In the past, pork was not on my list of meats recommended to be fed raw to cats. I have since incorporated it into the meal plan of my own cats, initially due to a mistaken identity of ground pork meat as ground turkey, and later to alleviate a food intolerance in one of my cats. It seems that cats really like eating pork.
What are the risks of feeding pork raw?
Pigs can carry diseases and parasites harmful to people and other animals when their meat is eaten raw or under-cooked. Trichinella and Pseudorabies (Aujeszky’s disease) being of greatest concern. Both are Reportable Diseases. They must be reported to federal, state, or local health officials when diagnosed, as part of a containment and control protocol. Both diseases are very rare in Canada and the USA due to diligent management.
Trichinella spiralis is a species of tissue-dwelling roundworm, occurring in rats, pigs, and humans, and is responsible for the disease Trichinellosis. It can occur in bears and walruses as well, and people have become infected by eating the meat of these animals. It is sometimes referred to as the “pork worm” due to it being found commonly in pork products that are undercooked. It is not a very important parasite in cats, but it can occur.
The adult trichina worm lives in the small intestine. This worm does not produce eggs, but live larvae that pass through the intestine and migrate throughout the body, where they cause inflammation. The larvae encyst in muscle tissues, and can remain dormant there for years. Encysted trichina larvae can cause muscle damage, pain, and weakness. In severe cases, pneumonia, inflammation of the brain, and heart failure may occur depending on where the larvae migrated to.
Cats become infected when eating the muscle meat or other organs of an infected animal.
Several drugs are effective in killing the muscle larvae including dewormers used for treating the cat for roundworms. Infection is prevented by not feeding raw pork or bear, and not allowing the cat to roam and hunt.
Freezing can kill the larvae of Trichinella spiralis, and pieces of meat less than 6 inches thick can be frozen at 5°F for at least 20 days to kill the larvae effectively.
In the United States, the national trichinellosis surveillance system has documented a steady decline in the reported incidence of this disease in people. During 1997-2001, the incidence decreased to a median of 12 cases annually with no reported deaths. The decline of infection was largely associated with changes implemented by the U.S. pork industry that have resulted in reduced prevalence of Trichinella among domestic swine.
Regulations to detect and control Trichinellosis in pigs have been in place in many countries for more than 100 years. Globally, outbreaks of human Trichinellosis associated with pork from abattoirs operating under modern inspection systems rarely occur; however, cases which are associated with the consumption of undercooked meat from wild boars, horses, wildlife species such as walrus and bear, and outdoor-reared and home-processed pigs continue to be reported.
Pseudorabis does not exist in Canada. In both the United States and the United Kingdom, extensive eradication programs have been launched to combat the disease. By 2004, the commercial swine population in the United States could be declared free of the disease, but Pseudorabies is still occurring in feral pigs, and backyard raise pigs are at risk.
Pseudo Rabies (Aujeszky’s disease) is a viral disease primarily of swine, fatal to cats, caused by a herpes virus attacking the nervous system. It has no relationship to Rabies, but its symptoms may be confused with Rabies. However, the course of Pseudorabies is much shorter, and distinguishes itself by the intense itching experienced by the affected cat. Pseudorabies does not present a hazard to human health, and there is no evidence that the disease is transmitted from cat to cat.
The disease is usually associated with contact with pigs, and cats may contract Pseudorabies by eating raw or uncooked pork. However, it can also infect cats by them hunting and eating infected rats. It is therefore most commonly observed in cats living on farms.
Symptoms of Pseudorabies appear 2-9 days after exposure and may include restlessness, intense pain, excessive drooling, intense itching on the head and shoulders, sudden change in behavior, breathing difficulty, excessive salivation, staggering, fever, and the cat may act as though there is something in the throat. Typically, infected cats fall into a coma and die within 24 – 36 hours. It is so rapidly fatal in cats, that there are sometimes no symptoms.
Unfortunately there is no known treatment for Pseudorabies. The only control is to prevent your cat from roaming, getting into contact with infected rats and livestock, and eating raw pork.
If you feel the benefits of feeding pork outweigh the risks, you may consider to do so, especially when caring for a cat with food allergies. To significantly reduce the risk of your cat becoming infected with Trichinella, buy commercial pork, grind it and freeze flatted in freezer bags for at least 20 days at a temperature of 5°F (-15°C ). It is recommended that your typical home freezer or deep freezer should be set at 0°F (-17°C) or lower. Since Pseudorabis does not occur in Canada, we can assume that the risk of your cat becoming infected with it when eating Canadian commercially raised pork is almost non existent. To significantly reduce the risk of your cat becoming infected with Pseudorabis in the USA, buy commercial pork only. If you are at all hesitant, serve pork only thoroughly cooked, if at all.