Well let’s see, my dogs Ace and Remy have eaten rotting fish, cat poop, bird poop, cigarette butts, garbage, dead mice, dead birds, rotten apples with maggots and all kinds of unidentifiable remains without getting sick.
Yes, a dog can get sick from raw meat, 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.
Or sometimes the dog gets an upset tummy just from a change to the diet vs. the raw meat itself (like if you suddenly switch dry dog food brands).
As for dogs, they are raw meat eaters and can generally handle bacteria better than us unless the dog already has a weakened immune system for some other reason.
Why doesn’t my dog get sick from eating raw meat?
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. 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. (Usually.)
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 if he’s not used to it. 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. This happened to my dog Ace.
If you are not sure how your dog’s immune system is, talk to his vet and consider a blood test, but most dogs should be just fine.
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 and it will have less bacteria than meat you buy at a grocery store (generally).
For example, Darwin’s Natural Pet Food offers a variety of pre-made, frozen raw diets that are completely balanced, safe and ready to serve.
3. Wash your dog’s bowls regularly.
This is something we should all do regardless of what our dogs eat. My dog 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. Yuck! 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 a week.
The food might be OK if it sits in your refrigerator for more than a week, 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. I typically use or throw away food within 6 days just to be on the safe side.
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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.
What should I do if my dog gets sick from raw meat?
If you are worried about your dog, just take him to the vet! At the very least, call and see what your vet says. Just be aware that most vets are not in favor of raw diets so some will act alarmed if you say your dog ate raw meat.
Fortunately, this seems to be changing as more and more vets understand the benefits of a raw diet.
See my post: Why are vets against raw dog food?
If it’s the weekend or the middle of the night, it will be a tougher decision, and only you can make that choice. Sometimes 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 sometimes. Your dog will likely 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 if your dog gets into raw meat:
I am not a vet. If you think your dog needs to see a vet, then by all means, get going!
1. 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 potentially dangerous because they break easily and the dog could swallow the pieces.
If you’re worried about feeding bones, I recommend you feed your dog a pre-made ground raw dog food where the bones are ground in with the meat.
2. 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?
3. The dog has a fever.
The normal body temperature for a dog is about 100 to 102 degrees (higher than a person’s normal body temp).
4. 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.
Note that sometimes the dog just doesn’t like certain types of raw food. See my post: What to do when your dog won’t eat raw meat.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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 diarrhea continues for more than a day, especially if the dog hasn’t eaten anything, I would definitely consult with a vet.
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Now, here are some common questions people have asked me about their dogs eating raw meat. For the most part, you don’t need to be concerned. For example …
Can my dog get sick from raw meat from the grocery store?
Chances are, your dog will be just fine if he eats raw meat such as ground beef, chicken, pork, raw eggs or steak from the grocery store.
Many raw feeders buy meat for their dogs at their local grocery stores and never have any issues. I buy my dog raw chicken thighs from the grocery store and this never seems to be an issue for him.
However, there are some concerns to keep in mind.
Raw meat at the grocery store is meant to be cooked and eaten by people. Sometimes it’s been sitting out for several days which of course gives more time for bacteria to grow.
This shouldn’t be a problem for most dogs, but to be safe you could freeze the meat for 2-3 weeks before giving it to your dog.
Can my dog get sick from raw ground beef?
Again, it’s unlikely your dog will get sick from eating raw ground beef unless he’s not used to it.
My dog just ate ground beef off the counter!
Don’t worry. If your dog steals a large quantity of ground beef off the counter, he will most likely be just fine. He might get an upset tummy for a few days simply from eating different food.
This could also be true if he happened to steal dry dog food off the counter that was a different brand than he normally eats. Most dogs need time to adjust to a new diet, so it’s not necessarily the ground beef causing the issue but the new food itself.
The slight risk with ground beef is because the meat has been ground, it likely has more bacteria mixed in. This is because when meat is ground, the bacteria on the surface of the meat is mixed in throughout the meat as its all ground and mixed together.
For this reason, I choose not to feed my dog ground beef from the grocery store.
However, many dog owners do feed ground beef to their dogs without any problems. Again, you can be on the safe side and freeze the meat for 2-3 weeks or even lightly cook it before feeding to your dog.
When it doubt, stick with ground meat from a reputable raw dog food company such as Darwin’s.
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For more information on raw feeding, read my raw dog food ebook!
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.
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Lindsay Stordahl is the founder of That Mutt. She writes about dog training and behavior, healthy raw food for pets and running with dogs.