Raw meat diet - any benefit after mast cell tumor surgery
Question: How important is it to use uncooked, raw meat? Dusky is a large Pom-pet store type- just diagnosed and operated on mct on side- I believe grade 2, it was all in a mass-encapsulated? He has had his first ultrasounds and they seem good according to the vet. (I can't tell , myself). He has supplements for food. I was using Cesar- as it seemed to be of the type that he liked. He will be getting ultrasounds every 3 months. What should I avoid- in either food or supplements?
I am sorry for the delay in responding to your question. Unfortunately the most accurate answer to your question is that no one knows whether there is any benefit to feeding a raw meat diet. At the present time the one or two studies of any quality that have been done to attempt to answer this question have addressed whether the diets meet nutritional needs rather than provide some sort of additional benefit. The home made diets have not fared well when compared with known nutritional needs when studied but it is possible to design a home made diet that does meet the pet's nutritional needs. People just tend to make substitutions without thinking about the consequences. You can't do that and realistically hope to keep the diet well balanced.
I am not aware of any nutritional supplements that have been proven to be helpful in preventin occurrence, or reoccurrence, of mast cell tumors. That does not mean that there may not be a supplement that helps. It just means that no one has proven one works as far as I can tell.
I am sorry that I can't provide more specific information.
Mike Richards, DVM 5/12/2001
Question: Hi Dr. Mike:
This current month's report was great and thanks for the bio. Now I know that your feet touch the ground when you walk just as those of the rest of us. :-))
I was particularly happy to read your position on dogs left unattended in vet hospitals overnight as compared to going "home". My wonderful vet here is adamant about keeping dogs overnight following just about anything and when I try to advise people otherwise I get this - But, the doctor said... Yes, I know they should respect the doctor but a dog left unattended in a strange place, in a crate, blah, blah, blah just cannot get the same attention that it will get in *most* homes. See - I left myself an out! :-))
Now - my question concerns bloodwork on dogs who eat a raw diet compared to the standard kibble fare. It has been mentioned various times on the rawdiet list to which I belong that blood panels will be "different" (sorry I can't be more specific on that except that some things will be higher) for dogs eating "raw". Do you have anything to offer regarding this statement?
Certainly I do not expect you to recall who I am so allow me to say that I have been feeding a raw diet to my dogs for about 4 years. Sad to say - not all the same dogs because I had to euthanize my 2 Giant Schnauzers within weeks of one another late in '99. The older dog's hips gave out and the rescue dog 's body was suffering from too much pain as a result of a car accident he suffered long before I got him at the shelter when he was about 9. For the record, my almost 13 year old who had eaten raw for about 2 years at that time showed excellent health in all his organs - in spite of two and one half years on Rimadyl. (He also got megadoses of calcium ascorbate daily as well as twice daily glu/chon ) He had always been given food in addition to kibble but was on raw for only about the same amount of time that he was on Rimadyl - for whatever that is worth.
My Bouvier who was 7 in October has a longer record on raw and the one "panel" that was done showed that he was doing great. Now I have a Bouv pup on raw - he is 6 1/2 months and has been on raw since early November when I got him home. I plan to have a blood panel run on him in a couple of months just for the record. Is there something I need to watch for?
Thanks for this list! Are there other vet "lists" - such as universities, for example, that offer advice and information that you can recommend?
Saludos de Mèxico, Charlotte
If the raw food diet is well balanced and does not contain excessive protein, excessive calcium and/or phosphorous, there should be no differences in the blood chemistry values. Many people feeding raw food diets are feeding a higher protein concentration than is found in other diets and this may cause increases in the blood urea nitrogen (BUN) or creatinine values. I would still worry about a BUN over 35 or a creatinine over 1.8, though. Some of the diets in which bone is included have pretty high calcium and phosphorous compared to other diets and these may cause rises in either calcium or phosphorous, although the body usually regulates these levels closely enough that this doesn't occur. I have seen a report, which I could not find when I looked just now, which stated that white blood cell counts tend to be lower in dogs fed raw food diets but I can't remember any more details than that, nor do I remember how reliable I though the source was. I would worry about white blood cell counts below 5000, regardless of the diet a dog is on.
