Safety Issues When Feeding Raw Meat or Raw Bones

Copyright 1999 Adele C. Monroe, DVM, MSPH

The information in this document is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace treatment by a qualified veterinarian. The dosages provided in this document are general guidelines that work in my household. Realize that treatment results may vary and there is no guarantee that this protocol will work in other situations. When you chose to treat your animal without consulting a veterinarian, you assume full responsibility for that treatment.

Most conventional veterinarians do not support the feeding of raw meat or raw bones and will likely blame any episode of vomiting or diarrhea on the diet, whether or not the diet is responsible for that particular illness. If you decide to feed raw meat/bones, be absolutely confident that this is the best decision for you and your animals. If your animal becomes ill and needs treatment, you do not want to delay treatment because you expect that your veterinarian will not be supportive of your decision to feed raw meat/bones. (To learn more about feeding raw diets, see the "Recommended Reading" and "Resources and Links" sections of this web site, and the article "Pros and Cons of Feeding a Raw Diet.")

As carnivores, dogs and cats are well adapted for consuming raw meat and raw bones and can tolerate a wide range of bacteria. However, the possibility that a domestic animal eating raw foods may develop enteritis (vomiting and/or diarrhea) from contaminated food--meat, bones, or vegetables--is quite real, especially when transitioning to the raw diet after eating commercial dry or canned food. The following procedures are intended to provide a "safety net" for companion animals eating raw foods. While I do not guarantee that following these steps will prevent all episodes of enteritis, it should reduce the risk of food poisoning episodes and lessen their severity. It is very important to monitor your animal's stool on a regular basis to detect any diarrhea as soon as it occurs.

Note: Any animal who is taking medication to suppress the immune system, or who is otherwise immune compromised, should not eat raw meat or raw bones. I do not recommend feeding a raw diet to an animal who lives in a household with a child whose immune system is compromised either due to an illness, such as cancer or AIDS, or due to medication.

Bone Selection

Raw bones are soft, do not splinter, and are consumed completely. Cooked bones become brittle, splinter, and are very dangerous. Never feed cooked bones. Select bones appropriate for the size and eating style of your animal. Bones should be large enough for there to be no possibility of swallowing the whole bone or large chunks, especially during the introductory phase and if your animal tends to gulp its food. If you have multiple animals, separate them so that each has a private place to eat. Perceived competition over bones can trigger gulping behavior in animals that previously never showed a tendency to gulp their food. Note: There are rare reports of dogs that have died following consumption of raw bones.

Only feed hard bones such as beef, lamb, or deer about once or twice a month. Excessive chewing on hard bones can cause premature wear of the teeth. Be aware that some animals may break teeth when chewing on hard bones. Beef or bison knuckle bones that have been cut into smaller sections are excellent, and are not as hard as long shank bones. You will need to get cut knuckle bones from a processor, private butcher, or retailer who caters to animal owners who feed raw bones.

Chicken bones are soft enough to feed on a daily basis. Chicken wings are appropriate for small dogs, puppies, and cats. Chicken backs or carcasses are best for medium to large dogs, at least until you know if a dog has a tendency to swallow large sections whole. Turkey backs are hard enough to be considered hard bones, but the rib cage, wing and thigh bones are relatively soft. Be very careful feeding chicken or turkey neck bones, the shape invites an animal to swallow the bone whole. If a neck bone becomes lodged in the throat, severe lacerations with significant blood loss can occur when the bone is removed.

Reducing Bacteria on Meat/Bones

There are several options for reducing the risk of bacterial contamination of meat. Meat that you grind yourself (ideal) and meat that is ground fresh in a meat market is less likely to be contaminated with bacteria than meat that is ground in bulk at a processing plant and prepackaged. Soaking in a natural disinfectant will reduce the bacteria on the outside surfaces of meat and bones. Option 1: Soak meat or bones for 15 minutes in a solution made of 5-6 drops NUTRIBIOTIC GSE (Grapefruit Seed Extract) per cup of water. You can soak meat/bones in hot water with GSE to warm the meal before feeding. Option 2: An alternative soak for large quantities: 2/3 to 1 cup white vinegar in a two-gallon container containing bones/meat covered with hot water. Soak for at least 15 minutes. Note that soaking is not an efficient way to disinfect ground meats.

Freezing can also reduce bacteria and can kill parasites. Freezing beef and pork at -4 degrees F (-20 degrees C) for 24 hours and fish at -0.4 degrees F (-18 degrees C) for 48 hours will kill the parasites that may be found in these meats (Guess What Came to Dinner: Parasites and Your Health, by Ann Louise Gittleman). Note: Use a freezer thermometer to determine the temperature in your freezer.

