Yet again the FSA has been obliged to issue a warning against eating raw and undercooked chicken. The latest warning was prompted by a chef who was promoting chicken sashimi and who stated that “…if birds have been free range, kept in quality conditions and processed in a clean environment, there’s not so much to worry about”.
Not much other than campylobacter, salmonella and e coli that is. The FSA state yet again that “All raw chicken is unsafe to eat” regardless of the conditions in which the birds have been kept. They add that, in humans, eating raw or undercooked chicken can result in “Symptoms [that] include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, vomiting and fever. In some cases, these bugs can lead to serious conditions”.
In an update on October 19th, 2017, the FSA published their annual results, and, although levels of campylobacter have continued to fall in tested chickens, between 46.7% and 67.3% of chickens tested positive. the high-level campylobacter prevalence among the top nine most popular retailers surveyed was 5.6%. That means for every 100 chickens purchased, at least five are likely to have very high levels of contamination. Smaller retailers and butchers had a significantly higher prevalence at 17.1%. This is especially significant as people who feed raw diets are more likely to shop at independent retailers, presuming that the food will be “healthier”.
Dogs have different digestive systems to humans; they have a shorter digestive tract and a higher stomach acidity. This means that, if otherwise healthy, they are less susceptible to the pathogens present in raw chicken as bacteria do not stay in the dog’s body for as long as they do in a human. The bacteria have less time to multiply to dangerous levels and dogs are generally better able to cope with the toxins that the bacteria produce which is the cause of illness in humans and dogs. Whilst healthy dogs might be able to cope with the pathogens that they shed when fed a raw diet, young, old or sick dogs will be less resilient and all of the humans with which they come in contact will also be exposed.
A peer-reviewed paper published in April 2017 noted that the cats in the study shed pathogens as a result of eating a raw diet “for months” and concluded “The practice of feeding raw meat to dogs and cats may increase the potential transmission risk of meat-borne pathogens to people. Pet owners, especially individuals at increased risk for infectious diseases (small children, old people and immunocompromised individuals), should be aware of the safety risks of feeding RMBDs”[raw, meat-based diets]. Of course the transmission of pathogens from handling the food and the dog or cat will not only affect people in the household. Dogs and outdoor cats have the potential to come into contact with vulnerable people every day as well as other animals.
Charity Burns By Your Side is the most recent organisation to exclude dogs from their volunteer scheme if they are fed a raw diet.
There is a lot of anecdotal support that can be found online from supporters of raw diets but, not only is there no peer-reviewed evidence to back it up, a growing body of a veterinary organisations and scientists are finding that such diets are harmful because they lack essential nutrients and can cause damage when digested and excreted.
There is another worrying factor that is not immediately obvious for some owners who feed raw. There is evidence to suggest that such owners are also less likely to use prophylactic health care such as vaccination and treatments that prevent parasitic infestation because they do not trust veterinary advice.
The serious contamination of pet food with illegally imported melamine in 2007 still has repercussions, although food in the UK was not affected. Marion Nestle’s Pet Food Politics: The Chihuahua in the Coal Mine provides the only independent account of this scandal. Anyone contemplating feeding raw because they do not trust commercial dog food should read it. Similarly, scares about the dangers of human vaccines abound, even though disproven and have spread to companion animals.
The wide availability of NHS services means that most people in the UK are not used to paying for healthcare at point of use. Many are therefore shocked at the cost of veterinary treatment and accuse vets of profiteering, having no idea of the actual cost to the vet, and ignoring the fact that, if vets do not make a profit, they will go out of business. They are similarly inclined to accuse pharmaceutical companies of advising over-vaccination. Again, this is illogical: no vet would ethically or professionally administer a drug that was not necessary. In fact they could be prosecuted if they did.
Not vaccinating puts your dog and every other dog at risk from dying of parvo-virus, leptospirosis, canine parainfluenza, distemper and hepatitis. Not worming your dog puts other dogs and humans at risk of picking up tapeworms, lungworm and toxocariasis amongst others.
Some of these diseases such as parvo virus and distemper were rare due to mass immunisation in the 1970s and later, but are now on the increase fuelled in part by the number of illegally imported dogs. This, combined with irresponsible owners not vaccinating their dogs reduces the herd immunity conveyed when the majority of dogs are protected, so the danger of catching a potentially fatal disease is increased for each unvaccinated dog.
The evidence is plain. Don’t feed raw , vaccinate your dog and treat it for fleas and ticks. It is your responsibility to your dog, every other dog and your community.