Majority of dog owners fail to follow FDA pet food guidelines, study reveals

RALEIGH, N.C. — Millions of dog owners may be unknowingly putting themselves and their pets at risk, a new study warns. Researchers from North Carolina State University found a majority of U.S. dog owners are unaware of and don’t follow the FDA’s guidelines for safe pet food and dish handling.

Study authors believe nationwide efforts to improve education and implementation can reduce the occurrence of bacterial illness and contamination considerably. The preparation and handling of dog food can potentially pose a health risk to both humans and pets. This is especially true for those with weakened immune systems. Studies have recorded numerous examples of bacterial illness outbreaks among both humans and dogs as a direct result of contaminated dog food.

The Food and Drug Administration’s guidelines on how to properly and safely handle dog food and wash dishes are available online. However, study authors say there’s limited information on the internet and it’s also unclear how many people are even aware of the risk.

1 in 3 may be mixing dog food and human food

So, researchers surveyed a group of 417 dog owners to find out what American pet parents know. Incredibly, less than five percent were even aware of the guidelines! Many others, even if they were aware of the recommendations, failed to follow them.

For example, only a third told researchers they always wash their hands after feeding their pet. Only two-thirds prepare dog food on a separate surface from where they cook their own food. Notably, even the FDA’s current guidelines don’t mention using a separate food surface, despite the risk of cross-contamination.

Next, the team tested 68 household dog food dishes for bacterial contamination. After that initial round of testing, researchers split the owners into three groups. Each group received different instructions for how to implement the food handling guidelines. Scientists tested these dishes again after one week.

Sure enough, dishes prepared by pet owners who implemented the FDA’s pet food handling guidelines, either alone or in combination with the FDA’s human food handling suggestions, showed significantly lower contamination levels.

While researchers admit their study was relatively small, they believe that more people need to be aware of how and why proper pet food handling is so important.

“Most pet owners are unaware that pet food bowls can be a hidden source of bacteria in the household. Knowing how to mitigate this risk and practice proper pet food storage and hygiene may make for a happier, healthier household,” study authors conclude in a media release.

The study is published in PLoS ONE.

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