No more chicken necks

Feeding raw chicken necks has become a staple in some pet owning households. For some it’s a way to reward their pets or an entire way of feeding them (BARF diets). In the not too distant past, vets would recommend pet owners feed raw chicken necks as a way of removing plaque and tartar from teeth. Regardless of the reason for feeding raw chicken necks, the inherent risks still remain.

Did you know raw chicken necks could make your pet severely ill?

A recent study from the University of Melbourne (2018) found a link between feeding raw chicken necks and the condition called Acute Polyradiculoneuritis which causes severe paralysis that can be fatal. Raw chicken is a known carrier for the bacteria Campylobacter which in humans has been linked to a similar condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome and causes severe food poisoning and illness in both pets and people.

What is APN?

Acute Polyradiculoneuritis is a rare but debilitating condition where a dog’s hind legs become weakened after developing inflammation that causes the body’s immune system to attack the nerves. The weakness and paralysis can then progress to affect the front legs, neck, head and face. If the chest becomes paralysed, dogs may die from the disease. This disease can progress rapidly over 1-2 days and complete paralysis of all four legs can occur after 2-5 days. Incidences in Australia have increased over recent years, but it’s still considered uncommon. In other countries, this condition is associated with dogs fighting with raccoons and then rapidly developing paralysis (called coonhound paralysis) however as we do not have raccoons here in Australia, researchers looked into other causes for this condition to explain why dogs were being affected here. Unfortunately, there is no treatment other than supportive care for this condition and not all patients will make a full recovery.

What did the study find?

In this study, the University of Melbourne looked at affected and unaffected dogs and compared their diets and faecal analysis to determine if they had been exposed to Campylobacter spp.. In humans, Campylobacteriosis is associated with Guillain-Barré syndrome so the aim of the study was to determine if this was the missing link in dogs developing the related condition APN. The results of the study were very interesting;

• The study looked at 27 dogs with APN and 47 healthy dogs

• 96% of APN dogs were positive for Campylobacter compared to only 26% of control dogs.

• All dogs fed raw chicken were positive for Campylobacter, 1 dog had access to live chickens

• Dogs with APN were all fed raw chicken necks

• No other risk factor could be identified in these pets developing the condition

• 19 of the 27 patients recovered; 11 of the 19 made a full recovery, 8 out of the 19 made a partial recovery and 1 out of the 19 relapsed

• 6 of the affected patients were sadly euthanized due to their condition deteriorating

• Ingesting raw chicken necks increased the risk of developing APN by 70 times

Despite this being a fairly small study, it still is valuable considering APN is fairly uncommon and the researchers were be able to identify one major risk factor. Given APN is increasing in occurrence and feeding raw chicken is also increasing in popularity, there is a likely relationship. My other concern is that as this condition develops so rapidly and can progress to becoming fatal, pet owners may never present to the vet for this issue so the number of cases of APN is likely far higher than we think.

Beyond the bacterial risks of feeding raw chicken necks, there is also significant risk of foreign body obstruction, permanent gastrointestinal damage, damage to the teeth and constipation. The other important thing to note is the zoonotic risk; handling raw chicken carries the same risk of infection to humans as it does to dogs and as evidenced by this study, the risks of paralysis and severe side effects of Campylobacter infection extend to pet parents. We need to also remember how frequently we handle our pets that can allow for transmission to occur (licking the face, picking up faeces etc). There is no benefit to feeding raw chicken in any form, let alone raw chicken necks. You can read more about raw diets and why I don’t recommend them in my blog post here.

What should I do now?

Instead of feeding raw chicken necks, there are many safer alternatives. If dental health is what you’re after, a safer alternative would be dental chews or treats that are Veterinary Oral Health Council approved. This means they have been clinically trialed and shown to provide a dental health benefit. If your pet likes chicken, I recommend cooking it as you would for yourself – for bony cuts of meat such as chicken necks, thighs, or wings, I wouldn’t cook these due to the bone content, but if you want to feed them (or your homecooked diet calls for them) you can cook the thighs or wings and strip off the meat, removing the bone.

Do you feed your dog or cat raw chicken necks? Has this study made you think twice about it? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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Martinez-Anton, L., Marenda, M., Firestone, S., Bushell, R., Child, G., Hamilton, A., Long, S. and Le Chevoir, M. (2018), Investigation of the Role of Campylobacter Infection in Suspected Acute Polyradiculoneuritis in Dogs. J Vet Intern Med, 32: 352-360.

Kim, S. H., Choi, S. I., Song, K. H., & Seo, K. W. (2021). Two cases of acute polyradiculoneuritis in dogs consuming a raw poultry diet. Journal of Veterinary Medical Science, 20-0522.

Martinez-Anton, L., Marenda, M., & Firestone, S. M. Triggers for Acute Polyradiculoneuritis in Dogs.