Features July 2010 Issue

Are Raw-Fed Dogs a Risk?

A major therapy dog registry has banned raw-fed pets.

Delta Society is one of the largest and best-known organizations that registers and insures “pet therapy” volunteers and their companion animals. Pet/handler teams – known as Pet Partners – brighten lives in hospitals, nursing homes, group homes, schools, pre-kindergarten programs, libraries, jails, women’s shelters, homeless shelters, senior centers, adult day programs, and a host of other facilities.

But on May 19, Delta Society triggered a firestorm of controversy, complete with conspiracy theories, angry denunciations, frustration, and confusion, when it announced that effective June 30, “any dog or cat from a household where raw protein food is fed is not eligible to be a Delta Society Pet Partner.”

Delta’s Raw Protein Diet Policy raises serious questions about the safety of feeding raw food regardless of an animal’s pet-therapy status. Are raw-protein diets truly dangerous for dogs and the people who touch them? We think not. Should responsible owners reconsider their feeding plans? We say no. Here’s why.

Author CJ Puotinen’s six-year-old Labrador Retriever, Chloe, has been a Delta Society Pet Partner since her first birthday. She can no longer participate in the Pet Partners program due to her raw diet.

Delta suggests that even a dog or cat who eats a conventional commercial diet and shares a household with a raw-fed dog or cat may be ineligible to be a Pet Partner. “If a Pet Partner has access to the food or bowl used, it would be best to NOT feed any of the other pets raw meats. Inadvertent eating of raw meat or cross-contamination is very real.”

Delta’s board of directors believes that raw-fed animals pose a serious risk of infecting clients with zoonotic pathogens.  Its new policy statement concerning raw-fed Pet Partners asserts, “It is well known that animals fed raw diets (BARF or other) shed significant amounts of pathogenic bacteria, which studies have indicated may put some people at risk, as compared to pets being fed commercially prepared or cooked, home-made diets . . .

“Even healthy animals can shed pathogenic bacteria that can affect the human companion team member and others. Certain individuals are at increased risk of disease if they encounter various pathogens, particularly people that are immune-compromised, very young, or elderly. This basically describes most of the individuals Delta Society Pet Partners visit: Patients in hospitals, senior centers, nursing facilities, hospice care, rehabilitation facilities, and schools involving young children, among others.”

Delta acknowledges that dogs fed commercial or home-cooked diets can shed pathogenic bacteria, but believes these dogs pose a lower risk of bacterial shedding. Delta Society volunteers who feed commercial pet food or a home-cooked diet are unaffected by the organization’s new policy – but those who feed their animal companions raw protein must either change those diets or leave their Delta Society-sponsored volunteer work. If a Pet Partner does switch to a cooked or commerical diet, Delta suggests suspending therapeutic visits for a minimum of four weeks, because dogs can shed pathogenic bacteria for a variable amount of time.

The new policy
Delta’s policy change caught its many raw-feeding volunteers by surprise. How did Delta Society decide that raw-fed animals pose a health risk to the clients served by its program?

 On its website, Delta Society explains the rationale for its policy change: “Over the past few years, the increasing use of raw protein diets and the health concerns and controversy generated have grown, not only between the public and veterinarians, but often within the veterinary profession itself. After careful consideration of all of the known scientific facts, and on the unanimous advice of the Delta Society Medical Advisory Board, made up of internal medicine and public health experts from North America, the board of directors voted to preclude animals eating raw protein foods from participating in Delta Society Pet Partners program.”

Some raw feeders see an ominous connection between the development of the policy and the fact that Delta Society receives financial support from Purina. One of its Medical Advisory Group members, Deborah S. Greco, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, works for Nestle Purina Petcare in St. Louis, Missouri. Delta acknowledges Purina on its website, displaying the Purina logo under the statement, “Thank you to our incredible partner, the passionate pet lovers at Purina!”

Apparently anticipating that some would blame Delta’s link to Purina as the cause of its ban on raw-fed animal partners, Delta clarified:

What was the role of pet food manufacturers in the adoption of the Raw Protein Diet Policy?
  No pet food manufacturer representatives contacted, encouraged, lobbied, or influenced the Delta Society Medical Advisory Group in recommending to the board that they approve a Raw Protein Diet Policy.
. . . As board members learned of medical professionals’ concerns about the increased risk of the spread of pathogenic bacteria to humans by animals fed raw protein diets, it was determined that this was an issue that needed review. . . . As many of our Pet Partners visit in hospitals, assisted-living centers, and other places where people’s immune systems are compromised, it was decided that implementing this new policy was the responsible action.

A look at the pathogens
Delta Society’s Raw Protein Diet Policy explains, “Since many studies have shown pets fed such diets shed a significantly higher number of pathogenic bacteria, the risk is too great for inadvertent, but avoidable infection.” Here’s a look at the bacteria of concern.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, foodborne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths in the U.S. each year.

Salmonella, which causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, chills, headache, and blood in the stools, is the most common bacterial cause of foodborne outbreaks.

About half of all Salmonella infections occur in restaurant settings. According to the CDC, 1.4 million Americans contract Salmonella each year, but because mild cases are often dismissed as “stomach flu” and go unreported, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that the annual number is more likely 2 to 4 million. About 1,000 people in the U.S. die of Salmonella infections each year.

In a series of articles published in 2008 about Salmonella outbreaks, the Journal of Food Protection reported that infections traced to specific restaurants are often linked to carriers (people who are infected but not symptomatic) who prepare food. No one knows how many Americans are asymptomatic carriers at any given time, but the number discovered by fecal testing is significant.

