Chicken necks are a common treat for dogs, but a new study has found that the consumption of raw chicken, particularly chicken necks, increases their risk of developing a paralysing condition called acute polyradiculoneuritis (APN) by more than 70 times.
Dr Matthias le Chevoir, chief investigator on the project, said the cause of APN in dogs has baffled the veterinary community for a long time.
“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 paralysed,” he said.
“Most dogs eventually recover without treatment, but it may take up to six months or more in some cases.”
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.
Dr le Chevoir said the bacteria campylobacter is now considered a triggering agent in up to 40 per cent of GBS patients. It may be present in undercooked chicken, unpasteurised 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,” 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, examining physical symptoms and interviewing the owners about recent behaviours and diet—focusing in particular on the consumption of raw chicken meat.
Faecal 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.
“The microbe campylobacter is likely to be the reason for the dysregulation of the dogs’ immunity and the symptoms of paralysis,” lead author Dr Lorena Martinez-Antòn said.
“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.”