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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Mad Cow and Wasting Disease

By: Shirley Greene

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Dr. Pedersen was also asked: "Could dogs contract BSE from chewing on rawhide toys or cows' hooves?"

He answered: "Again, that is highly, highly, unlikely. First, these particular tissues (skin and hooves) contain extremely low levels of prions, even if they came from an infected cow and would therefore not be very infectious even in the worst-case scenario. Second, dogs appear to be resistant* to the bovine prion disease. Third, except for the recent case, cattle in the U.S. had not had problems with BSE, greatly decreasing the likelihood of chews being contaminated."

(*Note: Dr. Pedersen said "resistant" and not "immune.")

There are virtually no Federal regulations having an independent checks and balances system impacting the choice, selection, or quality of ingredients used in commercial pet foods today.

Many veterinarians and scientists have recommended keeping dog food containing beef or any beef byproducts away from cats and from humans, both of whom may contract prion disease, based upon the old adage that an ounce of prevention is certainly worth the possibility of contracting a disease with no cure.

Ben Jones, President of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), recommends that meat and bone meal should be avoided altogether in any dog food products where there is the possibility of access by cats or kids.

Should I Feed Deer or Elk Meat to My Dog?

That's another question that has people scratching their heads. Most experts agree that dogs should be no more susceptible to Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a prion disease found in some deer and elk populations, than they are to BSE.

Chronic Wasting Disease is unique to North America and has been found in wild deer and elk and in captive deer and elk herds. It was first identified as a fatal wasting syndrome in captive mule deer in the late 1960s in a governmental research facility in Colorado and later was identified in mule deer in another research facility in Wyoming about 1978. It was first recognized in wild populations of elk and deer about 1981.

There are specific geographic areas of infection including, but not limited to, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Colorado. However deer and elk with CWD have also been discovered in New Mexico, Nebraska, South Dakota, Michigan, Oklahoma, Saskatchewan and Alberta. You can keep track of the progression of CWD throughout the U. S. and Canada on many websites dedicated to hunting and outdoor activities, as well as various state departments of game and wildlife.

CWD is probably transmitted through animal-to-animal contact, dam to fetus and/or contamination of feed or water with saliva, urine, or feces. However, no one knows for certain whether soil and water serve as hosts for the disease and if so, for how long prions can remain infective in these mediums.

Like BSE, CWD has a long incubation period and typically takes at least 16 months for an infected animal to show signs of illness. Symptoms of CWD include weight loss over weeks or months, behavioral changes, excessive salivation, difficulty swallowing, increased thirst and urination, head tremors, or convulsions. CWD is always fatal.

Although CWD does not appear to occur naturally outside the cervid family, it has been transmitted experimentally by injection into a number of laboratory animals including mice, ferrets, mink, squirrel monkeys and goats. However, it did not spread to cattle when they were orally challenged in laboratory conditions.

Currently, there is no indication that CWD is a threat to domestic animals and there have been no reports of CWD in dogs or in cats. There is ongoing research and, to date, there are no confirmed human neurological diseases linked to CWD. Therefore, many scientists and veterinarians believe it is safe to feed venison and elk to your dogs, cats, and family.

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