Response to the article published in the newspaper El Mundo

Dr. Amaya Espíndola – President of RFVS

Doris Rämisch – Pet nutritionist and contributing member of RFVS

When we talk about raw diets, the focus often lies on a single aspect: the potential risk of bacterial contamination and bone handling. But the fundamental importance of nutrition in health is rarely mentioned, for both people and animals, especially in a society where chronic diseases are becoming increasingly common.

Comparing Dry and Raw Diets: A Closer Look at Contamination Risks

Furthermore, while we worry about raw food, we often overlook the dangers of processed food. Once opened, this type of food becomes a free-for-all for contamination, and the careless storage habits that often accompany the convenience of feeding dry food only increase the risk. Many times, I encounter pet owners who do not store the food bag properly or do not wash the bowl after a meal, or leaving the food exposed all day.

That’s why, from the Raw Feeding Veterinary Society (based in the United Kingdom but with members worldwide), we have set out to educate professionals, pet owners, and raw food manufacturers about good manufacturing practices and hygiene. Since our foundation in 2014, we have worked diligently to assess scientific research questioning natural diets and to expose what is overlooked about processed diets.

Every day, our membership grows, and we encounter an increasing number of veterinary professionals seeking ways to help their clients who have chosen to change their pets’ diet. At first glance, it may seem like a scientifically unfounded trend, but some veterinarians have been advocating for this approach for over 30 years, stimulating the need for further research.

Research Groups in Favour of Raw Food

Our resources may be limited compared to those of large processed food companies, but thanks to research groups like Dog Risk at the University of Helsinki, we have studies supporting the benefits of raw diets. For example, a survey of over 16,000 households over five years demonstrated that, with minimal hygiene, the risk of bacterial contamination was extremely low, less than 0.2%.

It is also important to note that the presence of pathogens in food does not necessarily mean they have effects on the animal and, therefore, on humans. Healthy animals have such low pH values in their stomachs that they kill entering bacteria (typical bacteria die at a pH value of approximately 3.5, while dogs have a pH value of 1-2 when fed raw). Compared to kibble-fed animals, the risk is higher because the pH of their stomachs is higher due to the amount of carbohydrates in the kibble, making them more susceptible to illness.

Another significant study conducted by Dog Risk evaluates the risk of developing atopic diseases, among other things, based on our dogs’ diet.

In contrast, studies arguing against BARF feeding often do not compare them with animals fed processed diets and do not specify bacterial strains or their potential for contamination. The one used in the article presented in El Mundo is specifically from the University of Bristol, discussing an antibiotic-resistant strain of E. coli. However, this has not been compared with animals fed other diets, nor has the excessive use of antibiotics in intensive livestock production and rural environments mentioned in the study been evaluated.

RFVS Cares About Safety: RawSafe iniciative

For our society, it is important to emphasise that no diet is without risks. Processed and cooked food, once opened, loses its protection and can become a breeding ground for contamination if not handled properly. Also, thanks to websites like thetruthaboutpetfood.com, we can stay informed about batch recalls, with the most recent being a dry food recall due to contamination.

On the other hand, raw food offers real health benefits, from reducing inflammatory markers to supporting the immune system, thereby reducing visits to the veterinarian and excessive medication. If we educate people to maintain good hygiene, it has been demonstrated that occasions where raw food is recalled due to contamination are very rare.

In the United Kingdom, we have implemented initiatives like Raw Safe to ensure the safety of raw food. We also have a global community of veterinarians, technicians, and nutritionists who share information and stay updated on nutrition.

Raw Feeding is not a Trend

As president of the Raw Feeding Veterinary Society along with the committee of nutrition specialists and veterinarians that make it up, we can affirm that this is not a passing fad or a new trend. In a very interesting study, Francis M. Pottenger investigated 900 cats from 1932 to 1942 and the causality between nutrition and health in them. One group was fed raw foods (meat, raw milk, cod liver oil), and the other with cooked foods. The cats in the first group were much healthier and more fertile, whereas those in the other group had reproduction problems, different diseases, and shorter lifespans.

