Can Your Dog Get Mad Cow Disease from his Food?

Have you been reading the papers, watching the national news or listening to talk radio? If so, chances are you've been exposed to the term Mad Cow Disease. Recently, even a case in Goats has been confirmed in France! We know it is possible for a variant of Mad Cow Disease to be passed to humans through meat consumption. What about our pets? Are they also in danger?

First, let's briefly review some information about Mad Cow Disease.

What Is Mad Cow Disease?

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), or Mad Cow Disease, is a transmissible, slowly progressive, degenerative disease having an extremely long incubation period. Some experts quote the incubation period may be as long as three to nine years. This means that there is a very long period when an animal is infected but does not appear ill. This is important because animals may be infected and consumed before they become symptomatic.

The disease affects the central nervous system of cattle causing symptoms such as excessive salivation, staggering gait and weight loss. The animal usually dies within six months of becoming symptomatic.

There are limited portions of the steer carcass thought to carry the infection. They are the brain, spinal cord, and other nervous system tissues. Muscle meats, experts state, should be safe for human consumption, even if they are from an infected steer.

While the USDA tells us that muscle tissue is safe, killing methods in slaughterhouses create situations that may lead to contamination of brain and central nervous tissue into other tissues.

The mode of transmission appears to be from infected animals that were processed as cattle feed, then fed to other cattle and then were consumed by people.

Safety Measures Don't Protect Pet Foods

Since the discovery of infected cows first in Great Britain, then in Canada, and now one (or possibly more) within the U. S., the USDA has announced implementation of some new safeguards. These safeguards fall far short of those called for by consumer groups and scientists. This new rule was very interesting to me, as a pet owner:

"Meat from downer animals will no longer be allowed into our human food supply. These animals are called 4D for dead, dying, diseased and disabled."

However, 4D animals can still be used in commercial pet foods and feed for poultry and swine.

Restrictions have also been placed on slaughter and processing methods to "increase the likelihood" tissue from the nervous system of the cow does not end up in meat products. Is that good enough.

Can Your Dog Get Infected from Eating Kibble, Hooves or Rawhide?

In a word, the general consensus of the international scientific community is a resounding "NO." For reasons unknown, dogs appear to be immune. Cats, however, are not so lucky.

Many animal experts recommend that any dog food containing beef or beef byproducts be kept away from felines, even though there is no reason to believe that BSE is present in American dog foods.

The FDA states: "There is no evidence to date that dogs can contract BSE or any similar disease and there is further no evidence that dogs can transmit the disease to humans. With the exception of cats, no pets are known to be able to contract Mad Cow Disease."

Final Thoughts From the Author

I don't have many answers. The more I read, research, e-mail, and phone various experts, the more I find myself concentrating on the "loophole" words and phrases, such as: highly unlikely, perhaps, maybe, possible, probable, documented, nearly, estimated and my favorite – "appears but not scientifically proven, so we'll just say undocumented."

Overwhelmingly, scientists believe our human and dogs' food supply chain is safe from BSE, well, except in very rare instances. And, in those cases, it is the humans, not our dogs, who are not guaranteed 100 percent safety.

What would I do? I would follow the advise of Ben Jones, President of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), who 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.

If I owned a kitty, or had children, I'd make certain there was no pet food containing beef or beef byproducts or beef meal in my home. If I had venison or elk meat in my freezer, I'd call my local Department of Public Health and ask how to safely and permanently dispose of it.

Each of us must make informed decisions for the well being of our families and our pets. More is unknown than is certain. Knowledge is power; so update yours often.

For more information, see the complete article Food For Thought: Mad Cow and Wasting Disease.

Whats new this year about BSE – Click here for more information