June 22, 2024

Feeding Dogs Raw Meat Increases Risk of Antibiotic-Resistant E. coli, Study Finds

Feeding dogs raw (uncooked) meat has been found to increase their risk of excreting antibiotic-resistant E. coli, according to researchers at the University of Bristol. The study, which analyzed 600 healthy pet dogs, discovered that dogs fed raw meat were more likely to carry E. coli bacteria that cannot be killed by the widely used antibiotic, ciprofloxacin.

E. coli is known to cause food poisoning and is also the leading cause of urinary tract and bloodstream infections in the UK, which can be life-threatening. Ciprofloxacin belongs to a group of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones, which are considered critically important in treating bacterial infections in both humans and animals, according to the World Health Organisation.

In conducting the study, the research team requested that dog owners complete a survey outlining details about their pet’s diet, environments they walked in, and whether the dog had been treated with antibiotics. By combining this data with microbiology information, the researchers were able to conduct statistical analysis, which concluded that feeding dogs raw meat was the only significant risk factor associated with the excretion of antibiotic-resistant E. coli in their feces. This finding supports previous studies that have also demonstrated a link between feeding dogs raw meat and the excretion of resistant E. coli.

It should be noted that reduced ciprofloxacin use by GPs in the UK has resulted in a decrease in ciprofloxacin resistance in E. coli-related infections in humans. Furthermore, the use of fluoroquinolones to treat farmed animals in the UK has almost completely ceased. However, high levels of fluoroquinolone use and resistance still persist worldwide.

Dr. Jordan Sealey, a Research Associate at the University of Bristol’s School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, emphasized that the focus of the research was not solely on raw dog food, but rather on identifying factors that increase the likelihood of a dog excreting antibiotic-resistant E. coli. The study found a significant association between excreting ciprofloxacin-resistant E. coli and feeding dogs a raw food diet.

Professor Matthew Avison, a Molecular Bacteriology expert who led the study, stated that raw meat, whether intended for human consumption after cooking or sold as raw dog food, is likely to be contaminated with antibiotic-resistant E. coli. Cooking the meat kills the bacteria, and practicing good hand hygiene reduces the immediate risk of ingesting the bacteria and enabling them to enter a person’s intestines.

To reduce the risk of dogs excreting resistant bacteria, individual measures can include switching to a non-raw food diet or sourcing high-quality raw meat that can be safely cooked. It is important to note that most raw food sold for dog consumption cannot be cooked and can pose serious health hazards to dogs if cooked improperly.

Additionally, choosing to feed dogs meat from farms in the UK or other countries with stringent antibiotic usage policies in farming may decrease the risk of them consuming resistant bacteria with their meals.

In response to the global antibiotic resistance crisis, Professor Avison suggests that companies entering the raw dog food industry should source meat from farms with appropriate antibiotic usage policies and test the meat for resistant bacteria before selling it. He also recommends setting stricter limits on the permissible number of bacteria in meat intended for uncooked consumption compared to meat that is cooked prior to consumption.

It is important to note that E. coli naturally resides in the intestines of humans and animals and can be transmitted between both species, typically through poor domestic hygiene such as inadequate handwashing after using the toilet or handling raw meat. When dogs excrete bacteria into the environment and home, there is a potential for these bacteria to be transmitted to their owners and other individuals.

Once a person ingests E. coli, the bacteria can remain in their intestines for years before causing an infection. In the UK, hundreds of thousands of urinary tract infections and numerous bloodstream infections, often leading to life-threatening sepsis, are caused by E. coli each year. When E. coli is resistant to crucial antibiotics like ciprofloxacin, infections become more difficult to treat, increasing the likelihood of hospitalization and death.

This study received funding from the United Kingdom Research and Innovation’s Antimicrobial Resistance Cross Council Initiative and the Medical Research Foundation National PhD Training Programme in Antimicrobial Resistance Research.


1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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