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Can dogs eat raw meat?

Health and Wellbeing

We all know dogs love meat, whether it’s a succulent slice of roast chicken, or a sliver of steak. Most of the time if we slip our pups a meaty treat, it’s a cooked piece of meat from our own dinners. But can dogs eat raw meat as well as cooked?

Can dogs eat raw meat?

Raw feeding is on the rise, so presumably dogs can eat raw meat. However, most vets will tell you that dogs can’t eat raw meat. So, what’s the answer, and why is it such a minefield?

We’re here to answer “can dogs eat raw meat” and investigate why opinion is so divided on whether or not your mutt can munch uncooked meat.

Can dogs eat raw meat?

Most healthy, adult dogs can eat raw meat. Raw meat can make a healthy and tasty treat or be used as a nutritious ingredient in your dog’s diet because it is an unprocessed source of protein.

Your dog can digest whole meat much easier than highly-processed meat derivatives that are used in dry kibble food. Whole pieces of unprocessed meat also contain all the essential amino acids your dog needs to stay healthy. Amino acids are used to make new proteins in their own body, like healthy fur, muscle, skin, or even hormones. (Meanwhile, extreme processing used to make kibble destroys amino acids.)

Whole and unprocessed meat doesn’t mean it has to be raw though. Cooked or air-dried whole meat is also a highly nutritious source of protein and is actually easier for your dog to digest.

However, raw meat isn’t safe for all dogs to eat. Some dogs with sensitive stomachs can’t digest raw food very well, and it can cause gastrointestinal illness such as diarrhoea or gastroenteritis.

Meanwhile, puppies and old dogs shouldn’t eat raw meat because their underdeveloped and weakened immune systems are less effective at fighting off any foodborne bacteria or infections found on raw meat. (Cooking meat would destroy these infections.)

Can dogs eat raw beef mince?

Some dogs can eat raw beef mince as a treat or as an ingredient in a meal, and it’s a good source of protein.

However, your dog can’t eat raw beef alone. Raw beef mince on its own does not have the balance of nutrition needed to keep your dog healthy. If your dog only eats raw beef mince for their meals, they will soon develop a nutritional deficiency.

Although dogs can eat raw beef mince there is a risk it can make them sick. Raw beef carries a risk of contamination from pathogens like E. Coli and Salmonella, which can make you or your dog sick.

Additionally, red meat and raw meat is harder for dogs to digest, so raw red meat like beef mince could cause gastrointestinal illness like vomiting or diarrhoea, especially if your dog has a sensitive stomach.

Can dogs eat raw meat bones?

Dogs can eat raw meat bones as long as they are raw meaty bones, like turkey necks. The meat encourages your dog to chew, the bones are less dense and easier to chew, and they can also help to clean your dog’s teeth thanks to their abrasive nature.

But even though dogs can eat raw meat bones, there are a few risks you must be aware of.

Raw bones can be contaminated with harmful pathogens in the same way as raw meat. Broken bits of bone can also be a choking hazard, or cause an obstruction in your dog’s digestive tract.

Plus, sharp pieces of bone can pierce their throat or gut, causing an internal infection called peritonitis which could put their life at risk. There’s also a risk that your pooch could break a tooth while chewing on a hard bone.

You can find out more about whether dogs can or can’t eat bones here.

Is raw meat safe for dogs?

The reason many vets say dogs can’t eat raw meat is because of the risk of illness both to your dog and yourself.

We all know that eating raw or undercooked meat can give you food poisoning or pass on parasites, and it’s the same for dogs.

Although dogs have much more acidic stomachs than humans, which helps to destroy some pathogens, it doesn’t make them immune to foodborne infections and parasites so there’s still the risk that they’ll get sick from raw meat.

Annoyingly, most raw meat can carry nasties that can make your pooch sick. For example, raw fish can carry a number of different species of parasitic worms, and the number of infected fish is on the rise. Raw pork, boar, and game animals can be infected with the Trichinella parasites. Raw pork can also host Taenia solium and Toxoplasma gondii parasites. Meanwhile, raw meat like beef, pork, and chicken can be contaminated with bacteria such as Salmonella and E. Coli.

Luckily, most parasites and pathogens are destroyed or rendered harmless when meat is thoroughly cooked, cured, or frozen.

That’s why most vets insist on never feeding raw meat to dogs, because feeding your pooch cooked meat will still provide the protein and nutrition they need but without the risks of illness. Therefore, avoiding unnecessary pain for your pup, and avoiding stress and vet bills for you.

If your dog eats raw meat, there is a chance they will be fine, but as an owner you must remain aware there is a risk it could make your pet sick.

Raw meat and the risk of infection

Like humans, dogs are susceptible to a large number of foodborne infections and parasites. Raw meat is more likely to carry these nasties compared to other foods and eating it can make your dog sick. This can range from mild illness up to life-threatening infections.

However, the health of your pet is only the beginning of the problem.

Anything that comes into contact with infected meat will also become contaminated, which can spread the infection throughout your home and make you sick.

