Dog owners have been warned not to feed their pets raw chicken after a study found it could cause potentially fatal canine paralysis.
Researchers at the University of Melbourne's Vet Werribee Animal Hospital say they have discovered a link between consumption of raw chicken necks and the prevalence of APN, or polyradiculoneuritis, in dogs.
The condition, which is not usually fatal, causes the dog's immune system to become overactive, resulting in long-term nerve damage.
Matthias le Chevoir, the project's chief investigator, said the results were especially concerning given the recent trend of feeding dogs raw meat. Chicken necks have long been recommended as a way to improve dental health in dogs and are readily available in supermarkets.
"It is a rare but very debilitating condition where the dog's hind legs first become weak and then may progress to affect the front legs, neck, head and face," he said.
"Some dogs may die from the disease if their chest becomes paralysed.
"Most dogs eventually recover without treatment but it may take up to six months or more in some cases. It can be difficult for owners to nurse their pet until the condition gradually improves."
Researchers studied the faeces of 70 dogs and discovered a "significant association" between the condition and smaller dog breeds.
"We would recommend that owners choose regular dog food rather than chicken necks until we know more about this debilitating condition," the study advised.
APN is effectively the animal equivalent of the human condition Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) which occurs in humans through the presence of campylobacter, a bacteria found in raw chicken.
"We predict that the microbe campylobacter is likely to be the reason for the dysregulation of the dog's immunity and therefore, the symptoms of paralysis," the study's lead author Dr Lorena Martinez-Anton 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."