“Contamination most frequently occurs via the fecal-oral route when pathogens are present in the feces of ill, convalescent, or otherwise colonized persons,” says report author E.C. Todd. “It is difficult for managers of food operations to identify food workers who may be excreting pathogens, even when these workers report their illnesses, because workers can shed pathogens during the prodrome phase of illness or can be long-term excretors or asymptomatic carriers. Some convalescing individuals excreted Salmonella for 102 days. . . Regardless of the origin of the contamination, pathogens are most likely to be transmitted through the hands touching a variety of surfaces, highlighting the need for effective hand hygiene and the use of barriers [such as plastic gloves] throughout the work shift.”

Salmonella can contaminate meat, poultry, eggs, and milk, but it can also occur in fruits and vegetables, especially those that grow close to the ground or fall from trees to the ground (like nuts). Contaminated food manufacturing plants can spread the bacteria to all types of processed foods. Major Salmonella-related food recalls during the past six years involved almonds, Hershey and Cadbury chocolate bars, serrano peppers from Mexico, pistachio nuts, peanuts, peanut butter, Italian salami, and numerous products containing hydrolized vegetable protein (a flavor enhancer).

All therapy dogs, not just raw-fed ones, may be agents of infection. We believe that the benefits they offer far outweigh the small risk they pose.

Some pets are notorious carriers of Salmonella, especially snakes, turtles, and other reptiles.

Salmonella-contaminated pet food has also sickened humans who handled the food. In 2006, 79 human cases of Salmonella in 21 states, most involving very young children, were traced to a Mars Petcare plant in Pennsylvania. Mars recalled 23,109 tons of Salmonella-contaminated dry dog and cat food, sold under 105 brand names. Other recent pet food recalls involved Salmonella in pig ears, cow hooves, beef treats, and dog treats made with peanut butter.

In 2008, when eight additional human cases of Salmonella were traced to dry pet foods, Dr. Pascal James Imperato, dean and distinguished service professor of the graduate program in public health at State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, told reporters, “There is greater industrialization of the production of food products, both for humans and animals, and these are complex processing systems. Therefore, there is greater opportunity for contamination. We are likely to see many more of these problems in the future.”

To help prevent infection, Dr. Imperato recommends regular washing of pet food bowls to prevent bacterial growth; the thorough washing of hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds after handling dry pet foods, including pet treats; and scrupulously avoiding contact between dry pet foods and foods consumed by humans as well as food preparation surfaces and utensils. Keep infants away from pet feeding areas and prevent children younger than age five from touching or eating pet foods, treats, or supplements.

Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria cause severe cramps and are a leading cause of bloody diarrhea. Most E. coli infections come from ingesting contaminated meat, water, or dairy products, or working with cattle, but dangerous strains of E. coli can be present in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and processed foods. In 2006, E. coli in packaged fresh spinach killed three people and hospitalized more than 100. More recently, Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports) announced that nearly half of the water and soda dispensers it tested at fast-food restaurants and 39 percent of the pre-washed, packaged salad greens it examined contained “unacceptable levels” of coliform (fecal) bacteria, which were likely to include both Salmonella and E. coli.
Clostridium difficile, often called C. difficile or “C. diff,” causes watery diarrhea, fever, loss of appetite, nausea, and abdominal pain or tenderness. Severe cases produce life-threatening inflammation of the colon. This bacterial infection commonly affects older adults in health care facilities and typically occurs after the use of antibiotics. In recent years, its infections have become more frequent, more severe, and more difficult to treat, making C. difficile a bane of hospitals and nursing homes.

Staphylococcus aureus, a common bacterium found on the skin and in the nasal cavities of up to 30 percent of healthy people and animals, can produce toxins that cause gastrointestinal food poisoning. Sliced meat, puddings, pastries, sandwiches, and other foods have caused Staphylococcal food poisoning. The most famous member of this bacterial family, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA, pronounced MER-sa), is not considered a foodborne pathogen. This life-threatening “supergerm” is usually acquired in a hospital setting, though “community-acquired” MRSA is the more dangerous strain. (See “Defeating the Resistance,” WDJ January 2008.)
Bacterial shedding
According to the University of Wisconsin’s School of Veterinary Medicine’s website, “Salmonella spp. can be isolated from healthy dogs and cats at rates of up to 36 and 18 percent, respectively. Dogs and especially cats can shed Salmonella organisms in both their feces and saliva, meaning that transmission can occur via licking. Dogs and cats may suffer salmonellosis as a ‘reverse zoonosis,’ with infection transmitted from human-to-dog and subsequently back to other humans. Similarly, outbreaks of Salmonella infections in large animal teaching hospitals have been linked to the introduction of bacteria from infected human personnel, with subsequent spread to animals and then back to other human workers.”
Although dogs can contract salmonellosis, healthy dogs usually remain free from symptoms of infection even when they ingest Salmonella bacteria.

In a study reported in the Canadian Veterinary Journal in 2007, 7 of 16 research dogs given Salmonella-contaminated raw food shed salmonellae in their feces the following week. The remaining nine did not shed salmonellae, and none of the dogs exposed to the bacteria exhibited any symptoms of illness. Although the study’s size was very small, it suggests that most healthy dogs effectively neutralize Salmonella without colonizing or shedding the bacteria.

Delta Society Medical Advisory Board member J. Scott Weese, DVM, DVSc, DACVIM, of the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph in Canada, has co-authored several studies of zoonotic agents in Ontario-area dogs.