Most people know to never prep cooked meat and raw meat together because of the risk of food poisoning, and the same principle is true here. Anything that has touched raw meat, whether it’s the kitchen side, the chopping board, a knife, or the dog bowl, could now be harbouring harmful bacteria.

Your dog won’t be the only one feeling “ruff”

It isn’t just your dog who can get sick after eating raw meat. Many of the pathogens found in raw meat, such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Yersinia are all zoonotic, which means they can infect people too.

Humans and other pets in your house could become infected if they come into contact with surfaces or objects that touch raw meat (like your chopping board or the dog bowl.)

And not only that, but being in close contact with an infected dog can also be enough to make you sick. Because many foodborne infections are zoonotic, you can catch it from your dog.

80% of dogs eating raw chicken as part of a BARF diet shed Salmonella in their faeces. So if your dog is infected, they will shed harmful bacteria into the environment around them. You can come into contact with bacteria or parasites when cleaning up your dog’s poo, which is why you must always wash your hands after cleaning up after your dog.

However, the pathogens in the poo can contaminate the ground where a dog has done his business, and any animal that sniffs, licks, or eats that dirt could become infected.

Your dog can also pass on harmful germs in their saliva, so you should always wash your hands and face if your dog licks you. You should also wash your hands after stroking your dog because the germs can transfer from their saliva to their fur when they lick and groom themselves.

How big is the risk of infection?

Although meat intended for human consumption is regularly tested, and there are strict hygiene practises to reduce contamination, it’s not foolproof.

Some contaminations can go undetected if they don’t cause obvious changes to an animal’s body, and some pathogens or parasites simply cannot be detected by current tests. Additionally, once an animal is slaughtered, pathogens can enter the meat during evisceration, butchery, processing, or packaging.

But how likely is it that the raw meat you feed your dog has some sort of harmful bacteria? Well, pretty likely, actually.

Here in the UK, studies have found that between 3.4 to 8.8% of chicken is contaminated with Salmonella. Meanwhile, a staggering 44-76% of chicken for human consumption contains Campylobacter. (This is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK.)

Meanwhile, animal carcasses intended for consumption by dogs and other animals have a higher rate of infection because hygiene practises and testing aren’t always as strict.

Basically, there is a chance any raw meat is infected with a bacteria, virus, or parasite even if it was intended for human consumption.

Risks associated with raw pet food

We think raw feeding is great in theory because it provides natural, whole foods that will keep your dog healthier compared to highly-processed kibble.

However, it cannot be denied that raw meat-based diets, BARF diets, and raw pet food are more likely to make your dog sick because of the high rate of contamination.

It’s also impossible to ignore the fact there are still no studies that support the idea that raw feeding is more beneficial to dogs compared to any other diet. However, there are dozens of studies into the drawbacks of raw feeding, including the alarming number of dog foods contaminated with zoonotic pathogens which can make both people and pets sick.

As shown in an FDA study, 23.98% of raw pet food is contaminated with some sort of pathogen, making it more likely to be contaminated compared to any other pet food. Only one other product was contaminated, a dry cat food, with just 1 contaminated sample out of 120 samples. No other pet food tested contained any contaminated samples. Another study found that raw pet food and jerky-style treats were likely to be infected with foodborne pathogens.

Raw feeding might be beneficial to some dogs, but as an owner you must also be aware of the potential risks associated with it.

Why can dogs eat raw meat?

The reason dogs can eat raw meat with more ease than us humans is because their digestive system is different. For a start, their gastrointestinal tract is shorter, so food passes through it quicker.

Meat is relatively easy to digest, and it’s a simple process to turn animal tissue from meat into new tissue in your own body. Meanwhile, digesting plants takes a longer time and larger GI tracts because water must be absorbed, and tough cellulose needs to be broken down.

A herbivore’s gut needs to harbour plenty of good bacteria to help digest the food, because of this, a carnivore’s GI tract is much shorter than a herbivores. 

Dogs and humans are both omnivores, however humans favour plants more heavily than dogs and have larger digestive tracts. On the other hand, dogs have much more acidic stomach acid, which is better suited to destroying pathogens and breaking down tough food items, like bone.

However, your dog is not a carnivore. Although they are adapted to eat meat, and can tolerate raw meat, your lapdog is a far cry from their wild ancestors.

Many people will claim that a raw diet mirrors the diet of wolves your dog is descended from. However, this doesn’t take into account the fact that dogs have been genetically separate from wolves for well over 30,000 years. The wild wolves we see today are mere cousins of our canine companions, with a shared ancestor millennia ago. Wolves are not a wild version of dogs. And while some dog breeds like the Shar Pei and the Husky have some of the same DNA as their wild ancestors, we don’t know if every dog does.

Plus, you only need to look at a Pug to see how different dogs are to wolves!

What we do know is that dogs have been evolving in parallel to humans for millennia, and we humans have been selectively breeding dogs and shaping their evolution for thousands of years. As such, their diet now mirrors what we eat.

For example, modern dogs can digest carbohydrates and fat. Cooking certain meats and vegetables also increases their digestibility, meaning humans and hounds alike absorb more nutrients from cooked food.

