By Guardian Angel Julie & Aisha


It is important to bring to light the cautions for feeding raw meat to epileptic dogs, whose immune systems may already be compromised.

Most people who feed a raw food diet have very strong feelings about raw. However, with the vast amount of information on this subject raw vs. home-cooked or commercial) it can become very overwhelming. Moreover, raw food enthusiasts are so steadfast in their belief that they are doing the best for their dog by feeding raw, they may not even consider compromised dog's needs, such as an epileptic dog when recommending a raw food diet.  I have always believed that each dog is an individual, and what works for one dog may not work for another, I truly am convinced that this includes diet.  And the reasons why the Guardian Angels do not advocate feeding a raw food diet, especially to epileptic dogs are due to the following:

First and foremost, dogs with epilepsy may be "genetically challenged" and therefore would not process food (and most other things for that matter) like other "healthy" dogs.  Many epileptic dogs also have other ailments (for instance my epileptic dog, Aisha. In addition to his epilepsy, he is auto-immune along with other genetic shortcomings).  To that end, our epileptic dogs may already be compromised and raw meat (even "organic", "free range", etc.) contains bacteria.  The liver is one organ that actually filters the bacteria that has been ingested, and since a lot of epileptic dogs are on Phenobarbital, the liver is already working hard on metabolizing a hepatotoxin.  I asked Dr. William Thomas, DVM, MS a while ago what the effect of bacteria had on dogs with liver dysfunction.  Following is his reply:

"I asked our board-certified veterinary nutritionist about this. He said there are no controlled studies of raw meat diets in dogs with liver disease. But he expressed several theoretical concerns similar to what you mentioned.

Dogs with liver failure often do not tolerate a lot of protein. Also important is the type of protein, with aromatic amino acids being the worst and branched chain amino acids being the preferred type of protein. Meat, especially red meat is high in aromatic amino acids, while dairy products have mostly branched chain amino acids. That's why a low protein diet with predominantly branched chain amino acids are recommended for certain type of liver failure.

Another concern is that dogs with liver disease are at increased risk of sepsis (infection), especially food-born infection.

In summary I would be careful with a raw meat diet in a dog with liver failure. There are specific diets developed for dogs with liver disease that have been shown to be beneficial.

WB Thomas DVM, MS
Dipl. ACVIM (Neurology)
University of Tennessee
Knoxville, TN

To expand on the bacteria caveat in a raw meat diet, the "meat" that wild carnivores consume in the wild is not the same meat that pet owners will purchase.  All meat, regardless if it is organic, free range, store bought, bought from the local butcher have passed through a slaughter house and possibly a rendering plant.  There are many FDA reports on the bacteria found on the surfaces of these slaughter houses and rendering plants, which in turn contaminate the meat.  Therefore the meat purchased can very well be infected by dangerous and deadly bacteria, notwithstanding the source that the raw meat was purchased.  Following is one abstract, published in "PubMed" for the National Library of Medicine, on this very issue:

[Food of animal origin that is potentially infected and in danger of becoming infected by contact. (Food hygiene consequences by the example of the occurrence of Salmonella in meat of slaughtered animals and of hepatitis A viruses in mussels)]
Ozari R, Kotter L.
Certain pathogenic micro-organisms in or on food of animal origin still constitute a particular hygienic risk. Salmonellae are found chiefly on meat and in meat products including poultry. Most of the infections with salmonellae in men are presumably caused by the consumption of raw products of animal origin. Our stock of slaughter animals is most often latently infected. During the slaughter and the processing meat surfaces are contaminated with salmonellae. Nevertheless a precautionary decontamination of these surfaces is not undertaken. Furthermore contaminations are still ignored by the official microbial meat inspection, and it is still allowed to use the meat for the production of minced meat meant to be eaten raw. Foods are also "infected" when the pathogenic organisms are introduced by contamination. It is not admissible to consider a small amount of salmonellae in food of animal origin as an acceptable lack of security that is to be respected by the consumer. Usual thinking models and customs are to be made dubious. It is shown at the example of raw meat and mussels that the hygiene of food must be optimized by comprising food technology.
PMID: 3107272 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

