Feeding dogs raw chicken meat, particularly chicken necks, has been linked to a rare and occasionally fatal type of canine paralysis.
A study conducted by the University of Melbourne’s U-Vet Werribee Animal Hospital found that feeding dogs raw chicken meat increased the risk of developing the paralysing condition acute polyradiculoneuritis (APN) by more than 70 times.
Dr Matthias le Chevoir, chief investigator on the project said the cause of APN in dogs had confused the veterinary community for a long time.
Dr le Chevoir said: “It is a rare but very debilitating condition where the dog’s hind legs first become weak and then may progress to affect the front legs, neck, head and face. Some dogs may die from the disease if their chest becomes paralysed.
“Most dogs eventually recover without treatment but it may take up to six months or more in some cases. It can be difficult for owners to nurse their pet until the condition gradually improves. A better understanding of this condition is therefore very important, so our team was really pleased to have discovered that consuming raw chicken necks is an important risk factor for developing APN.”
Paralysis results from the dog’s immune system becoming unregulated and attacking its own nerve roots, before progressively worsening over a number of days.
APN is considered to be the canine version of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) in humans, a condition that causes muscle weakness and may require ventilation if chest muscles are affected. Dr le Chevoir has said that the bacteria Campylobacter was now considered a triggering agent in up to 40 percent of GBS patients. This is the same bacteria which is present in undercooked chicken, unpasteurised milk products and contaminated water.
Theresearchers studied 27 dogs with symptoms of APN and 47 dogs without, looking at their physical symptoms and interviewing the owners about behaviour and diet with a focus on raw chicken meat.
The study’s lead author Dr Lorena Martinez-Anton said that when they examined faecal samples collected within seven days of the symptoms of APN appearing, the dogs were 9.4 times more likely to have had a Campylobacter infection than the control group without APN.
Drs Martinez and le Chevoir said the fact that raw meat consumption could trigger such a disease was worrying due to the growing trend of raw meat diets.
He said in the research paper: “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.
“We would recommend that owners choose regular dog food rather than chicken necks until we know more about this debilitating condition.”