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JoAnna Lou
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Bully Stick Danger
Study finds bacteria and a hefty calorie count in the popular treat

There are a lot of pet treats out on the market and it seems like every week a new brand is getting recalled. I don’t even touch any chicken jerky manufactured in China due to the widespread contamination problems.

More recently I’ve been choosing deer antlers and bully sticks, thinking that they’re safer since they’re all natural. But according to a study published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal, there are two potential problems with bully sticks (also called pizzle sticks).

The first concern is an excessive amount of calories. The scientists calculated nine to 22 calories per inch, meaning that a 6-inch bully stick could represent nine percent of the daily recommended calorie count for a 50-pound dog or a whopping 30 percent of the requirements for a smaller 10-pound dog. This I’m less worried about as I usually adjust my pets’ dinner if they get a large treat during the day.

The second finding is much more serious. In testing 26 bully sticks, the researchers found one contaminated with Clostridium difficile, one with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and seven with E. coli. The scientists admitted that the sample size was small, but recommended that people should at least wash their hands after touching bully sticks.

I hope that they repeat the study on a larger scale, differentiating by finishing process. Some bully stick companies sun-bake their product, while others irradiate or bake the sticks indoors. I’m sure that these differences can affect bacteria levels.

It would also be good if they gave recommendations on how to get rid of the bacteria. I know that some people bake bully sticks in the oven before giving them to their pets, but it’s not a proven method.

I think that this study goes to show how careful we have to be in researching our pets’ food. I already know a lot about picking a good kibble, but this study has inspired me to do a better job at finding out the origin and manufacturing process for the treats I feed my crew. And it underscores the many benefits of making your own treats at home!

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by rhinman/flickr.

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