We all want our dogs and cats to have the best and healthiest food. However, just like our food, pet food and treats can sometimes be contaminated with germs. These germs can make pets and people sick.
The good news is that you can take steps to keep your pets and family healthy.
Safe food for dogs and cats
There are many safe food options for your dog or cat.
Safe pet foods rarely cause food poisoning in pets. These foods have been cooked or heated to a high enough temperature to kill germs.
Choose pet foods that provide the right amount of nutrients your pet needs. When buying food for your dog’s or cat’s main diet, look for the words “complete and balanced” on the product label.
Main types of safe pet food
- Kibbles are cooked and shaped before being dried. They are then coated with flavors. (Note that some kibbles are coated or mixed with raw pet food – these products would be considered raw pet food and would likely have the word “raw” on the packaging.)
- Canned pet foods are sealed before being sterilized (heated to a high temperature).
- Fresh pet foods are cooked food with fewer or no preservatives. These products are often delivered to your home as part of online pet food subscription services. They may also be available at pet stores and grocery stores. Because fewer or no preservatives are used, fresh pet foods need to be refrigerated, and they do not keep as long as kibbles or canned pet foods.
Some people make food for their pets using ingredients from the grocery store. If homemade pet foods are your pet’s main diet, talk to your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist to make sure you are providing a complete and balanced diet for your pet.
Follow pet food safety steps
Keep your pets safe
- Stay up to date on food recalls and outbreaks. Don’t feed your pet any recalled or contaminated food.
- Pet food recalls: FDA animal product recall website or AVMA Recall Watch Twitter account.
- Other food recalls and outbreaks: CDC foodborne outbreak website.
- If your pet got sick after eating a specific pet food, report a complaint to FDA.
- Clean pet food and water bowls, food scoops, treat toys, feeding mats, and placemats frequently.
- Follow storage instructions on pet food labels.
Keep yourself and your family safe
- Wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling pet food or treats. Make sure children wash their hands properly.
- Don’t let your pet lick your open wounds or areas with broken skin, and try not to let your pet lick your mouth or face immediately after they eat.
This is why CDC does not recommend feeding raw pet food or treats to dogs and cats.
What is raw pet food?
Raw pet foods contain protein from an animal, like chicken and beef, and have not been cooked or heated to a high enough temperature to kill germs. Plant-based foods, like fruits and vegetables, are less likely to be contaminated with germs and are not considered raw pet food.
Note that some pet food companies use high-energy beams (irradiation) and very high pressure (high pressure processing) to kill germs without heat. However, we currently do not have enough information about how well pet food processing facilities are using these processes, and therefore still consider these products to be raw pet food.
Common ingredients in raw pet food include
- Uncooked muscle meat (like thigh and breast)
- Uncooked organ meat (like liver and kidney)
- Uncooked bones
- Uncooked eggs
- Unpasteurized milk
Raw pet foods come in many different forms, such as
- Raw (like the raw chicken you buy from the grocery store)
- Raw frozen
- Freeze-dried (frozen and then dried in a vacuum)
- Dehydrated (dried using warm air)
Even treats and food toppers (food that is added to or mixed in with your pet’s regular food) can be raw. Some examples are rawhide chews and freeze-dried treats.
The easiest way to identify a raw pet food product is to look for the word “raw” on the packaging. You can also check with the pet store or the pet food company.
Raw pet food can cause food poisoning
Raw pet food can make your dog or cat sick. This is because raw meat and other raw protein from animals can have germs like Salmonella and Listeria. These germs have been found in several raw pet foods. Raw pet food can also make you and your family sick when these germs spread around your kitchen and home.
Freeze-drying, dehydrating, or freezing raw protein from animals only reduces the amount of germs. These processes don’t kill all germs that might be on the food.
Raw pet food is not necessarily healthier
Raw is not necessarily healthier. Both raw and cooked pet food can be made with high-quality or low-quality ingredients. Both can be nutritionally balanced or inadequate. And both can be digestible; some nutrients can be more easily digested after the food is cooked, while some nutrients may be more digestible in raw food. (For example, cooking breaks down thiaminase in seafood and prevents thiamine deficiency in cats.)
Some people may say that raw pet food is the natural, ancestral, or instinctual diet of dog and cats. However, diets that are best for wolves and wild cats are not the best for pet dogs and cats that live at home and live longer lives. In fact, pet dogs prefer and need foods that are lower in protein and higher in fat and carbohydrates than wolves.
If you’re thinking about feeding raw pet food to your dog or cat, talk to your veterinarian first. They can help you decide what is best for your pet and family.
When discussing with your veterinarian, consider some of these questions:
- Is anyone in your household, or anyone else your pet interacts with, more likely to get very sick from foodborne germs? This includes children under 5 years old, adults 65 years or older, people with weakened immune systems, and people who are pregnant.
- Do you have a pet that is more likely to get sick from foodborne germs? This includes young pets (like puppies) and pets who have a weakened immune system or other health conditions.
- Is the raw diet you plan to feed your pet complete and balanced? Will it help your pet thrive?
- Are you able to clean more frequently if you use raw pet food?
If you choose to feed raw pet food to your dog or cat, take these steps in addition to the general pet food safety steps:
- Consider buying from companies that have high food safety standards. You can ask them:
- Does your company test all your final products for common foodborne germs like Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria?
- What does your company do to kill germs in your raw pet food products?
- How often does your company clean and disinfect the manufacturing facility?
- Does your company have veterinary nutritionists?
- Talk to your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist if raw food is your pet’s main diet.
- They can help you make sure your pet’s raw food diet has all the nutrition your pet needs.
- Clean often.
- Wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling raw pet food.
- Clean items and surfaces that touched raw pet food.
- Properly chill and store raw pet food that needs to be kept cold.
- Freeze it until you are ready to thaw and use it.
- Thaw frozen raw pet food in the refrigerator.
- Keep it in a sealed container in the freezer and refrigerator, separate from other foods.
- Throw away leftovers that have been out at room temperature.