Q: My breeder recommends I give my new puppy small training treats made of freeze-dried raw liver. In the past, you've warned that raw diets can be contaminated with bacteria, parasites and other pathogens. Does freeze-drying make raw food safe?
A: No, the opposite is true. Microbiologists and veterinary nutritionists tell us that freeze-drying is one of the best ways to preserve bacteria. Because the technique helps bacteria remain viable and healthy for decades, freeze-dried raw food is just as risky as unprocessed raw food.
Treats and other small pieces of raw meat are even more easily contaminated than large chunks of raw food because their small size provides more surface area to which bacteria can adhere.
In the past year, 17 product lines of pet treats and diets were recalled, sometimes more than once, because of Salmonella and/or Listeria bacterial contamination. Freeze-drying preserves both types of bacteria.
Salmonella and Listeria cause disease in pets and humans, so by giving your pup freeze-dried liver treats, you risk contaminating your hands and then infecting yourself and other people. Over the years, raw dehydrated animal parts such as pigs' ears and rawhide chews have also triggered bacterial infections in many people.
In dogs and humans, these bacteria cause loss of energy and appetite, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, abdominal pain and sometimes death. Puppies and children, seniors and those with compromised immune systems are most susceptible.
So, don't give your pup freeze-dried raw meat morsels, whether they're treats or mixed with kibble in bagged dog food. Your veterinarian or a reputable pet supply store can offer many safer options. And remember to supplement your treats with lots of praise so you can gradually reduce the food, knowing your dog's favorite reward is your approving voice.
Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.