In 1960, a book was published in Dutch titled “Wat moet mijin honden eten?” (What should my dog eat?) by veterinarian, university professor, and breeder Dr. W. F. Donath. This book talks about a diet based on raw meat, offal, and bones and its success in raising dogs, as well as the extraordinary health of his dogs compared to other diets.

Another pioneer in natural feeding is the Frenchwoman Juliette de Bairacli Levy. Her most famous book, “Natural Care for Dogs and Cats,” was published in English in 1955. In the feeding chapter, it explains in great detail why it is so important to give raw meat and that dogs are perfectly capable of digesting it.

In socialist states (before the political change in Europe), more authors could be found who spoke of a diet based on raw meats since in that part of Europe, there were hardly any possibilities to buy ready-made pet food. 

These are clear examples that we are not talking about a fad or a trend, but about a type of diet that has existed for many more years than we think.

20 QUESTIONS ABOUT RAW FOOD ANSWERED

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The Benefit of Raw Bones

Another debate that arises from this diet is the issue of raw bones. Here we emphasise education so that raw, meaty bones appropriate for the size of the animal are offered, as they can provide numerous and proven benefits for dental health and the behaviour of our dogs and cats.

We must consider that if raw meaty bones were so bad, our animals would not have evolved to this day, and furthermore, all wild animals would die from stomach perforations. Considering that even in zoos, lions are not fed kibble.

Join the discussions on RFVS’ community

Our mission responds to a need that will continue to grow because the health results are evident, and if we continue to lead the way, measuring inflammatory markers, we will continue to find that the diet must be species-appropriate and minimally processed.

We have a solid scientific basis, and we believe that it is essential to educate professionals and pet owners to achieve a change in the way food is viewed, taking care of its process from livestock production to the plate. In our society, the doors are open to debate and to provide evidence-based information thanks to the epidemiologists, nutritionists, veterinarians, and pet owners who are part of it.

 

REFERENCES:

  1. Kępińska-Pacelik, J., Biel, W., Witkowicz, R., Frączek, K., & Bulski, K. (2023). Assessment of the content of macronutrients and microbiological safety of dry dog foods. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0034528823003223
  2. Cammack, N. R., Yamka, R. M., & Adams, V. J. (2021). Low Number of Owner-Reported Suspected Transmission of Foodborne Pathogens From Raw Meat-Based Diets Fed to Dogs and/or Cats. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2021.741575/full
  3. Anturaniemi, J., Barrouin-Melo, S. M., Zaldivar-López, S., Sinkko, H., & Hielm-Björkman, A. (2019). Owners’ perception of acquiring infections through raw pet food: a comprehensive internet-based survey. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2021.741575/ful
  4. Sandri, M., Dal Monego, S., Conte, G., Sgorlon, S., & Stefanon, B. (2017). Raw meat based diet influences faecal microbiome and end products of fermentation in healthy dogs. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28245817/
  5. Marx, F. R., Machado, G. S., Pezzali, J. G., Marcolla, C. S., Kessler, A. M., Ahlstrøm, Ø., & Trevizan, L. (2016). Raw beef bones as chewing items to reduce dental calculus in Beagle dogs. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26814157/
  6. Pinto, C. F. D., Lehr, W., Pignone, V. N., Chain, C. P., & Trevizan, L. (2020). Evaluation of teeth injuries in Beagle dogs caused by autoclaved beef bones used as a chewing item to remove dental calculus. Retrieved from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0228146

 

OTHER HELPFUL LINKS:

  • Raw Feeding Veterinary Society -Position Statement

https://rfvs.info/rfvs-position-statement-2021/

  • Dog Risk’s research, University of Helsinki 

https://www.helsinki.fi/en/researchgroups/health-via-nutrition-epidemiology-and-disease-detection-dogs/research/research-by-dogrisk

  • Newspaper article:

https://www.elmundo.es/ciencia-y-salud/ciencia/2024/04/26/662b963fe4d4d87b088b457b.html

  • Article used as reference in the newspaper El Mundo:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S235277142300160X?via%3Dihub