Overgaauw said dry, semi-moist and canned pet food is rarely contaminated with pathogens.
Raw meat-based pet-food diets (sometimes referred to as RMBDs) have become increasingly popular around the world, the study authors wrote in their paper.
Contaminated raw meat, is a risk not only to the animal's health but also to the pet's owner, as bacteria and parasites can be passed between animals and humans easily. Of 35 commercial raw-meat foods from eight brands that were analysed for the study, eight (23%) had traces of an E.coli type risky to humans, while nearly half tested positive for Listeria and one in five for Salmonella. Toxoplasma gondii was found in two of the products.
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While a lot of these products are frozen, this only kills of parasites, not bacteria.
The Utrecht study said claims RMBDs yield health benefits had no scientific evidence supporting them, adding: "in nutritional terms, these diets are often deficient in several nutrients and may therefore lead to serious health problems, especially in young animals that are growing".
Fifteen products contained species from the nasty Listeria genus, eight products had Escherichia coli, and seven products contained at least one Salmonella species. But even a little meat can be harmful to pets if it's still raw and not heated, Overgaauw says. "But I can imagine that cross-contamination in the kitchen during preparation of the food, and cleaning of the food bowls-as well as direct contact with infected animals-are the highest risks", he says.
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As well, four products (11 per cent) also contained the parasite Sarcocystis cruzi, while another four was found to have Sarcocystis tenella. The former is known to be unsafe to farm animals, while the latter has been linked to illnesses in cats and humans (including mental illness in cat owners) in the United States. To see what microorganisms might be lurking in the food, they tested 35 products containing different types of raw meat and meat by-products, including chicken, beef, lamb, duck, rabbit, horse and turkey. Conventional pet food is also heated during processing, which kills all germs. That can have further implications for pet owners and for public health in general. "I think that in the US especially, owners are much more liking the convenience, and buy these products instead of preparing raw food on their own".
That's why it's important for companies to inform pet owners of the possible risks that come with feeding their pets raw meat-based diets by including warnings on packages and labels. They should be educated about proper handling of the products and personal hygiene measures, and the products should include warnings and handling instructions, the investigators said.
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