What does your dog eat? Such is the million dollar question piquing the interest of dog (and cat) owners worldwide.

 

There are so many different ways to feed our companion canines, but my primary recommendation is to feed a whole-food diet having meat that’s been cooked or somehow safely treated (steam treatment, hydrostatic high pressure [HPP], etc.) to kill pathogenic bacteria. My perspective falls within the guidelines set out by the AVMA (see Raw Pet Foods and the AVMA's Policy: FAQ).

 

I take this stance in part because of the potential for transmission of pathogenic bacteria to pets or people if the container, can, or bag of food just happens to harbor an infectious organism. Of course, many pet food recalls apply to dry foods contaminated with bacteria like salmonella, so cooking is not a fool-proof way of deterring contamination with pathogenic microorganisms.

 

The topic of dogs eating raw meats recently came up as it pertains to the spread of avian influenza (AKA bird flu) to Korean dogs living on separate chicken farms, and that consumed a raw chicken diet.

 

The Korea Times article, Dogs' infection with bird flu poses no major threat, details the account of dogs in Korea being infected with the H5N8 virus and forming an antibody response. This was the first report of a mammalian species being infected with the H5N8 virus. Humans have not yet been reported to be infected with H5N8.

 

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “nine potential subtypes of H5 viruses are known (H5N1, H5N2, H5N3, H5N4, H5N5, H5N6, H5N7, H5N8, and H5N9). Sporadic H5 virus infection of humans, such as with highly pathogenic avian influenza A (H5N1) viruses currently circulating among poultry in Asia and the Middle East have been reported in 15 countries, often resulting in severe pneumonia with approximately 60% mortality worldwide.”

 

Fortunately, the Korean dogs infected with H5N8 weren’t sickened or killed by the virus. Clinical signs of influenza affect multiple body systems and include (but are not limited to):

 

  • Nasal or ocular discharge — clear mucus or even blood from the nose or eyes
  • Cough — productive/moist or non-productive/dry cough
  • Increased respiratory rate and effort — labored breathing
  • Lethargy — excessive weakness and tiredness
  • Digestive Tract Upset — vomiting, diarrhea, and decreased appetite

 

Sohn Tae-jong, a Korea Centers for Disease Control (KCDC) researcher heading the study, states that “unlike the fatal H5N1 virus which can kill people, the H5N8 virus found in dogs has no record of human transmission. It is hard to say [if] this virus will find its way into the population.”

 

H5N1 and H5N8 viruses are genetically similar to the 2009 H1N1 (swine flu), which the world became very familiar with back in 2009 when it killed multiple species of animals and humans.

 

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association's (AVMA) Public Health 2009 H1N1 Flu Virus Outbreak page, there were numerous cases where humans infected other people, dogs, cats, ferrets, and pigs. Although some animals died (cats and ferrets), fortunately no humans were infected with the 2009 H1N1 by their animal companions.

 

On August 10, 2010, World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan announced the end of the pandemic period of 2009 H1N1 influenza virus (swine flu) infection. Although numbers of H1N1 infections were no longer to be on the rise, the general public must brace themselves for the likelihood of potentially more virulent forms of 2009 H1N1, H5N1, or H5N8 in the future.

 

In June 2010, a Science magazine article reported a discovery by researchers at the University of Hong Kong and Shantou University Medical College: a hybrid virus containing genetic material from 2009 H1N1 and other swine and avian viruses that had been isolated from pig herds in China.

 

Until the discovery of the hybrid, 2009 H1N1 hadn’t proven to re-assort with viruses in other species besides pigs. The new hybrid creates concern that additional 2009 H1N1 and other viral combinations may emerge.

 

How can we prevent transmission of avian influenza and other pathogenic microorganisms from one species to another (a process called zoonosis)?  My recommendations are right there with the KCDC's Tae-jong, who says to “please make sure to cook meat thoroughly.”

 

The temperature to which different cuts of meat need to be cooked along with the post-cooking rest time varies among meats, so please reference FoodSafety.gov’s Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures to ensure you are following the appropriate guidelines to safely feed your pets and yourself.

 

Additionally, humans must practice good sanitary habits, including thorough hand washing with soap and warm water after touching an animal or other person. Close contact with other people and pets should be avoided during episodes of illness.

 

Should your pet show any clinical signs of respiratory tract illness, immediately schedule an examination with your veterinarian to perform recommended diagnostics to rule in or rule out infections that could potentially spread among species.

 

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

 

Related Articles

The Health Implications Influenza Virus Infection Has For Pets

Swine Flu Pandemic Over But H1N1 Hybrid Virus Emerges

 

Image: Wild Hawaiian Chicken, by Patrick Mahaney