I do not belong to any of the email lists for vets because I tend to be about ten days behind on email lately, so I feel bad doing anything that might make that situation worse. This web link seems good, though: www.vetmedcenter.com
Mike Richards, DVM 2/27/2001
When making a diet at home it is important to remember to include all of the food groups which it seems like you are doing.
I am not aware of any proven benefits of raw meat over cooked meat in home-made diets. The safest course of action would probably be to cook the meat to eliminate toxoplasmosis, salmonellosis and E. coli infections. These are probably the most common food borne diseases that affect dogs when they are fed raw meat, although other problems are reported.
Toxoplasmosis is a parasite whose cysts live in the muscle of cattle, pigs and other creatures. If meat is not cooked enough the cysts live and can infected dogs or humans exposed to them. In an immune compromised patient this is a much worse problem than in patients with normal immune systems.
E. coli and Salmonella are bacterial infections. In most cases they are the result of food contamination by infected workers who handle the meat during processing. I am not aware of any studies that really quantify the risk to dogs of these illnesses but they are frequently implicated in food poisoning deaths in humans, we know that dogs do get infections from these bacteria and it is therefore reasonable to assume that there is a risk which probably approximates that of humans but may be smaller or even larger than the risk to people. These would also be more likely to cause serious illness in an immune compromised patient.
Mike Richards, DVM
Question: We all know that canids have eaten raw meat for millions of years. I'm very interested in feeding my dog a diet based on raw meat. Feeding raw chicken that's been processed at a plant is not the same as the animal killing it fresh, of course. Nevertheless, I know many people who have been using raw diets for years, and I've seen great results in their dogs in terms of skin, teeth, reduction of allergies, and overall vitality.
The main objection of most vets to raw feeding is the potential danger for bacterial contamination. We know that bacteria like salmonella and campylobacter are endemic, not only on meats but even in fruits and vegetables. But the presence of bacteria doesn't necessarily correspond to a high risk of infection. The raw feeders I know swear they've never had a problem with these bacteria.
I've already read the usual arguments against owner-prepared diets, and am making a separate study of the question of nutritional balance. For the moment, I'm concerned solely with the question of whether there is in fact a real risk of *significant* bacterial problems (higher than the average dog eating kibble plus the usual "found" items like cat poop, the occasional dead rodent, etc.).
Can you provide any hard evidence that feeding raw, human-grade meat, properly handled, measurably increases the risk of salmonella/campylobacter infection in dogs? All I've seen on both sides of this question is opinion, generalization, and anecdote.
--Are there any veterinary studies about the effects of salmonella/campylobacter in dogs? e.g. statistics about incidence of salmonella/campylobacter overall?
--Are there any confirmed cases that animals fed raw diets suffered from these bacteria? If so, how severe was the problem?
--Do animals ever get these bacteria from cooked sources (i.e. processed foods)?
--Do animals in the wild suffer from bacteria like salmonella?
Your help in this area would be greatly appreciated!
Answer: I will try to answer some of your questions and to point out the ones that probably do not have verifiable answers. In addition, you may wish to search the PubMed database located at the following address, as it contains a great number of references on Salmonella, Campylobacter, toxoplasmosis and other food borne infections.
I see little to no value in an argument such as "we all know canids have eaten raw meat for millions of years". If pet owners were willing to accept mortality rates similar to wild canines for their pets there would be a lot fewer long term disorders of any type, not just food related ones. The average lifespan of a wild canid is very short compared to that of a pet dog and the same is true of feral felines. We deal with many of the problems of aging in pets because of the success of pet foods and improved health care. They don't live in a natural situation and for the most part they are probably better off because of that.
I am not sure that the main objection among veterinarians to raw meat is simply bacterial infections. Toxoplasmosis occurs in approximately 1% of the beef sold in the United States, making parasitic infections a significant concern as well. Other parasitic infections are also possible.
In answer to the anecdotal evidence of no disease from owners feeding their pets raw meat, I would like to offer one illustration of the problems with this type of evidence based on practice experience. On at least a hundred occasions I have used a flea comb to find live fleas on pets whose owners swore they had no flea problem since starting "x" or "y" flea preventative diet, such as garlic, brewer's yeast, Lyfe (TM), etc. Most of these people left my office totally unconvinced of the failure of the product mentioned because they wanted to believe in it. They weren't looking for a problem and they didn't want to see a problem, so they just didn't acknowledge it. Surely you encounter similar situations in researching historical events.
