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.”