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University Researchers Report on Caloric, Bacterial Content of Bully Sticks

Posted: Jan. 28, 2013, 2:30 p.m. EST

Tufts and University of Guelph researchers reported today that many veterinarians and pet owners could not identify the source of bully sticks and did not realize that the popular dog treats quickly add calories to an animal’s diet.

The study, published in the January issue of the Canadian Veterinary Journal, also noted that some of the bully sticks tested were contaminated by bacteria.

Bully, or pizzle, sticks are made from the uncooked, dried penis of a bull or steer.

 Bully stick
Tasty bully sticks can add calories and carry bacteria.
The researchers, representing the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and the University of Guelph, examined 26 bully sticks purchased from retailers in the United States and Canada and made by different manufacturers. Random testing of the bully sticks found that they contained from nine to 22 calories per inch, or 88 calories in the average 6-inch stick.

Eighty-eight calories is equal to 9 percent of the daily calorie requirements for a 50-pound dog and 30 percent for a 10-pound dog, the researchers stated.

“While calorie information isn’t currently required on pet treats or most pet foods, these findings reinforce that veterinarians and pet owners need to be aware of pet treats like these bully sticks as a source of calories in a dog’s diet,” said Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVN, a professor of nutrition at Tufts.

“With obesity in pets on the rise, it is important for pet owners to factor in not only their dog’s food, but also treats and table food,” Dr. Freeman added.

She co-authored the paper with J. Scott Weese, DVM, DVSc, Dipl. ACVIM, a professor in the Department of Pathobiology at the University of Guelph, and Nicol Janecko, a research associate at the Canadian university.

All 26 treats were tested for bacterial contaminants. One stick contained Clostridium difficile; one had methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a staph bacterium resistant to certain antibiotics; and seven had Escherichia coli, including one tetracycline-resistant sample.

The researchers acknowledged the small sample size and that not all of the bacterial strains discovered are shown to infect humans.

The study included a 20-question Web-based survey designed to measure veterinarian and pet owner perceptions of dog foods and treats. More than 850 adults, mostly female dog owners, responded from 44 states and six countries.

“We were surprised at the clear misconceptions pet owners and veterinarians have with pet foods and many of the popular raw animal product-based pet treats currently on the market,” Freeman said. “For example, 71 percent of people feeding bully sticks to their pets stated they avoid byproducts in pet foods, yet bully sticks are, for all intents and purposes, an animal byproduct.”

When it came to identifying the source of bully sticks, the researchers said they were surprised. Only 62 percent of veterinarians knew that a bully stick came from a bull penis, compared to 44 percent of the general respondents.

Twenty-three percent of the respondents reported feeding bully sticks to their dogs.

Further research with a larger sample size is needed to determine whether the reported calorie content and contamination rate are representative of all bully sticks and other types of pet treats, the authors added.


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University Researchers Report on Caloric, Bacterial Content of Bully Sticks

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Reader Comments
I have a seven-yea- old Papillion--my heart. I took him to the vet because he was restless and clingy. I believed he was in pain. He had lately become a ravenous eater. This dog had always free fed and had never overeaten. He had gained considerable weight. Combined with his panting and heavy, rapid, noisy breathing at night, his recent increased appetite suggested that he might have Cushing's. He had all of the tests, xrays, ultra sound. No evidence of Cushing's. He had no digestive problems.
Just because I couldn't think of anything else, I took his Bully Sticks away.
Last night: No panting, no heavy, noisy breathing. no restlessness.I bought "all natural, chemical free" Bully Sticks so I had not considered that he might be sensitive to something in them. Of course, I was shocked at the caloric content. I don't know if the sticks were to blame for my dog's symptoms, or not. I just wonder if anyone else had had any indication that they were affecting their dog's well-being.
I think we're going to hold off on the visit to the internist, and see if his symptoms continue to go away.
After a week of expensive tests, wouldn't it be ironic if I had made him sick with something I hoped would clean his teeth and make him happy at the same time. I'm hoping that we've solved the mystery.
I wonder if anyone else had had similar experiences.
Peggy, Marietta, GA
Posted: 8/29/2013 6:18:17 AM
Nice try, raw hide manufacturers.
Ward, Orlando, FL
Posted: 4/2/2013 2:23:28 PM
I was pleased to read this article because I feed my dog bully sticks all the time. I didn't know they could contain bacteria and I certainly don’t want to feed anything harmful to her, however I do not think your article was enough to make me stop giving them to her. She is a 14-pound bichon frise and a very heavy chewer. Bully sticks are the only thing I could find that she didn't demolish inside of 5 minutes. Recently I learned very disturbing information that many companies are treating the bully sticks with chemicals and chlorine to reduce the smell and now I am wondering how to find this information out so that I do not purchase from those companies. Not surprisingly, none of the bully stick sales websites provide this type of information. Why don't you do a study on the treatment of bully sticks with chemicals and chlorine and then let the public know which companies employ this process, so that the public can stop buying from them? Also, it would be very informative to know what ill effects the dog might suffer from chewing these chemically treated bully sticks. If that information were provided it would help me make an informed decision on whether to give my dog bully sticks.
Arlene, Virginia Beach, VA
Posted: 3/17/2013 4:40:00 PM
I'm not suprised by the high calorie count, I had assumed that the bully stick came from dermal tissue of the penis, much like "pork rinds" eaten by humans! I'm not surprised by the bacterial content: however, is the content hight enough to cause diarrhea or something worse in puppies or young dogs? Would you advise to not give a bully stick to a puppy? My Papillon puppy is busy chewing one now so that I can check email!
Roberta, Xenia, OH
Posted: 2/9/2013 7:18:55 AM
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