Raw Pet Food and the AVMA

Raw feeders are relatively used to being told how wrong they are.  Veterinarians, especially, can be quick to berate a pet owner for choosing to feed their pet a raw diet.  It is not unusual for a raw feeder to have gone through several vets in order to find one that will at least accept the way they choose to feed much less encourage it.  Raw feeders often find themselves educating their vets, friends, fellow dog people.  Anecdotal evidence is the most oft used form of dissemination.  While criticized by many, what better way to show the myriad of benefits than to show it first hand in a dog who has thrived on the raw diet or has overcome health issues due to a change to a raw diet.  Still, despite the thousands of pets who thrive on raw, there is a constant movement to drive people away from feeding their pets appropriately.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), is a non-profit association with approximately 82,500 members.  It is not a requirement for a veterinarian to belong to the group and they have no law passing powers, but, obviously, many vets do indeed claim membership.  The AVMA cannot pass laws – they instead can exert pressure by making recommendations based on information that they collect.  These recommendations are considered AVMA policies only – not federal or state law – and as such are non-binding.  This doesn’t, however, mean that they are completely harmless.

In July of 2012, the AVMA released a resolution that was to be voted on at their August meeting.  Entitled “Policy on Raw or Undercooked Animal-Source Protein in Cat and Dog Diets”, it recommended that feeding any raw or undercooked meat to any cats or dogs should be discouraged.  The reasoning behind this?  According to a statement released by the AVMA, it was decided after a “thorough review of the scientific literature” and that the proposed policy was itself drafted by veterinarians with expertise in public health.  The policy itself claims that feeding of these proteins cause a risk of illness to dogs, cats, humans and other non-humans due to the pathogens inherent in the raw meat.  Their recommendations are as follows:

  • Never feed inadequately treated animal-source protein to cats and dogs
  • Restrict cats’ and dogs’ access to carrion and animal carcasses (eg, while hunting)
  • Provide fresh, clean, nutritionally balanced and complete commercially prepared or home-cooked food to cats and dogs, and dispose of uneaten food at least daily
  • Practice personal hygiene (eg, handwashing) before and after feeding cats and dogs, providing treats, cleaning pet dishes, and disposing of uneaten food [sic]

The dangers listed include (but are not limited to) Salmonella, Campylobacter, Clostridium, E. Coli, Listeria and Staph.  They explain that dogs and cats may develop illnesses from their raw or undercooked food that is contaminated with these pathogens and that secondary transmission of these pathogens to humans or other animals is a possibility especially for children, senior citizens and immune-compromised individuals.  Their food list includes, but isn’t limited to, “beef, pork, poultry, fish and other meat from domesticated or wild animals as well as milk and eggs.”  The ultimate reason for the policy?  “To mitigate public health risks associated with feeding inadequately treated animal-source protein to cats and dogs….”.  Interesting.

There are several inherent problems with the above policy, reasons for it, knowledge behind it.  In 2010, the well known Delta Society Pet Partners Program instituted a ban on any raw fed pet being used as a therapy animal in any of their programs.  No longer could any of the Pet Partners be raw fed and neither could they come from a household where any raw food or treats were fed to any other animals.  The Delta Society, evidently in an attempt to shore up their position after it had been ill-received by so very many pet owners, went to the AVMA and requested that they consider making the recommendation. The complied.  It is interesting to note that the Delta Society, which is run by a board of directors, maintained that they were not approached nor contacted in any manner by the large commercial dog food companies prior to instituting the ban.  Well, unless you count the fact that the chairman (then secretary) of their board of directors is none other than the marketing director for Purina.  The same Purina who donated $400,000 to Delta.  What a strange coincidence.  Even when one avoids the Delta/Purina connection (which is impossible to do), in 2008, the AVMA partnered with Hill’s (the company behind Science Diet foods) in a pet obesity awareness campaign which was considered to be incredibly successful.  Of further interest, Purina is a welcome and regular exhibitor at AVMA conferences.  The plot

4 week old puppies devouring a pan full of raw green tripe – and they all grew up to be happy healthy adults! (and none of their owners got sick either!!)

thickens and the associations get deeper…..

