Bully sticks are high in calories and can harbor harmful bacteria according to a new study published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal. A group of researchers at Tufts University examined the calorie intake of “bully sticks” otherwise known as “pizzle sticks”. The popular dog treats are made from dried bull penis.
Tufts University researchers wanted to learn more about the bully sticks’ nutritional content and consumer knowledge regarding the treats.
Their study revealed that the treats are high in calories and can impact a dog’s weight significantly, if they are fed to dogs frequently. They also discovered that many dog owners underestimated the calories in the treats.
The bully sticks tested ranged in calories from 9 to 22 calories per inch. “If you give one six-inch bully stick a day to a 50-pound dog, that’s 9 percent of its daily calorie needs,” Lisa Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVN, and one of the nutrition researchers told IB Times. “For a 10-pound dog, that’s 30 percent of its daily calorie needs.” She pointed out 50 calories for a small dog is quite a lot and dog owners need to be mindful of the treats to avoid dogs getting overweight. “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,” Freeman added.
The study also revealed that the bully sticks can harbor harmful bacteria. Researchers said that many dog owners are unaware that the treats are made from raw meat and should be handled accordingly.
The group sampled 26 bully sticks purchased from retailers in the United States and Canada and made by different manufacturers. They found one tainted with Clostridium difficile, a bacteria that can cause gastrointestinal illness. Another had traces of methicillin-resistant Staphyloccocus aureus, or MRSA, and another had an antibiotic-resistant strain of E. coli.
The number of treats sampled was small and not all of these bacterial strains have been shown to infect humans. However, the researchers advise all pet owners to wash their hands after touching such treats.
The team advised dog owners to observe the same sanitary practices they would with raw meat when handling bully sticks. Dog owners should thoroughly wash their hands with soap and warm water after touching the treats and children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems should avoid handling them.
As part of the study, an online survey was also conducted. The researchers received over 852 responses which revealed many dog owners were not aware of what the treats are made from and that it is so high in fat.
“While calorie information isn’t currently required on pet treats or most pet foods, 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,” said Freeman.
“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 by-product.”
The article appeared in Canadian Veterinary Journal 54: 50-54, January 2013. Freeman et al. “Nutritional and microbial analysis of bully sticks and survey of opinions about pet treats.”