Raw Protein Diet Policy

Over the past few years, interest in feeding raw protein diets to pets has been increasing. We recognize this topic is a complex one as it can impact both animal and human health. We respect that some people believe feeding raw proteins to their pets is the best for their animal’s health – and we appreciate their choice to do so for their pets’ well-being, which should always be of highest priority. At the same time, we also recognize that there is concern from medical professionals that humans, especially those with compromised immune systems, may be at a higher risk of infection by interacting with animals who eat raw proteins. 

After careful consideration of known scientific facts, and on the unanimous advice of the Pet Partners Medical Advisory Group, which reviewed and took under advisement recommendations made by experts in animal-assisted interventions, infection control, public health, and veterinary medicine from Canada and the United States, the Board of Directors voted to preclude animals eating raw protein foods from participating in Pet Partners' Therapy Animal Program. This was a phased program beginning in mid May, with complete compliance structured to be in place by June 30, 2010. This policy affects all therapy animals, regardless of species or breed.

To provide better insight into this policy, below are some frequently asked questions and answers.

1. What is a raw protein diet?

Per the recommendation from the Medical Advisory Group, for the purposes of Pet Partners Therapy Animal Program, it includes any raw protein from an animal source, including beef, chicken, pork, fish, raw eggs, or other domesticated or wild animal meat. 

Not affected by this policy are the raw ingredients noted below - as long as no raw proteins are incorporated.

· Soy and other plant proteins 

· Raw, washed vegetables, grains, legumes, or other plants
 

2. What exactly are the scientific facts?

Articles in the American Journal of Infection Control, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association and other sources document that animals fed raw protein diets (including BARF or other raw protein diets) shed significantly higher amounts of pathogenic bacteria than those fed cooked proteins. Indications are that this may put some people at risk, as compared to pets being fed commercially prepared or cooked, home-made diets. Please see referenced articles to the right to learn more.

3. Who constitutes the Medical Advisory Group? 

The group is comprised of medical professionals: Gregg K. Takashima, DVM; J. Scott Weese, DVM, SVSc, DACVIM; Michael R. Lappin, DVM, PhD, DACVIM; AP Davidson, DVM, MS, DACVIM; Deirdre Chiaramonte, DVM, DACVIM. More information on these individuals can be found here, along with postings of relevant articles and research findings. 

4. I hear about Salmonella outbreaks in the news affecting humans through human food, and dogs through commercial dog food. 

Salmonella is commonly found in raw animal products and can sometimes be found in contaminated vegetable products, commercial dry pet foods, and other sources. As with ingestion of contaminated raw meat, ingestion of other products contaminated with Salmonella can result in shedding of the bacterium in feces or, less commonly, disease in the dog. Exposure to Salmonella from dog feces can have a devastating toll on immune-compromised individuals. For alerts and human food safety, refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (www.fda.gov). For alerts and pet food safety refer to the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition (www.AAVN.org).

Additional Resources:

http://www.avma.org/petfoodsafety/recalls/default.asp 

http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/default.htm 

5. What about other risks such as MRSA, C-Diff, Giardia, and other pathogens? 

Pet Partners' policies and procedures require that handlers and pets comply with recommended infection control procedures such as hand washing and pets grooming. Any pet or person that isn’t feeling well or is having any kind of symptoms of illness should not enter a facility. Both volunteers and pets are at risk of picking up pathogens from a healthcare or other public facility. Pet Partners' policies are designed to reduce the risk of disease transmission, but the risk to all individuals, humans and pets, can never be zero. Careful attention to hygiene and other Pet Partner protocols is critical to reduce the risk of transmission of pathogens such as MRSA.

6. What types of pathogenic organisms are shed? 

Any animal can host a wide range of potentially harmful bacteria on or in its body. Some are greater concern than others, and people with compromised immune systems are more likely to get sick when exposed to various microorganisms. In terms of Pet Partners' protocol two different groups of pathogens need to be considered; those that are potentially shed by any animal and those that are more likely to be shed by certain animals. For the first group, the risk is ever-present and similar between animals, and general protocols (particularly hygiene) are used to reduce the risk of transmission.

For the second group, measures are taken to reduce exposure of people to animals at higher risk of shedding certain pathogens. This includes prohibiting the use of certain species (e.g., turtles) as therapy animals and precluding animals fed raw animal protein from the Therapy Animal Program. Because this group of animals is known to be higher risk for shedding concerning bacteria, it increases the risk beyond the acceptable baseline level present in other animals.

1.  Animals fed raw protein will be more likely to shed certain pathogenic bacteria, such as Salmonella.

2.  Animals fed commercially prepared or cooked, home-made diets are less likely to shed Salmonella and some other pathogens, which reduces the risk to
the patients/clients they visit.

3.  All pet and human foods have the potential to be recalled due to outbreaks – the difference is that Salmonella contamination of raw animal protein is
expected, while Salmonella contamination of other foods is a less common and even unexpected.

7. How long does my pet have to be off of raw protein foods before re-starting visitations again?

Animals can shed for a variable amount of time. Per the recommendation of the Medical Advisory Group, at a minimum there is to be a four-week waiting period from the time that your pet stops eating raw protein before visits are resumed.

8. If my pet has ingested Salmonella contaminated food of any kind, how long must we refrain from visiting?

Animals can shed for a variable amount of time. Per the recommendation of the Medical Advisory Group, at a minimum there is to be a four-week waiting period from the time that your pet last ingested raw animal protein or any other potentially contaminated substance before visits are resumed. 