And from the AVMA on Salmonella (**NOTE** their expressed concern of infection for immunocompromised people (which could also include
epileptic dogs!):

"In the United States, outbreaks of Salmonella enteritidis (S.e.) infection increased dramatically in the 1980's; most of the outbreaks occurred in the New England and mid-Atlantic States. Recently, the West Coast has reported significantly increased infections of S.e. This food borne disease produces severe diarrhea, fever, vomiting, and cramps, and can cause death. From 1976 through 1994, the proportion of reported Salmonella isolates in the U.S. that were S.e. increased from 5 percent to 26 percent. During 1985-1994, state and territorial health departments reported 549 S.e. outbreaks to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, accounting for 23,154 cases of illness, 2,230 hospitalizations, and 65 deaths. In these outbreaks, the dominant location continues to be the commercial venue (i.e., restaurants, deli, cafeteria). This disease can be particularly dangerous for infants, older adults, and immunocompromised people. "

Following is an excerpt from an article, written by Karen Peak a dog trainer for 12 years, on the effects of bacteria in raw meat:

"Now, let's consider the bacteria in raw meat. Canine and feline digestive tracts are not the same as ours. Supposedly, a healthy dog or cat should be better able to handle the bacteria in meat better than humans can. However, there has been concern raised regarding bacteria. First, humans: we must practice safe meat handling and cleaning up after our pets eat. The bacteria in raw meat can be fatal to a human who is young, elderly or has a weakened immune system. Some cats and dogs on raw diets have persistent diarrhea -not normal. Chronic diarrhea can lead to dehydration and other problems. Also, it can be a sign that the animal is not handling the bacteria well. The bacteria can be fatal in a pet with a weakened immune system or who is already sick. Dr. Lisa Newman, a doctor of Naturopathy with a PhD in holistic nutrition has seen an increase of irritable bowel syndrome, digestive problems and immuno-related weaknesses in animals fed a raw diet on a daily basis."

And more on the bacteria issue. Following is an excerpt from the FDA, contained in their guidance initiative for manufacturing and labeling of commercially prepared raw foods on the market:
"These circumstances are particularly relevant to raw meat products for animals, in large part because they are not heat treated and because raw animal tissues may harbor many potentially pathogenic organisms, including bacteria (e.g., Salmonella, Escherichia coli) and parasites.1-4 The FDA has promulgated a regulation specifying that meat scraps or other similar animal by-products are adulterated when they are found upon examination to be contaminated with Salmonella microorganisms, (Title 21 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 500.35). Not only are the animals consuming the product at risk of infection by organisms contained in the raw tissues, but the people handling the product are also at risk. Adequate heat treatment is the most effective and efficient means of mitigating this risk. Because some processes currently used, such as freezing or freeze-drying, do not achieve the same degree of effectiveness as heat treatment, the measures discussed and recommended below are important in reducing the risk of infection and the likelihood of the product being adulterated."

Another type of bacteria which could potentially be fatal to a dog when the immune system is compromised is Campylobacter.  Campylobacter is a common bacteria that is often the cause of food poisoning in people.  Campylobacter can be found in most raw meats, especially poultry, and can also be found in raw milk and even contaminated water. Most healthy people (and dogs) can recover from campylobacter without much incident, however compromised people (and dogs) may not recover well and have episodes of vomiting, listlessness, diarrhea, and can even cause a wide range of ailments not usually considered; including urinary track infections and meningitis, or even death.

Following is an excerpt from the FDA's website on a study conducted by the Minnesota Dept. of Health on the frequency campylobacter is found in chicken:

"Although found in many farm animals, Campylobacter in poultry is causing experts the most concern. There have been several studies pointing to high levels of Campylobacter present on poultry at the retail level, including a recent two-year Minnesota Department of Health study that found that 88percent of poultry sampled from local supermarkets tested positive for the bacteria.

"The retail study was in collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture; their inspectors went to supermarkets throughout the St. Paul/Minneapolis Twin Cities area to cover a variety of supermarket types, from big chains to mom-and-pop stores," says Kirk E. Smith, D.V.M., a Minnesota state epidemiologist who participated in the study.

