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Bacteria In The Bowl…

  Bacteria in the Bowl are a Fraction of All The Bugs in a Dog’s Life Death, Destruction and Damnation Salmonella! E.coli! Listeria! Parasites! Death, destruction and damnation. These are the guaranteed cries of people uneducated and inexperienced in feeding dogs raw food. Fear, fear and more fear is all they can teach. We all […]

Dr Nick Thompson

Author: Dr Nick Thompson
BSc (Vet Sci) Hons, BVM&S, VetMFHom, MRCVS

Bacteria In The Bowl…


Bacteria in the Bowl are a Fraction of All The Bugs in a Dog’s Life

Death, Destruction and Damnation

Salmonella! E.coli! Listeria! Parasites! Death, destruction and damnation.

These are the guaranteed cries of people uneducated and inexperienced in feeding dogs raw food. Fear, fear and more fear is all they can teach. We all know that there are always two sides to every story.

This one-sided, unscientific and biased view is a real shame. If you talk to vets and vet nurses who advocate raw feeding (and just about anyone else who’s approached the subject critically), you’ll get a very different story.

So, just to set the record straight, we’re going to look at the threat to your dog from the food you put in the bowl and the bacterial world in which they live their daily lives.


Yes, there are bacteria in the bowl. Are they a threat, or do they actually help the dog’s immune system? What are the relative levels in the bowl compared to everywhere else in the dog’s world?

Evidence for the Prosecution: Bacteria in Raw Food ARE Dangerous

The first big scientific review paper, in 2013, bringing lots of previous papers together, was headed by Lisa Freeman at Tufts University in Florida (which is part-sponsored by Hill’s Pet Foods). She and colleagues titled it, ‘Current knowledge about the risks and benefits of raw meat-based diets for dogs and cats’. Within the paper, under the title ‘Safety Risks’, they mention studies finding Salmonella, E.coli, Campylobacter, Clostridium, Toxoplasma and Listeria bacteria in raw food. These findings have since been backed up by at least four other papers from Scandinavia, Holland and Portugal.

You can’t deny that there are bugs in raw meat. It’s a natural product that has not been denatured by heat. That’s the whole point.

The world is full of bacteria, some ‘good’, some ‘bad’. There are bugs, squillions of them, in your mouth, nose and eyes (Neisseria meningitides, the bacterial meningitis bug, is actually quite common in the nose and throat of healthy humans, for example). It is naïve and disingenuous of raw critics to simply say a product is dangerous because it contains bugs. A wiser and safer approach is to review how much good the product is doing versus how much harm.

In the case of raw dog food, nobody has yet come up with a figure of just how risky feeding raw food actually is. Or isn’t! That is – sceptics will (usually with no experience of feeding raw in the real world) all tell you how dangerous raw food is, but can’t point to reports of actual harm to humans or pets and can’t tell you how risky it is relative to, say, crossing the road or driving your car. Everything, even getting dressed in the morning, has dangers (think trying to put your pants on standing on one leg).

Evidence for the Defence: Bacteria in Raw Food RARELY Cause Problems

Ask any raw feeder. They will admit that they know there are low levels of bugs on the food they feed. They’ll tell you they source from organic, free-range and grass-fed suppliers as much as possible. They’ll tell you how they freeze raw food for at least a week to completely eliminate parasites, Toxoplasma and Campylobacter. They’ll wash their hands after handling all meats, just as they do when preparing meat for themselves if they eat meat. Wiping down of surfaces is an unwritten law in these households.

Professor Anna Hielm-Bjorkmann at the DogRisk Study group at the University of Helsinki in Finland and her students are the leading scientists in raw food research anywhere in the world. Their paper (written by Johanna Anturaniemi) of 2019 entitled, ‘Owners’ perception of acquiring infections through raw pet food: a comprehensive internet-based survey’, studied reports from 16,475 households. Only 39 of these reports suggested transfer of a disease bug from a raw fed pet to a human family member. Of these 39, on examination, it was found that only three households showed bugs found in people to be the same as those fed to the pets. This is 0.02%, a very low incidence, but still not proof that the raw food was the cause. Suppose you take exposure (dogs are exposed to bug each day they eat during the study). In that case, this figure rises to three possible incidents in over 90,000 feeding events.

