When it comes to our pets, we want to feed them the best. Some dog and cat owners believe raw meat, rather than commercial pet food, is healthiest for their animals. But a new study published in the Journal of American Veterinary Medicine suggests this may not be the case.

The study's research team, led by Dr. Lisa Freeman of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in Massachusetts, notes that many animal enthusiasts claim raw meat-based diets (RMBDs) are a more natural diet for cats and dogs.

However, both the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association have suggested that pet food containing raw and undercooked meats could lead to food-borne illness for pets and humans who come into contact with them.

"Pet nutrition decisions are often made from the heart and with the best intentions, but it's essential to look at what the evidence tells us about the benefits and safety of a certain diet," explains Dr. Freeman.

With this in mind, the research team set out to compare people's perceptions of RMBDs with existing research that analyzed these diets.

RMBDs may 'lack nutritional balance and cause illness'

The researchers say that many cat and dog owners believe that RMBDs provide the animals with all the nutrition they require.

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However, when looking at research that assessed this issue, the investigators came across at least two studies showing that RMBDs provide either too little nutrition or too much. They note this was more heavily linked to home-prepared RMBDs, but commercial RMBDs were also at risk.

However, three studies did provide some evidence that dogs and cats are able to digest RMBDs better. But they note that it is unclear whether this would provide any health benefits for the animals.

When analyzing research assessing food safety concerns with regards to RMBDs, the researchers found evidence that contamination from various pathogens, including Salmonella, E. coli and Clostridium, occurred more from RMBDs, compared with commercial pet foods.

They refer to an example of one study, which found Salmonella in up to 48% of RMBDs, while another study found that out of 10 home-prepared raw chicken-based diets tested, eight were contaminated with the bacteria.

The investigators say they also came across some studies showing that these pathogens can cause severe sickness and even death in some animals.

Aside from pathogens, the researchers say that if home-prepared RMBDs contain bones, this could cause health issues for pets - from fractured teeth to blockages or tears in the gastrointestinal tract.

Commenting on the analysis, Dr. Freeman notes that existing research on RMBDs shows that the "risks outweigh any minimal benefits."

She adds:

"We advise pet owners to talk with their veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist boarded by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition about nutrition for their pets, and anyone considering including raw meat in a pet's diet to review the scientific evidence."

In other animal-related news, Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that having dogs in the house may protect against allergies, such as asthma.