Well, he can, but it's unlikely. When you hear about the “dangers” of getting sick from raw meat, the concern is more for the humans handling the meat.
If you feed your dog raw meat, it is your responsibility to do everything possible to make sure you wash any countertops, bowls, knives, etc., that came in contact with the raw meat.
As for dogs, they are raw meat eaters and can handle bacteria better than us.
My mutt has eaten cat poop, bird poop, cigarette butts, garbage, dead mice and all kinds of unidentifiable remains without getting sick.
Why doesn't my dog get sick from eating garbage/dead animals/poop?
For one thing, dogs have enzymes in their saliva that destroy harmful bacteria, according to Carissa Kuehn of RawFed.com. Kuehn worked for four years in the Clinical Sciences Department at the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital. She has fed her pets raw food since 2001.
Ever notice how your dog poops right after eating?
This is because dogs have short digestive tracts that quickly push the food and bacteria through their systems before any bacteria has time to colonize, according to Kuehn. Dogs also have highly acidic stomachs to prevent bacteria from colonizing.
All of the above are reasons why dogs can usually drink standing puddles of water or eat animal remains with few consequences.
How can I prevent my dog from getting sick from raw meat?
To be on the safe side, here are some tips to keep your dog safe from potential bacteria in raw dog food:
1. Do not feed your dog raw meat if he has a weak immune system.
If your dog is older or if he has a weak immune system, adding raw meat to his diet could make him sick. His body may not be able to fight off certain bacteria the way a healthy dog can, especially if his body is already trying to fight another infection.
If you are not sure how your dog's immune system is, talk to his vet and consider a blood test.
2. Buy pre-prepared raw food for your dog.
Raw dog food companies will go out of their way to make sure the food is safe for your dog. If dogs get sick from their products, no one will buy the food.
For example, Balanced Blends (a sponsor of That Mutt) uses high-pressure processing in its final packaging to eliminate food borne pathogens. (The food is not re-opened for processing into patties or nuggets, thus eliminating the risk of re-contamination.)
3. Wash your dog's bowls regularly.
This is something we should all do regardless of what our dogs eat. Ace probably had a higher chance of getting sick while he ate dry dog food simply because I hardly ever washed his bowls. Dry dog food saturated in water or drool is a great place for bacteria to collect. Now that he eats raw food, I wash his bowls every day. I also wash my hands and the area where I prepared his food.
4. Don't let the raw dog food sit in your fridge for more than 5 to 6 days.
The food might be OK if it sits in your refrigerator for more than 6 days, but why risk it? The longer food sits in the fridge, the more time bacteria has to grow. I'd rather stay on the safe side.
5. Keep your trash behind a closed door.
We've learned to keep our garbage behind a closed door. No garbage can stay in the kitchen. It goes in a trash can in the garage or a trash can in the bathroom. We have a certain cat who likes to crawl into the garbage and eat everything in sight.
To keep our cats and dog safe, it's better not to give them the opportunity to sneak anything from the trash. We also never leave any food scraps on dirty dishes out, and I wipe down the sink regularly.
6. Feed your dog homemade cooked food instead of raw.
Chances are, your dog will never get sick from eating raw meat. However, if you are concerned about the potential bacteria, then maybe a raw diet is not the way to go for your dog. It's not worth it if you are going to be worried all the time. Instead of feeding him raw, feed him cooked meat or a higher-quality dry dog food.
For more details on feeding a dog raw food, my ebook “10 Easy Raw Dog Food Recipes” is now available. The cost is $9, and it includes 10 easy raw dog food recipes as well as a guide on how to feed a homemade raw diet. You can download it using the button below.
What should I do if my dog gets sick from raw food?
If you are worried about your dog, just take him to the vet! At the very least, call and see what your vet says (read more about Ace's recent trip to the vet below under “Day 15 update”).
If it's the weekend or the middle of the night, it will be a tougher decision, and only you can make that choice. In Fargo, the only option at night or on the weekends is the emergency animal hospital. Let's just say prices are not cheap at the emergency clinic.
If your dog has an upset stomach but is otherwise acting normal, I wouldn't be too worried. It will most likely pass within 24 hours. How often do you get the runs from eating something new or something extra greasy? Probably pretty often. Your dog will be OK, too. It helps if you have him skip a meal or two (don't feel bad, he'll be fine). And make sure to give him plenty of water.
