Can I Give My Dog Raw Pork?
Beef and chicken feature heavily in sit-down and fast food references, but pork products also show up frequently in many of the meals that people who follow the Standard American Diet eat on a regular basis. Many of our favorite pork products (such as hot dogs, bacon, and lunch meat) are not quite as obviously meaty as a whole chicken or a slab of bloody steak on the bone, so we may not recognize them for what they are. Still, in the year 2013 alone, Americans ate 112,381,057 pigs—that’s a lot of pigs, and that’s a lot of bacon.
Even if you’re not someone who eats bacon and eggs regularly, you probably have deli ham or some other pork product in your fridge. Since pork is not the most common red meat, it has escaped a lot of the criticism that beef has undergone in recent years. Unless we are vegetarians or people who struggle with high cholesterol, we are pretty comfortable with eating pig meat on a semi-regular basis. We are less comfortable, however, with feeding it to our pets. While some sources swear that pork should never show up in our dog’s dish, others claim that feeding your pooch raw meat is the key to health and vitality. Is there any truth to this? Is raw pork a canine superfood? Is it even safe? Can dogs have raw pork?
The answer to this question depends largely on your definition of ‘can’. Technically, dogs can consume raw pork—pig meat in and of itself is not at all toxic, and our dogs are true omnivores who have the ability to digest raw meat without too much trouble. If you give it to your pet in moderation, pig meat may be a safe, nutritious dietary supplement for healthy adult dogs.
However, raw pork, and indeed all raw meat, is generally not considered safe for canine consumption. Raw meat is a breeding ground for pathogens that can make your dog grievously ill. Do not buy into the current ‘raw meat for dogs’ fad. Raw meat may be ‘natural’ for canines, but ‘natural’ does not necessarily mean ‘safe’, and your dog will do just fine without eating raw pork. While it is true that your Poodle’s wolf ancestors regularly chowed down on raw caribou, it probably is not a good idea to give them uncooked pork from a factory farm. Dogs are not wolves, and farmed animals are not wild caribou!
Setting aside the contaminants for a moment, there is something to be said for the nutritional content of pig meat. Lean, high quality cuts of fresh pork are rich in protein—lean, cooked pork, by weight, is made up of around 26% pure protein! Like most meats, pork contains large amounts of all the essential amino acids, which can benefit growing or active dogs. Protein-rich foods, including (but not limited to) pork, are especially important for dogs who are in the process of building or repairing muscle due to exercise or recovery from illness or injury.
Still, pretty much every meat product contains protein. The nutrient that sets pork apart from beef is thiamine, a B vitamin that your dog’s body uses for a wide range of biological processes. Thiamine deficiency can be difficult to diagnose, and its symptoms get progressively worse over time. The early stages of thiamine deficiency often manifest as loss of appetite, upset stomach, and vomiting. Other symptoms include weight loss, chronic fatigue, strange eye movements, pupils that are different sizes, behavioral problems, muscle spasms, weak muscles, nervous system problems, seizures, tremors, rapid heartbeat, and death.
Though dry kibble is sometimes lacking in this key nutrient, thiamine deficiencies often show up in dogs who eat diets prepared at home, as opposed to mass-produced fortified dog food. This is why you should never try to create a whole food diet for your dog without the careful guidance of a veterinarian! It is also worth noting that you should not use pork to meet all of your dog’s thiamine needs. Well-made dog food should contain the B vitamins your pooch needs to thrive.
Pork also contains moderate amounts of the following micronutrients: zinc, selenium, Vitamin B12 (which is important for blood and brain health), Vitamin B6, niacin, phosphorous, and iron. Pork can help boost your dog’s intake of many important micronutrients, but it should not be used to treat any deficiency. If you suspect that your dog’s diet is lacking in any nutrient, or if they show symptoms of any nutritional deficiency, it is crucial that you seek veterinary care immediately. Many deficiencies are due to malabsorption rather than a problem with your dog’s diet.
Though uncooked pig meat is rich in nutrition, it is not worth the risk of disease. Cooking pork only marginally decreases its nutrient content while making it much, much safer for canine consumption.
Things to Consider
Raw pork may be contaminated with dangerous bacteria, like salmonella, E. Coli, and listeria, which can cause serious or life-threatening illness. Symptoms of foodborne illness in dogs include vomiting and diarrhea (which may contain blood), extreme fatigue, and dehydration. Dogs showing symptoms of foodborne illness should be taken to the vet immediately—these diseases can kill, if left untreated.
Raw pork is also the perfect vehicle for an infection with pork roundworm. A pork roundworm infection, otherwise known as trichinosis, happens when your dog eats undercooked pig meat. This parasite causes symptoms like upset stomach, diarrhea, vomiting, swollen and inflamed muscles, and muscle pain or stiffness. These parasites can live in your dog’s muscles for years.
The way to avoid parasites and dangerous bacteria is simple: cook all of the pork you feed your pet! Contrary to what pro-raw parties online may claim, cooking only causes very slight changes in nutrient content. Fully cooked pork provides a boost of protein, thiamine, and other micronutrients that may be helpful for healthy adult dogs. Raw pork, on the other hand, may be full of parasites and bacteria that can make your dog—and your family—very sick.