A 2006 cross-sectional study of 102 healthy visitation dogs tested their stool samples, hair brushings, and rectal, aural, nasal, oral, and pharyngeal swabs for 18 specific pathogens. Zoonotic agents were isolated from 80 of the dogs (80 percent), the primary agent being Clostridium difficile, which was present in 58 percent of the tested dogs.

Two studies published in 2009 tested therapy dogs for MRSA and C. difficile. In one, both MRSA and C. difficile may have been transferred to the fur and paws of canine visitors through patients handling and kissing the dogs, or through exposure to a contaminated healthcare environment. In the other, the rates of acquisition of MRSA and C. difficle were 4.7 and 2.4 times as high, respectively, among dogs who visited human healthcare facilities compared with rates among dogs involved in other animal-assisted interventions. Among dogs who visited human healthcare facilities, those who licked patients or accepted treats during visits were more likely to be positive for MRSA and C. difficile than were dogs who did not lick patients or accept treats.

Another study, co-authored by Dr. Weese and published in 2008, examined stool samples collected every two months for one year from 40 raw-fed therapy dogs and 156 therapy dogs who were not fed raw food. The study showed these positive test results:

■ Vanomycin-resistant enterococci: 0 raw-fed dogs (0 percent) and 1 cooked-food dog (0.6 percent)

■ MRSA: 1 raw-fed dog (2.5 percent) and 8 cooked-food dogs (5.1 percent)

■ Clostridium difficile: 5 raw-fed dogs (12.5 percent) and 40 cooked-food dogs (25.6 percent)

■ Salmonella: 19 raw-fed dogs (47.5 percent) and 12 cooked-food dogs (7.7 percent)

■ E. coli: 31 raw-fed dogs (77.5 percent) and 32 cooked-food dogs (20.1 percent)

Are these statistics significant? The studies’ samples are small and regional. They don’t differentiate between dogs fed ingredients from factory-farmed and pasture-fed animals (pasture-fed meat, poultry, and eggs have been shown to have significantly lower Salmonella and E. coli bacteria counts than the same ingredients from animals raised in confinement).
Neither do the studies consider infection control measures that are easily implemented in animal-assisted therapy programs or by therapy dog handlers at home. And rather than proving that raw-fed dogs are dangerous, the studies suggest that all dogs, regardless of diet, may be agents of infection.

Many dog lovers counter with questions about human visitors to health care facilities. Have they been screened for bacteria? Might their clothing or handshakes and kisses spread pathogens in all directions?

Another variable to consider is the human immune system. While it certainly makes sense to reduce the exposure of medically fragile patients to potentially harmful bacteria, the germ theory of disease does not explain every illness, and not all immune-compromised patients who are exposed to pathogens become infected.

In fact, some studies, such as “Effect of Petting a Dog on Immune System Function” by C. Charnetski, et al, in the medical journal Psychological Reports (December 2004), show that petting a dog boosts immunity. For more than 30 years, Delta Society has documented the health benefits of pet visits, and its website and published reports provide a wealth of information on this subject.

Legal liability
Until it announced its new policy, Delta Society deferred to its members’ veterinarians regarding diet, vaccinations, parasite control, and other health matters. The new policy links its decision to override the dietary recommendations of its Pet Partners’ veterinarians to the organization’s legal responsibility for the animals it insures.

But according to attorney Ray Mundy of New Hempstead, New York, who has served as president of the Hudson Valley Humane Society for more than 15 years and is well acquainted with lawsuits involving animals, the likelihood of anyone suing an organization like Delta Society for infecting someone with Salmonella, E. coli, or any other pathogen is negligible – and the likelihood of such a suit succeeding is, he says, “beyond imagination.”

While it’s true that in the United States, anyone can sue anyone about anything, contingency fees are the standard in personal injury cases. In contingency cases, attorneys who file a lawsuit aren’t paid until and unless the case is decided in the plaintiff’s favor.

Hand disinfectant for the clients and microfiber wipes for the therapy dogs can cut infection risk.

“This system filters out frivolous suits,” says Mundy, “along with cases that aren’t likely to succeed. For someone to sue a therapy dog organization for infecting a client or patient, they would have to prove that the infectious agent, whatever it was, came directly from the animal and nowhere else. Considering how ubiquitous infectious pathogens have become in our society, how many facilities allow visits from unscreened dogs belonging to friends or family members, and how many human visitors carry bacteria on their hands and clothes, that burden of proof is for all practical purposes impossible.”

This is especially so, he says, when pet handlers with special training visit with screened, healthy, clean animals, and when handlers and facility staff encourage clients to wash their hands or use a hand sanitizer after petting therapy animals.

Other strategies that help reduce infection when visiting at-risk patients include preventing therapy dogs from licking the people they visit; using barrier protection, such as placing an extra sheet on the bed and another on the patient before a visiting dog sits or lies next to the patient; working with a staff or volunteer escort who can watch for hazards and assist clients or patients with hand cleaning; and not visiting patients with open wounds or those who are in isolation for infection control.

Infection control options
According to Mary G. Enig, PhD, an expert on fats and oils, coconut oil’s medium-chain fatty acids inhibit the growth of many pathogenic microorganisms, including Staph bacteria. Coconut oil’s capryllic acid significantly reduces Salmonella and Campylobacter jejuni (another serious foodbourne pathogen) when fed to chickens and other animals. Dr. Enig cites research on two strains of S. aureus showing that monolaurin from coconut oil combined with the essential oil of oregano (itself a powerful disinfectant), worked better than the most potent antibiotic.

