Feature photo by Bob Segal
Raw Chicken Linked to Paralysis in Dogs
By Dr Nerissa Hannink, University of Melbourne
Chicken necks are a common treat for dogs, but pet owners are being warned they have been linked with a potentially fatal form of paralysis.
As pet ownership increases across the world, our furry (as well as feathered and scaly) friends have become firmly established members of the family.
Wanting the best for our pets, we often offer special treats, and chicken necks are a favourite in many families – often considered a ‘healthy’ option.
But vets are warning raw chicken, particularly chicken necks, can lead to a debilitating and potentially fatal form of paralysis in dogs.
A new study, led by the University of Melbourne’s U-Vet Werribee Animal Hospital, found the consumption of raw chicken meat increases the risk of dogs developing a paralysing condition called acute polyradiculoneuritis (APN) by more than 70 times.
Dr Matthias le Chevoir, chief investigator on the project, says the cause of APN in dogs has baffled the veterinary community for a long time.
“It is a rare but very debilitating condition where the dog’s hind legs first become weak. It can then progress to affect the front legs, neck, head and face. Some dogs may die from the disease if their chest becomes paralysed,” he says.
“Most dogs eventually recover without treatment but it may take up to six months or more in some cases.
“In our clinic alone we see around 30 cases per year and around three in ten cases would not recover. Watching your pet suffer is obviously very distressing and it can be difficult for owners to nurse their pet if the condition can gradually improve.”
Paralysis results from the dog’s immune system becoming unregulated and attacking its own nerve roots, progressively worsening over several days.
APN is the canine counterpart of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) in humans, a condition that also causes muscle weakness and may require ventilation if chest muscles are affected.
Dr le Chevoir says the bacteria Campylobacter is now considered a triggering agent in up to 40 per cent of GBS patients. It may be present in undercooked chicken, unpasteurised milk products and contaminated water.
“Our team at U-Vet Animal Hospital wanted to understand if consuming raw chicken could also be triggering APN in dogs. Many of us have previously worked overseas and know that a raw meat diet is less common there, so we were intrigued by this potential connection,” Dr le Chevoir says.
The team studied 27 dogs with symptoms of APN and 47 dogs without, examining physical symptoms and interviewing the owners about recent behaviours and diet; focusing on the consumption of raw chicken meat.
Faecal samples collected within seven days of the presentation of clinical signs (such as changes in voice, hind limb weakness or a choppy gait) showed the dogs with APN were 9.4 times more likely to have had a Campylobacter infection than the control group without the disease.
“The microbe Campylobacter is likely to be the reason for the dysregulation of the dogs’ immunity and the symptoms of paralysis,” lead author Dr Lorena Martinez-Antòn says.
“These bacteriological results were consistent with the hypothesis that the uncooked chicken meat was the source of the Campylobacter and as a result, triggered APN.”
In humans, scientists think Campylobacter, which is most commonly found in commercial poultry products, contains molecules similar in structure to part of the nerve cell. This similarity confuses the immune system, which attacks the body’s own nerves, resulting in paralysis.
Dr Martinez-Antòn and Dr le Chevoir say there appears to be a growing trend for feeding dogs raw meat diets, which is concerning given the risks.
“A significant association is also found between APN and smaller dog breeds. Based on our clinical experience this seems to be because smaller dogs are more likely to be fed smaller bones like chicken necks,” the doctors say in the research paper.
“We recommend owners choose regular dog food rather than chicken necks until we know more about this debilitating condition.”
E.D. This content was altered to remove the photos and video links supplied in the original publication. All other content of the article is retained in it’s entirity.
3 thoughts on “Raw Chicken Linked to Paralysis in Dogs”
Here we go again. Another attack on feeding raw. Sigh. First question…why just chicken necks? Aren’t necks attached to a whole chicken? Second, isn’t it a huge jump from tainted chicken necks to the conclusion that dogs should be fed commercial pet food?
There is an excellent response in the Comments from Martyn Wild at the University of Cambridge. It’s probably too long to post here, although I’d be happy to do so, but if you go to the original article and scroll down, you can find it.
Bottom line: it’s BS.
Hi folks, I have no stake in this, I’m neither for nor against a raw diet, well except that looking at or touching chicken necks just grosses me out, a kind of girlish, squimish sort of thing. Anyways, I did do some research on this article before publishing it, read the raw diet advocate’s position papers, and read this opinion from SkepVet in support of the study. I’m just here to share information on this topic as I believe more information is always better than not enough.
I read the article on skeptvet and left the following comment:
I’ll make this brief. Your entire theory is flawed from the start because you cannot compare the human digestive system to that of a dog. They are completely different. Dogs intestinal tracts are much shorter and designed to process meat rapidly. Dogs carry the salmonella bacteria too, which would harm humans but doesn’t bother dogs. I have been feeding raw for almost twenty years and yes, there IS a standard. Your dog’s diet should mirror that of a prey animal…generally considered to be 70% bones, 20% muscle meat and 10% organs.
That, as I said, is a very brief explanation, although I could go on for pages. Commercial dog foods get recalled regularly. My dogs’ food is bought at the supermarket, the same meats that humans eat. It’s just not cooked.
And the reason you don’t see a lot of studies? That’s easy. No money in it, not for the dog food manufacturers or the veterinary establishment.