Feb. 2 (UPI) -- Scientists have linked a sometimes-deadly dog paralysis condition with the consumption of raw chicken -- specifically, chicken necks.
The latest study, published this week in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, found eating raw chicken increased some dog's risk of developing acute polyradiculoneuritis, APN, by nearly 7,000 percent.
"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," Dr. Matthias le Chevoir, a researcher at the University of Melbourne's U-Vet Werribee Animal Hospital, said in a news release. "Some dogs may die from the disease if their chest becomes paralyzed."
"Most dogs eventually recover without treatment but it may take up to six months or more in some cases," le Chevoir said. "It can be difficult for owners to nurse their pet until the condition gradually improves."
APN is similar to Guillain-Barré syndrome, or GBS, which similarly weakens muscles to the point of near-paralysis in humans. In both cases, the immune system becomes overreactive and unregulated. As the condition worsens, the system attacks the body's nerve roots, causing paralysis.
Researchers have previously linked GBS in humans to the invasion of a type of bacteria called Campylobacter. Because the bacteria is found in raw chicken, researchers hypothesized that the consumption of raw poultry could explain APN in dogs.
Scientists studied several dozen dogs with and without APN, documenting differences in their physical condition and interviewing owners to establish different behavior patterns. Scientists found dogs showing symptoms of APN were 9.4 times more likely be infected with Campylobacter.
"The microbe Campylobacter is likely to be the reason for the dysregulation of the dog's immunity and therefore, the symptoms of paralysis," Dr. Loreno Martinez-Anton said.
The link between raw chicken consumption and APN was strongest among small dogs. Scientists believe the correlation can be explained by the consumption of chicken necks.
"Smaller dogs are more likely to be fed smaller bones like chicken necks," Martinez-Anton said.
The message for dog owners is simple, researchers said: until more about APN is understood, stop feeding dogs raw chicken.
"We would recommend that owners choose regular dog food rather than chicken necks until we know more about this debilitating condition," researchers wrote.