She writes, “This research showed that these safe antimicrobial agents could be useful for prevention and therapy of Staphylococcus aureus and numerous other infections. It is now clear and scientifically validated that the inclusion of coconut oil in the diet could and should be utilized for its preventive and healing properties.”

The recommended amount for dogs is 1 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight per day. Start with small amounts and increase gradually. (See “Crazy about Coconut Oil,” WDJ October 2005, for more information about coconut oil’s benefits to dogs.)

Oregano essential oil can be given to dogs by placing drops in an empty two-part gel cap (available at health food stores), closing the cap, and placing it in a small amount of food so that the dog swallows it whole. Dogs do not like the taste! When buying, be sure the label says Origanum vulgaris, preferably wildcrafted or organic. Use 1 drop of oregano oil per 50 pounds body weight once or twice per day. For small dogs, dilute 1 drop essential oil in ½ teaspoon vegetable oil and give ⅛ teaspoon per 10 to 15 pounds of the dog’s body weight.

Clorox bleach effectively kills Salmonella, E. coli, MRSA, and other harmful bacteria. Meat, poultry, fish, and eggs can be disinfected by soaking them in a solution of 1 teaspoon regular unscented Clorox in 1 gallon of water. Soak eggs for 20 to 30 minutes; soak meat, poultry, or fish for 10 minutes per pound if fresh and 15 to 20 minutes per pound if frozen. Immediately place food in a fresh water rinse for 10 minutes.

To disinfect counters and work surfaces, add 1 tablespoon Clorox to a gallon of water. Spray or wipe and let air dry. To disinfect sponges and dish cloths, prewash, then soak in ¾ cup Clorox diluted in 1 gallon water for 5 minutes; rinse, and dry.

Alternatively, portable steam cleaners have become popular becuse they’re easy to use and effective sanitizers of kitchen counters, sinks, floors, pet bedding, and other surfaces.

Your microwave is a powerful germ killer, too. A study published in 2007 in the Journal of Environmental Health showed that zapping wet sponges, plastic scrubbing pads, and dishcloths in the microwave for two minutes at full power killed or inactivated more than 99 percent of the living germs and bacterial spores that contaminated them, including E. coli.

One of the easiest ways to help keep dogs clean is with microfiber cleaning cloths. These rough-textured polyester-polyamide cloths were originally developed for “clean room” applications in the semi-conductor industry. Used wet or dry, they attract and trap dust, dander, loose hair, and other particles. Microfiber fabric does not disinfect, but it picks up and removes bacteria. Dogs can be wiped with clean microfiber cloths during therapy visits to minimize the transfer of potentially harmful bacteria from hands that pet them. The cloths can be microwaved or washed in hot water with bleach and dried in a hot dryer. Don’t use fabric softeners or dryer sheets, which reduce the cloths’ effectiveness.

In addition, several brands of disinfecting pet wipes or sprays can be applied to a dog’s coat or paws.

The future of pet visits
Delta Society’s abrupt announcement of its new policy has sent shock waves through both raw-feeding and pet-therapy communities. Many advocates of raw feeding as well as concerned Delta Pet Partners have sent letters and emails asking the organization to reconsider.

The American Humane Association’s (AHA) Animal-Assisted Therapy program, headquartered in Englewood, Colorado, is one of the largest Delta affiliates in the nation. AHA President and CEO George C. Casey and Senior Vice-president of Human-Animal Interactions Marie McCabe, DVM, wrote in a June 2 letter to Delta Society, “We invite Delta Society to share additional details [that led to the new policy] and consider an inclusive process of both reviewing the science behind the decision and revisiting the decision itself. The new policy has a tremendous impact, not only on Delta Society volunteers, but on all the clients they serve. Additional background and facts regarding the basis for this sudden and drastic decision would allow our staff and volunteers to evaluate it for themselves. Without such information, we are concerned that many members, and even affiliates, may elect to withdraw from the Delta Society Pet Partners program.” The AHA’s questions to Delta Society include:

■ What prompted this decision and short compliance deadline which provides virtually no opportunity to phase in changes in therapy-animal diets?

■ Has there been a recent incident involving one or more persons contracting Salmonella or E. coli from a therapy animal on a raw protein diet?
■ Have the Centers for Disease Control and the Joint Commission (an accrediting agency of health-care organizations) been consulted and, if so, do they concur with Delta Society’s position?

■ Has Delta Society determined the number of therapy animals and clients potentially be impacted by the decision?

Delta Society has invited members to submit questions about the new policy to its Medical Advisory Group, which will answer them through a FAQ page at the Delta website. We submitted the following questions:

■ How does Delta Society plan to enforce its new policy?

■ Can dogs continue as Pet Partners if they eat raw cheese sold for human consumption (a protein food) as a snack, training treat, or as part of their dinner?

■ Does the restriction apply to freeze-dried raw treats or foods, such as Wysong’s, or a dehydrated raw diet, such as Honest Kitchen?

■ Are dogs who are fed a commercial diet but occasionally eat cat droppings, manure, or dead animals prevented from making visits as part of this new policy?

■ What about commercially fed dogs with coprophagia?

■ What about commercially fed dogs who live in messy houses? Or with reptiles? Or with people who are themselves spreading Salmonella or other infections?

As this article goes to press, no members’ questions or answers have been posted at the Delta website, nor has the organization announced any change or review of the new policy.