Some signs to watch for that might be more serious:
Remember, I am not a vet. If you think your dog needs to see a vet, then by all means, get going!
The dog might have swallowed a large or sharp piece of bone.
I've heard too many vets tell me too many horror stories of dogs getting pieces of bones stuck in their digestive systems. Raw bones are generally safe for dogs if they chew the bones properly (always supervise). Cooked bones are dangerous because they break easily and the dog could swallow the pieces.
The dog might have consumed something toxic.
Is there any chance the dog got into something potentially harmful other than raw meat? Maybe he got into the garbage. Maybe he ate something in the garage or yard? Or, was there any chance you fed him raw meat that had been in your fridge too long?
The dog has a fever.
The normal body temperature for a dog is about 100 to 102 degrees.
The dog refuses his favorite treats.
My dog's animal instincts tell him not to eat if he is feeling sick, so I'm not too worried if he skips one meal. However, if he turns his head away when I offer him pieces of meat or if he skips more than two meals, that's when I would worry.
The dog refuses to drink water.
Try to get your dog to take at least a few sips every hour to avoid dehydration. If he doesn't drink any water for 12 hours or so, call the vet.
The dog has difficulty standing or walking.
Dogs are very good at resting if they are feeling sick or hurt. Whenever Ace pulls a muscle, he takes it easy for a day and then he's fine. But if my dog shows no interest in getting up for anything – like a ball or food – that's something I would worry about.
The dog throws up or has diarrhea for more than 24 hours.
Most digestive issues are minor and will pass. But if the vomiting or diarrea continues for more than a day, especially if the dog hasn't eaten anything, I would definitely consult with a vet.
Update on feeding my dog raw food – day 16
Note: The following is from my original post when I first introduced my dog Ace to a raw diet. I fed him a 12-week raw feeding trial, and this is from week three.
Ace suddenly became very ill Friday night (day 10).
One minute my dog was chasing his frisbee like a nut and within an hour he had trouble walking on his own. He only stood if I forced him up to get outside. He would not eat or drink anything, and he was drooling heavily. He did not even perk his ears up when I offered him a tennis ball.
I could only assume my dog had a bacterial infection from his raw food, and the guilt I felt was horrible. I felt responsible for causing my dog so much discomfort.
We took Ace to the emergency vet and he was diagnosed with pneumonia. He most likely picked it up from another dog somewhere. He plays with other dogs almost every day, so no surprise there.
A weakened immune system?
Although Ace's diagnosis was a respiratory infection (not gastric), I can't help but wonder if the recent change in his diet threw his body off temporarily. While his system was trying to adjust to the raw food, maybe the bacteria that caused the pneumonia had an easier time spreading. There's no way of knowing.
A reaction to raw beef?
Ace became very sick within a few hours of eating raw beef for the first time. Up until that point he had been eating raw chicken. Something tells me his body was reacting to the raw beef in addition to the pneumonia. The vet seemed to believe it was only a coincidence.
Could the raw beef have caused Ace's fever, refusal to eat and extreme lack of energy? I don't know.
There will be little to report on Ace's raw food trial for the next 10 days or so while he finishes his antibiotics. Anything I notice could be a reaction to his food, the antibiotics or the pneumonia.
Since my dog has had an upset stomach while on the antibiotics, I have decided to go back to feeding him dry food until he is off the medication. This is the only way I can determine whether the raw food or the antibiotics are causing the diarrhea.
Because my dog had absolutely no digestive issues for the first 11 days of his raw food trial (no loose stool, no vomiting), I have to hope he is reacting to the medication.
I truly believe a raw dog food diet is the healthiest way to go for most dogs. I want to continue the raw food trial with Ace, however if he gets another “coincidental” infection of any kind or if something just seems off, I will not hesitate to end the raw food trial completely.
The reason I started this trial was because I love my dog and I believe a raw diet is healthy for him. This trial is also designed to help other dog owners decide whether a raw food diet is right for their dogs. This is why I am reporting the ups as well as the downs.
Thank you for all the get-well wishes over the weekend. Ace (and his mommy!) needed the moral support!
Has your dog even gotten sick from eating raw food?
For more details on feeding your dog raw food, my ebook “10 Easy Raw Dog Food Recipes” can help. It includes 10 easy raw dog food recipes for small, medium and large dogs.