So now we know where the idea for the policy came from and frankly it doesn’t make their claims or their evidence any more valid.  The passing of this policy has served to cause panic among many raw feeders.  Many see it as a step towards banning or outlawing raw foods and the manufacture of raw foods.  Thankfully, that isn’t the case.  It is what it says -a policy, and the AVMA puts out a lot of them.  No law passing power lies within the AVMA.  None.  This doesn’t mean that we, as raw feeders, shouldn’t be vigilant, we should – groups such as the AVMA can have undue influence on the politicians that propose laws on a state and federal level, but at this time nothing even remotely close to that eventuality has happened.

So the question of the day  – – – is there any truth to the claims of danger proposed by the AVMA?  What about all of their scientific studies?  By in large, the studies quoted by the AVMA are not conclusive as to the danger of (or safety of) a raw food diet.  By carefully choosing the language from the study that most benefits their ‘policy’ the AVMA has neglected to give anyone the whole story.  There is no conclusion made in ANY of the studies that there is a specific harm from feeding your pet a raw diet.  Yes, pathogens exist in this world.  True.  If we adhere to what the AVMA would have us believe, we, as humans, shouldn’t have ANY raw meat in our homes at all.  That’s right.  Not only should we not feed our pets raw meat, but we shouldn’t have it anywhere in the house.  What’s more, they shouldn’t have it anywhere in the grocery store.  Seriously.  Uncooked meat all over the place spreading diseases and pathogens…….It sounds silly but if we are to adhere to the logic set forth by the AVMA than its the truth we have to follow.  The only evidence that they have put forth that can actually be proven is that raw meat can contain pathogens.  We know this.  That is why we take normal food handling precautions when we handle it – whether for ourselves or for our pets. There is no difference.

The AVMA infers that foods that have been processed via cooking or pasteurization are fine for feeding.  What they seem to be able to easily dismiss and forget is the fact that while there is no evidence that any animal or human has become ill in a home where the pets are raw fed, there is plenty of evidence that processed kibble HAS caused illnesses.  In the spring of 2012, no less than 49 people were made ill from salmonella.  All from contaminated cooked, extruded and processed kibble.  No raw meat.  Just ‘safe’ cooked kibble.  Double cooked.  At high heats.  Interesting.  Nature’s Variety – a large scale provider of both processed (kibble & canned) and raw foods –  had a recent recall.  No, not on their raw food – but on their KIBBLE.  The cooked, extruded, processed – SAFE food.  Curious.  There have been any number of recalls on what the AVMA considers safe food.  None on raw.  Evidence, one would think, that points to the safety of raw food over pathogen carrying processed food.  Or does that answer too logical?  Perhaps.

The fact is that the AVMA can dictate policy until the cows come home – it isn’t even binding on their members.  While it can and may be the first step towards restrictions on raw foods, it isn’t necessarily so. In 2008 the AVMA came out against cropping and docking of ears and tails.  While illegal throughout most of Europe, in the United States, in the 7 years since it was introduced by the AVMA and in the 4 years since they took a hardline stance against it, not one area of this country has seen fit to make it illegal.  Most vets still perform the procedures and many of those are actual members of the AVMA.  It is not likely that this policy will go any further than that one did.  It does mean that even more raw feeders – some of those newbies who aren’t as confident as others – will now be subject to warnings and lectures from vets who honestly don’t have a clue.  They will tell their clients that the AVMA has decided that raw feeding is bad.  Unfortunately some will assume that means that the information is valid and will question their decision to feed raw.  Hopefully they have another more experienced raw feeder to turn to who can guide them through the negativity and into the positive light of everything raw can do for their pets.