Considering the many documented social and health benefits of pet visits – animals have a calming effect on people; petting a dog lowers blood pressure and calms heart rates; pet visits boost morale and provide important social stimulation and interesting activities; pet visits encourage cooperation among clients or patients as well as cooperation with health care practitioners; and contact with pets can significantly improve quality of life – it’s no wonder therapy dogs are popular.
Some Delta-affiliated groups with raw-feeding members plan to continue as independent organizations with their own liability insurance. Others may turn to regional organizations or to Therapy Dogs Incorporated, Therapy Dogs International, the Foundation for Pet Provided Therapy (Love on a Leash), or Paws for Friendship, Inc., all of which are national/international therapy dog registries and none of which ban the participation of animals fed raw protein.

As researchers Sarah Brodie, Francis Biley, and Michael Shewring concluded in their 2002 report “Exploration of the potential risks associated with using pet therapy in healthcare settings” in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, “A search of the literature has assessed potential and actual risk and concludes that the hazards are minimal. The potential to suffer harm does exist but it can be minimized by taking simple measures, including careful selection of animal and client, thorough planning and allocation of responsibility, rigorous health care of the animal, and informed practices by all involved.”
CJ Puotinen was, until June 30, a Delta Society Pet Partners training instructor, and, with her Labrador Retriever, a Delta Pet Partner. She is also a prolific author of books on holistic health.

Comments (38)

Been feeding my wire fox terrier raw chicken with chopped bones and smaller portions of veggies since 2003 when she was one years old and never had an issue with her health or family health. At first it was chopped leg quarters that were stored in the freezer and for the past 5 years it's been frozen drumsticks, each days portion thawed in the fridge and chopped outside with a hatchet immediately before each meal. Tried portions of commercial kibble only once during the past several years with negative skin results; never again. Raw is the best food for dogs because that's what they are designed to eat. Ever seen a wolf, wild dog or coyote eating kibble?

Posted by: RR | April 20, 2016 6:16 PM    Report this comment

I think the Delta Society (and several other "therapy" organizations) should be more concerned with properly training their therapy teams instead of worrying about what the dog is eating. Anyone can pass their test, they don't give a course in how the human or the dog should act around people in wheelchairs, beds, people with dementia etc. All you need to do is be able to control your dog on a lease and you're considered a Delta Society therapy dog. Now that's wrong. And if they were really knowledgable about raw food, they would know dogs digest it much quicker than humans and it's very safe. If they feel that strong about it, they should ask the owners not to feed the dog until after the therapy visit!

Posted by: Susan G | January 31, 2014 1:36 PM    Report this comment

Any organization can set up any sort of ridiculous regulations it wishes. Those of us who choose to do the best for our dogs' health and continue to feed raw will, simply opt out of contributing to their services. When they run out of service and therapy dogs due to their self imposed limitations, they may revisit initial rationale that caused the shortage of dogs. As always, follow the money....

Posted by: Linda M | October 5, 2013 2:06 PM    Report this comment

My dog was also rejected from donating blood at one of the few animal blood donor programs and blood banks in the area because he is fed freeze dried raw food. Pretty ridiculous.

Posted by: 2SpringerBoyz | October 5, 2013 1:22 PM    Report this comment

Fortunately, my two dogs are certified and insured with an independent group, rather than registered with a national group with so many 'all or none' type restrictions as Delta has. Although my dogs are not entirely raw fed, they do get raw foods several times a week - liver, hearts, turkey necks, etc . My dogs do not eat any product immediately before a visit - raw or kibble.

I also titer my dogs rather than giving vacs every year and that is also accepted by my group. I don't think that would fly with Delta, either.

Posted by: Positivedog | October 5, 2013 12:33 PM    Report this comment

Pet Partners (FNA Delta Society) has just released it's latest policy on visiting pets diets:

"Important note: Pets that hunt can be at an increased risk of exposure to various wildlife-associated "zoonotic pathogens; however, there is no solid evidence that this increases the risk to people they visit. Any risk can be reduced with good visitation practices, and the handler being proactive about screening the animal's health, fecal analysis, etc. "

Quite amazing after their strong stand on raw protein! Of course wild animal diets probably don't conflict significantly with Purina products.

Posted by: Doc Linda | September 15, 2012 12:58 PM    Report this comment

Thank you so much for the info in this article! I have heard that Purina donated $400K to Pet Partners before this change in raw feeding policy happened. Can this be confirmed? Delta Society Medical Advisory Board member J. Scott Weese, DVM, along with many of the other study members are repeatedly cited in the "studies" responsible for the reason for this decision... Who paid for those studies?
The donations made are far less than the cost of any national TV commercials the pet food industry pays for. Now they are voting on this at the upcoming AVMA House of Delegates (HOD) meeting taking place in August 2012. For sure they will try to buy other pet therapy groups and who knows what else they will try. This is nuts!

Posted by: sandy@adoptaboxerrescue.com | August 3, 2012 9:54 AM    Report this comment

With the recent recalls involving Diamond, I wrote to Pet Partners, fka Delta Society, and was sent an email by Paula on June 4 2012:

"Thank you for contacting Pet Partners(R), formerly Delta Society. At this time there are no restrictions for pets who were fed a Diamond food product."