Interestingly, in the same paper, the authors found that the more raw food that was fed to the pets, the less likely it was to have transmission (that is if you fed a 50:50 raw to kibble you’re more likely to pass something from pet to a human when compared with a 100% raw diet).

Surprisingly, It was also found in the paper that preparing raw food in the same place as family meat, usually the kitchen, and using the same human utensils was associated with less chance of infection to owners. Logically, people are more fastidious when using shared tools and work surfaces than preparing the dog’s food in a ‘room out the back’ or designated dog area.

The Helsinki team found that having a 2 to 6-year-old child living in the house was associated with more than twice the infection risk for the humans than if raw feeding pets! In plain language, that means the study showed you’re more than twice as likely to pick up bugs from a toddler or young child as you are from your pet! Human parents beware. Pet parents laugh your socks off.

Comparison of the Dog’s Bowl to the Doggy Environment

Fresh raw food in the bowl, whether just meat or a complete meal, has low levels of bugs. We know this because all the raw food manufacturers are monitored, in the UK, by Defra, the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), Public Health England (PHE) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA), for quality and bacterial safety.

Compare this low level in the bowl to the bacterial world of the dog. Our pets (with whom we cuddle and kiss) go out to the park or into the woods every morning. They inevitably tread in goodness knows what (faeces, urine, sputum, blood, rotting carcasses etc.), bring it home, then proceed to lick their feet to clean them off.

While at the park, even the primmest and proper designer handbag-ridden toy dog will meet their doggy friends, stick their noses up their bums, lick urine or exchange saliva. Your dog might be a cat poo or dog poo eater. It’s common enough.

While going about their daily business, your dog is likely to make sure their own bums are spick and span by regular inspection and licking. Our dog’s world is one of bugs. Bugs galore.

It seems to me ridiculous for the anti-raw brigade to point the finger at well-made raw food. It is low in disease bugs while dogs are surrounded on all sides by bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. It’s as ludicrous as large motor manufactures banning petrol lawnmowers, claiming they are damaging the environment.

Generally speaking, dogs on raw food don’t get infections from their food. Look at your raw fed dog, talk to friends, ask members of your raw Facebook forum. No one would feed raw if there was even a remote, realistic chance of harming their dog.

If you listen to the naysayers, the kibblers, the certified animal nutritionists, they’ll all tell you raw food is dangerous because of risk of infection, but that just doesn’t fit with the everyday facts.

Headline: Ten Thousand Dogs a Day Poisoned by Raw Food

There are about nine million dogs in the UK. About 10-20% of those dogs eat daily some or all raw food. If we take the lower end, 10%, it means almost one million dogs are exposed to raw meat bugs every day.

Where I ask the sceptics, are the lines of pet owners cradling their poor poisoned, infected, vomiting and diarrhoeic pooches? Can you imagine if even 1% of those million raw fed dogs got sick? All the newspapers would have shock headlines a mile high saying ‘10,000 dogs a day poisoned by raw food.’ I don’t know about you, but I haven’t noticed any headlines like this.

The scare tactics and the facts just don’t stack up. Critics don’t take into account the vanishing low rates of infection of dogs and humans. The same people don’t care to mention the massive, almost miraculous, health improvements we continually see in our raw fed dogs.

And Finally…

Be reassured. Naysayers will continue their fear-tactics until they see the light. Until they understand the safety and unbelievable benefits of raw.

Raw feeders – keep doing what you’re doing. Keep sourcing quality food for your pets. Keep providing variety and feeding responsibly for health. Keep your eyes on the reality of raw feeding. It is overwhelmingly safe, it helps, it heals, it’s simple, and dogs love it.

Dr Nick Thompson

BSc (Hons) Path Sci., BVM&S, VetMFHom, MRCVS. Founding President of the Raw Feeding Veterinary Society. Petplan Vet of the Year Nominee 2009, 2015, 2017, 2018 & 2020. The practice of the Year Nominee 2018.


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