Bones and Raw Food Diet - Part Two

It’s natural, but is it safe?

Very special hygienic care must be taken when handling and preparing raw foods for your cat or dog

Several studies have looked at bacterial contamination of raw foods and shedding of bacteria in the feces of dogs fed raw foods, and have shown that 20-35% of raw poultry tested and 80% of raw food diets for dogs tested positive for Salmonella and 30% of stool samples from these dogs were positive for Salmonella. Raw food diets have also tested positive for E. coli and Yersinia enterocolitica (bacteria that may cause gastrointestinal upset). Healthy dogs may be able to cope with ingestion of these bacteria, but very young, old, or immunocompromised dogs may not be able to do so. Further, the feces contaminate the environment with these bacteria. Parasites that may be present in raw meat in include Toxoplasma gondii, Sarcocystis, Neospora caninum, Toxocara canis (round worms), Taenia and Echinococcus (tape worms).

When handling raw foods, either in preparation for human consumption or for the dog’s dinner, the cook must be scrupulous in hygiene, washing all surfaces and hands before touching anything or anyone else. Small children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised (e.g. anyone ill or on immunosuppressive medications) should not be handling the raw meat.

Some advocates of feeding raw meat and bones diets claim that the bones are beneficial for oral and dental health. Studies in wild dogs, found that 41% had evidence of periodontitis, although only 2% had dental tartar, so while the teeth may appear cleaner, the gums are not necessarily healthier.

 Are raw bones safe?

Raw bones are usually added to the diet as a calcium source and for dental health. Chewing on a large meaty bone does seem a great source of joy for many dogs, and if it is large enough that it cannot be chewed up is generally considered safe.

Analysis of the BARF diet has not confirmed that feeding bones is an adequate source of calcium. One of the major risk factors is that of the bone, or part of a bone getting stuck in the esophagus, stomach or intestines, which can be fatal.

There is a conception that feeding raw bones is safer than feeding cooked bones but there have been no objective studies on this. Bones that become stuck in the stomach, or more likely in the intestine, may perforate the gut, causing a potentially fatal peritonitis or abdominal infection. The only way to remove a bone stuck in the intestine is by surgery. Sometimes a segment of the intestine may need to be removed as well if it has been damaged by the bone. A bone stuck in the esophagus is an emergency and may require an urgent appointment with a specialist to remove it. This can be a fatal condition and the longer it is stuck the worse the prognosis.

Summary

  • In summary, if you choose to feed the BARF diet or any other diet involving raw foods, we recommend that very special hygienic care is used in handling the food and the dog’s feces. Add probiotics for dogs to support digestive and immune health
  • Remember to deworm your dog regularly, and tell your veterinary surgeon what diet you are feeding so that if your dog develops gastrointestinal disorders, they will know to look for the bacteria and parasites mentioned above.
  • Ideally, the diet should be balanced by a veterinary nutritionist and supplemented as necessary.
  • If you feed bones, either raw or cooked, that can be ingested by your dog, you are running the risk of esophageal or gastrointestinal obstructions. It may be possible to chop or grind the bone up small enough (e.g. less than 0.5 cm) that they are less likely to get stuck. Alternatively, consider consulting a veterinary nutritionist to determine the amount of calcium (and other nutrients) to add to your dog’s diet and skip the bones.