It’s impossible to predict whether your dog will become sick from eating raw meat.
All dogs are different, as are all samples of raw meat. Your pup may crunch up a raw chicken wing and remain in perfect health, or he may contract a terrible – potentially lethal – disease.
No matter the outcome, feeding your dog raw meat amounts to very high-stakes poker.
Raw meat absolutely presents more risk than cooked meat does (regardless of whether the cooked meat take the form of commercial kibble or a home-prepared meal).
There is nothing controversial about this; cooking kills many of the germs and pathogens present in raw meat.
Raw meat just isn’t reliably safe for your dog. Read on to learn why, and what you should do if your dog already ate some raw meat.
The Risks of Raw Meat for Dogs: Key Takeaways
- Raw meat can make your dog very sick. This isn’t the least bit controversial — raw meats are frequently contaminated with pathogens that can make your dog very ill.
- Bacterial contamination is the primary reason raw meats are dangerous for dogs. Some dogs manage to consume contaminated food without becoming ill, but others may become very sick after doing so.
- It is a very bad idea to deliberately feed your dog raw meat. Dogs can also get sick from scavenging raw meat from the garbage, so you’ll want to be careful when preparing or disposing of uncooked meat.
Help! What If My Dog Already Ate Raw Meat?
We’ll talk about the problems associated with deliberately feeding dogs raw meat in a moment, but first, we wanted to take a moment to talk about what you should do if your dog has already eaten a piece of raw meat.
For example, your dog may have snatched a piece of raw meat you dropped while cooking, or she may have helped herself to something sitting on the kitchen counter.
First of all, don’t panic – particularly if your dog just ate a small amount of raw meat (although you should probably work on stopping your dog from jumping up on the counter).
There’s a big difference between your dog eating a bite of raw beef and feeding your dog raw meat on a day-in, day-out basis. The piece she ate may not have been covered in bacteria, so she could get lucky. If the piece does turn out to have been contaminated, the fact that your dog only ate a small amount will likely reduce the chances that she’ll become seriously ill.
Even if your dog ate a considerable quantity of raw meat (such as a whole chicken breast), you probably don’t need to race over to the vet. Just get your vet on the phone, explain what happened, and follow the advice provided.
Don’t induce vomiting or take any other drastic measures. Just be sure to watch her for signs of illness and contact your vet again if she starts vomiting or experiencing severe diarrhea.
Don’t have easy access to a vet? You may want to consider getting help from JustAnswer — a service that provides instant virtual-chat access to a certified vet online.
You can discuss the issue with them, and even share video or photos if need be. The online vet can help you determine what your next steps should be.
While talking with your own vet — who understands the ins and outs of your dog’s history — is probably ideal, JustAnswer is a good backup option.
Why Did People Start Feeding Dogs Raw Meat in the First Place?
Throughout most of our shared history, dogs have essentially eaten our scraps.
This is still the case today to an extent. Compare the ingredients list on a bag of dog food to those on a frozen dinner — they are made of the same stuff, more or less.
Ancient people would toss literal scraps and unwanted portions of cooked meat and vegetable matter to the dogs lurking around the fire.
When commercial dog foods became widespread, most people embraced the convenience and often superior nutrition they provided. By the middle of the 20th century, commercial dog food became the mainstream diet for dogs.
But, in 2001, a veterinarian by the name of Ian Billinghurst published a book called “The Barf Diet.”
Before you get the wrong idea, the book is not referring to, you know, actual barf (although our dogs would probably love it – we’ve all seen our precious pup yak something up and re-eat it before we could clean it up).
BARF is an acronym that stands for:
Some contend that it stands for Bones and Raw Food, but the idea is generally the same.
The book purportedly embraces “evolutionary principles” and seeks to mimic the diet of wild canines and felines. Many people fell in love with this idea and started feeding their dog things like raw chicken wings and meat-covered bones for dinner (often along with fruits and vegetables).
Many dogs love the taste of raw meat and tend to tolerate it well. But, as explained previously, raw meat is often contaminated with a variety of pathogens that can sicken your dog.
You could even wind up at the emergency room if you aren’t careful.
Most Authorities Agree: Raw Meat Is Potentially Dangerous
You don’t have to take my word for it: Most veterinarians and researchers eschew raw meat diets. In fact, the very first sentence of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s raw meat policy states:
“The AVMA discourages the feeding to cats and dogs of any animal-source protein that has not first been subjected to a process to eliminate pathogens because of the risk of illness to cats and dogs as well as humans.”
Ask your own vet what he or she thinks of the raw diet, but be prepared for a similar answer. In the meantime, consider what the FDA says about raw meat (spoiler alert: the article is titled “Get the Facts! Raw Pet Food Diets can be Dangerous to You and Your Pet”):
“The study showed that, compared to other types of pet food tested, raw pet food was more likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria.”
To investigate the safety of raw meat diets, the FDA sampled hundreds of pet foods, including kibbles for dogs and cats, dry food for exotic pets, jerky treats, and more.
