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Can Dogs Get Sick from Eating Raw Meat

If you would have asked me this a month ago, I would have said “of course not!”  That’s a myth being perpetuated by people who are anti-raw and want to keep us on their kibble diet.  I would have told you that dogs have a shorter digestive system and digest raw much faster than kibble, so it passes through their system before it can do any harm.  I would have told you not to listen to the lies of the critics.  That would have been a mistake.

And then last week all four of our dogs got sick for a 2 day period.

  • Sick enough to keep me up all night for two nights.
  • Sick enough for me to ask my readers for prayers and happy thoughts.
  • Sick enough for me to call our vet in a mini panic.
  • Sick enough for me to call Darwin’s Pets in a major panic when our shipment didn’t arrive.
  • Sick enough for me to nearly triple our raw food budget.

The dogs are fine now, but let me share what happened…

It started with diarrhea and I thought “dammit, the liver again??”  I was so careful about our last batch of food.  I measured and measured again.  I cut way back on liver and thought I had nailed it.  The dogs LOVED the mixture, it smelled good (believe it or not), and I was about to draft up what we did and share it in my raw food group.

And then Zoey got diarrhea.  Scout joined her about 8 hours later.  The adult dogs were fine so I thought it was too much rich organ meat.  But then Sydney and Rodrigo weren’t very interested in their food – strange.  Then Scout started vomiting and the first batch was completely undigested (from the night before).  And then he and Zoey lost interest in food.

Then J called me later that day to let me know the adult dogs were vomiting too and I was done with making raw at home.

  • I took the dogs off of homemade raw and put them back on Darwin’s.
  • I cooked 12 pounds of ground turkey for them to eat until the Darwin’s arrived.
  • I made an appointment with our veterinarian just in case they didn’t improve.
  • I made an appointment with a holistic veterinarian (something I should have done from the start) to learn more about what could have gone wrong and to get us back on the right track.
  • Reached out to more experienced (as in decades) to find out what insight they had for me.

After 36 hours, the dogs bounced back as if nothing had happened.

Why our dogs got diarrhea from raw food…

My consultation with our holistic vet, Dr. Cathy Alinovi, was eye opening…

Our raw food mixture was fine.  That’s a relief!

Frozen v. Thawed Meat – It’s fine to get our meat from the grocery store – but we either need to call ahead and ask for ____# frozen OR we need to bring it home and put it in the freezer for a week or two to kill off the bad bacteria.  This isn’t a 100% fix, but it will help.  Update: our grocery store doesn’t offer frozen meat.

What I did wrong with this last batch was pick it up at 7am, put it in the freezer for a few hours, and then start preparing meals.  That isn’t enough time to kill off bacteria.

Bacteria v Toxins – Yes, there is a difference.  Dr. Alinovi told me that I would know that it’s a bacteria problem if their diarrhea smells to high heaven; toxins are what’s left behind after the bacteria dies off.  When our dogs get “tainted” meat, their digestive track absorbs more water, creating the diarrhea.

Liver, duhhhh – I feel so silly for not knowing this; the liver is what clears out the toxins from our bodies so of course it can pose a problem (especially when not frozen properly).  Although our adult dogs were fine (mature digestive systems), the puppies are still developing and that’s why we had an issue with liver last month.

Cleanliness is next to Godliness – we at least got this part right; cleaning everything (and I mean everything – counters, butcher’s block, meat cleaver, storage containers, bowls and meat grinder) on a sterilization cycle in the dishwasher is key.  Because it’s me, I wash everything by hand and THEN put it in the dishwasher (except the butcher’s block and meat cleaver, which aren’t dishwasher safe).

Preventing our dogs from getting sick from raw…

  • We will continue ordering duck and turkey from Darwin’s Pets so that our dogs have variety, important in the raw food diet.
  • We will start getting our meat frozen (not thawed) from the grocery store and butcher and we’ll wait 1 -2 weeks before preparing meals.
  • I connected with a local dog nutritionist who is experienced in preparing raw dog food and we have an upcoming session.

So we’re back on track and we’ve learned a lot.

An update on our dogs and raw food…

Nearly a year after this post, our dogs have never gotten sick from raw food.  We have taken them off of chicken and beef, because 2 of our dogs can’t eat those proteins.  We feed a BARF diet that is a mixture of homemade with The Honest Kitchen base mix and pre-made raw from trusted brands like Darwin’s Pets, Seattle’s Natural Pet Pantry, Stella & Chewy’s, and Red Rock.

We feed the following proteins: duck, turkey, rabbit, lamb, venison, elk, and pheasant.  We do not feed sardines or salmon unless it’s in the can; we feed this as a treat on their food rather than as a meal due to sodium content in canned products.

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