Are chicken necks linked to paralysis in dogs?
There’s been an alarming report in the news out of Australia recently about the dangers of feeding raw chicken to your dog …
… and I want to address it.
I know a lot of you feed your dog chicken as part of a balanced raw diet, and so these stories may have you a little worried. But don’t just go tossing that meat!
You deserve to get the whole story, not just the info the mainstream media decides to share.
Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Campylobacter?
Campylobacter is the bacteria that can cause Campylobacter infection or campylobacterosis. Campylobacteriosis can cause enteritis, an inflammation of your dog’s intestinal tract that typically results in diarrhea.
Humans with campylobacteriosis usually get it from eating contaminated dairy or undercooked chicken … and you can also pick it up from your dog if you’re not careful about hygiene after handling dog poop.
Dogs can also pick up Campylobacter bacteria from eating raw chicken. But it’s not usually a big deal. In fact 49% of dogs have Campylobacter bacteria in their systems … but healthy dogs don’t usually get sick from it, so it’s not considered a primary cause of illness in dogs. However, dogs can shed the bacteria into their feces which is one way humans and other dogs can pick it up.
Symptoms of campylobacteriosis in dogs are:
- watery, mucousy diarrhea
- abdominal pain or cramping
The diarrhea can come and go over a week or more and often goes away without treatment.
So the Campylobacter bacteria isn’t very serious in dogs.
So it was surprising to see this new study out of Australia that links campylobacter to Acute Polyradiculoneuritis (APN), a form of paralysis.
Acute or idiopathic polyradiculoneuritis (APN) is characterized by symptoms like weakness or loss of movement in the back legs, which can then move to the torso and front legs. These symptoms have been compared to Guillain Barré Syndrome (GBS) in humans. GBS is a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves, causing early symptoms like weakness in the legs, pins and needles sensations in fingers, toes, ankles or wrists, pain, difficulty walking, loss of bladder control and ultimately, if not treated, paralysis.
The researchers in the studied stated: “We have observed that it is common practice for Australian dog owners to feed their dogs raw chicken as part of their daily diet or simply as a treat. Thus, we are under the impression that the prevalence of raw chicken consumption is very high in the population of APN dogs that they have diagnosed or treated and that the incidence of APN is possibly higher in Australia than in other countries.”
The study, which examined 27 dogs with APN, found that of the 27, 26 ate raw chicken as part of their diets.
So, in the researchers’ minds, if raw chicken is A, Camplylobacter is B, and APN is C, then A = B = C.
Therefore all raw chicken is the problem and the main cause of APN.
I think that’s a stretch and I’m not confident making that jump.
Let me tell you why.
How Much Of A Concern Is Campylobacter?
While APN sounds pretty scary (and it is), there are some serious flaws in assuming the cause is chicken infected with campylobacter. Here’s why …
Reason #1 – Campylobacter bacteria can be found in both healthy and sick dogs.
Research has found that Campylobacter bacteria can be found in both healthy and sick dogs, which suggests the bacteria itself isn’t the primary cause of illness.
Even the study, which compared the APN dogs with a control group of healthy dogs, found Campylobacter in the healthy dogs. And many of these dogs also ate raw chicken.
Reason #2 – Symptoms of APN have been linked to vaccinations.
Muscle weakness and atrophy are common vaccine reactions for several vaccines including combination vaccines.
In the Australian study, while one of the variables tested was whether or not the dogs had received vaccinations, they only measured for vaccines done in the previous 6 weeks. And, only 1 dog had been vaccinated during that period.
And 6 weeks isn’t nearly long enough. Conventional veterinarians tend to think that if your dog doesn’t have a vaccine reaction while they’re still in the clinic, any illness isn’t linked to vaccination. But some of the most serious vaccine reactions resulting in chronic illness can take up to several months or longer to appear in dogs.
The researchers themselves even recognize the link between vaccines and disease, saying that “Cases of GBS after rabies and swine influenza vaccines also have been reported.”
[Related: Vaccines are dangerous for so many reasons. Read more on this here]
Reason #3 – There are several other causes linked to APN.
If the researchers are going to make chicken seem like the enemy, it’s only right to make you aware of the other enemies.
The researchers say that their study “clearly demonstrates that consumption of raw chicken is a risk factor for dogs in the development of APN, and we suspect that Campylobacter infection is most likely to be an immunologic trigger as described in humans with GBS” …
… But, when it comes to dogs developing the GBS-like symptoms that make up APN, there are several other factors and infectious agents that have been found to be associated with GBS, including:
- Haemophilus influenza
- Mycoplasma pneumoniae
- Epstein-Barr virus
- Borrelia burgdorferi (associated with Lyme disease)
- Toxoplasma gondii
- Zika virus
- Vaccination (rabies, swine flu)
- Surgical procedures
An exploratory study into factors influencing development of acute canine polyradiculoneuritis in the UK found that breed and season were the most consistent factors in dogs that developed polyradiculoneuritis. Odds of getting it were higher in the autumn and winter compared to spring, and Jack Russell terriers and West Highland white terriers had significantly greater odds of developing the disease compared to a mixed baseline group of dogs.
