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Risks of Grain-Free Diets for Dogs: FDA Study Reveals Dangers of Dog Bowl Hygiene

In-home pet food handling and dish hygiene practices can have adverse health impacts on humans and pets.

The FDA's investigation into dog owner eating habits included a survey of over 2,000 dog owners.

Are grain-free diets linked to canine health issues? Study on dog bowl hygiene and food safety. FDA investigated the eating habits of dog owners and found that those who fed their dog’s grain-free diets were more likely to report their dogs having DCM. Learn more about the potential risks of feeding your dog a grain-free diet.

Keeping a clean and tidy kitchen when preparing food is essential to ensure safety, but there are always hidden dangers.

A new study has revealed that not regularly washing your dog’s food bowl may affect his health and yours.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) research investigates dog owners’ eating habits and assesses the impact of FDA hygiene protocols on food contamination.

They found that only 12% of the 417 dog owners surveyed wash their dog’s dish every day, 22% clean it once a week, and another 18% wash it every three months.

A common mistake in cleaning the dog bowl that could make you as well as your pet sick

The FDA states that this ‘poses significant health risks to pets and pet owners as it creates an environment where harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and listeria can thrive.

Salmonella and listeria can cause diarrhoea, fever, stomach cramps or pain and nausea in humans, with more severe symptoms in pregnant women, children, adults over 65, and people with a weakened immune system.

More bad habits of dog owners regarding food storage and preparation: 43 per cent stored dog food within 1.5 metres of human nutrition, 34 per cent washed their hands after feeding, and 33 per cent prepared dog food on preparation surfaces intended for human use.

The study found that most dog owners were unaware of and did not follow FDA guidelines for handling and storing pet food.

The response to individual recommendations varied; however, handling practices related to hygiene (hand washing, bowl and utensils) showed overall low levels of compliance.

Furthermore, human studies on self-reported handwashing show an overestimation of hygiene and similar forces, including the effects of social desirability bias, might be expected in this study.

Exposure to contaminated dog food can affect dog and human health. For example, there have been multiple outbreaks of humans and dogs becoming ill after exposure to dog food contaminated with pathogenic bacteria.

These risks may be amplified in households with children and immunocompromised individuals, more than one-third of the respondents’ homes.

Bad habits of dog owners. The FDA has established a list of guidelines for dog owners to follow.

The FDA has established guidelines that owners must follow to reduce the risk of developing an illness from contaminated pet food and treats.

Tips for Buying Pet Food

  • Buy pet food products (cans, pouches, or bags) in good condition. Check the packaging for visible signs of damage, such as dents, tears, and discolourations.

Knowledge of Preparing Pet Food

  • Before handling your pet’s food, always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds; after taking the food or kibble you have just finished, rewash your hands for another 20 seconds.
  • After each use, wash pet food bowls and scooping utensils with soap and hot water.
  • Do not use your pet’s food bowl as a scooping utensil. Use a clean scoop, spoon, or cup instead. Use the scooping utensil only for scooping pet food.
  • For example, throw out old or spoiled pet food safely by placing it in a securely tied plastic bag in a covered trash can.

Suggestions for Storing Pet Food

  • Promptly refrigerate or throw out unused or leftover canned and pouched pet food. Tightly cover refrigerated pet food. Set your refrigerator to 40 F or below.
  • Store dry pet food in a cool and dry place. The temperature should be less than 80 F. Excess heat or moisture can cause the nutrients to break down.
  • Store dry pet food in its original bag and keep the top of the bag tightly folded down.
  • Keep pet food secure to prevent your pet from eating an entire supply at once.

Proper storage of pet food and treats maintains the nutritional value of the products and keeps information at hand in case of problems.

FDA
The FDA found that dog owners who fed their dog's grain-free diets were likelier to report their dogs having DCM.
The study found that only 12% of owners wash their dog’s dishes daily.

Proper storage also prevents your pet from getting into its food and overeating or getting into your cat’s exceptional diet food.

Overeating or ingesting food intended for another pet can cause health problems, such as vomiting, diarrhoea or more severe illnesses; these are bad habits common among most dog owners.

Raw food diets for pets can be dangerous for you and your pet

In a two-year study from October 2010 to July 2012, the FDA’s Centre for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) examined more than 1,000 pet food samples for bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. 1 (The diseases are called ‘foodborne’ because the bacteria are carried or transmitted in or on contaminated food).

The study showed that raw pet food was more likely to be contaminated with pathogenic bacteria than other food tested.

Did not include raw pet food in the first year of the study. In the second year, CVM expanded the study to include 196 samples of commercially available natural dog and cat food.

WINALOT Dog Food Pouches Mixed in Jelly 24x100 g is a balanced wet dog food made with natural ingredients.

