmosis occur annually in the United States, and the symptoms of muscle pain, fever, and headache can become quite serious and last for weeks.
As if that’s not bad enough, the Dutch researches also noted that Toxoplasma gondii has been implicated in cases of mental illness among cat owners — the serious kind, that is, as distinguished from the affliction that causes cat owners to dress their pets in costumes and purchase jeweled collars for them to wear and crocheted pillows on which to catnap.
Worst of all, the raw meat diet apparently doesn’t end feline or canine allergies; indeed, it may cause them.
“It’s much more common for dogs to have allergies to meat than to grain,” Cailin Heinze, a small-animal nutritionist at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, told The Washington Post. “Chicken, beef, eggs, dairy and wheat are the most common allergies in dogs.”
Despite those warnings, the flip side of the coin is that although the marketing for dog and cat foods feature lots of raw meat that shouldn’t be fed to the animals starring in those ads, there’s even less justification for trying to turn a cat or dog into a vegetarian.
In fact, if people ate diets based on the scientifically proven nutritional formulas found in pet foods, we’d all be a lot healthier.
But we’d also be reduced to begging for treats that aren’t healthy, but taste so good.
Just like our pets.
Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.