What age can dogs eat raw meat?

If you are going to feed your dog raw meat, they should be a healthy, adult dog. That typically means a dog over 2 years old with no underlying health issues. (But bigger breeds of dog take longer to mature.)

Puppies should not be fed raw meat because they have specific nutritional needs to support healthy growth. And because a puppy’s digestive system and gut microbiome is still developing, and they can struggle to digest new foods, or foods that are harder to digest such as raw or fatty meat. (Hence the dreaded puppy poo!)

A puppy will still have an underdeveloped immune system too, which makes them more vulnerable to infection and illness. It’s a good idea to avoid feeding raw meat to a puppy until their immune system has matured and is strong enough to fight off infection.

On the other hand, old dogs will have a weakening digestive system and immune system due to old age. And like puppies, old dogs can struggle to digest foods that aren’t highly digestible. Their weakening immune system also makes them vulnerable to illness and infection. Old dogs are also more vulnerable under anaesthetic, which can limit treatment options if they do become sick.

Even though healthy, adult dogs are more likely to be able to digest and tolerate raw meat safely, it doesn’t make them immune from problems. Even healthy dogs can become unwell after eating raw meat, so you should always supervise your dog and contact your vet at the first sign of illness.

How to prevent infection from raw meat

If you do want to feed your dog raw meat, you can limit the risk of infection by maintaining good hygiene and never leaving food out to spoil.

Keep clean in the kitchen

You must wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after handling raw meat. You must also wash your hands after touching any surfaces or objects that have come into contact with raw meat, such as your chopping board or your dog’s food bowl. You also need to wash and disinfect items like your dog bowls and knives that were used to prep or eat raw food.

Remember, anything that has been used to store or prep your dog’s raw food is potentially contaminated too, including your fridge and microwave. You should clean these thoroughly with warm soap and water, and then with a disinfectant.

In the USA, certain brands and batches of dry kibble food from one manufacturer have been linked to Salmonella outbreaks in humans, especially toddlers. Although this was in the States, it should remind owners to scrutinise the quality of ingredients used in their pet’s food, and the manufacturer’s hygiene practises, and be aware of the potential risk of infection for both human and animal family members.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to continue proper hygiene even when feeding any pet food.

Owners should always wash their hands after handling any dog food and thoroughly clean the areas where your pet eats. Additionally, young children should be kept away from pet feeding areas where they could come into contact with contaminated surfaces and objects.

Never leave food out

Leaving food out at warm temperatures is just inviting bacteria to grow. If your dog doesn’t eat all their food within half an hour, put the food in an air-tight container and store it in the fridge to prevent the build-up of bacteria.

Avoid those puppy kisses

Finally, it’s important that you don’t kiss your dog near their snout or let them lick you if they have eaten raw meat or raw pet food, because their saliva can be carrying harmful bacteria! Thoroughly wash your hands and face if your dog licks you and wash your hands after stroking your pooch.

Recap: Can dogs have raw meat

Dogs can have raw meat, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they should. Read all about whether or not raw meat is good for dogs here.

Some owners feel that raw meat and food benefits their dog because it is closer to what they would eat “in the wild”. However, we think the real benefits come from the fact the food is natural and unprocessed.

Plus, dogs have been domestic and eating whatever we humans gave them for tens of thousands of years. In fact, cooking usually improves the digestibility of most foods, putting less strain on your dog’s gut and increasing the amount of nutrients they can absorb from their food. Cooking also destroys any harmful pathogens in their food, preventing you and your dog from getting sick.

If you’re looking for natural, wholesome dinners for your dog, consider Pure. We use only human-quality, natural ingredients like carrots, peas, chicken breast, and cuts of beef. All our food is personalised for your dog and their individual needs too, which means if there’s a specific ingredient you want to avoid feeding your dog, you can!

Our food isn’t highly-processed under harmful temperatures either, we carefully prepare it by chopping our real ingredients up super small and then slowly removing the moisture from them. That’s even gentler than cooking, using temperatures of just 60°, while most food you’d cook at home would be in the oven at 200°!

This way we can naturally preserve the food, lock in all the goodness and keep our ingredients full of flavour, without the need for any weird ingredients or dangerous processing methods. Also, it means that there’s absolutely no faff, fuss or freezer space involved on your part, you can serve up healthy, delicious, natural meals in seconds with none of the risks of raw meat. It's easy, tasty, tailored food that your dog is sure to love.

Dr Andrew Miller BVSc MRCVS

Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS

Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.

Sources
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  3. Preliminary assessment of the risk of Salmonella infection in dogs fed raw chicken diets The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 43, (6), June 2002, 441-442, PMID:12058569
  4. Investigation of Listeria, Salmonella, and Toxigenic Escherichia coli in Various Pet Foods Foodborne Pathogens and Disease, 11, (9), Sept 2014, doi.org/10.1089/fpd.2014.1748
  5. The genomics of selection in dogs and the parallel evolution between dogs and humans Nature Communications, 4, May 2013, doi.org/10.1038/ncomms2814