Veterinarian and animal nutritionist Marion Smart DVM PhD notes that the symptoms are comparable to Coonhound paralysis, or Acute Canine Idiopathic Polyradiculoneuritis (ACIP), which has been attributed to encounters with raccoons or even ticks – not raw chicken.
All of this information suggests that the causes of APN aren’t really known and so it seems like a giant leap of faith to suggest it’s caused by raw chicken or even by the Campylobacter bacteria.
Reason #4 – More research is needed.
I spoke with Dr Smart about this at length, and her conclusions are the same as mine. While the study seems good, it does have some BIG weaknesses.
- It doesn’t examine the diets of those dogs being fed raw chicken or look at where that chicken comes from. The researchers themselves acknowledge this weakness: “Analysis of the raw chicken given to the APN dogs also would have been helpful, but such samples were not available from the owners.”
- It mentions breed and the fact that smaller breed dogs seem to be more at risk, but it doesn’t talk about whether this could be because of a genetic disposition.
- While the study did consider several other health factors or lifestyle triggers that contribute to the dog’s getting APN, the goal of the study was “to estimate the association between Campylobacter spp. infection and APN,” so campylobacter was the primary focus of the research.
I also spoke with Roxanne Stone MSc, nutrition and food scientist at Answers Pet Foods. Roxanne reminded me that in Australia in 2009 there were studies linking neurological disorders (including paralysis) in cats to irradiated pet food. Irradiation of pet foods, especially imported pet foods, is very common in Australia, and labeling of irradiated foods is not required. Could there also be a link between irradiated foods and APN in dogs?
How Does Campylobacter Get Into Chicken?
Chicken can be made cheap. The industry mass produces it to keep it that way. And this production means Camplylobacter can get mass produced as well.
- Overcrowding. On the farm, to maximize profits, farmers typically overstock their chicken coops, resulting in Campylobacter spreading because of the close quarters. Farmers will also “thin” their herds to save space, and this leads to the bacteria spreading to other farms. Overcrowding also leads to stressed birds and greater susceptibility to disease.
- Transport. When chickens are transported from the farm to the processing plant in cages, these cages are stacked one on top of another on top of another. The chickens poop during transport, and the poop from the top makes its way all through the cages, falling into the other animals.
- Cross-contamination. Once at the processing plant, these chickens don’t receive a mandatory bathing. So, all that poop just gets spread around. During the manufacturing process, chickens pass through a tank of hot water to loosen up the feathers to make them easy to pluck. As you know, these feathers are covered in poop from transport. The water in these tanks isn’t changed often enough to prevent contamination, and by the end of the day it can resemble a poop bath. Yuck.
- Packaging. Poor hygiene practices in the final processing stages also spread the bacteria. Without strict protocols in place, factory workers may be unknowingly contaminating the chicken you’re buying for your dog when cutting up or packaging it.
Camplylobacter should be a concern, but more because what’s happening with our pet food is happening with our human food. It’s not necessarily chicken that’s the problem, it’s how that chicken is raised and slaughtered. Instead of continually looking at the problem, we should be working on finding a solution!
How Do You Avoid Campylobacter?
It’s actually fairly easy to avoid campylobacter. All you have to do is find the right source for your dog’s dinner.
Chicken from the wrong source can be an issue for a number of reasons, including the fact that mass produced chickens are fed a diet full of garbage. And, if your dog is eating that chicken, he’s also eating that garbage …
… but contamination is a big one too. And, since mass production, mass transport and mass processing are major factors in contamination, cut them out.
This simply means skipping the regular supermarket and going to an ethical producer.
When buying chicken research your source. Make sure they:
- Adhere to strict hygiene protocols
- Produce only free range or organic chicken
- Follow a standard of humane raising, meaning no overcrowding, no harsh conditions for the chickens and more hygienic transport
And, most important of all, do everything you can to keep your dog’s gut healthy. That means feeding a whole foods diet (which, if you’re concerned about raw chicken, you’re probably already doing) and …
- Feed your dog a wide variety of raw and fermented (probiotic) foods like:
- Fermented veggies like kimchi or sauerkraut
- Raw goats milk
[Related] Want recommendations on giving your dog probiotic foods? Check out these from holistic veterinarian Patricia Jordan, DVM.
“Campylobacter is no big deal. At most your dog will suffer a bout of diarrhea or an upset stomach. It’s a big leap to say that it causes APN. Keep a healthy gut – campylobacter can’t compete with a healthy gut!” – Roxanne Stone, MSc
Raw food diets seem to constantly be under attack by commercial pet food providers and those who benefit from them, including the veterinary schools and researchers who just happen to be funded by them.
Are chicken necks linked to paralysis in dogs? I don’t think we can conclude that. Yes, raw chicken can be a problem, but only if you’re not careful. That doesn’t mean you need to stop feeding chicken. It just means you should be getting your dog’s chicken from the right place.