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Raw Dog Food | Can Dogs Get Sick from Eating Raw Meat

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.


  1. I so wish I had a holistic vet in my area..

    Glad your dogs are doing fine and you aren’t giving up on the food. Many people think oh my pet got sick on raw, I shouldn’t feed it, forgetting all the times they got sick on commercial cooked foods..

    • We have several; they’re still a trek from my home, but at least it’s doable. I have two that I can do phone consultations with and one dog nutritionist who offers one on one and workshops for a really affordable price.

    • Ok, here goes…I was feeding raw chicken to my dog (along with some beef and chicken hearts, some green tripe (well she wouldn’t eat the tripe…don’t blame her it smelled awful). She was just fine, her poop was littl’er, dryer, and did not smell. A month and a half into this she had diarrhea all over our living room floor. Good thing the floors are vinyl. The smell was horrendous! The first thing I thought of was parvo. But the stools were tan colored. Parvo is dark. I took a sample to vet to check for giardia, had been looking it up on net. The results came back neg. I had read that if they don’t shed in the stools it might show up neg. So I gave another sample two days later and told them to run it again. It came back neg. I told the vet I would bet my last dollar (thank goodness she took my last dollar) on giardia. My doggy had all of the symtoms of giardia. Stools were foul smelling, tan in color, foamy, she was lethargic, off her food. Come to find out Coccidia has the same symtoms but usually there is blood in the stool. Ok, so we made an appointment for a visit to the vet. We were both so stressed out. This morning, I got up and went on the net one more time. I put in; can dogs get sick from eating raw meat. That simple – I kid you not. I looked at a few sites and then I came upon one that said her dog had gotten sick and they couldn’t figure out what it was, until a Dr. reminded her that she should freeze her raw meat really well to kill off any bacteria before giving it to her dog. She proceeded to do that and hasn’t had any problems since. I remembered when I had been reading about raw feeding (I do the prey feed), that it said to freeze the meat first before giving to dog. I had completely forgot. I was bringing home chicken from the grocery store and freezing some of it and just putting part of it in the frig for the next day. Hence, sometimes she had diarrhea-like stools and then they would be ok. But she was definately off her feed. I still have to look up how long to freeze it, and if you can then thaw it before feeding.

      • The entire time I was reading your post, I’m thinking of my experience with our puppies and I was going to ask “did you freeze the meat first?” and “where did you get the chicken?” I had a similar experience, but without the lethargy, with our dogs and it was (1) we didn’t freeze the meat long enough and (2) we bought the chicken from a local grocery store – it’s never frozen so there’s tons of time for bacteria to grow and we froze it for a month once and it still caused a problem.

        We learned to freeze our meat and to take care in where we buy it because the grocery store expects us to cook the meat. We now belong to a co-op and everything arrives frozen.

        Doesn’t the poop smell awful?

  2. Thanks for this interesting article! I love the tip about freezing the meat.

    A few months ago I fed my dog raw chicken thinking it would be a tasty treat, only for him to have diarrhoea and vomiting for two days straight! I thought perhaps it was a coincidence, but it has put me off feeding my dog raw chicken again. Are dogs susceptible to salmonella just like humans?

    • From what I understand, dogs can be susceptible to salmonella like humans, especially if they have a compromised immune system. Healthy dogs can get sick, but not as sick as humans. The bacteria in raw meat loves to grow and multiply, which is why freezing is so important. What I didn’t take into account was the amount of time raw meat spends thawed out at the grocery story – we need to freeze it longer to combat the bacteria growth.

  3. Great post, Kimberly!

    Some of the meat I purchase (turkey) is frozen when I purchase it…the beef and chicken are not. However, it just so happens I make a 21-day batch of food ahead of time (at least a few days)…so my mix has been frozen for at least a few days before it’s used.

    The chicken livers I purchase aren’t frozen at the grocery store (the beef is)…but I buy a dozen containers at a time and they stay in the freezer until ready to use.

    Guess I’m covered by a stroke of luck. :)

    • Thanks, Tina

      This week, I need to search for the specials and pick them up over the weekend. I also connected with a 2nd raw food provider and I’m hoping to get their food at a good price so I can have it on hand just in case homemade doesn’t happen.

      • Do you have Save-a-Lot grocery stores in your area? The store doesn’t look like much, but their prices on meats and fresh vegetables are hard to beat.

        I’d like to buy pre-made raw…but my knuckleheads just eat too darn much. :) I am looking into finding some green tripe locally…I know they’d benefit from it. I’ve found a good source on line, but they’re in California…of course, the shipping/handling will be expensive.

        Let me know how you make out with the new raw food provider…I’m always looking for different options.

        • No, not in our town. I’m going to take a little more care into where we get our meat, because I want to make sure I know about their handling. I’m still gun shy after our experience so I’ll be speaking to our grocery store and butcher about only buying frozen packages.

  4. I don’t think we do :( My dog will eat just about anything he can get and he has never gotten sick..

  5. So that sounded scary and messy – happy to hear the worst is behind you (punt intended) – Hey Kim, who knew taking care of four legged creatures would become so in-depth with foods, vitamins, beds, collars, training, etc…. Still, we love it right? Take care and get some much needed rest.

  6. Wow! This is interesting…and thanks for the tip about freezing. I actually never believed in raw food diets as I thought commercial dry or wet food were specially formulated with added vitamins, minerals and other nutritional ingredients, which I guess is true, but it wouldn’t hurt to mix up the variety every now and again, right?

    Then again, it may just upset their stomachs when switching between raw and commercial the whole time, wouldn’t it? So why would I want to serve raw food instead of dry or wet commercial? Are there any specific benefits I’m missing somewhere?