The results were eye-opening.
Only 1 in 860 cooked or dried foods (a batch of dry cat kibble) was contaminated with either Listeria monocytogenes or bacteria from the genus Salmonella.
By contrast, nearly 24% of raw pet foods was contaminated by one of the two bacteria. Fifteen of the 196 raw food samples tested positively for Salmonella bacteria, while 32 showed the presence of the Listeria species in question.
Your Dog Is Not a Wild Canine (and That’s a Good Thing)
Part of the rationale behind feeding dogs raw meat is the desire to provide them with a “biologically appropriate” diet.
However, there are a couple of problems with this thought process.
- Your dog is a domestic animal who has been artificially selected to live alongside humans. Despite their similarities with wolves and their familial connections to them, dogs and wolves are very different animals. Wolves have spent the last 10,000 years or so eating elk and deer; dogs have spent this time learning how to beg for table scraps. Their diets differ markedly.
- Wild canines live short lives. Many family dogs live for 10 years of more (and that’s still not long enough, if you ask me!), but the average lifespan of a wild wolf is about 6 to 8 years. The average lifespan of a feral dog is even shorter – most only live 1 or 2 years when forced to live “in the wild.”
- Wild wolves are frequently infected with pathogens and parasites. Many of these internal bugs come from the uncooked prey wolves eat, and some of them can be deadly.
Plenty of wild dogs and wolves get sick by eating raw meat – some get over the illness easily enough, while others may pay the ultimate price. But they do not have a choice in the matter; there aren’t many places a wild canine can get a cooked meal.
Pathogens Lurking in Raw Meat
The primary reason that raw meat is dangerous involves the bacteria and other microorganisms that may be present in most raw animal flesh.
These may not lead to symptoms in all dogs, but it is wise to avoid the possibility entirely.
Salmonella is a genus of bacteria that can cause gastrointestinal illness and septicemia in humans. Most such infections are relatively minor and resolve after a few days, but some strains (called serotypes) can cause very serious illness or death.
Usually, Salmonella infections are of special concern for very old, young, or immunocompromised patients, but even otherwise healthy adults occasionally require hospitalization.
And despite contentions to the contrary by raw-meat advocates, some Salmonella strains can also affect dogs. It is true that most dogs simply carry the bacteria in their gut without developing any signs of illness. However, some dogs become quite sick and suffer from acute diarrhea for several days. Occasionally, even more severe symptoms manifest.
Additionally, even if your dog doesn’t develop an illness from the bacteria, they surely spread infective spores nearly everywhere they go, potentially putting your family at risk.
Listeria monocytogenes is a dangerous bacteria that causes illness in a wide variety of animals. It usually causes inflamed lesions in afflicted animals.
Although Listeria infections are relatively rare people, the 50% mortality rate associated with the infection makes this a germ to avoid.
Dogs can carry and shed Listeria via their feces and grooming habits, which can increase your chances of contracting the disease. Dogs can become sick or die from Listeria, although this does appear to be quite rare.
Campylobacter is a genus of bacteria that primarily causes illness in humans, but it also afflicts dogs on rare occasions.
Unfortunately, as explained by VCA Hospitals, most clinical cases involve one of two Campylobacter strains that are both resistant to antibiotics.
Most humans contract Campylobacter by eating undercooked poultry, but people occasionally catch the illness from the bacteria excreted by their dog. It’s not yet clear how often this occurs, but it is best to err on the side of caution.
Bacteria of the genus Clostridium, particularly Clostridium perfringens, can cause severe diarrheal illness in dogs.
Many dogs carry the bacteria asymptomatically, but others become gravely ill. About one-third of dogs with diarrhea test positive for Clostridium, but many otherwise healthy dogs test positive as well.
Researchers do not fully understand what makes some strains of the bacteria dangerous while others are apparently harmless. It is clear that many strains can cause serious illness in humans, so it is wise to avoid giving your dog food contaminated with this bacteria.
Escherichia coli – often abbreviated as E. coli — is a bacteria that lives in the large intestine of most mammals, including dogs and humans.
The vast majority of the bacterial strains are harmless, even important, components of normal intestinal flora. However, a few strains are capable of causing severe, acute illness – particularly in young puppies.
Diarrhea is the most common symptom, but vomiting and cramping can also occur, as can dehydration from fluid loss. Those with weak immune systems may develop kidney failure in response to the bacteria.
Pigs are often infected with pork worm (Trichinella spiralis) – a microscopic roundworm that causes illness in people or dogs who consume undercooked or raw pork. These worms penetrate the muscles of infected animals, causing gastrointestinal illness, muscle pain, and other symptoms. The worms can persist for years in humans, and it is occasionally fatal.
Many people are surprised that raw salmon can carry parasitic flatworms. After all, it is a staple in most sushi restaurants.
Don’t worry; salmon — even raw salmon — remains safe for humans (and cats, bears, and most other carnivores) because these particular parasites only seem to cause problems for dogs.
