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Mad Cow Disease and Your Dog's Food

Updated on July 13, 2008

If you feed your pooch ground beef, like I do from time to time, you may have a question if that beef is safe in light of the latest "Mad Cow Disease" news. You don't have to feed your dog straight beef to have this question. Many, many brands and flavors of dog food contain some beef product. Should you worry about Mad Cow Disease spreading via your dog's food?

Right now, the consensus is "no". Why?

Getting Mad Cow Disease

1. Dogs and Mad Cow Disease. There's never been a reported case of a dog getting it. Additionally, the FDA reports that there is no scientific evidence to date that dogs can or ever have contracted Mad Cow Disease at all.

2. What is Mad Cow Disease. This contagious condition happens when a cow contracts a disease called BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy). BSE causes lots of tiny holes in the brain and spinal column, making it 'spongy'. The cow then loses motor skills until it dies.

3. Then How Do Cows Get Mad Cow Disease? They can only get it by eating feed that contains cow meat contaminated with Mad Cow Disease/BSE. Why are cows eating other cows? That's a whole other issue, but basically if other forms of protient, like soybean, is too expensive, the cattle farmers will use ground up meat from other cows.

Specifically, it's the nervous tissue from infected cattle that can spread the disease. However, if beef producers are following protocol, infected tissue from slaughtered cows is not allowed in cattle feed or in any food meant for humans to eat.

4. Are Dogs Exposed to Mad Cow Disease? Possibly. Meat from contaminated cows could be used the making of food for poultry and house pets. According to some, like specialists for infectious diseases at the University of California at Davis, it would be highly unlikely that nervous tissue would end up even in pet food.

Pet food is supposedly vigorously inspected and processed in such a way that they are deemed safe for the pets included heat-treated to destroy any pathogens.

As we've seen in the last year there are lapses in the inspection process. However, by the same token, because of the pet food scare in the last year, there is more attention on inspecting pet food.

5. How Do Humans Get Mad Cow Disease? First, as far as humans are concerned, it is believed but not proven, that Mad Cow Disease can be transmitted to people who eat infected carcasses. Second, once a person gets or develops this disease, the disease changes somewhat and is known as vCJD (or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.)

What Should I Do?

You go with your judgement. From I have read, meat prepared for pet food is almost always from sick or injured livestock. In other words, the stuff that cannot be sold for human consumption.

Second, family of disease has only been found so far in hooved animals (CWD in deer and elk, scrapie in sheep) and in humans.

It looks like dog food and dogs are safe from Mad Cow Disease, but, I would continue to monitor.

Comments

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    • profile image

      helen 

      8 years ago

      Read British Vet Med. Journal and you will find that mad co disease is high and it is mistaken as alzhaimers or old age.

      Tests were performed and confirmed that mad cow disease in dogs is higher than you can imagine.

      Helen

    • profile image

      Jeffie 

      9 years ago

      "From I have read, meat prepared for pet food is almost always from sick or injured livestock."

      That's seriously terrifying. That is exactly the type of product most likely to contain mad cow prions. Forget the animals, how could the FDA be so STUPID to let people come in contact with that stuff!

      "once a person gets or develops this disease, the disease changes somewhat and is known as vCJD"

      This is perhaps a point of minutia, but: not really. The disease itself doesn't change at all, just the name. Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, Scrapie, Chronic Wasting Disease.. they are all exactly the same disease process, you just use a different name when you are talking about a different animals.

      And, as Karl mentioned, heat will not destroy prions. Not even an autoclave (hospital sterilizer) can break them down.

      "Specifically, it's the nervous tissue from infected cattle that can spread the disease. However, if beef producers are following protocol, infected tissue from slaughtered cows is not allowed in cattle feed or in any food meant for humans to eat."

      That is a hard claim to make. You can remove the central nervous tissue but the peripheral nerves 'innervate' (and control) your muscles. This is why cows infected with BSE are entirely incinerated, instead of just removing the spine and brain. Moreover, there have been confirmed cases of humans who've contracted vCJD from blood transfusions in the UK (big news on the BBC) and this has also been demonstrated in sheep. Blood cells carry prion protein, so there is no part of an BSE infected animal which is safe for consumption.

    • profile image

      Karl 

      9 years ago

      What about humans coming in contact with dog food - some people handle dog food in their kitchen, use the same sink and utencils and bowls. It is possible that human food gets contaminated from a dirty kitchen counter.

      Second of all - some poor elderly people sometimes consume pet food. Some food stores in Detroit have requested proof from elderly shoppers that they have pets before allowing them to purchase dog/cat food.

      "heat-treated to destroy any pathogens" - The vCJD pathogen does not denature at any temperature (short of incinerating the food itself). You can not take infected meat and heat it to make it safe for consumption.

      People should not be put in contact with infectious materials - regardless if it is for their pets consumption or not.

    • FitnessDog profile imageAUTHOR

      FitnessDog 

      10 years ago

      This is actually a good point Cornelius.

    • profile image

      Cornelius Bergen 

      10 years ago

      If meat from sick sheep or cattle is part of dog and cat food then there is a chance that cows could eat it .Farmers feed commeecial pet food to their cats and dogs in the cow barns somtimes and cows could accidently have access to it.

    • profile image

      Shelagh 

      10 years ago

      Great tip Tracey -I'd never thought about this before

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