Food For Thought

Yet another recall of raw dog food occurred at the end of last month due to high levels of salmonella present in frozen raw beef, tripe and turkey produced by a Welsh company Homeland By Products Ltd.

As the FSA note on their website, “Salmonella is a bacterium that can cause illness in humans and animals. The product could therefore carry a potential risk, because of the presence of salmonella, either through direct handling of the pet food, or indirectly, for example from pet feeding bowls, utensils or contact with the faeces of animals. In humans, symptoms caused by salmonella usually include fever, diarrhoea and abdominal cramps. Infected animals may not necessarily display signs of illness, but symptoms can include diarrhoea.

The products listed have a use by date of May 2021 so could potentially be in circulation and use for another two years.

Earlier this year, Avondale Pet Foods recalled its Just Natural Chicken and Tripe raw food; eight weeks before that, The Raw Food Factory recalled tripe and pork products. Both companies released foods with unacceptable levels of salmonella.

It is impossible to tell how many people – or animals – could have become ill because of their exposure to salmonella, but anyone who is young, old, ill or immuno-compromised is at risk.

Most raw food proponents will use the word “natural” at some point to convince owners that their diet is better than foods that have been treated to kill pathogens. In the sense that the potentially deadly bacteria that they can harbour are “natural”, then they are indeed offering a “natural” diet.

However, feeding principally raw meat to dogs is no more a natural diet for them than forcing them to be vegetarian – or worse – vegan.

There is plenty of evidence to attest to the unsuitability and danger of feeding raw foods to dogs and cats and equally plenty to explain how most dogs have evolved to eat starch precisely because they co-evolved with humans as they made the transition from hunter gatherers to farmers. That transition incidentally, led to a decline “…in oral health, increased spread of pathogens, infectious disease and zoonoses, as well as a variety of ailments which have been linked to nutritional deficiencies and increased physical stress on the human body”. Dogs may have fared rather better, not least because food became more plentiful and easier to digest after cooking and other processes undertaken by the humans from whom dogs scavenged.

A new study of dogs that lived alongside humans in Bronze Age Spain in 3,000 -2,000 BCE concluded that “The long journey of dogs in the company of humans is evidenced by a diet that for millennia was a proxy to that of humans, usually reflecting the same general trend in the proportion of animal and plant foodstuffs.”

In other words, humans and dogs were omnivorous. Four sites in the region were studied, one of which contained a skeleton of a wolf which, when analysed, showed that the wolf alone had eaten a diet high in meat: “…the diet of the dogs…was not particularly rich in animal protein, as would be expected in a wild carnivore. In fact, the wolf at Can Roqueta does reach a characteristic carnivore offset…All the dogs at Minferri …probably had an omnivorous diet, perhaps including leftover food.”

So what are we to conclude?

Dogs are not wolves. Neither dogs nor wolves are obligate carnivores (unlike cats). Dogs have evolved for millennia to eat the same sort of diet as the humans alongside which they lived and still live. This is still true of the 80% of the world’s dogs that are feral.

The remaining 20% can benefit from developments in canine nutrition which mean that commercially available processed foods are easy to feed, easy to store and have contributed to increasing longevity in companion dogs. Of the estimated 47% of companion dogs in the UK that are overweight or obese, the vast majority are fed poor quality food, sometimes the same poor quality food that their owners are eating, and, again like their owners, simply eat far too much.

That cannot be blamed on the food.

The potential to make not only your dog ill, but anyone who comes into contact with the pathogens that are being shed, can be.

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