I think the major problem with owner prepared diets is an attempt to satisfy the needs of pets by making one recipe and not varying it. I strongly suspect that if pets were fed a variety of foods that approximates the food triangle suggested for humans that an adequate diet would be obtained. On the other hand, trying to formulate a single recipe that meets the needs of pets long term is very very difficult to do. I do not know about other vets but I think that the major reason to stick with pet foods is the incredible ability of pets to train their owners to feed them unbalanced and/or unhealthy diets. A great many of the pets I see who are fed primarily home-made diets or table scraps eat only a few items consistently. Feeding pet foods helps avoid this problem. I am not particularly uncomfortable with the notion of people feeding a variety of foods in an attempt to meet dietary requirements as long as they are aware of the pitfalls and avoid them.
Food poisoning cases are not identified in pets as often as they are in humans, primarily because the labwork is expensive to pursue and epidemiological resources similar to those in human medicine are not there for veterinarians. There is a great deal of evidence to show that these infections do affect dogs and cats. Please check the PubMed site and search under Salmonella or Campylobacter or Toxoplasmosis or E. coli to find some of the references to this. There are some studies outlining how Salmonella affects dogs in these references but most are concerned with transmission methods. Any good veterinary internal medicine textbook will provide details as to the clinical signs of disease from organisms that can be transmitted through raw meat. These are taken from The Handbook of Small Animal Practice by Dr. Rhea Morgan:
campylobacteriosis : vomiting, hemorrhagic or watery diarrhea, fever, clinical course of 5 to 15 days, may be a complicating factor in parvovirus infections, asymptomatic carrier state is common
salmonellosis: vomiting and/or diarrhea, fever, lethargy, abdominal pain. In some instances, abortion or central nervous system signs or death
E. coli: currently considered to be less of a problem in pets than in humans. Similar signs to salmonellosis (from R. Remillard on the Veterinary Information Network, 1-800-700-4636).
Cryptosporidiosis: (protozoan), primarily affects cats, causes diarrhea, weight loss, loss of appetite, dehydration. May be a cause of inflammatory bowel disease in dogs.
Toxoplasmosis: (protozoan), stillbirth, abortion, severe systemic illness in newborns, fever, eye damage, muscle pain, depression, weight loss, poor appetite, cough, respiratory distress, seizures or other CNS signs.
Evidence for the risk of feeding raw human-grade meat must be inferred from studies in humans because of the inability to track animal cases. There are numerous cases of well defined, well tracked food poisonings from raw or undercooked meat in the U.S. Perhaps pets are less susceptible to infection from these meat sources but that is not really very likely. If several people die from undercooked hamburgers in Wisconsin, it is pretty likely that a pet or two was affected as well.
There are no tracking agencies for diseases in pets. It is unlikely that statistics exist for overall infection rates for campylobacter, salmonella or almost any other disease. Without widespread pet insurance and in the absence of a CDC or similar program in veterinary medicine it will be a long time before valid statistics become available.
There are a number of confirmed cases of salmonella suspected to have originated in raw meat in dogs. There have been studies done on greyhounds due to the suspicion that a condition known as "Alabama rot" or cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy is caused by a strain of E. coli which is suspected to be linked to the prevalence of raw meat diets among racing greyhounds.
Yes, pets do get exposed to Salmonella and possibly other pathogens when pet foods are contaminated by poor handling, rat or mouse feces or addition of contaminated foods to the diet. There have been reported cases of this happening in pets but I was unable to find specific references -- although I am sure it can be done.
Wild animals do suffer from salmonellosis, toxoplasmosis, campylobacter and other illnesses. There have been documented cases in a number of species and there have been cases of human exposure after eating or contacting many species, including at least one case of salmonella food poisoning after eating a rattlesnake (it is in the list of references under Salmonella in the PubMed database but I can't remember the exact reference). I have treated wildlife for a number of years in association with WildCare, Inc. and have seen food poisoning on a number of occasions, some of them confirmed through lab testing or necropsy exam. People seem to believe that wild animals live a long and carefree existence and nothing could be further from the truth. They are heavily parasitized in many instances, suffer from nutritional deficiencies on a regular basis and often die very young. I do not know the specific reference but from memory I think the average lifespan of foxes studied in one study was 9 months. This is a far cry from the lifespan we expect from our pets.