Salmon and a number of their relatives often carry a parasitic flatworm called Nanophyetus salmincola. In most cases, this flatworm is relatively innocuous, causing few – if any – problems in animals who consume raw salmon. But these flatworms can themselves be infected with an organism called Neorickettsia helminthoeca, and this is what causes problems for dogs.
Typical problems include diarrhea, vomiting, inappetence, fever, and swollen lymph nodes. Without treatment, most dogs (90%) die from the infection.
As you can see, there are a number of different pathogens that may lurk in a hunk of raw meat. Your dog may have been eating raw meat for years without ever getting sick, but each time you offer raw meat to him, you are rolling the dice with his health and yours.
If you really want to feed your dog raw, consider going with a manufactured kibble that includes chunks of raw freeze-dried morsels. These kinds of foods are becoming increasingly common, and they provide your dog with the yummy taste of raw food while being somewhat safer, thanks to the freeze-drying process.
What do you think of feeding your dog raw meat? Have you ever considered it? Share your thoughts in the comments!
August 23, 2022
I to talk disagree with this article if you adhere to basic hygiene & get your raw food from a reputable butcher or supplier the risk is low I have been feeding raw for 15 yrs & have never had. A problem whereas my Spaniel developed an immune disease from kibble, after a vets recommendation I changed her to a raw diet she recovered within 3 mnths & lived a healthy life till 16 yrs
August 24, 2022
Hey there, Lin.
You’re obviously free to think what you like, but the facts are the facts: Raw meat presents unnecessary risks to you and your dog.
And — as I say in the article — you don’t have to take my word for it, either. I included scads of links to veterinarians who also discourage the feeding of raw meat.
Best of luck.
February 17, 2022
I thought your article was a great read. I have been feeding my dogs (22 shepherds)
Raw diet for about 9 years now. I have also raised about 200 puppies from 4 weeks of age also raw. I do agree with raw meats having risks and carrying parasites, bacteria etc. The AVMA discourages feeding any animal protein source that hasn’t been rendered in some way I agree and disagree with this statement. I use the best fresh sources of meat (fresh kill from the farm) handled properly and refrigerated or frozen (salmon). I do understand most vets do not want the average pet owner undertaking feeding their pets. This poses a lot of problems from getting proper nutrition to the handling and proper storage of raw foods
I do feel your article was a little over the top using a bit of scare tactics. I’m always for educating the public just not creating fear.
February 18, 2022
Hey there, Robin. Thanks for the kind words about the article.
I’m not trying to frighten owners, necessarily, but I do think it’s very important to push back on the raw feeding fad. It places our pets in jeopardy for no reason.
I get that I’m not going to change your mind, but I thank you for checking out the site and sharing your thoughts.
November 3, 2019
This is a very well researched and written summary of the risks of raw meats. I’ve two large breeds dogs and stay with high quality kibble, despite many urging us to “go raw.”
Thanks for addressing this important public health issue.
P.S. Would like to have seen Shigella included in your list of pathogens.
August 20, 2019
Thanks for the important info! I read something about raw meat for dogs and began feeding my boy Chachi raw ground beef everyday. He was eating a pound every few days always raw until one day he had an accident on the tile and I saw the runny diarhea. I stopped feeding him raw hamburger that day. I always read dogs have a type of antibacterial product in their saliva which alows them to eat the stuff they like. Chachi chased down a mouse and ate the entire mouse one time! He is part chow and part weiner dog. Thanks for giving it to me straight about raw meat! Also for allowing me to brag about my good boy-who is doing great by the way at 11 years old!
August 20, 2019
Glad you found the article helpful, Pamela!
Part of the problem with feeding raw meat is that your dog may not get sick the first two, three, four, or fifty times you feed it to him.
But all it takes is one mouthful of uncooked meat harboring a dangerous pathogen to make your pup very ill.
Thanks for sharing Chachi’s story!
January 6, 2019
Sorry. Originally dogs ate raw meat. both from animals they caught for themselves or from scavenging other animals’ kills.}e. Coli is in all faeces. Dogs lick their bottoms — E,oli, dogs eat bird poop and horse and other herbivores’ poop, all with their E coli. Dogs’ digestion copes with it.
In fact ‘cooked meat’ will carry pathogens more dangerous to dogs than raw meat does (unless you cook fresh raw meat and feed it to your dog immediately. If your left over roast has gone slimy, chuck it where the dog cannot reach it.
Forget it folks — raw meat is fine, raw bones are essential.
Cooked meat probably won’t hurt your dog provide it is not OFF cooked meat it has scrounged.
July 26, 2019
Hey, Jenny. Sorry I missed your comment earlier.
I would strongly suggest you check out some of the links included in the article, and consider them with an open mind.
Also, this: “In fact ‘cooked meat’ will carry pathogens more dangerous to dogs than raw meat does (unless you cook fresh raw meat and feed it to your dog immediately. ” is just categorically incorrect.
We appreciate varying viewpoints, but facts are facts, and it is important to rely on science when your dog’s health is concerned.
Thanks for reading though!