(NaturalNews) A popular dog treat contains far too many calories to be a healthy snack for most dogs and may harbor dangerous, disease-causing bacteria, according to a study conducted by researchers from Tufts University, the University of Guelph and published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal.
The treat in question is known as a "bully stick" or "pizzle stick," and is made from the raw, dried penis of a bull. Researchers tested 26 bully sticks of several different brands purchased from U.S. and Canadian retailers. They also tested pet owner knowledge of bully sticks with a 20-question survey that was available online for 60 days. The anonymous survey was completed by 852 adults from six countries and 44 U.S. states.
23 percent of survey respondents said they feed their dogs bully sticks.
The researchers performed a caloric analysis on a random subset of the bully sticks, finding that the treats contained anywhere from nine to 22 calories per inch, amounting to 88 calories per average six-inch stick. That's nine percent of a 50-pound dog's daily calorie requirement, and an astonishing 30 percent of a 10-pound dog's daily requirement.
Half the survey respondents underestimated the calorie content of bully sticks.
"These findings reinforce that veterinarians and pet owners need to be aware of pet treats like these bully sticks as a source of calories in a dog's diet," veterinary nutritionist and first author Lisa M. Freeman said. "With obesity in pets on the rise, it is important for pet owners to factor in not only their dog's food, but also treats and table food."
Between 34 and 59 percent of U.S. dogs are now overweight or obese, Freeman said.
The researchers further found that 27 percent of the bully sticks were contaminated with Escherichia coli (E. coli), with at least one stick contaminated with an antibiotic-resistant strain. Another stick was contaminated with Clostridium difficile, and another contained the superbug methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
The findings emphasize the need for people to wash their hands after handling any pet treats made from raw meat, the researchers said. Such treats should not be handled by pregnant women, the very young, the elderly or the immunocompromised.
The survey results suggest that many pet owners might not realize that bully sticks and other popular pet treats are made from raw meat.
"We were surprised at the clear misconceptions pet owners and veterinarians have with pet foods and many of the popular raw animal-product based pet treats currently on the market," said Freeman. "For example, 71 percent of people feeding bully sticks to their pets stated they avoid by-products in pet foods, yet bully sticks are, for all intents and purposes, an animal byproduct."
Only 62 percent of veterinarians knew that the sticks are made from a bull's penis, along with only 44 percent of general respondents.
"There's a lot of misperception out there," Freeman said. "Owners really need to find out the facts and make their decisions based on those."