Posted by: Erich R | July 2, 2012 2:44 PM    Report this comment

This issue makes my blood boil!
I had to pull my dogs from our local therapy program (Human Animal Bond In Tennessee) because they followed DELTA and banned raw fed dogs from their program as well. We were successfully participating by visiting residents at an Alzheimer's Facility & doing a reading program with elementary school children at our local school. Never once was anyone reported ill because of even suspected contact with my raw fed dogs!
I will NOT sacrifice my dogs health in order to follow their new "policy". I am going to look into LOAL & TDI programs, so we can continue our work elsewhere.
I also wanted to share that in 2010-11 I took care of my mother in law in my home from the day of her diagnosis with cervical cancer, throughout her treatments and until her death. She had many chemotherapy & radiation treatments and so her immune system was very low. He cancer doctor put up a little fuss about my dogs being fed raw in the same house as her but after I brought him some educational materials & discussed about raw feeding & cleanliness he was reluctantly ok with it.
I have to say that my dogs were mostly fed inside on the kitchen floor, I used normal, reasonable cleaning procedures, ie was not a germaphobe about it, but I did clean up after them. I did not wipe their paws & mouths after they ate. They ate a mixture of wild game (frozen for 2+ weeks), farm raised meat, grocery store meat & commercial(sold for dogs) raw meats. They often lay next to my MIL on the couch, put their heads on her lap & kissed her on the hands & cheek. They were a great comfort & calming influence to her throughout her illness.
She was frequently ill from the treatments, but she NEVER got ill from my dogs. Her doctor actually was surprised that she never got so much as a cold, he was expecting pneumonia, salmonella, or worse...
That is my experience with raw fed dogs and sick patients:)
As for DELTA & the other programs that have banned raw fed dogs, that is all about the MONEY!

Posted by: EastTennesseeDingos | June 19, 2012 4:09 PM    Report this comment

Wonderful, thorough article, thank you.

I have found that many skilled nursing facilities are more than happy to have a well-behaved dog, certified or not, visit their residents (I have even been paid to do so). You can still do good work out there with your used-to-be Delta dog.

It's all about the approach. Find a visiting family member and ask if you can bring the dog in to visit that one person. I have found that facilities will allow a dog to visit a resident if it is well-mannered. After several visits, and proving you and your dog are competent, you can ask staff if there are any other residents who might like a visit.

This post was not intended to discredit the need for certification. As a professional dog trainer with obedience titled dogs, the staff had a certain comfort level with my handling skills.

There are a helluva lot of war veterans, abused children, Boys and Girls clubs, shut-ins and kids at risk who are not immuno-compromised and would equally benefit from a visit with a raw fed dog.

Think outside the box and do your good work! Go with Dog.

Posted by: K9 | June 18, 2012 10:57 AM    Report this comment

I have never read such utter nonsense before, except from our politicians! Delta wouldn't know a conflict of interest if it bit them in the behind! I urge people to switch to TDI.


Posted by: Janet M | January 15, 2012 12:57 PM    Report this comment

This is why I will stick with TDInc or others if I want a national group!
I tried to register my Golden with TDI two years ago. She passed the test with flying colors, and I had professional photos taken to send in to TDI for her badge. They sent me a letter back saying sorry but I could not be a member since I already belonged to a local therapy dog group! At the time there was NOTHING on their website or their testing or registration forms with this info! I was very upset as I had paid for testing that was totally useless.
I understand it is some insurance issue but the local group I was with, you are only under their insurance if you are with one of their group leaders and going with a group of people/dogs to do therapy work at times and places they set. I wanted to be able to do my own visits which TDI would have let me do, but it was a no go.

Posted by: Lizzi K | July 15, 2010 5:07 PM    Report this comment

From the new FAQ re raw fed dogs:

"NEW 7.09: What about other risks such as MRSA, C-Diff, Giardia, and other pathogens?
Pet Partners policies and procedures require that handlers and pets comply with recommended procedures on handwashing, pets being clean before entering facilities, etc. Any pet or person that isn't feeling up to par or is having any kind of symptoms of illness should not enter a facility. Both volunteers and pets are at risk of picking up pathogens from a healthcare or other public facility. Pet Partners policies are designed to reduce the risk of disease transmission, but the risk to all individuals, humans and pets, can never be zero. Careful attention to hygiene and other Pet Partner protocols is critical to reduce the risk of transmission of pathogens such as MRSA."

If they are willing to accept the above hygienic practices for MRSA, C-Diff, etc why not the same for Salmonella? Why is Salmonella different from these other organisms? Perhaps because there were no differences between raw and kibble fed dogs with the exception of Salmonella (if you believe their statistics!). Hmmmm???

Posted by: rawfooddoggie | July 9, 2010 10:05 PM    Report this comment

Given the number of commercial pet food and treats recalled for possible salmonella contamination within the last few years, maybe all dogs should be excluded as Delta Pet Partners? My retrievers do Field work, and are sometimes exposed to open wounds on the birds - maybe they should be excluded for this? I've just received my Delta renewal packet, and found it interesting that Delta allows birds, guinea pigs, and rabbits to be Pet Partners, although these animals are apparently known carriers or transmit salmonella (Delta requires them to be tested for salmonella).

Posted by: unknown | July 6, 2010 7:07 PM    Report this comment

So if your dog eats poop it is ok or all the other putrid things dogs enjoy, no problem..... Many cooked and dry dog foods contain ecoli and/or salmonella.. Did you know two members of Delta's board are from Purina? They did not recuse themselves from the vote to adopt this policy. As a 10 year member of Delta I am considering alternative. Delta never ask for input from volunteers or presented science to back this up. Very disappointing.... I like Intermountain Therapy Animals as an alternative.

Posted by: Chloe 54 | July 5, 2010 1:50 PM    Report this comment

I'd like to agree with ROXANNE M's comment about TDI's finickiness. TDI doesn't allow service dogs to work as therapy dogs saying that they've spoken to reputable service dog organizations who say that it's too stressful for the dog to perform both duties. Not all service dog organizations agree with this, including some ADI member organizations. Furthermore, I am not aware of any studies to back up this claim. It may be true in general, for some or not at all. For all we know, it may serve as a good outlet for those dogs that have the proper temperament to do both types of work, decreasing instead of increasing their stress. It's more than likely something that needs to be dealt with on an individual basis, making this policy akin to saying that because some dogs cannot handle the stress of being a therapy dog, no dog should be permitted to be therapy dogs. There are simply better ways of handling this situation than making a blanket policy that doesn't seem to be backed by hard evidence.

