AAHA warns about raw pet diet risks

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Raw chicken drumsticksAn animal hospital association recently indicated it does not advocate or endorse feeding pets raw or dehydrated nonsterilized animal-source proteins.

Officials with the American Animal Hospital Association announced in August that their organization took a position that states that raw pet food diets risk animal and human health. The position statement was endorsed by the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians.

“Based on overwhelming scientific evidence, AAHA does not advocate or endorse feeding pets any raw or dehydrated nonsterilized foods, including treats that are of animal origin,” the AAHA position states.

In August, the AVMA similarly adopted a policy that discourages people from feeding cats and dogs raw or unprocessed meat, milk, or eggs. That policy also is concerned with pathogen risks.

Dr. Michael T. Cavanaugh, executive director of the American Animal Hospital Association, said the AAHA board of directors approved the position statement in July, and it was released in August with the two endorsements. But he thinks deliberations about the position predate the start of his employment with the organization in January 2010.

Several years ago, leaders in AAHA and the Delta Society, now Pet Partners, discussed concerns that pets in the Delta Society’s therapy animal program were shedding pathogens, Dr. Cavanaugh said. Those animals often visit immunocompromised and other at-risk people, and the Delta Society decided to stop allowing dogs to participate in the program if they had recently consumed raw or unprocessed animal-source proteins. After a review of the scientific literature, the AAHA board of directors agreed to inform veterinarians and the public about the risks connected with such foods.

Dr. Cavanaugh recognizes that some people disagree with AAHA’s position on such diets, but the board took a position it saw as correct and backed by scientific evidence. He appreciates the passion for their pets and the strength of the accompanying human-animal bond those—including some veterinarians—who have strong opinions in favor of raw diets have, but the AAHA feels a responsibility to educate people about the risks to human and pet health.

“I don’t know why this subject sparks such emotion, but people are passionate about it,” Dr. Cavanaugh said.

The position statement does not oppose, for example, homemade diets involving properly cooked meat, Dr. Cavanaugh said.

Dr. Carina Blackmore, president of the NASPHV, said in a July 30 letter to the AAHA that her organization “strongly supports, affirms, and endorses” the AAHA position statement regarding raw protein diets. Her letter states that raw diets are a public health concern because pathogens can be transmitted to humans by the food, the animal, or contaminated surfaces, and some of those pathogens are resistant to multiple antimicrobials.

“Strong scientific evidence has demonstrated that raw or undercooked animal-based protein diets can be contaminated with a variety of pathogens and that animals fed the diets often shed these pathogens in their stool,” her letter states.