Maintaining Intestinal Health

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that normally inhabit the intestines. These bacteria are very important to health and produce substances that inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi. I strongly recommend feeding a probiotic supplement daily for the first six to eight weeks of feeding a raw meat or bones, and once or twice weekly thereafter. During treatment with antibiotics or Nutribiotic products (see below), give probiotics daily, continuing for one or two days following the end of treatment. Look for a human-grade probiotic in the refrigerator of a health food store that contains six or more different species and three to four billion organisms per capsule (for example, Jarodophilus+FOS, Multidophilus, etc.). Give one-fourth to one capsule daily, depending on the size of your animal (10 pounds to 100+ pounds). Fastrack, a probiotic made for animals, is available from Nature's Pharmacy in five-pound bags. Probiotics can be very helpful if an animal develops intestinal gas or loose stools.

You may use Nutribiotic GSE Liquid twice daily for three consecutive days once or twice monthly to control many common intestinal parasites, including whipworms, hookworms, and roundworms. Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE) contains natural quaternary compounds and is antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and antiparasitic. DOSE for liquid: 1.5 to 2 drops per 10 pounds body weight for dogs over 40 pounds; 1.5 to 2 drops per 5 pounds body weight for cats and smaller dogs. MINIMUM DOSE: 2 drops. Give twice daily. Drop directly on food or dilute in water and pour on food or give orally with a syringe. GSE liquid has a very strong/sharp citrus taste. For oral dosing with a syringe, you may put GSE liquid in a water/honey mixture to improve flavor. Feed probiotics for 1 or 2 days after treating your animal with GSE or Capsules Plus.

First Aid for Vomiting/Diarrhea (Enteritis)

For the first aid treatment of vomiting and/or diarrhea--including foul-smelling, liquid, bloody diarrhea--of any suspected infectious cause, my personal first aid kit contains Nutribiotic Capsules Plus. This product contains grapefruit seed extract (antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, antiparasitic), echinacea (stimulates the immune system), and Artemesia annua (Chinese wormwood--antiparasitic). My DOSE is one capsule per 25-30 pounds body weight (in severe cases, this may be doubled for the first one or two doses). If vomiting or diarrhea occurs, I administer one dose every two to three hours (if possible) until the initial symptoms are controlled. (If I cannot dose every two hours initially, I give twice the dose at four-hour intervals.) Once the vomiting/diarrhea has stopped, I continue giving one dose three or four times daily for at least three to four days after stools have returned to normal. If the treatment is discontinued too quickly, the symptoms reappear. This is my dosage schedule; it can be adjusted to meet the needs of individual animals.

This product has a diuretic effect at high doses. Reduce the dose if an animal starts urinating frequently. I have used one whole capsule every two hours for five doses in a four-month-old puppy weighing 15 pounds without incident and with excellent results. I expect smaller dogs to receive one-fourth to one-half a capsule as one dose. Do not use in an animal with kidney failure without consulting a veterinarian.

Yes, I do give the capsules to a dog that has just vomited. If the dog is unable to keep the capsules down, it is possible to administer dilute GSE liquid in water (or water/honey) with a syringe until the dog can keep the capsules down. Start with 1 drop per 2 Tablespoons of fluid; give 1 teaspoon (5 cc) per 10-20 pounds body weight. Ten to 15 minutes later, use 2 drops per 2 Tablespoons fluid and give another dose. Ten to 15 minutes later use 3 drops per 2 Tablespoons fluid. After three or four doses of liquid GSE, try again to give the capsules. Use the smallest amount of liquid possible to administer the GSE; it has a very strong citrus taste, but you do not want to give large amounts of water to a dog or cat that is vomiting.

I expect considerable improvement after the first dose of Capsules Plus and complete resolution of symptoms--except perhaps for a tinge of blood in a well-formed stool--after the second or third dose. If you do not see this rapid response, take your animal to your veterinarian for treatment. It may have a serious illness, including pancreatitis or kidney failure, that is not infectious in origin. This is first aid treatment only. When you choose to treat an animal without having it examined by a veterinarian at the time of the illness, you assume responsibility for the treatment.

Be advised that young puppies, small dogs, and sighthounds of all ages become dehydrated very quickly and may need fluid therapy if vomiting or diarrhea is not controlled quickly.

NOTE FOR HEART PATIENTS: If your dog or cat is taking medication for heart disease, consult a nutritional veterinarian before giving GSE liquid or Capsules Plus. Grapefruits contain a substance that may prolong the activity of certain heart medications and may cause your animal to experience side-effects from the heart medication as a consequence.

Sources of Products

Nutribiotic GSE Liquid and Capsules Plus are available at health food and herb stores and by mail order from The Vitamin Shoppe 1-800-223-1216 or <>. (New Jersey, USA)

Fastrack is available at farm supply stores and by mail order from Nature's Farmacy 1-800-733-4981 (Georgia, USA)

Copyright 1999 by Adele C. Monroe, DVM, MSPH. Except for printing single copies for personal use, reproduction of this article, either electronically or in print, without prior written permission of the author is prohibited.

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