CDC weighs in on raw pet food, safety

A recently released infographic particularly highlights raw pet food safety considerations.

Willeecole |
Willeecole |

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be the pre-eminent public health organization in the world. Operating under the Department of Health and Human Services — in the same US Cabinet department but separate from and independent of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — its mission is to "serve as the national focus for developing and applying disease prevention and control, environmental health, and health promotion and health education activities designed to improve the health of the people of the United States." So when CDC offers advice to the public regarding the safety of pet foods, it shouldn't be dismissed.

Raw pet food safety concerns according to CDC

In a recently published infographic directed toward the consumer (see “Additional resources” web box), CDC lays out the need for concern when handling and feeding pet foods as it pertains to potential microbiological contamination and its repercussions for both public and animal health. Although the brochure specifically notes that all pet foods can be contaminated and hence present a potential risk of a person or a pet contracting an illness, it admittedly does emphasize the need for concern in the case of raw pet foods. In any case, common-sense storage, handling and feeding practices to help mitigate the risks are recommended by CDC.

Personally, I viewed the CDC materials as sound and sober guidance from an agency highly respected for its expertise in the field of disease prevention. As interpreted by others on the internet, though, CDC is just another one of the government agencies that literally "hates" raw pet foods. Apparently, it is in collusion with FDA, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), state departments of agriculture and others intent on wiping out that facet of the pet food industry. In other words, CDC is either ignorant or corrupt, but regardless, it is not looking out for the best interests of consumers or their pets.

CDC vs. the public trust

It is difficult to imagine a group of normally dispassionate scientists and public officials banding together in this fashion with the ulterior motive of hindering the market for one type of pet food to the benefit of the other types. If you browse the CDC website, in fact it actively discourages a lot of things. CDC doesn't want people to eat rare hamburgers or runny eggs, keep turtles as pets, or feed live or frozen rodents to snakes, either. Perhaps the one food safety issue where CDC expresses its strongest concerns (and against which there are many state laws) is the distribution of unpasteurized milk for human consumption, where it considers the public health risks of drinking raw milk to far outweigh any purported benefits. 

In any event, it does not appear to the objective mind that CDC expressly "hates" raw pet foods, any more than it hates alfalfa sprouts or oysters on the half shell. Whether feeding raw pet foods or with any of these other practices, an individual person is free to choose to ignore the advice, tacitly accepting the associated risks. However, that does not mean that people shouldn't be actively warned of those potential risks, which is all CDC is doing. 

On a personal note, I do include raw pet food manufacturers among my clients. Regardless, I am neither a staunch advocate nor a strong opponent of feeding raw pet foods. As a pre-veterinary student in the 1970s, I helped with a university study specifically looking at the effects of raw diets in dogs. The authors of the study report a beneficial effect on some facets of gastric structure and function (see “Additional resources” web box). As the person who chopped up the raw chicken carcasses with a hatchet, blended them with uncooked hamburger, apples and other raw ingredients, and fed this concoction to the dogs every day, all I can note is that the diet was very well accepted, without any signs of an obvious adverse health effect in those dogs fed the raw diet. I would never conclude that this observation definitively demonstrates safety, however.

CDC and overall pet food safety

If you look further on the CDC website, there is a lot more information about pet food safety than what is contained in the infographic. Regardless of the type of pet food being produced, pet food manufacturers should embrace the advice offered by CDC and be willing to actively share it with their customers. It should not be distributed in a manner that makes it alarmist or disparages one form of pet food over another. Rather, as the advice pertains to that company's own products, it should be provided as a source of unbiased information to help ensure that the company's products are handled safely and fed appropriately. After all, no company wants dogs or cats to get sick while eating its products, and a bit of straightforward, honest guidance to purchasers to help prevent that should be taken in the manner in which it was offered.      


Reference re: raw dog food

Van Kruiningen, HJ; Wojan, LD; Stake, PE; Lord, PF. “The influence of diet and feeding frequency on gastric function in the dog.” J Am Anim Hosp Assoc 1987; 23:145-153.


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