When I started in practice 19 years ago it was unusual to treat a 20 year old cat. I have at least ten feline patients over the age of twenty and at least two dogs in that age range in my practice. This is probably due in no small part to nutritional improvements which came about primarily through the feeding of well formulated and safely preserved pet foods. While that does not directly address the feeding of raw meat diets it is hard for me to understand why pet foods are knocked by some people who favor the diets that were prevalent when dogs lived closer to ten or twelve years and a fourteen year-old cat was thought to be ancient.
Please think this through very carefully. Ask your vet if you can read through his or her textbooks and then look up the references cited in them if you want to really research this subject.
There may be benefits from feeding raw meat. Like everything else, you have to weigh the risks against the benefits. Like most issues in veterinary medicine it isn't possible to find hard figures to base your assessment on. There are definite risks. Are you sure of the benefits?
People ate raw meat for a long time (and still do, sometimes with no problems) but I'm not going to take chances with this, personally.
Mike Richards, DVM
Response and Reply, Part II
Reply: Thanks indeed for your prompt and very detailed response. Would you permit me to post my question and your reply, in their entirety, to the NEWLEAF email discussion list? It's a small list that advocates raw feeding.
I appreciate the time you took in replying. We disagree not on the facts, such as they are, but on the significance of the information that's available so far. For example, you wrote:
"I see little to no value in an argument such as "we all know canids have eaten raw meat for millions of years". If pet owners were willing to accept mortality rates similar to wild canines for their pets there would be a lot fewer long term disorders of any type, not just food related ones . . . "
" People seem to believe that wild animals live a long and carefree existence and nothing could be further from the truth. They are heavily parasitized in many instances, suffer from nutritional deficiencies on a regular basis and often die very young. I do not know the specific reference but from memory I think the average lifespan of foxes studied in one study was 9 months. This is a far cry from the lifespan we expect from our pets. "
First, as a former Alaskan, I hardly view wild animals as immortal and uniformly healthy. And I do not turn my dog loose to catch and eat diseased animals or to scavenge, though that is the natural behavior of canids in the wild. My point is simply that in terms of evolution, a canid's digestive system is designed to eat raw foods, mostly meat. It's certainly not optimized for a mostly-grain pelletized diet. What interests me is feeding a raw diet that is best suited to the animal, as safely as possible.
Second, how much of the wild mortality rate is related to food contamination? I would guess most foxes die young due to predation, starvation, and disease, rather than from salmonella infection.
Why are so many zoo carnivores maintained on raw diets, if processed foods are better? Haven't recent studies shown that zoo animals fed a varied raw diet demonstrate improved health and behavior? What of the Pottenger studies of raw versus cooked diets?
"When I started in practice 19 years ago it was unusual to treat a 20 year old cat. I have at least ten feline patients over the age of twenty and at least two dogs in that age range in my practice. This is probably due in no small part to nutritional improvements which came about primarily through the feeding of well formulated and safely preserved pet foods. While that does not directly address the feeding of raw meat diets it is hard for me to understand why pet foods are knocked by some people who favor the diets that were prevalent when dogs lived closer to ten or twelve years and a fourteen year-old cat was thought to be ancient. "
I'm not persuaded this is a long-term trend. Or if it is, it may only be because most cats now live indoors rather than outside, where they risked early death from many causes.
As a historian, I find references to dogs (gravestones, estate records) that routinely lived into their mid-to-late teens and even twenties, prior to invention of processed dog foods. I read recently that AKC records show a marked *reduction* in longevity in most breeds since feeding processed dog foods became the norm. It's certainly been my personal experience; the German Shepherds we raised on table scraps in my childhood lived much longer than the ones I raised on kibble. My last dog died of osteosarcoma; she was just over three years old. Maybe diet's not the only factor, but it's one I can attempt to change.
"In answer to the anecdotal evidence of no disease from owners feeding their pets raw meat, I would like to offer one illustration of the problems with this type of evidence based on practice experience. On at least a hundred occasions I have used a flea comb to find live fleas on pets whose owners swore they had no flea problem since starting "x" or "y" flea preventative diet, such as garlic, brewer's yeast, Lyfe (TM), etc. "
I'm sure you're correct -- but most natural methods don't aim at complete elimination of fleas, just of the reaction to fleas.
