Chicken is a really common food to feed to Australian dogs and cats. As a nation, we are keen on raw wings and necks as a good source of soft bones that will encourage pets to chew and help keep their teeth healthy. Dental hygiene is a really important part of keeping our pets health in tip top condition and most pets enjoy the wing or neck as a treat. Everyone is happy! Right? But it might not be quite so clear cut.

In recent months there has been an increase in the number of cases of idiopathic polyneuropathy in the Eurobodalla region. It’s a disease with a long name and some serious consequences. It is very similar to Guillain Barre syndrome in people, and is also called Coon Hound paralysis in North America. Affected dogs show profound weakness and paralysis. They are happy enough, not in pain, will wag their tails but just cannot get up and move around. It’s not common at all and most dogs will recover over weeks to months but it can be fatal. As veterinarians we don’t yet understand this disease well and there is a great need for more research. You can read more about the Eurobodalla outbreak here. The disease is thought to be an immune reaction to …well, something. Possible causes include a bacterial infection, a viral infection or some other toxin encountered in the environment.

Dr Georgina Child one of the few registered specialist veterinary neurologists in Australia, is extremely talented and compassionate and is well known throughout Australia for her excellent management of patients with difficult neurological problems. She has an interesting THEORYregarding the recent outbreak of idiopathic polyradiculoneuritis This disease appears more common in Australia than in the USA or the UK. This could be due to a multitude of factors.

There are plenty of toxins floating around in Australia – we’ve got the top 10 most toxic snakes in the world, poisonous toads, spiders, fish, jellyfish… And that’s not even starting in on the plant world! When it comes to toxins, we know how to do it in style! But we also feed a lot of raw chicken to our pets. This is a bit of an Aussie peculiarity. Feeding raw chicken is just not as common in the USA in particular. The theory is that raw chicken is a good source of Campylobacter jejuni and the immune response to this bacteria may be the cause of idiopathic polyradiculoneuritis There was a study done in North America on American dogs [by an Aussie neurologist!] but it failed to find a link between Campylobacter exposure and idiopathic polyradiculoneuritis.This does not mean that the link is not there, just that it wasn’t demonstrated in the study. So the theory remains…

What does all this mean for you, your pet and your tradition of feeding a chicken wing every night?

The answer really boils down to ‘we don’t really know yet’! We do know that idiopathic polyradiculoneuritis is more common in Australia than in other countries. We do know that immune response to Campylobacter jejuni could cause the disease. We do know that raw chicken can be more easily contaminated with Campylobacter jejuni than other food stuffs and we do know that Australians feed more raw chicken that other countries.

This doesn’t mean you should stop feeding raw chicken to your pet. But if the chicken is anything less than perfectly fresh and absolutely fit for human consumption, don’t take the risk. Practice good food hygiene and potentially consider other sources of safe raw bones such as lamb brisket.

Over time I’m sure the veterinary community will start to unveil the mystery that is idiopathic polyradiculoneuritis. As soon as we know more, you’ll know more! If you would like to discuss feeding and nutrition, come down and talk to us. We are very  happy to help.