If you have a service dog that would make a good therapy dog, I'd recommend looking into Therapy Dog, Incorporated instead. They have no issue with dogs being both as long as they are trained to know the difference. I'm not sure what the policy on this is for Love on a Leash, Paws for Friendship or Bright & Beautiful Therapy Dogs.

As ThrpyDogTeam pointed out, you cannot join other therapy animal organizations (local clubs, R.E.A.D., AACRA, etc.) if you are a member of TDI. TDI does offer some of these programs but the programs need to already be started locally for you to participate. Not everyone has the time, energy or inclination to start of up a local program on TDI's behalf. It's a shame their members can't participate in local non-TDI reading or disaster relief programs that are already in place. I imagine this is due to insurance issues but even so, it's still a shame.

Bottom line: investigate any therapy organization you'd like to join thoroughly to make sure that it will meet your needs!

Posted by: bex | July 4, 2010 8:44 PM    Report this comment

In addition to countering with questions about human visitors in health care facilities, what about service animals entering these facilities? They are routinely in medical environments with their handlers and don't undergo the same cleaning regimen required by Delta Society's Pet Partners. They haven't been screened for bacteria and could spread pathogens in all directions, too, yet they are allowed in non-clean room areas of medical facilities by federal law.

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned Delta's lack of rating with the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. From their website: "Despite written BBB Wise Giving Alliance requests in the past year, this organization either has not responded to Alliance requests for information or has declined to be evaluated in relation to the Allianceʼs Standards for Charity Accountability. While participation in the Allianceʼs charity review efforts is voluntary, the Alliance believes that failure to participate may demonstrate a lack of commitment to transparency. Without the requested information, the Alliance cannot determine if this charity adheres to the Standards for Charity Accountability. A charity's willing disclosure of information beyond that typically included in its financial statements and government filings is, in the Alliance's view, an expression of openness that strengthens public trust in the charitable sector." TDI received a rating of an "A" and I was not able to find the other four therapy dog organizations listed in their database.

Posted by: bex | July 4, 2010 8:17 PM    Report this comment


Posted by: bex | July 4, 2010 8:14 PM    Report this comment

Some members of our Therapy Dog club used to be a members of TDI until TDI said members couldn't be part of a local Therapy Dog club. We enjoy the fellowship and mentoring so they dumped TDI! I considered Delta but the Delta Pet Partners in our area are very Snobbish and do not follow rules. They have been banned from certain venues. Delta does not have a good reputation in our area! Many in our group joined Therapy Dogs Incorporated and have been very pleased with their positive attitude. They do not dictate what to feed the Therapy dogs and if a costume brings a smile or laugh, that's fine. My dogs and I have been doing this for more than 2 decades and there's more than one way to to Therapy! I am very happy continuing to do therapy with my beautiful, healthy RAW fed Therapy Dogs.

Posted by: ThrpyDogTeam | July 3, 2010 7:50 AM    Report this comment


Posted by: ThrpyDogTeam | July 3, 2010 7:33 AM    Report this comment

I think that Delta is just using such policies as a marketing tool, and not because of any significant risk to the public. Other registries, such as Therapy Dogs, Inc. and TDI do not have any prohibition against dogs being raw fed, so you can connect with them if you want to continue to feed raw and still volunteer your dog as a therapy dog. As a Tester/Observer for Therapy Dogs, Inc., I am highly offended that any organization's representative would tell prospective therapy dog volunteers that we are "beer" versus Delta being "champagne" - I would stack any of our dogs against theirs on their worst days!!! One of my dogs represents a non-profit elder/pet program, still does her visits, and has convinced many a CEO or administrator about the benefits of allowing therapy dogs to work in their facilities. She is not only champagne, she's Krug, Clos du Mesnil.
Delta's membership fee is almost twice ours. Maybe that's the champagne they were referring to...

Posted by: ANNE S | July 3, 2010 7:20 AM    Report this comment

Wow, this is really unfortunate. When my dogs ate commercial kibble, they would randomly get sick and have uncontrollable diarrhea every few months or so. I have never had these issues since they've been on raw. I imagine a sick dog would carry more of these pathogens than a healthy dog!! None of my dogs have been sick once since being on raw, and it's been about 7 years now.

Really, it's not the Delta Society's business what the dogs are fed, provided that they are healthy and under veterinary care. If the people that the dogs are visiting are so bad off that they have the potential to get sick from handling a dog, they probably shouldn't be receiving canine visitors anyway, regardless of diet.

Posted by: AjaSage | July 2, 2010 11:27 AM    Report this comment

test test

Posted by: lemonhead54 | July 2, 2010 10:02 AM    Report this comment

was glad to see you referencing WAPF, great group, also defending our right to eat and feed as we wish!

Posted by: Unknown | July 2, 2010 7:54 AM    Report this comment


Posted by: Mallory T | July 1, 2010 2:45 PM    Report this comment

What I take home from the article is that the dogs (and their handlers!) are in far greater danger of picking up pathogens in hospitals and nursing homes, and bringing them home to us, than the other way around. This policy is ludicrous and unenforceable beyond comprehension.

