A raw deal? The AVMA’s anti-raw take riles the raw diet-loving pet set

Though I threw you a bone –– er, a litterbox –– over the weekend, that really and truly wasn’t a proper first post for a Dolittler revival. And since technically, the launch date for Dolittler 2.0 is today, August 1st, it’s time to move on to something that more appropriately recalls my feather ruffling blogging roots: Feeding raw.

Indeed, my preferred entry back into the fray was inspired serendipitously as the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) issued a proposed policy statement against raw feeding for pets. This was a fairly innocuous safety-based statement that received a volley of anti-vet of criticism from the raw-feeding community and occasioned a clarification last week from the AVMA.

In the clarifying statement, the AVMA again pled its case:

“Our policies are intended to present the scientific facts, which in this case are: 1) Scientific studies have shown that raw and undercooked protein can be sources of infection with Salmonella, Campylobacter, Clostridium, E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes, and enterotoxigenic Staphylococcus aureus. These infections can sicken pets and pet owners alike, and can be life-threatening; 2) unless a raw protein product has been subjected to a process that eliminates pathogens that can make pets and people ill, it poses a significant public health risk to both pets and pet owners.”

Which only makes sense to me. No one’s telling anyone what they can and can’t feed their pets. The AVMA is just saying that public health is at potentially risk as a result of the consumption of raw foodstuffs.

So you understand, these policies are ultimately in place not to force a pet owner’s hand, but rather to help veterinarians, the pet industry and pet owners in general by distilling the recent science in a digestible format. Nothing nefarious there.

Problem is, plenty of people (veterinarians included) read these documents and come away either with the belief that a) it’s more Gospel than science, or b) their very way of life is under attack by the veterinary establishment. In other words, both sides tend to overreact in this crazy polarized kind of a way that seems to be the hallmark of American culture in this current decade of gratuitous, us-and-them divisiveness.

Case in point, a veterinarian-centric Facebook forum in which one veterinarian poster pooh-poohed the lay public’s anti-AVMA outcry in the wake of these documents’ online publication:

“I thought it was pretty funny that 1) all the comments were from pet owners who feed raw, and 2) they all accuse the AVMA of not using any real scientific data to support their stance yet offer nothing other than anecdotal evidence themselves. (for the record, I am anti-raw).”

After this statement another few veterinarians offered similar sentiments, one expressing nutritional outrage and outright disgust over the feeding of chicken backs exclusively in one pet’s case (clearly a nutritionally boneheaded thing to do), while another offered a personal case report on a patient’s salmonella-linked pneumonia that resolved after a raw diet was suspended.

Call me combative, but reading any kind of vituperation on any one side of an issue has a way of getting my hackles up. I mean it’s one thing when people who feed their pets raw proclaim their pets’ progress on these diets while minimizing the science behind fundamental safety. But when veterinarians start relying on their own anecdotes for ammunition, I just want to reach into the computer and throttle the “scientists” in the room.

Which is why I thought I’d throw my own hat into this veterinarian vs. raw-feeder Facebook kerfuffle:

“For the record, I am anti-raw in general as a mater of fundamental safety and professional liability. I do not, however, condemn my clients for feeding raw and, in fact, I'll occasionally feed my dogs and cats raw treats. I also recognize that the veterinary rationale against raw is all safety based and that our science in no way addresses the potential benefits of feeding raw diets. As such, it's impossible to properly assess the risk/rewards as we do in other aspects of our practice.”

Now, normally I’m more bullish on raw but I do make plenty of qualifications when I talk to pet owners about safety. And as long as a) they’re using the same kind of meats and preparation practices they would when preparing foods for their own families and b) the household isn’t teeming with immunocompromised humans or animals, I’m absolutely cool with it. (Please don’t tell me you’re a transplant patient, for example!)

But there was a little more to my answer which sums up my feelings on the subject:

“Don’t forget: Our physicians make lots of idealized recommendations we don't follow either. I eat raw fish and consume raw eggs on a daily basis. I even –– horrors! –– make a nice beef tartare once a month or so. And yep, I order my steak black and blue.

All I'm saying is that we should try to keep an open mind here, regardless of what we believe is correct when it comes to our current clinical recommendations.”

And that, my friends, is the end of my first official post here on Dolittler 2.0. And now, as usual, it’s your turn to take a stand …

PS: Please excuse the new website bugginess, I'm new to Squarespace (which I love so far, btw).


Title pic: Vincent loves his raw turkey neck-sicle!