Raw Dog Foods Are a Superbug Hazard, Researchers Warn

In Europe, raw pet food turned out to be laden with antibiotic-resistant bacteria; in Israel, such fripperies are banned outright

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
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Dog and meat
This is a good boyCredit: dezy / Shutterstock
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

You mean well by your dog. You forgo industrial foods laden with ash and corn, and feed Fifi with the choicest morsels of raw meat, figuring it’s only natural. But raw dog food in Europe turns out to be laden with superbugs, a new study warns.

Theoretically, you can’t poison yourself or your pooch with raw dog food in Israel because it’s illegal to produce, market or sell raw dog or cat food, the Agriculture Ministry tells Haaretz. Period.

Protestations by people who are marketing ostensibly raw food for canines in Israel, that such meat underwent pasteurization, left the ministry clammy: “When assessing the risks involved in producing raw food for animals, it was found that such food endangers the public health and animals because it does not undergo full thermal treatment,” the ministry stated – i.e., it isn’t cooked at the high heat necessary to kill microbes.

Drug-resistant microbes existed for eons before the invention of medicines such as antibiotics and antifungals. Why? Because bacteria and fungi were overcoming naturally occurring bactericides and fungicides. But rampant overuse of these medications in modern times, combined with other factors such as incompetent usage, have made drug-resistant bacteria and fungi a worldwide scourge.

Superbugs kill about 700,000 people a year, says the World Health Organization, and it projects that if the trajectory is sustained, that could rise to 10 million deaths a year by 2050. “Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development today,” the WHO wails. No less.

Now, new research presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases warns that tests of raw dog food sold in Europe showed the presence of antibiotic resistant bacteria, according to Dr. Ana R. Freitas, Dr. Carla Novais, Dr. Luísa Peixe and colleagues from UCIBIO, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Porto, Portugal.

Crucially, some of the multidrug-resistant bacteria strains detected in the raw dog food were identical to strains found in hospital patients. The point isn’t whether they were infected from raw dog food; it’s that they may have been, and can be.

Resistance to antibiotics or antifungals happens when the bacteria/fungi develop ways to overcome a drug designed to kill them. They survive where their bacterial brethren passed onto the great void, and proliferate, creating new generations of resistant germs. (One reason to finish a course of medicine boils down to the adage “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” – it’s true here.)

Fork to farm to hospital

The main culprits behind the proliferation of resistant bacteria and fungi are anybody overusing these medications in an irresponsible manner, chiefly medical practitioners and farmers. Many farmers administer them routinely in their feed, rather than as needed.

One result: resistant E. coli, resistant pneumonia, resistant gonorrhea, resistant syphilis, resistant tuberculosis – you name it. Even resistant chlamydia. Doctors have to resort to increasingly toxic drugs to treat these strains, if they can be treated at all. (We’re not saying these are the bacteria in raw pet food; we’re saying these are some of the bacteria now widely prevalent in resistant form.)

But antibiotic (and antifungal) resistance isn’t just a problem at hospitals. It’s also in the food chain. “Food animals are considered as key reservoirs of antibiotic-resistant bacteria with the use of antibiotics in the food production industry having contributed to the actual global challenge of antibiotic resistance,” wrote a team in Frontiers of Microbiology in 2016 – a paper that also addresses how to sever the connection between farm to fork infections. Which is: cooking.

Cooking at high heat, not a gentle poach in warm water, kills microbes, as well as parasite eggs. Pasteurization, the Agriculture Ministry stresses to Haaretz, has proved effective for dairy and eggs, but not raw meat or fish.

To elucidate the magnitude of the problem, if any, in European raw dog food, Freitas, Novais, Peixe and colleagues from UCIBIO analyzed raw dog food specimens from supermarkets and pet shops, and tested them for Enterococci bacteria that normally live harmlessly in our guts, and those of dogs, but causes havoc if it spreads to other parts of the body.

All the raw dog food samples contained Enterococci that were resistant to multiple antibiotics, the team reports. Some had bacteria resistant to the last-resort drug linezolid. Only three of the non-raw samples contained multidrug-resistant bacteria, the team stated.

Moreover, genetic analysis showed that some of the multidrug-resistant bacteria in the raw dog food were the same as bacteria isolated from hospital patients in the U.K., Germany and the Netherlands, the team says.

Antibiotic resistance can pass from one bacterium to another; never mind how, it can. Indeed, the researchers found that can happen with the antibiotic resistance genes involved here too.

The Guardian adds that a separate study not yet submitted to a medical journal for publication tested pet owners and animals from 80 households in Portugal for bacteria with resistance to the last-resort antibiotic colistin. All 126 humans were healthy, but four tested positive for bacteria with the requisite resistance gene; half the 102 pets had either skin or urinary tract infections, and eight dogs tested positive for that problem gene conferring colistin resistance. In two – just two – homes, both owners and pooch had the gene, the paper says.

What are we to make of all this? That raw dog food can be a source of deadly bacteria that may be resistant to last-resort drugs. People who handle raw dog food can become infected. Such dog food, the researchers state, could be an overlooked driver of the problem globally.

It bears adding that given its druthers, a dog will happily scavenge in garbage and heaven knows what it’s getting from week-old pizza and that lovely cadaver in which it rolled, etc. Why add to the hazards by buying raw dog food?

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