For what it's worth, my GSD has been on Top Spot her whole life. I've found both ticks and fleas on her, within days of applying the product. Ticks were still there 24 hours after I first found them. By your definition, I still have a problem. Does this prevent my vet from recommending the product?
"They weren't looking for a problem and they didn't want to see a problem, so they just didn't acknowledge it. "
That says to me that if there are routine problems in feeding raw meat, either the dog's symptoms are mild, or else the owners are blithely ignoring them. I'm sure there are such people. The people *I* know who feed raw are minutely aware of most aspects of their dogs' health; they spend an hour or more each day discussing nothing else. The consistency, color, and frequency of the dogs' elimination is a common topic. Surely they're not all delusional.
"I think the major problem with owner prepared diets is an attempt to satisfy the needs of pets by making one recipe and not varying it. I strongly suspect that if pets were fed a variety of foods that approximates the food triangle suggested for humans that an adequate diet would be obtained. "
I agree. I think variation in the diet within certain limits is crucial; it's one reason I dislike feeding a commercial food. Can you imagine being told that the only way to ensure the health of your child is to feed it one single, complete, pre-processed food forever? That you should never give it any fresh or raw ingredients?
The diet I'm planning to start contains a variety of meats and meaty bones, which make up about 70% of the diet; organ meats are 10%; the other 20% is a variety of raw pureed vegetables, nuts, seeds, and sprouts; along with a short list of supplements.
"Food poisoning cases are not identified in pets as often as they are in humans, primarily because the labwork is expensive to pursue and epidemiological resources similar to those in human medicine are not there for veterinarians. There is a great deal of evidence to show that these infections do affect dogs and cats. Please check the PubMed site and search under Salmonella or Campylobacter or Toxoplasmosis or E. coli to find some of the references to this. "
Thanks for the reference. I did conduct a search and pulled down related articles, which a friend of mine in vet school is going to copy for me. As you said, few of them showed any relation of actual illness in dogs to incidence of bacteria in either food or fecal matter.
"Evidence for the risk of feeding raw human-grade meat must be inferred from studies in humans because of the inability to track animal cases. . . . Perhaps pets are less susceptible to infection from these meat sources but that is not really very likely. "
Given the differences in our digestive tracts, it wouldn't surprise me at all if dogs are much less susceptible. That's *exactly* what I'm trying to determine.
"There may be benefits from feeding raw meat. Like everything else, you have to weigh the risks against the benefits. Like most issues in veterinary medicine it isn't possible to find hard figures to base your assessment on. There are definite risks. Are you sure of the benefits? "
You've hit the nail on the head. What are the risks, and the benefits? I've seen many benefits firsthand, in the dogs who are fed raw diets. I've seen many problems in dogs fed nothing but kibble: association with bloat, increasing pet obesity, rampant allergies, what seems to be a very high rate of cancer. Frankly, the only benefit I've seen in kibble diets is convenience, and insurance against obvious malnutrition.
The risks of raw feeding? Obviously, raw meat has a higher rate of bacterial presence than cooked food. But does that translate into actual infection and illness in the pet who eats it? If so, how great a risk, and how severe are the consequences? A little occasional diarrhea? Some animals die from salmonella, but is it a significant risk? Greater than the risks associated with processed diets?
From what I've found so far, it appears to me that there are many benefits of a raw diet, if I use human-grade meat and handle it as safely as possible. Before going full-raw, I've been trying to determine whether there's any statistical scientific evidence that such a diet is overall more risky to my dog than kibble. If I find such evidence, I'll certainly reconsider!
Answer: It is OK with me if you post the question and response, because I have them posted on our site already and you are a direct participant in the discussion posted. I would appreciate it if you would make it clear that I do not intend to participate in a long-term debate on this subject and do not plan to respond to future emails regarding it. I think it is an important subject because of the interest in it but it is a subject for which logical debate is limited by a lack of scientifically substantiated data on all sides of the issue. All I can do is give my most considered opinion, just as others are doing. Mine is that the risk appears to outweigh the benefits based on my experiences, the bulk of the data that can be substantiated and the information sources I trust. You just have to weigh that with the rest of the information you are accumulating and make your own decision.
I do have one question, which you can view as simply rhetorical if you do not wish to respond. Why not just cook the meat in the diet you plan to use?
Mike Richards, DVM
Last edited 08/30/02
Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...