A charitable scheme that sends dogs into schools to help children read has banned the use of animals fed a raw meat-based diet amid concerns they may carry dangerous bacteria.
The popularity of the raw meat-based diet, which comprises mainly raw meat, bones, fruit and vegetables, is growing.
Burns by Your Side is a specially developed reading-to- dogs scheme, which uses trained volunteers and their companion dogs to help children improve their reading skills and communicate more confidently.
It is managed by the Burns Pet Nutrition Foundation, the charitable arm of Burns Pet Nutrition.
The organisers of Burns by Your Side have said they must put the safety and health of the children first and on that basis, dogs fed a raw meat-based diet will no longer be allowed to participate in the scheme.
Carol Lincoln, manager of the Burns by Your Side scheme, said: “There is now a substantial body of evidence that raw feeding meat and other raw animal products poses health risks, not just to the pet itself but to humans who come into contact with the pet.
“Raw meat, whether intended for consumption by humans or pets, is frequently contaminated by micro-organisms including E. Coli and Salmonella.
“Trials have shown that dogs which eat raw animal products, even if they do not show signs of disease, can become carriers and shed these bacteria into the environment. This poses a risk to the health of susceptible humans, particularly young people, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.
“The fact is we have a responsibility to ensure the dogs we are sending into work with children are healthy and safe. On that basis, we have taken the decision to not allow dogs on a raw meat-based diet to participate.”
John Burns, managing director of Burns Pet Nutrition and a vet for almost 40 years, says he has been concerned about the health risks of a raw meat-based diet for some time. “When I first worked as a vet in general practice almost 40 years ago, when pets had a health problem (dogs primarily but also cats), I often recommended a diet of home-cooked brown rice, vegetables and meat as a method of managing those health problems.
“This gave wonderful results in dealing with persistent illnesses especially skin disease, digestive upset and many other health issues.
“A diet of raw meat is a very new method of feeding which inevitably means a diet high in fat and protein. In my opinion, this is not appropriate to the lifestyle of a domestic pet and is also potentially hazardous.
“The danger is not limited to the pet consuming raw food – family members are also put at risk from spread of pathogens from the raw food.
“Human health professionals continually remind consumers to cook food properly and even to exercise great care when handling raw meat products.”