Raw meat-based treats for pets is becoming increasingly popular in Europe but scientists in the Netherlands, where 51% of pet owners - an estimated one million people - have adopted the trend, are warning against the diet.
The researchers also tested for listeria and salmonella bacteria, and found them in 43% and 20% of the samples, respectively.
Despite pet owners' best efforts, however, feeding cats and dogs raw meat and bones is increasing the potential for disease, researchers say. Humans can get sick from bacteria and parasites lurking in raw-meat products, too.
Contaminated raw meat, is a risk not only to the animal's health but also to the pet's owner, as bacteria and parasites can be passed between animals and humans easily. The meat carries bacteria that can be risky to both animals and humans.
Marketing campaigns assure consumers that they have plenty of positive effects on animals, including facilitating digestion, reducing allergies, improving energy levels or even easing the treatment of diabetes and epilepsy. Even more worrisome, E. coli 0157-a particularly risky strain now responsible for a lettuce-based outbreak in North America-was found in 23% of the samples.
Previous research has already shown the risks associated with feeding raw meat-based diets to cats and dogs, including a risk of developing hyperthyroidism in dogs, inadequate nutritional balance, and contamination with parasites and pathogens.
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Four products contained the parasite Sarcocystis cruzi and another four contained Sarcocystis tenella, both of which can cause nausea, stomach ache and diarrhea.
It said the pathogens can be transferred "through direct contact with the food; through contact with a contaminated pet, such as sharing the same bed and allowing licking of the face and hands; through contact with household surfaces; or by ingesting cross-contaminated human food".
This isn't the first time researchers have warned pet owners against raw meat-based diets. Toxoplasma gondii was found in two of the products. "The most concerning from our public health point of view is that they are finding multi-drug resistant bacteria in the food source", he said.
New research from Utrecht University in the Netherlands suggests that in addition to a lack of evidence for any health benefits, raw meat diets for pets can cause dental and gut injuries, growth problems, deficiencies in certain nutrients, and infection.
Others argue that it's more natural for a carnivorous species to eat raw meat products. They should be educated about proper handling of the products and personal hygiene measures, and the products should include warnings and handling instructions, the investigators said.