Many prior surveys have found Campylobacter contamination rates of between 40 and 60 percent, he says. "But 88 percent--this degree of contamination surprised even me," he admits."

The FDA's article also goes on to say:

"Symptoms of campylobacteriosis usually occur within two to 10 days of ingesting the bacteria. Children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems are particularly at risk." 

Another deadly bacteria found in raw meat is E Coli.  A study was performed on racing greyhounds fed raw meat (albeit not the highest quality of meat) and were found to contract Idiopathic Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy and Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome.  The study also notes that when the Greyhounds were fed the same 4D beef, but when cooked no traces of E Coli were found!

Additionally, because many of our epileptic dogs are on AEDs, which have potential side effects in it of themselves, by compounding the risk for such side effects of pancreatitis (as in the possible link with KBr) by feeding a raw diet is tipping the scale in my opinion.  The following excerpt on the risk of ailments such as pancreatitis can be found at

"There has been a significant increase in a variety of illnesses due to a raw meat diet.  Some dogs become ill right away and others have severe pancreatic, kidney, heart and brain illnesses due to a long-term raw meat diet.  Most dogs that die from a raw meat / bones diet do not show signs of illness until a few days before it kills them. This is true with Pancreatitis and with the raw chicken or turkey necks and backs that injure the stomach and intestinal area.

On the other hand, as more people experiment with raw meat diets, veterinarians are seeing frequent cases of pancreatitis, ulcers, malnutrition, injuries due to the raw bones, systemic bacterial poisoning and other conditions.  I continue to receive frequent emails from people who once swore by barf, and have now left the discussion group with very sick dogs."

Another caveat for feeding raw meat and bones to all dogs (including normally healthy dogs) is impaction and/or obstruction.  Even raw bones have the potential to cause impaction or obstruction.  The likelihood that raw bones splinter is less than cooked or smoked bones, however there still have been many cases of where a piece of a raw bone actually punctured the digestive tract or caused an obstruction. The counterpoint that most raw food enthusiasts make when there has been expressed caution for ingesting raw bones is ".... wolves and other wild canine species have been eating raw meat and bones in the wild for centuries...".  My question is; how would we know if they had an impaction or obstruction?  The wolves and other wild canine species would just die and be eaten by other carnivorous species.  How do we know what the life span of all canine species in the wild is?  How do we really know the ratio between wild canine species that die because of bacterial infection or bone impaction/obstruction and the ones that live long lives?  There are "studies" on wolves and their raw diet however, the quantity of studies performed that favor the "wild canine diet" has about the same amount of studies that argue against the "wild canine diet" for the reasons I am mentioning here.  As you can see the contentious nature of this issue.

There are also prepackaged raw food diets that are now becoming popular, as they 'claim' to be completely balanced for the needs of our dogs.  There was a study performed by the JAVMA on the nutritional analysis of the most popular prepackaged raw food diets.  The study is alarming.  The claims of "nutritional complete" by the manufacturers are debunked, and the study discovered harmful levels of Vit A & D in some of the brands, and the quantity of bacteria actually found in these prepackaged raw diet products is especially eye-opening.  Of course the manufactures of these prepackaged raw food diets hired attorneys to try and reverse the published study.  As it turned out one of the manufacturers actually asked the JAVMA to double check their product.  The results were still bacteria laden and now had harmful levels of Vit D.  An excerpt from the JAVMA study is as follows:

"Nonetheless, the results of the small number of diets analyzed here indicated that there are clearly nutritional and health risks associated with feeding raw food diets.  All the diets tested had nutritional deficiencies or excesses that could cause serious health problems when used in a long-term feeding program.  Of equal concern is the health risks associated with bacteria in the raw food diets, especially the homemade diet that yielded E. coli O157:H7. Although owners feeding raw food diets often claim that dogs are more resistant to pathogenic bacteria, we are not aware of evidence to support that claim."

If you would like to read more on why more thought should be given before feeding an epileptic dog a raw food diet, there are many links that go into further details of all the cautions for feeding BARF and other raw diets:

I hope that the above information helps everyone understand the dangers of a raw meat diet for our epileptic dogs.