image of raw meat

Raw Pet Food Safety

LAST UPDATED November 2023

This article was last updated by Pet Circle's qualified veterinarian, Dr Gillian Hill BVSc (Hons)

While raw animal based foods or treats such as pigs ears might be a good fit for your pet and lifestyle, it's important to be aware of the potential health risks they can pose and the measures you can take to reduce them.

What are the risks of raw food diets?

The main risk to be aware of when feeding raw food or treats to your pets is that due to their uncooked nature, these products are naturally more susceptible to contamination with potentially harmful bacteria such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, E.coli and Listeria. While they may be processed by air drying, freeze drying or other means, it's important to be aware that these methods are not the same as cooking - exposure to heat is much more effective at killing bacteria.

While there is a chance these bacteria could make your pet unwell, the bigger risk is that you and your family members could be exposed to them through handling the contaminated treats or foods. Pets who eat contaminated products can also shed bacteria for a period of weeks even if they have no outward symptoms, putting any humans or other pets they come into contact with at risk.

The public health significance of raw pet food products is starting to become more apparent, with the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States identifying cases of illness in humans linked back to pet food products. Both organisations have released position statements recommending that people be aware of the risks posed by raw pet foods1,2.

How to reduce the risks of raw food

Many health organisations, including the CDC in the US and Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses (CPHAZ)3 in Canada advise that raw animal based foods and treats should not be fed to pets who come into contact with at risk humans. At risk individuals are those who may have a weaker immune system than the average person, including children under 5, the elderly, pregnant women and chemotherapy patients.

If you do wish to feed your pet a raw animal based food or treat, taking some simple hygiene precautions can help to reduce the risks contaminated products could cause illness in people. While raw products are more likely to be contaminated with bacteria, it's important to remember that it can also occur from time to time in cooked products such as canned or dry food. These steps are good to practice regardless of whatever kind of food or treat you feed your pet.

Pet food safety tips

  • Always wash your hands with soap and water immediately after handling pet food or treats
  • Store pet food and treats away from where human food is stored and prepared
  • Avoid letting young children handle pet food and treats
  • Use a dedicated scoop or cup to measure out your pet's food
  • Follow all storage instructions on pet food packaging
  • Wash your pet's food and water bowls regularly in very hot water, after washing you can run them through the dishwasher on a hot cycle if dishwasher safe
  • Choose food bowls which are easy to clean at high temperature and less likely to scratch (eg stainless steel)
  • Avoid purchasing treats such as pig's ears from bulk bins as the risk of cross contamination is higher
  • Choose cooked treats and foods where possible