    • Personally, I think it’s dangerous to feed both raw and commercial, but that’s just my personal opinion, because I have 3 dogs with sensitive tummies. I know others who do it all the time.

      I’ll write a post about the pros and cons of raw, but the main thing that makes it better is that commercial food has lost all of the benefits through the manufacturing process and that’s why they have to add in all the vitamins and minerals. Not to mention that some commercial brands have ingredients that our dogs don’t need or can’t have – the preservatives really freak me out.

      • Great, got it. Thanks for clearing that up!

  7. We have two holistic vets in town, and my vet practice just added a new vet who does holistic and is certified in acupuncture which is very cool. She does both eastern and western medicine..over all what is best approach, which I like. I’ve done tons of research on raw, home cooked etc…but just didn’t feel that I could pull it all together doing my own raw at home…and the questioned if I was defeating the purpose by using a “commercial” raw brand…although everyone I know is happy with it that uses one. It relates to the meat safety…my husband has a competition bbq team…is he is prepping about 60 pounds of raw pork, chicken and beef at a time, sometimes in our kitchen and sometimes on the road. We use disposable paper cutting boards in competition you can get them online. They can be pricing but a pack of 100 will probably last you a long time….they have fo up sides so incase there is any liquid it won’t run all over the place. They are thick enough to use on the counter by themselves or set on top a regular cutting board. For at home I use those plastic ones on top of my boos board for meat, chicken. Fish. I love using a wood cutting board, but the raw meat on it creeps me out. You can get a st of 4 plastic ones for a few bucks at Walmart, bed bath beyond etc. they set on top the wood board and fit in the dishwasher and are dishwasher safe…which makes me happy….you lose some of the traction but it works for me!

    • We have an awesome wood cutting board, but it’s time to retire it for plastic ones, because we’re not comfortable that we can clean it well enough and they aren’t dishwasher safe.

      Thanks for mentioning the plastic ones; it’s a reminder for me to pick up a few before we start “cooking” again in a week or so.

  8. I would say, “Of course they can” but they can also get sick on regular dog food. Great post, I like seeing a balanced point of view, because the raw or not raw debate is getting to an absurd point where I expect people beating each other with sticks to defend their opinion. LOL!

    Personally, I don’t eat meat and it grosses me out, so my dogs will have to put up with food that comes in a bag or a can. They do get grain-free food, because Ellie gets sick from foods with grains.

    I read a really interesting article the other day about how dogs in different parts of the world have evolved alongside humans. The theory is that breeds who developed with us in areas where it’s possible to grow crops learned to process crops at the same time we did – they’ve seen similar changes in human and dog fossils. Meanwhile, dogs from far up north never adapted. According to this theory, certain breeds like Huskeys have a much harder time digesting foods besides meat than for instance a Spaniel. Now I’m curious if raw/not raw foods have a different impact on different dogs.

    • Oh absolutely, Maria

      There are so many variables when it comes to feeding our dogs that I just don’t get the reason for the drama. I can’t possibly know what is good or bad for your dog. When it comes to our dogs, Rodrigo has chicken allergies; I thought it was just kibble, but it turns out that he’s a hot dog meaning that he runs a warmer than our other dogs and chicken is a warming food, making it hard for him to cool down. Lamb is out of the question for him, because it’s a hot food.

      I wrote about it here:

      There are some dogs that have trouble digesting organ meat and their diet has to be altered to account for their purine intolerance and for some, this may mean no raw if the dog owner can’t get the right balance.

      Some say yogurt is good while others say dairy is dangerous – it just depends on the dog. Our adult littermates can handle dairy products, our puppies can only get raw goats milk. And when it comes to veggies/fruits/grains, it really depends on the dogs. I’ve learned to smile when advice is handed to me from someone who thinks they know it all, because they do have knowledge to impart, but I know that I’m the one that has to stay up all night with a sick dog so I do what I think is right for our pack with the help of holistic vets and experienced raw feeders who know that not all dogs are the same.

      Are you going to BlogPaws?

      • Chicken and lamb are warming foods? I never heard that before, learning new things every day! I’ve always given my dogs yogurt, in small amounts, but it makes sense that some dogs can’t eat it. Some people are lactose intolerant too. It’s interesting.

        I’m not going to BlogPaws. I really wanted to, but I don’t work at PlexiDors anymore – I just pitch in a few hours every week with the blog and the website. I got a job as technical writer – yay, go me, lol – but the downside is that I’ll miss meeting everyone. =(

  9. EEk, it’s so scary when our babies are sick and even worse when it keeps you up. Glad you were able to consult with a knowledgeable vet and get back on track. I feed raw but freeze-dried and haven’t run into any (knock on wood) issues with it at all. Dagny loves it, it’s easy, doesn’t take up freezer space and everyone’s happy. 😉

    • Love seeing you here. Our dogs aren’t fans of freeze dried as a regular diet, but it’s something yummy when I want to shake it up. That week sucked butt so I’m so glad that we got back on track again.

  10. I just found out that dogs can also get hypothyroidism and that diet can have a big part to play with controlling the symptoms. If your dog has dry skin, weight gain and lethargy it is well worth talking to your vet about the blood tests.

    • Thanks for information, Ashe.

    • Thanks for information, Ashe.

  11. came across this great site explaining some of the things we should all do to ensure our dogs are OK if anything happened to us. Thought I should pass it on.

    • Thanks for sharing, Peter

  12. Thanks for this useful information. I wouldn’t want my dogs to get sick.


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