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!

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

Photo by rhinman/flickr.

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Frances | February 5 2013 |

A question - does anyone know about issues with chicken from Thailand? I've found a company in the UK making treats with Thai chicken, but still feel very dubious about safety. I have been making my own, but tend to end up with chicken chips rather than chews (not that the dogs are complaining, and it has made me realise just how high in calories dried meat treats must be, when a whole chicken breast shrinks down to an ounce or so of shrivelled scraps!).

Submitted by Amanda D. | February 10 2013 |

Chicken jerk products, whether it's made in the USA or overseas, is bad for your dog. After opening the package, air gets inside and causes the jerk to become hard and sharp. I'm sure this damages a dog's esophagus especailly because of the sharp edges. Stay away from those products, if you can.

Submitted by Linda Parks | February 15 2013 |

thank you for posting this finding. I should have thought about that possibility. I do choose brands carefully.choosing Merrick items solely ! but never gave that a thought. I have spent 14 yrs talking to pet food manufactures, and researching the deplorable use of scraps from rendering plants!!! only 2 in all of the US and Canada---DO NOT use the rendering plants for meat protein!!!!!and many use plant protien for some of the protein source.
Come to find that the very FIRST dog food KIBBLE was from the FROMM FAMILY foods !!! and to this day are a family owned 4th generation company . Using PRIME CUT ,MUSCLE meat as the meat source !! delivered daily, to start the days recipe. Dana Watkins is the nutritionist on hand Monday through Friday to help with your questions.he helped me cook a recipe for my male dog while I got his crystals dissolved before they became Stones !!! this brand is by Far the safest and most healthy on the market by far, it is good enough for BULLDOGS--there for any breed. you cannot go wrong with the Fromm pet food.

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