Updated: Nov 4, 2022
There are plenty of misconceptions about feeding raw, but there seems to be one perpetually visceral nightmare: worm infestations. These fears aren’t just perpetuated by Facebook ads or unsolicited advice from strangers, though—they often come as warnings from veterinary professionals, too. It’s true: your pet health advisor might recommend giving deworming treatments more often for a pet on a raw diet versus a “traditional” kibble diet, even when there are no indicators of parasites in your pet.
Look, we’ll be straight with you. Your dog or cat can contract a worm infestation through raw meat, but this only happens when the food isn’t inspected, handled or prepared properly. In fact, pet parents that are deeply invested in their pets’ health, safety, and longevity, are more likely to choose companies that prioritize food safety and handling. As a result, worm infestations are often not directly related to a pet eating raw food.
So this week, let’s explore the causes of worm infestations and deworming medications and clear up some misunderstandings around raw food and worms!
Want to know what other raw feeding myths aren’t true? Check out our blog!
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Where It All Began
It’s not hard to imagine how the fear of worms in raw meat became the main rebuttal to the benefits and safety of raw pet food. If you’ve ever seen rotten carrion, you may have had your eyes assaulted by an overabundance of worms in the festering meat—gross! It’s not a stretch to associate that visual with the history of wild animals eating raw prey and assume that all raw meat is inherently contaminated with worms.
In all fairness, there is some correlation here. Animals—particularly wild ones—can contract worms from many sources (more on that in a bit), so it’s fair to say that not all raw meat is equally safe from worms. Human-grade inspected meat doesn’t have worms because the animals are closely monitored, appropriately treated and prepared, with the resulting products being thoroughly tested before being sold.
However, while the Canadian human food industry continues to improve its safety standards, there are still very few concrete regulations for the Canadian pet food industry. This means that there is a long-standing history of pet food brands cutting corners (and costs) by using lower-grade meat and ingredients in their food. These meats are colloquially known as “4-D meats”: meat from dead, dying, diseased, or disabled animals. This lack of oversight has led to some people assuming all pet foods are made with similar poor-quality ingredients.
Despite this, there will always be brands trying to do the right thing for their customers and pets. Red Dog Blue Kat was founded by pet parents looking for healthy, trustworthy food sources, so we’ve made it our mission to go above and beyond to give you peace of mind regarding the quality and safety of your pet’s meals. It starts with ethical sourcing and ends with products made in our HACCP-certified facility—meaning we’re producing your pet’s food with the same safety standards and quality assurances of the highest-rated human food facilities in Canada.
It’s not just us trying to make a difference out there, though. When it comes to choosing a pet food brand, quality is always the name of the game: from sourcing to handling to safety measures, everything that goes into making your pet’s food will play a role in reducing the risk of worms and other potentially harmful things like bacteria and other pathogens. Here are some considerations to keep in mind when choosing a pet food brand that will work for you:
Look for information on ingredient sourcing standards, either on their packaging or website. A company working hard to produce the very best won’t hesitate to tell you exactly how they accomplish their highest standards.
Make sure they’re using human-grade inspected ingredients AND packaging in a human-grade facility—just because it’s a human-grade facility doesn’t necessarily mean it’s human-grade inspected ingredients!
It’s not all about ingredients, either: ensure the manufacturers adhere to proper handling, freezing, and storage standards.
Finally, don’t just take their word for it! Look for companies with 3rd party certifications and food safety programs (like HACCP!), and ask questions if it’s not abundantly clear.
How Your Pet Actually Gets Worms
So you’ve vetted your pet’s food ingredients, the company it’s manufactured in, and ensured it was frozen, delivered, and handled correctly—and your pet still got worms. What’s up with that?
Worms most often come from environmental factors, not necessarily dietary ones. Fleas, licking paws after contact with soil, or eating poop (it’s gross, but you all know your dog has done it at some point) are more likely culprits of a worm infestation. And how will you know? Well, this is where inspecting your pet’s poop becomes a mandatory part of being an attentive pet parent. If you can see worms in their deposits, they’ve eaten something with a high load of parasites, resulting in their body becoming overwhelmed and unable to manage it adequately. However, some (if not most) internal parasites only shed microscopic eggs, not easily-visible adult worms, so having your pet’s poop tested by your vet is an important step in determining if your pet has a parasitic burden.
A Note: if your dog or cat has enough worms to be considered a true "infestation," it's likely a larger, overarching problem and a failure of your pet's gut health and general microbiome. The only way animals get infected to the extent of an infestation is if their immune and digestive systems are overwhelmed and unable to clear worms on their own. However, suppose your pet's gut health is operating optimally through a healthy and balanced diet; in this case, they're less likely to experience an "infestation"—even if they ingest something with a high parasitic load.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rules. Puppies, kittens, or older, ill, or immunocompromised dogs and cats have a higher risk of infestations due to an underdeveloped or weak immune system. They can be on the healthiest, most well-rounded diet and still pick up a parasite burden, so keep a closer eye on your pet if they fall into one (or more) of these categories.
Identifying a Worm Infestation
As we mentioned above, you’re going to have to get comfortable with inspecting your pet’s poop for worms in addition to requesting fecal analysis with your vet whenever you visit, as some signs of worms will be undetectable to the naked eye. Give your pet’s poop a solid look-over once every few weeks for signs of infestations—use the graph below to know what you’re looking for. If you find something that looks like a worm (or a lot of them), get in touch with your vet to review your deworming options...and don’t be afraid to snap a picture or bring a sample in for them to see!
The Raw Deal
Because worms target animals with unbalanced guts or compromised immune systems, your best bet to protect your pet from worms begins with strengthening their health in those areas. This is where a raw diet comes into play. Raw food, especially when fortified with natural supplements, can significantly overhaul the terrain of your pet’s gut, including its overall pH and general microbiome diversity. These changes make it harder for pathogenic bacteria, viruses, worms, and so forth to gain a foothold and prosper within their gut.
Prevention Vs Treatment
Think back to the last time you DIDN’T have a cold—chances are, you probably weren’t tossing back shots of cough medication every few days on the off chance that you might get sick. After all, overexposing yourself to unnecessary medications eventually builds up your resistance to antibiotics, meaning the next time you need that cough medicine, it’s probably going to be less effective.
The same logic applies to your pet. If they’re not showing any signs of worms—whether that’s you spotting worms in their poop or through microscopic testing at your vet—then there’s no need to go overboard with deworming medications. Just like humans and antibiotics, overuse of deworming medications can decrease the number of good bacteria in your pet’s gut, effectively dampening their immune system over time. It also has the potential to promote resistant worm populations, which then sparks the need for stronger medications in the future.
Holistic and Natural Deworming Treatments
Point blank, no studies definitively prove the effectiveness of any natural dewormers on the market. If you do decide to give your pet any natural preventative measures, it’d be a good idea to work with your vet to ensure it’s safe and won’t react to anything else in your dog or cat's diet or medication regimen. They can also test their poop again on completion of the treatment to see if it worked, and how well.
The following have been said (anecdotally) to have preventative deworming properties:
Food grade diatomaceous earth
Apple cider vinegar
Dried coconut, coconut oil, and coconut meat
The Bottom Line
While poor quality meat and inadequate safety standards can increase the risk of worms in raw meat, this can be easily avoided by conscientiously selecting a quality sourced human-grade (and inspected!), safely handled pet food company. Because a healthy dog or cat’s immune system can combat most mild encounters with parasites, your focus should be on prevention via a healthy diet and promoting a diverse gut bacteria culture with a good rotation of food and supplements before reaching for another dose of dewormer.