The centre purchased various raw pet foods online from different manufacturers. Then, it shipped the products directly to six participating laboratories. 2 The natural pet food products were generally frozen in tube-shaped packages and made from minced meat or sausage.

Participating laboratories analysed raw animal food for harmful bacteria, including Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes.

In past projects, CVM monitored dog and cat food for the presence of Salmonella. But before this study, the centre “had not studied the presence of Listeria in pet food,” said Renate Reimschuessel, a veterinarian at CVM’s Office of Research and one of the study’s principal investigators.

Dr Reimschuessel also noted that “a rather high percentage of the raw pet food we tested was positive for the pathogen Listeria monocytogenes.” (Pathogens are pathogenic germs, such as some bacteria. However, not all bacteria are harmful pathogens.

Some bacteria benefit people and animals, such as those that live in the gut and contribute to a healthy heart).

Bad habits of dog owners. The study on pet food

Dei 196 campioni di alimenti crudi per animali da compagnia analizzati, 15 erano positivi per Salmonella e 32 erano positivi per L. monocytogenes (vedi Tabella 1).

Type of Pet Food SampleNo. samples testedNo. positive for SalmonellaNo. positive for L. monocytogenes
 Raw pet food 196 15 32
 Dry exotic pet food* 190 0 0
 Jerky-type treats 190 0 0
 Semi-moist dog food 120 0 0
 Semi-moist cat food 120 0 0
 Dry dog food§ 120 0 0
 Dry cat food§ 120 1 0
Table 1: Number and type of pet food samples that tested positive for Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes (Years 1 & 2)
* Non-cat and non-dog food, such as dry pellets for hamsters, gerbils, rabbits, amphibians, and birds.
 Included jerky chicken products, pig ears, and bully stick-type products.
‡ Typically packaged in pouches for retail sales, such as (1) pouched dog and cat food; and
(2) food treats shaped like bacon, fish, pork chops, and burgers. 
§ Included pellet- or kibble-type food typically packaged in bags for retail sale.
Note: Canned pet food samples were not tested in this study. 

CVM is concerned about the public health risks of raw pet food diets based on the study results. Dr. Reimschuessel explained that the study “identified a potential health risk for pets eating the raw food and for owners handling the product”.

Owners who feed their pets a raw diet may be more likely to be infected with Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes; try to eliminate these bad habits that most dog owners commit.

Bad habits of dog owners. Valuable tips for preventing foodborne diseases from raw pet food

If you feed your pet raw food, remember that you can infect yourself with Salmonella or L. monocytogenes by spreading the bacteria from the contaminated food to your mouth.

For example, you could accidentally ingest the bacteria by touching your mouth while preparing raw food or after handling a contaminated utensil. In addition, if you get Salmonella or L. monocytogenes on your hands or clothes, you can spread the bacteria to other people, objects and surfaces.

Bad habits among dog owners. Here are some tips for preventing infection with Salmonella and L. monocytogenes:

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water (for at least 20 seconds) after handling raw pet food and touching surfaces or objects that have come into contact with raw food. Potentially contaminated surfaces include countertops and the inside of refrigerators and microwave ovens. Potentially contaminated objects include kitchen utensils, bowls and cutting boards.
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect all surfaces and objects that come into contact with raw pet food. Wash first with warm, soapy water and then with a disinfectant. A solution of 1 tablespoon bleach in 1 litre (4 cups) of water is an effective disinfectant. For a larger supply of the disinfectant solution, add ¼ cup of bleach to 1 gallon (16 cups) of water. You can also run items through the dishwasher to clean and disinfect them after each use.

Eating habits of dog. What is the Difference between Cleaning and Disinfecting

Cleaning removes germs (like bacteria) and dirt from surfaces and objects. Cleaning works by using soap (or detergent) and water to remove germs and dirt physically. This process doesn’t necessarily kill germs, but cleaning lowers the number of germs and the risk of spreading infection by removing them.

Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces and objects, and disinfecting uses chemicals, such as bleach, to kill germs. This process doesn’t necessarily clean dirty surfaces and objects or remove germs, but disinfecting can lower the risk of spreading infection by killing germs after cleaning.

Source: How to Clean and Disinfect Schools to Help Slow the Spread of Flu – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • Freeze raw meat and poultry products until you are ready to use them, and thaw them in your refrigerator or microwave, not on your countertop or in your sink.
  • Carefully handle raw and frozen meat and poultry products. Don’t rinse raw meat, poultry, fish, and seafood. Bacteria in the natural juices can splash and spread to other food and surfaces.
  • Keep raw food separate from other food.
  • Immediately cover and refrigerate what your pet doesn’t eat, or throw the leftovers out safely.
  • If you’re using raw ingredients to make your cooked pet food, cook all food to a proper internal temperature as measured by a food thermometer. Thorough cooking kills Salmonella, L. monocytogenes, and other harmful foodborne bacteria.
  • Especially important after the animal has just finished eating raw food, do not kiss it around the mouth or let it lick your face.
  • Thoroughly wash your hands after touching or being licked by your pet. If your pet gives you a “kiss,” wash your face.

