Raw feeding trends continue to rack up risks for dogs

Veterinarians are warning that raw chicken, particularly necks, can lead to paralysis in dogs

In a new study, researchers at the University of Melbourne’s U-Vet Werribee Animal Hospital found that consuming raw chicken meat increases a dog’s risk of developing acute polyradiculoneuritis (APN) by more than 70 times.

The cause of APN in dogs has baffled the veterinary community for a long time, said Matthias le Chevoir, DVM, DECVN, chief investigator on the project.

“It is a rare but very debilitating condition where the dog’s hind legs first become weak,” he said. “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. 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,” Dr. le Chevoir continued. “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 version of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) in humans, which causes muscle weakness.

Campylobacter, present in undercooked chicken, unpasteurized milk, and contaminated water, is considered a triggering agent in up to 40 per cent of GBS patients, said le Chevoir.

“Our team at U-Vet Animal Hospital wanted to understand if consuming raw chicken could also be triggering APN in dogs,” he said. “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.”

The team studied 27 dogs with symptoms of APN and 47 dogs without. They collected fecal samples seven days from presentation of clinical signs (such as voice changes, hind limb weakness, or 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.

Campylobacter is likely to be the reason for the dysregulation of the dogs’ immunity and the symptoms of paralysis,” said Lorena Martinez-Antòn, DVM lead author of the study. “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.”

“A significant association is also found between APN and smaller dog breeds,” the doctors claim in their paper. “Based on our clinical experience, this seems to be because smaller dogs are more likely to be fed smaller bones like chicken necks.”

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

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19 thoughts on “Raw feeding trends continue to rack up risks for dogs

  1. This was in Australia, was not a very well done study and is being used by Big Fooda to slam people trying to feed healthier diet to their pets. And how do we know that Australian poultry managment encourages more or less growth of Campylobacter than in the US. I have NEVER seen a dog with this syndrome, nor ever heard of it.We consult with clients about balancing raw and whole food diets all the time; the companion animals we see are MUCH healthier on those diets. Even my own animals are healthier. I also am a multi-time Iditarod trail veterinarian and consult with mushing kennels throughout the year. Those dogs get A LOT of raw food, including chicken and have never reported anything like this. Sorry, but this is bad research being presented for a particular agenda. I and most of my clients are too smart for this.

    1. I have no dog in this fight. I’m a recently retired small animal vet, and glad to be out of this never-ending argument. I haven’t read the study and can’t comment on its quality. However, if you’re making the argument that a study is poorly designed, you should make the argument with facts rather than your anecdotal contention that “the companion animals we see are MUCH healthier…” That statement really adds nothing to the discussion and doesn’t qualify as evidence for or against anything.

    2. YES! This is the way I feel also. Twenty seven dogs out of millions? Was also wondering about the food-handling process. Why publish this very limited “study”?

    3. I agree. I read this “study” and dismissed it for all the same reasons. I’ve fed raw for going on 20 years. Healthiest dogs you’ve ever seen.
      I think Big Fooda is starting to get frightened. ? ???

  2. Here I will leave some more (anectodal) evidence to this argument: I am also a holistic practitioner and have many dogs and some cats on raw food diets including chicken, duck, and turkey necks and backs as supplements. I have never heard of or experienced patients with this syndrome in the US. I do agree that it is a mind field of raw food products on the market. Many of them I do not recommend. Those I do support have very strict quality control protocols and self regulate when there is any doubt (self imposed recalls). Also when it comes to the necks and backs I have my clients freeze them first, thaw only in the refrigerator, and then soak them in a bowl of water with vinegar or the juice of lemon, lime or grapefruit for 30 mins prior to giving to their pets. I believe this approach has mitigated or prevented health problems. I find this research article to be too generalized to the point that it does not consider alternative methods for feeding these food items. Cutting of the nose despite the face slant.

  3. Why not compare the danger of raw chicken to the danger of kibble..how many dogs have died from kibble and contaminated dog treats. What about the epidemic in cancer in dogs and other auto immune diseases? My dog eats Stella & Chewie raw Goose/Duck and slow dried raw Ziwipeak lamb from New Zealand. It is an extremely healthy diet and natural for a dog. Eating kibble is like living on cereal.

      1. It is the topic….the implication of the title is not to feed your pet raw food, “Raw feeding trends continue to rack up risks for dogs”, while completely ignoring the risks of the commercial pet food industry. Wasn’t it the pet food industry that killed so many cats in the 70’s because of the lack of Taurine? How about Aflotoxins/Mycotoxins found in dry kibble? How about Phenobarbital in dog food? Red, blue, and yellow dies in the food as well? Yet, we are supposed to stop feeding a raw diet because of a risk of APN (which could have been picked up from other produce as well). That’s like saying to people not to eat fresh vegetables because of potential for Listeria, instead just eat Hot Pockets.

  4. Oh, but vaccines have nothing to do with an immune mediated condition such as this, right? Let’s blame it on the bacteria simply because we find them there. Association does NOT equal causation. Processed food is NOT healthier than unprocessed food.

  5. There has been a lot of criticism of this study from advocates on raw feeding. Unfortunately, the criticisms are mostly based on anecdote or a passionate belief in the unproven benefits of raw food. The evidence is lacking for benefit from raw foods, but it is clear about the risks. Here is a detailed response to the major criticisms of the APN study: http://skeptvet.com/Blog/2018/02/actually-raw-chicken-likely-does-lead-to-paralysis-in-dogs/

    1. There are very few studies on raw diets because those studies are prohibitively expensive and only processed Big Pet Food companies have the coin to conduct studies. But you knew that, didn’t you?

  6. We do have a dog in the fight – and an undiagnosed case of partial paralysis that occurred earlier this year (2018). Our 5 year old Irish Wolfhound became extremely lethargic, and had weakness in his hind legs. No bowel movements for nearly 7 days.

    Our hound is on a mixed diet of raw(frozen) chicken necks and no grain full diet kibble.

    Thankfully our dog has recovered. He’s still eating raw, but we’ll give further consideration to this.

  7. I think we always need to look at the circumstances surrounding these cases. There are some dogs that are just not designed to eat raw dog food. I’ve been feeding my dogs raw dog food and I’ve never had a problem. Before that I was making them homemade meals that included chicken bones and thighs and other types of meats. They have never been sick from the food and I have nothing but positive press to report.