A University of Illinois study finds that dog foods formulated with human-grade ingredients are highly digestible. (Photo credit: JustFoodForDogs)

BRISTOL, United Kingdom — Feeding dogs raw meat could lead to health problems — for their owners, according to a new study. Researchers from the University of Bristol say this food can contain antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can lead to severe and possibly fatal infections.

Some believe the trendy diet is more nutritious for pets, boosting man’s best friend’s energy. It also helps create a shinier coat, improves skin, and strengthens teeth. Pet food companies also market it as a more “natural” pet food.

However, scientists show dogs eating raw meat are more likely to excrete life-threatening strains of E. coli in their feces.

E. coli is a widespread bacterium that is found in the intestines of all humans and animals, however it is a common cause of many diseases including urinary tract infection and can cause serious illness including sepsis if it spreads to other parts of the body,” says lead author Professor Matthew Avison in a media release.

“We should do everything we can to reduce the circulation of critically important antibiotic-resistant E. coli and other bacteria. Our research adds to the increasing evidence that not feeding raw meat to dogs may help in that objective.”

This bacteria can pass from dogs to owners through everyday interactions, meaning raw meat may not be the safest choice. Study author say pet owners should take extra precautions when handling it and be especially careful to clean up after feedings.

“We know humans and animals share bacteria with one another, so what we find in your pet may well also be in you. Pet owners should be encouraged to practice good hygiene and not feeding raw food to your dog can be part of this,” adds co-author Prof. Kristen Reyher. “We can all do our part to decrease antibiotic resistance and its terrible effects on both human and animal health.”

Two analyses, involving 223 puppies and 600 adult dogs, identified links between eating raw meat and excreting drug-resistant E. coli. Using data from different groups demonstrated the phenomenon, regardless of age or length of time spent on the diet.

Eating raw meat displayed a strong risk factor for those living in the countryside. The issue was much more complicated for city-dwellers due to the variety of lifestyles and exposures levels in urban areas. Owners also completed questionnaires about their dogs’ diets and living environment and provided fecal samples from them as well.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are everywhere, but some antibiotics are considered critically important for use in humans. We have shown that dogs fed raw meat are more likely to carry bacteria resistant to these important medicines. This doesn’t mean that the animal, or the owner, will become sick,” Prof. Avison says.

Last year, Portuguese scientists branded uncooked dog food as an “international public health risk.” They examined 25 major brands from supermarkets and pet shops and found multidrug-resistant bacteria identical to those found in patients.

Estimates predict that antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” will kill 10 million people annually by 2050. The World Health Organization (WHO) describes the problem as “one of the greatest public health threats facing humanity.”

The findings are published in One Health and the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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