Feeding a raw diet to dogs does require a certain amount of proper food handling and sanitation if you want to keep things safe, germ-wise. If you are anything like me and have a decade of food service under your belt then you already know the ins & outs of meat safety & cross-contamination. But, if you somehow made it through your 20’s without having a restaurant job here is the basics of what you need to prevent, how to do so, and then my favorite natural ways in my home.
Bacterial Dangers of Raw Feeding Dogs
There are two major things you need to worry about when you feed raw. Those are foodborne illnesses (bacteria) and then the cross-contamination of that bacteria to us humans. See, most food born illnesses are not dangerous to your dogs, just us. (Of course, there are always exceptions for puppies, kittens, and pets with compromised immune systems.)
- Foodborn Illnesses: This is the bad bacteria, or bacteria imbalance, that happens in meat that causes sickness when digested. The two big ones are Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes. Both are okay for a normal healthy dog but not for us, see exception above. They grow out of balance when the meat is in the ‘Danger Zone’. That is when the meat is between the temperature of 40 °F and 140 °F. In that zone, bad bacteria can grow rapidly causing an imbalance that can make everyone sick.
- Cross Contamination: This is the next step in the sickness process. When the food has unwanted germs they can spread easily if you do not have proper food handling habits. So if you dish up your dog’s dinner then lick your fingers clean or reuse your dog’s dinner plate for your own dinner without washing it first you have now spread the germs. That is it, that is cross contamination.
Now that we know what to be aware of let’s move on to prevention of it.
How To Do Raw Feed Dog Germ Maintenance
Now not all bacteria are bad. We all have heard about creating a healthy gut with all the bacteria in balance. We need living things to support us and our animals bodies. So let’s move that idea outside of a balanced gut to our homes and families. Germs are a part of life and getting rid of them is not the answer. Balancing the good germs with the bad ones is.
- Me: I wash my hands with soap. That’s it. I just wash my hands after serving or handling the food.
- The House: I wipe down the counters with disinfectant after I handle the food. If a meal is particularly messy I also wipe/mop their feeding area.
- The dogs: Their bowls are theirs and no one else’s. That prevents germ sharing with us humans. I also wash them occasionally with soap. Their bowls not their bodies. Some people do like to clean their pets faces or folds after eating and that is fantastic. I just don’t due to my dogs not being messy eaters and that I trust the meat sources I use.
- The kids: I made this a section all its own due to having a kid myself. Now, I cheated and went the step-mom route and acquired mine when he was five. That was 9 years ago I am still in shock at the amount of things he could touch, unpack, feel, grab, and destroy in a day. So here is where cross-contamination can be a real issue. Especially if your little one is in the ‘put all the things in my mouth phase’. So here is what I did. I bought reusable containers with lids that looked nothing like any other container in the house. I then had him pick out a bunch of stickers he thought the dogs would like. We then did an afternoon craft were we decorated the dog’s containers together, put their defrosted meals in them, and picked out a special spot in the fridge that they will always be in. Bam! Curiosity satisfied, visual reminder placed, and dog meals properly separated from our meals. While he was little I just supervised when he fed the dogs and made sure we washed our hands when he was done.
- The Meals: Last but defiantly not the least the actual food itself. Leave what you can for as long as you can frozen. Or only defrost what you are going to need for that day. Keeping the meals frozen ensures that they are not in the Danger Zone for bacteria growth. I simply take another meal out of the freezer when I feed. So defrosted meal is served in their dog only bowl from their dog meals only container then replaced by a frozen meal to defrost. Next keep your meals in their own special containers to avoid confusion. Make sure they have lids and store them on the bottom shelf in your fridge. That way they don’t splash or leak onto any other foods. Last and most importantly defrost with care. This is the phase were the bad bacteria growth can go wild. Never leave the food out for more than 20 minutes. My dogs are extremely food motivated, they take after their mother, so this is never an issue. But if it is in your home place in the fridge for later. The meals stay good 2 – 3 days in the fridge after defrost. They, you know those people, recommend that you always defrost in the fridge. That process doesn’t allow enough time between meals for me so I cheat and leave the frozen meals in their containers on th counter for an hour. At first this was tough because I wasn’t in the habit of checking to make sure I put the dog food away. So some meals did go to the trash. I figured out that if I set the kitchen timer before I left the kitchen after meal service the alarm was great at reminding me.
My Favorite Natural Hacks
It always seems weird to me to work so hard to keep my diets natural then immediately expose myself to harsh chemicals that counteract said diets in the name of cleaning. And I feel the same way about my home and doggos. So here are my favorite more natural disinfecting and cleaning methods to keep my germ life in balance.
- White vinegar to kill germs: I prefer this over bleach due to bleach being so harmful to all living things. Does it really disinfect though? Yes at the right concentrate. Here are the details.
- Regular soap instead of anti-bacterial soap: There isn’t any real proof that anti-bacterial soap is more effective than regular old soap. In fact, they are now saying it might be worse, due to it ‘killing all the things’ and not leaving any room to maintain the bacteria balance we need. Also, it cost more.
In the end, it really is just about not letting the meat sit out too long, wiping the counters, and washing your hands. There was this great quote from a gal I met in a raw feeding group about how easy it is clean up after her dogs but I can’t find it now and have forgotten her name. Oh well, so much for my witty ending.