Feeding dogs raw chicken tied to potentially deadly paralysis

(Credit: daphenator/Flickr)

Eating raw chicken meat increases a dog’s risk of developing a debilitating and potentially fatal form of paralysis by more than 70 times, according to a new study.

Matthias le Chevoir of the University of Melbourne and chief investigator on the project, says the cause of acute polyradiculoneuritis (APN) in dogs has baffled the veterinary community for a long time.

“We recommend owners choose regular dog food rather than chicken necks until we know more…”

“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 paralyzed,” he explains.

“Most dogs eventually recover without treatment but it may take up to six months or more in some cases,” le Chevoir says.

“In our clinic alone we see around 30 cases per year and around three in 10 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.

Le Chevoir says the bacteria Campylobacter is now considered a triggering agent in up to 40 percent of GBS patients. It may be present in undercooked chicken, unpasteurized 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,” 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 behaviors and diet, focusing on the consumption of raw chicken meat.

Fecal 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.

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“The microbe Campylobacter is likely to be the reason for the disregulation of the dogs’ immunity and the symptoms of paralysis,” says lead study author 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.

Martinez-Antòn and 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 write in the paper.

“We recommend owners choose regular dog food rather than chicken necks until we know more about this debilitating condition.”

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The researchers report their findings in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine.

Source: University of Melbourne