Anyone who's tried researching the best diet for their beloved pet will have stumbled upon forums where discussions on what's best are as vigorous as the ones parents might have about vaccination.
But if you're feeding Mittens a raw meat diet because "it's so natural" and "just what her wild ancestors would have eaten", it looks like science may not be on your side.
Researchers in the Netherlands have analysed a range of raw meat-based pet diet products and concluded that the risks of contamination are super-high, even if the pet owners swear by the virtues of such a diet.
"[T]he claimed health benefits attributed to the feeding of raw meat-based diets are mostly anecdotal, and no studies have produced results in support of these statements," the team writes in the study.
For their analysis, the team led by Paul Overgaauw at Utrecht University looked for four types of bacteria and two types of parasites in 35 raw meat-based pet food products commercially available in the Netherlands.
What they found was a veritable smorgasbord of pathogens that can pose risks not just to pets, but to people and farm animals as well.
The team points out that the relatively small sample size doesn't allow for a calculation of the precise risks involved if you buy your cat or dog raw meat-based products. But it is clear from their findings that plenty of that raw stuff could come laced with a pathogen or two.
"Feeding of freshly prepared, non-frozen raw meat based-diets to companion animals can not only result in infection and disease in the animals, but also poses a risk to public health and livestock farming through shedding of pathogens into the environment," the researchers conclude.
Things are probably better if you only purchase meat intended for human consumption, as the hygiene requirements for producing that are usually stricter than for the giblets, entrails, and other byproducts deemed suitable for raw pet food.
Additionally, depending on your country's laws, the preservatives used to keep meat fresh may not even be labelled properly, and can end up being toxic for both dogs and cats.
And there really doesn't seem to be any evidence showing that raw is going to be somehow better, while there are certainly studies demonstrating the opposite.
Previous research has already shown the risks associated with feeding raw meat-based diets to cats and dogs, including a risk of developing hyperthyroidism in dogs, inadequate nutritional balance, and contamination with parasites and pathogens.
So, even if the daily opening of weird-smelling canned food seems like doing your fuzzy friend a disservice, if it's well produced and nutritionally balanced, it may just be the best thing for the animals and yourself.
The study was published in Vet Record.