Thursday, May 27, 2010

Delta Society (aka Purina) Bans Raw-Fed Dogs from Pet Therapy Program

Dogs are not only man's best friend, they also help sick people get well and dying people feel happier.  Pets that are trained to remain calm and behave in a friendly fashion with hospitalized children and older adults in nursing homes and hospices have become commonplace.  Benefits to patients and to therapy dog owners are easily observable in smiles and laughs.

The largest therapy dog training organization is the Delta Society, which operates out of Bellingham, WA.  This month Delta told its pet therapy trainers and Pet Partners, the thousands of volunteers who own therapy dogs, that dogs fed raw meats will be excluded from their programs, beginning in June.  Delta's communication is posted on their web site.

Reason given for excluding raw-fed dogs is potential bacterial transmission from dogs to vulnerable patients.  Delta Society alleges its Medical Advisory Group recommended to the Board the exclusion of raw-fed dogs based on overwhelming research data.  What data?  They don't say. They do proclaim that no pet food company influenced their decision.

Let's get real.  The Delta Society is sponsored by Nestle-Purina.  An officer of the Board is the Marketing Director for Purina.  On the Home page of their web site, Delta  posts the following:

Thank you to our incredible partner, the passionate pet lovers at Purina.

Your Pet, Our Passion -- don't you just love it?

The directive excluding raw-fed dogs asserts there is no scientific information to favor raw or home-cooked diets over commercial pet food.  Raw-fed pets, they say, may appear to be healthy, but....  I am sure Purina would not recognize any evidence favoring raw-diets over kibbles and canned mush, even if they allowed such evidence to exist.

Further, they assert, there is copious evidence that raw-fed dogs can be hazards to people with compromised immune systems.  The hazards of raw meats they cite apply to anyone who handles raw meat -- clean your  hands and surfaces that meats touch thoroughly.  Oh, yes, don't eat dog poop and wash your hands after cleaning up dog poop.  Are they suggesting that patients in hospitals and nursing homes would eat dog poop?  Clean up poop?  How many come into contact with raw meat -- aren't their meals prepared in the hospital kitchen and delivered cooked to their bedsides?

The real question is whether visiting dogs, carefully bathed and groomed by Delta's devoted Pet Partners, pose a bacterial threat to hospitalized patients.   Here's the best evidence they have.  A study from the University of Guelph Veterinary School followed 200 raw-fed and kibble-fed therapy dogs for a year, analyzing stool samples every 2 months.  One question was whether therapy dogs carry bacteria commonly found in healthcare facilities (that is, are dogs getting bacteria from visiting hospitals?)

Question:  What are the incidence rates of specific pathogens in therapy dogs and do these rates vary by level of exposure to healthcare facilities?
Methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA)
Extend-spectrum b-lactamase (ESBL) E. coli
Clostridium difficile
Vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE)
Salmonella spp

Three of the bacteria are common in hospitals:  MRSA, Clostridium difficile, and VRE.  These hospital-bacteria are  dangerously resistant to antibiotic treatment.  Non-specific Salmonella and E. coli are found on raw meats, vegetables, eggs -- everywhere.

A higher percentage of kibble-fed therapy dogs were found to carry the dangerous, drug-resistant bacteria!  The implication is that kibble-fed dogs are more susceptible to bacteria acquired from visiting hospitals. These dogs then carry these bacteria back to other hospital sites they visit.  Author did not discuss the implications of this result.

More raw-fed dogs carry Salmonella spp, and various E. coli, which are usually benign and commonly found in intestinal tracts of healthy animals and people.  Overwhelming amounts of normal intestinal bacteria can make animals and people ill.  Patients with compromised immune systems are probably more prone to develop illnesses from these bacteria.  No quantitative assessment was done, so we don't know if small or large amounts of bacteria were present in the stools of these otherwise healthy animals.

What does the author recommend?  First, please note that Royal Canin Pet Food Company (owned by Mars) endowed the small animal nutrition program at the University of Guelph Veterinary School in 2009.  Second, please note that Royal Canin influences (can withdraw funding, if not pleased) the professor who is chosen as the chaired professor and determines the small-animal iresearch program.  What will this Ph.D. student in small animal nutrition conclude about the safety of dogs on raw versus kibble diets as therapy animals?

Dogs that consume raw diets are considerably more likely to carry Salmonella than dogs that do not
These dogs also appear to be considerably more likely to carry ESBL E. coli
Just because dogs are shedding doesn’t mean people are going to get sick…
Therapy dogs that consume raw diets should be barred from interacting with people in healthcare setting.
 Nary a word is said about the dangerous bacteria carried by more kibble-fed dogs.  She does note that just because dogs shed bacteria in their feces does not mean people will get sick, unless they eat poop or clean up poop.  

Internet groups that discuss pet foods condemn the Delta Society's exclusion of raw-fed dogs, even if they don't support raw-feeding.  Susan Thixton says:
This is one of the most ridiculous moves I’ve seen yet from a national charity; right up there with the Humane Society of the United States making a pet food in Uruguay.  The Delta Society is kicking out any pet owner that has made the educated decision to feed their pet raw food.
I don’t feed my pets raw, and I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve dealt with verbal abuse from steadfast raw feeders; one even demanded my website “condemn all pet owners that feed anything but raw”.  Demanded! No kidding.  But, I support any pet owner that makes an educated decision to feed raw.

Christie Keith says:
 I’ve been trying to pretend the Delta Society, the nation’s leading therapy dog organization, hadn’t just issued a ban on participation by dogs fed a raw diet. Because honestly, after 24 years of feeding raw meat, eggs and dairy products to my dogs and cats with not a single food-borne illness or nutritional problem, I’m just plain tired of this debate.
Do they honestly believe a living creature, let alone one that regularly licks its own butt, is ever going to be sterile?
Others call for action against the Delta Society.  Supporters of raw pet diets can write to the Delta Society to express their views on exclusion of raw-fed dogs from Pet Partners.  Pet Partner volunteers who feed raw diets can resign under protest.
Pass this on to all the raw feeders you can find.  I hope there is mass resignation from Delta Society.
Lucy Rasmussen, ScD
For me, the Delta Society is another example of the pernicious impact of pet-food funding on veterinary and animal welfare organizations.  Here, their long arm extends to a human-focused nonprofit organization that uses pets as therapy for sick and dying people.  It's disturbing and disgusting.


  1. It is important to note that not only raw fed dogs are being kicked out, but also 1) Pet Partners who live in households where other dogs are fed raw and 2) any Pet Partner dog that is given a raw meaty bone to chew for dental health in addition to their kibble. (Wonder if doggies that eat Purina kibble are exempt from this rule!??)

  2. Better say nothing than nothing to the purpose...................................................

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