Sad to say, I have had a long-time policy of avoiding hospitals as much as possible as a matter of course. That's where the germs and diseases are. When relatives and friends are there and we visit, it's doctors, nurses, and staff, as well as visitors, who arebathing in hand sanitizer, not the patients! Perhaps that's why THEY are getting staph, MRSA, and other awful pathogenic diseases on a regular basis.

I don't bring my raw-fed dogs with me when I visit loved ones. I can't immerse them in sanitizer upon leaving the facility, so heaven knows what they would bring into the house on their little paws.

What a crazy world...

Posted by: Christina M | July 1, 2010 8:31 AM    Report this comment

What I take home from the article is that the dogs (and their handlers!) are in far greater danger of picking up pathogens in hospitals and nursing homes, and bringing them home to us, than the other way around. This policy is ludicrous and unenforceable beyond comprehension.

Sad to say, I have had a long-time policy of avoiding hospitals as much as possible as a matter of course. That's where the germs and diseases are. When relatives and friends are there and we visit, it's doctors, nurses, and staff, as well as visitors, who arebathing in hand sanitizer, not the patients! Perhaps that's why THEY are getting staph, MRSA, and other awful pathogenic diseases on a regular basis.

I don't bring my raw-fed dogs with me when I visit loved ones. I can't immerse them in sanitizer upon leaving the facility, so heaven knows what they would bring into the house on their little paws.

What a crazy world...

Posted by: Christina M | July 1, 2010 8:31 AM    Report this comment

It's ALWAYS about the politics. Not only has Delta disenfranchised pet parents and patients, they've also given Purina a black eye. Real smart move.

Posted by: imho | July 1, 2010 1:23 AM    Report this comment

I retired my two dogs (6yrs) and a cat (2) years from Delta when they decided that our pets could no longer wear costumes of any kind.

Did the same as a previous post, became an Evaluator and an Instructor only to drop out with the constant policy changes, not to mention new study material costs.

Go TDI, a small local group or heck talk to your insurance agent

Posted by: Shari M | June 30, 2010 7:52 PM    Report this comment

TDI can be just as finicky...they require their members to only go to accepted sites with ONLY other TDI members...try going to local hospitals etc. with only other TDI dogs...there are a great number of therapy dog groups available...excellent one's I might add...just do your home work before thinking TDI is SO grand....My vote goes to Love on a leash...

Posted by: Roxanne M | June 30, 2010 7:38 PM    Report this comment

Sorry Didalpf, I don't understand the "consider the source before overreacting." We are out, as of today, if we feed raw to our dogs. Delta has given us no alternative and "considering the source" is not an option for Pet Partners who feed raw. We are no longer in the loop.

Posted by: rawfooddoggie | June 30, 2010 6:13 PM    Report this comment

It's unfortunate that Delta Society is willing to give up so many of it's positive contributions by implimenting a scientifically unsound policy promoted by their "Medical Advisory Board". One can only hope they eventually decide to reconsider this policy but much harm has already been done. I will continue to feed my (certified) social therapy dog (Labrador Retriever) a variety of raw meats as part of her healthy diet. And I will continue to use common sense sanitation & cleaning practices. Hopefully everyone effected by Delta's misguided policy will "consider the source" before over-reacting.

Posted by: didalpf | June 30, 2010 4:52 PM    Report this comment

Delta Society is certainly not at the top of my list of reasonable organizations. Several years ago, they offered a Pet Partner Evaluator's certification program at the APDT conference. Many of us paid to go thru the program and become certified, only to be told 6 months later that they had decided to change the requirements so that every evaluator had to maintain Pet Partner status (with all the required visitation hours) in order to continue to be Evaluators. I for one had become an evaluator because with the schedule I had at the time, it was a way I could contribute.

Now this! My husband was on immuno-suppressants for 6 years, during which time he lived with 8-14 raw-fed dogs and puppies--even prepared food for them--with no ill effects.

I like Delta's evaluation process, but my next therapy dog will be TDI.

Posted by: S Anne H | June 30, 2010 4:41 PM    Report this comment

So, by this logic, dogs that live in a household with people who handle raw foods like chicken, beef, should not be eligible, either, only dogs belonging to vegan owners, that narrows it down quite a bit.
Maybe they should check their household cleaning habits too, make sure everything is scrubbed down with bleach.

Posted by: Amy M | June 28, 2010 11:19 AM    Report this comment

What a shame. I am a groomer and I see the awful skin and the bacteria and yeast it carries when a dog is fed a commercial diet. My own dog would not be acceptable as a therapy dog if he did not exist on a raw diet because he would not be healthy.

Posted by: Amanda | June 28, 2010 10:47 AM    Report this comment

I second the last commenter's suggestion about TDI--our dog was TDI for over 5 years before retiring. They accepted titers, Delta wanted vaxes regardless of immunity (wasn't okay with us). And whereas Delta Society was overall snobbish when we tested with them (we were told by the tester that Delta was the "champagne" of therapy dog organizations and TDI was the "beer"), we found TDI open, friendly and lovely to work with. And we fed raw the whole time. TDI is highly recommended!

Posted by: MARCY L | June 27, 2010 12:42 PM    Report this comment

Maybe if enough of Delta's "Pet Partners" switch to TDI, Therapy Dogs, International, which is the oldest therapy dog group in the U.S., Delta will get the message.

Posted by: KARAN J | June 26, 2010 8:50 PM    Report this comment

I see a conflict of interest here as there is a person connected with a major dog food manufacturer also connected with the Delta Society. There has been no reply from the Delta Society as of yet regarding this matter--


Posted by: maysmom | June 24, 2010 11:01 PM    Report this comment

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