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Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Risk assessment

What is the risk of a dog contracting salmonella from being fed raw chicken? Upon being told that I feed a raw diet, one vet politely said that she would be concerned at the risk of salmonella - and another (who is a close friend) told me I was absolutely crazy to feed raw chicken. The latter believes that all chicken is contaminated by the time it leaves the processing plant. Needless to say I am horrified that I may have been unnecessarily putting my dogs' health at risk - and my family's too. I can't recall coming across any mention of salmonella in the books and articles I have read on feeding a raw diet. Incidentally I transport chicken home from the supermarket in a coolbag and then freeze it.
Name and address supplied

Richard Allport, alternative vet, advises:
Well, let’s start with how you or your family could pick up Salmonella bacteria: poultry, eggs, melons, lettuce, sprouts, salad mixes, tomatoes and peanut butter can all be contaminated with Salmonella.
Your dog could pick up Salmonella from poultry and other meats and also from dried dog food. There is an assumption that processed pet food is ‘sterile’ – it isn’t, and there have been several cases of dogs contracting Salmonellosis from eating kibble type dog foods.
However, it is true that it is statistically more likely that dogs will pick up Salmonella from raw chicken than from processed food. Keeping chicken cool during transportation then freezing it will certainly help, it doesn’t kill the bacteria but it does stop it multiplying, so there will be fewer bacteria present.
However, picking up Salmonella doesn’t mean picking up Salmonellosis. Confused? OK – tests have shown that some dogs fed on raw chicken passed Salmonella in their faeces. But these dogs were perfectly healthy, with no digestive upsets. They had the bacteria but no symptoms. Salmonellosis, as a disease, means that the bacteria multiply rapidly and cause food poisoning symptoms. This rarely happens in raw fed dogs, possibly because as they are raw fed they have good immune systems and don’t succumb to the condition.
So even if your raw chicken contained Salmonella and your dog picked up the bacteria, it is most likely that your dog would remain perfectly healthy and (this bit is very important) as long as you follow normal hygiene precautions about handling raw meat, you and your family will not be at risk.
I have been feeding raw chicken to my dogs for years, as have many of my friends and colleagues. I have never yet met anybody or heard of anybody feeding raw food who has had a case of Salmonellosis in their dogs or themselves.
Nothing in life is risk free, but the risk of Salmonellosis to you, your family and your dog by feeding raw chicken is absolutely tiny, if you are sensible about hygiene (don’t forget that dogs can pick up Salmonella from processed dog food too). The health benefits to your dog from a raw food diet are huge and far outweigh any minute risk from Salmonella.


  1. My present dog is 18 months old and she has had two chicken wings for lunch every day for well over a year. She has been fine. My last dog used to eat a lamb rib every day (he didn't like chicken!) for the whole of his life. He was absolutely fine too. Dr Ian Billinghurst, who wrote the first raw-feeding book, Give Your Dog a Bone (BARF diet) maintains that dogs do not get salmonella. I read his book and followed his instructions and did not worry about it.
    There's something about the BARF diet that ensures your dog develops a cast-iron stomach. Maybe they need all that live stuff rather than sterile dog food.
    I'm not a scientist and haven't a clue about these things but it does seem more a more natural way for them to eat.
    Julia Lewis

  2. Hi
    I'm a vet student but not far enough advanced in my course to give medical advice, so don't take this as gospel....but....there is some evidence that a BARF diet risks infection with salmonella and other bacteria (such as campylobacter). Nothing has been conclusively proven as far as I know though. I found this study in the Canadian Veterinary Journal ( and although the sample size (only 20 dogs) is too small to give real scientific results it does show a higher incidence of salmonella bacteria in the stool samples of BARF-fed dogs than those fed a "regular" diet (of course the fact that the "regular" diet dogs had no salmonella in their food is not surprising given how extremely heat treated "regular" food is). I have friends who feed their dogs a BARF diet and I am definitely not against the idea, it seems quite sensible and natural as long as it is well-balanced. However I also have children of my own and if you do too then I would perhaps be cautious of your dog being a symptomless carrier of either salmonella or campylobacter (this bacteria is usually without any symptoms in animals but causes diarrhoea etc in humans). Salmonella can double within 6hrs at 6°C (ie. fridge temperature) so I think you are being very sensible in freezing the chicken (although this only prevents growth, it does not kill the bacteria). Basically, it is of course up to you, but I would be very careful handling meat or your dog's faeces, particularly if you have young children. And (I'm sure this isn't a problem with most dogs!) make sure that the meat isn't left lying around for hours at room temperature. It is probably highly unlikely that your dog will get sick, but the risk for family members (including the elderly, or those with a weakened immune system) is probably higher.

  3. I really can't see why handling raw chicken for your dogs is any different to handling it for your own consumption - wash your hands and any prep areas well. Though chicken gets a bad press, salmonella is present in a lot of foods -look at the egg scandal way back when.
    Dogs do seem to be fairly resistant to Salmonella from what I've read, though I understand it can pose more of a risk to cats. But if you follow standard hygiene practise it really doesn't seem a good enough reason to feed your dogs an inappropriate diet.
    I've been feeding my dogs raw for nearly 15 years and I'm still here:)

  4. Mmm....but as someone who has nursed a young dog through Campylobactor [dog was fed raw chicken] I would not take the risk. It has taken literally YEARS to get my dog digestively balanced. He now thrives on cooked lamb [any part] and Markus Muehle. The raw diet never really convinces me as a natural raw diet surely involves an animal eating a fresh kill. The domestic dog seems to have adapted to nearly all the commercially produced foods and I tend to feel if your dog is healthy, happy, playful and in prime condition then whatever diet you are feeding obviously works! Does the dog really care about the difference between a cooked chicken and a raw one?

  5. In answer to "why raw chicken for the dog should be any different to preparing raw meat for human consumption" - well the answer is pretty obvious....humans generally cook chicken thoroughly before eating it! The main problem from a Salmonella/Campylobacter point of view is that the dogs are eating the meat raw and if they get infected they may not have any symptoms but may still be a carrier of the bacteria - which obviously would be dangerous for any children or immune-suppressed people living in the household. As I said before I am not against BARF, as I have many friends who feed their dogs this way and it is unlikely that your dog will get sick (although obviously possible as "In the pink" says), but with very young children or very old people at home it would pay to be careful.

  6. The OP actually asked what was the risk of a dog contracting salmonella through eating raw chicken. I understand that risk is minimal. We have to handle raw chicken before we cook it; we clean worktops and keep cooked meat separate from raw. Dogs eat all sorts when out and about, from long-dead animals to excrement of all species - all of which probably carry far more of a health risk than chicken! If after petting or picking up after our dogs we wash our hands before eating, surely any risk from anything the dog has ingested must be minimal? Life does carry a modicum of risk when all is said and done!