9. What if my veterinarian is fine with feeding raw protein diets?

While your veterinarian may recommend raw protein diets for your pet, Pet Partners' therapy animal teams are in contact with many individuals who are at a much higher risk for infections. Since many studies (available on www.petpartners.org/rawdiet) have shown pets fed such diets shed a significantly higher number of pathogenic bacteria, the risk is too great for inadvertent, but avoidable infection. We understand that your vet may disagree with this policy. However, it is in the best interest of our clients who receive visits from Pet Partners' therapy animal teams that we minimize this controllable risk.

10. What are acceptable foods? (whether home-cooked or commercially-produced) 

The foods noted below are acceptable foods for Pet Partner animals to eat, per the Medical Advisory Group.

· Canned, fresh or frozen fish that has been cooked (sardines, mackerel, tuna, etc.)

· Canned, fresh or frozen beef, chicken, pork or other domesticated meat that has been cooked

· Cooked eggs

· Soy and other plant proteins 

· Raw, washed vegetables, grains, legumes, or other plants

. Commercial sterilized raw hide

. Commercially stuffed cooked dog bones 

. Pasteurized, commercial yogurt

. Pasteurized, commercial cottage cheese

. Pasteurized, commercial cheese

11. What are NON-acceptable foods?

Any raw protein from an animal source, including beef, chicken, pork, fish, raw eggs, or other domesticated or wild animal meat. This includes raw proteins that are dehydrated, pasteurized (except the dairy products listed as acceptable), freeze dried, frozen or fresh.  It also includes treats such as pigs ears, raw bones, marrow bones, etc. 

12. What commercial foods are being recommended?

You can look for a balanced diet containing cooked proteins from any reputable pet-food manufacturer. You should also consult with your veterinarian for his/her advice. 

13. What about commercial foods that are “pasteurized”?

The evidence supporting pressure pasteurization is absent for raw meat. Pet Partners would want to see objective evidence to that effect before allowing it.

14. Are there home-made diets I could use instead of commercially produced brands?

Yes there are some available recipes, but the risk of an improperly formulated and balanced diet is real. Some sources to try:

15. What if my other pets eat raw diets?

If a therapy animal has access to the food or bowl used, it would be best to not feed any of the other pets raw meats. Inadvertent eating of raw meat or cross-contamination is very real. Any dog or cat from a household where raw food is fed is not eligible to be a therapy animal registered with Pet Partners.

16. What if my pet only gets a raw bone or other raw animal protein treat occasionally?

Frequency of raw proteins does not impact this policy. There is to be a four-week waiting period from the time that your pet stops eating raw protein before visits are resumed, even if it is only a treat.

17. What if my pet catches or eats a bird, mouse, or other wild animal?

We recommend that contact with wildlife be avoided but at this point we have no evidence indicating a need to be more restrictive. If your pet has eaten a bird, mouse or other wild animal we recommend that as your pet’s advocate, you contact your pet’s veterinarian to ensure your pet’s health is not jeopardized, and will have no impact on the clients served. 

18. What if my pet eats feces from another animal?

If your pet has eaten the feces of another animal, we recommend that as your pet’s advocate, you contact your pet’s veterinarian to ensure your pet’s health is not jeopardized, and will have no impact on the clients served. 

19. What if the handler is exposed to raw meat from handling or ingesting? Would that put the handler’s animal risk? 

Use of good hygiene practices will reduce possible risks. For human food handling and safety, please refer to the Center for Disease Control www.cdc.gov

20. Can a handler also shed pathogens that could put individuals at risk?

Use of good hygiene practices, as outlined in Pet Partners' standards for all handlers, will reduce any possible risks.

21. What was the role of pet food manufacturers in the adoption of the Raw Protein Diet Policy?

No pet food manufacturer representatives contacted, encouraged, lobbied, or influenced Pet Partners' Medical Advisory Group in recommending to the Board of Directors that they approve a Raw Protein Diet Policy. 

22. Why are all Pet Partners included in this policy, regardless of where they visit?

Although children, the elderly and immune comprised individuals are at a higher risk, we are not typically able to determine in non-healthcare settings those at risk and due to HIPPA regulations even in healthcare settings, this confidential information is not disclosed.

Pet Partners has always prided itself on having high standards for its Therapy Animal Program. As board members learned of medical professionals’ concerns about the increased risk of the spread of pathogenic bacteria to humans by animals fed raw protein diets, it was determined that this was an issue that needed review. Based on input from the medical community, the Board of Directors voted to implement this new policy. As many of our therapy animal teams visit in hospitals, assisted-living centers, and other places where human immune systems are compromised, it was decided that implementing this new policy was the responsible action. For clarification, animals within Pet Partners' Therapy Animal Program are not required to be fed commercially produced food – the policy states that cooked, home-made diets are also acceptable.

23. How will the policy be monitored?

The policy went into effect June 30, 2010, and is monitored through managed risk. This means that all volunteers are to be in complete compliance by abiding by the elements of the policy as outlined above. 

24. How does the policy impact Evaluators and Instructors who feed their pets raw proteins?

If your animal is fed a raw protein diet, as an Evaluator and/or Instructor, you may continue in your role as an Evaluator and/or Instructor. Your registration as a volunteer therapy animal handler can be transferred to a volunteer only (with no animal partner) registration for the duration. 

 25. As an Evaluator or Instructor is there anything I am to do?

To ensure potential teams are aware, we recommend that you provide the updated pre-requisites for becoming a therapy animal team with your evaluation / workshop flyer which includes a link to Pet Partners' website providing the policy in its entirety. The direct link to the page outlining the pre-requisites is: www.petpartners.org/prereqs

Reference Articles

click on article reference to access

Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) (Article #1)

JAVMA (Article #2)  

American Journal of Infection Control  

Public Veterinary Medicine Public Health

Food Safety

Zooneses and Public Health  

 

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