Survey evaluation of dog owners’ feeding practices and dog bowls’ hygiene assessment in domestic settings

Table 1. FDA pet food handling recommendation and owner reported compliance.

FDA Pet Food Handling RecommendationOwner Reported Compliance
Inspect for visible damage 86%86%
Wash hands with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds
before handling
22%
Do not use the bowl as a scooping utensil91%
Wash pet food dish with soap and hot water after each use50% washed with hot/water or dishwasher
————————————
12% washed at least once daily
Wash scoop/utensil with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds after each use13%
Wash hands with soap and hot water after handling38%
Store food in the original bag30% (including those who put the whole bag into
larger container)
Tightly cover leftover food81% (dry food)
———————————–
57% (canned food)
Discarding food in a way pets cannot access 96%
Do not feed raw food 97%
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0259478.t001

Table 2. Additional survey questions.

Additional Survey Questions Owner Response
Where do you typically prepare your dog’s food?On a surface used for human food preparation
(32%)
———————————–
Not on a surface used for human food
preparation, but in the same room (39%)
———————————–
n a different room from where human food is
prepared (29%)
Where do you typically prepare your dog’s food?Yes, it is washed with human dishes (43%)
———————————–
Yes, although it is washed separately from human dishes (49%)
———————————-
No, it is washed in a different sink/dishwasher
than used for human dishes (8%)
Where do you typically keep your dog food dish?Indoors (96%)
———————————-
Outdoors (4%)
When you wash your pet’s food dish, do you wash it in the same sink/dishwasher used for human dishes?The pet food label (41%)
———————————-
Your veterinarian (28%)
———————————-
Place of purchase (11%)
———————————-
FDA (8%)
———————————-
USDA (6%)
———————————-
Other (6%, most common fill-in answer: internet searches
https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0259478.t002

Fig 1

Food type used in an average 24-hour period.

Comparison of food type among all survey respondents and respondents of those participating in the APC assessment.

The FDA's analysis of the survey data found that dog owners who fed their dog's grain-free diets were more likely to report their dogs having DCM.
Fig 1. Food type used in an average 24-hour period. Comparison of food type among all survey respondents and
respondents of those participating in the APC assessment.

Fig 2

Food bowl material.

Comparison of bowl type among all survey respondents and respondents of those participating in the APC assessment.

In the meantime, the FDA advises dog owners to feed their dogs a balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs.
Fig 2. Food bowl material. Comparison of bowl type among all survey respondents and respondents of those participating in the APC assessment.

Fig 3

Comparison of the total aerobic plate counts in studied dog bowls pre- and post-hygiene treatment.

APC based on colony forming units (CFUs) per cm2 of studied bowls pre- and post-hygiene treatment. Superscripts that differ within a group indicated significant differences (p<0.05). However, similar superscripts across groups indicate no significant difference (p≥0.05).

Comparison of total aerobic plate counts in dog food bowl.
Fig 3. Comparison of the total aerobic plate counts in studied dog bowls pre- and post-hygiene treatment. APC based on colony forming units (CFUs) per cm2 of studied bowls pre- and post-hygiene treatment. Superscripts that differ within a group indicated significant differences (p<0.05). However, similar superscripts across groups indicate no significant difference (p>0.05).

Eating habits of dog. Resources for You

Regardless of the pet food you give your pet, you should always follow these instructions for safe handling.

Thank you for reading the article to the end. Your reading contribution was significant to us.

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The "Frenchie Breed" website is a blog aimed at dog owners. We regularly publish articles about our four-legged furry friends. Among the contents of our blog, you will find ample space on the latest news in the sector, with information and in-depth analysis dedicated to the world of dogs in all its forms, the latest trends and news of the moment, curious facts, events devoted to dogs, product reviews, as well as an intense activity of information regarding the health and well-being of pets.

Please Note: The articles in the 'Frenchie Breed Blog' are for information purposes only; nothing published can or should be construed as an attempt to offer professional advice or consultation with a physician, veterinary surgeon or another health professional.

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Written by Frenchie Breed

The "Frenchie Breed" website is a blog aimed at dog owners. We regularly publish articles about our four-legged furry friends. Among the contents of our blog, you will find ample space on the latest news in the sector, with information and in-depth analysis dedicated to the world of dogs in all its forms, the latest trends and news of the moment, curious facts, events devoted to dogs, product reviews, as well as an intense activity of information regarding the health and well-being of pets.

Please Note: The articles in the 'Frenchie Breed Blog' are for information purposes only; nothing published can or should be construed as an attempt to offer professional advice or consultation with a physician, veterinary surgeon or another health professional.

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