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Now dogs are blamed for ‘increase in food poisoning’

DOGS COULD be responsible for an increase in food poisoning according to the latest ‘silly season’ scare story in the national press. Last week the Daily Telegraph told how Bob Williams found his nine-year-old daughter, Freya, curled up in bed with Dottie, a beloved family dog. "I went up to say goodnight and they were both under the duvet" says the London-based journalist. "Dottie's little black head was on the pillow next to Freya's. I thought it was really cute." writes Nick Mays.

But, continues the report, Mr Williams, 46, regrets not banishing young Dottie – an appealing Border terrier and Jack Russell cross - to her basket. Research to be presented to a House of Lords committee in the coming weeks suggests that dogs are responsible for a rise in food poisoning cases.

An estimated half a million people became ill with the campylobacter infection last year, which can lead to paralysis and death.

According to the research, half of all pet dogs carry the infection, which they probably pick up from bird droppings. Birds are natural carriers of the bacteria and do not become ill. Even stroking a pet can transmit the bug, which typically causes a range of unpleasant symptoms including high temperature, abdominal pain and severe diarrhoea.

Hugh Pennington, a leading microbiologist who compiled the report, has warned people to wash their hands after touching their dogs. Many worried parents are thinking of getting rid of them altogether.

The findings also seem to contradict another recent study showing that pets make children healthier. A team at the University of Nottingham found that children with pets had fewer days off school due to sickness than those who did not.

"An early exposure to a wide range of bugs is very important" says John Warner, director of allergy and inflammation sciences at the University of Southampton. "If babies do not have this exposure, it seems that they are more likely to have an allergic pattern of responsiveness in later life,’ says Mr Williams.

Freya’s mother, who says she has assessed all the evidence carefully, has no intention of giving up her beloved family pets. “Our dogs will always be part of the family and we couldn't be without them,” she says. “Of course, the children will have to wash their hands more in future. The benefits outweigh the risks, and the joy we get out of Dottie and Kaylee is huge.”

But, the article concludes, Dottie will be sleeping in the kitchen in future.

Not certain

Phil Buckley of the Kennel Club commented on the article for OUR DOGS: “We became aware of this issue early last week via our media monitoring service and quickly noted that, whilst Dr Hugh Pennington of Aberdeen University believes that there may be a link between the campylobacter bacteria and dogs - also birds, cattle and other animals - he was not certain of this fact, nor was there any scientific evidence.

Indeed, it would appear that the major thrust of the article was Dr Pennington's intention to seek funding for a £250,000 study in an attempt to discover the facts. We were therefore both surprised and dismayed to then note that some of the national newspapers were carrying stories alleging that, according to Dr Pennington's research, ‘half of all pet dogs carry the campylobacter infection’ and that ‘many worried parents are thinking of getting rid of their dogs altogether’? It is quite possible that Dr Pennington is also unhappy about these comments as well, bearing in mind the current lack of supporting evidence.

“It is clear that the necessary research has not been conducted yet, so no case has been proven, therefore the reporting of this issue could certainly be seen as both premature and sensationalist. It also helped to further fuel the ‘anti-dog publicity’ that was just beginning to subside, after a spate of recent biting incidents.

However, the Kennel Club has been encouraged by the fact that not everyone is convinced that the proposed study will discriminate further against dogs and in the interim period we would request that all dog owners do all they can to reassure friends, family and members of the community that this issue is far from proven and let us all await the results, whilst continuing to act as responsible owners, making our much loved companions both a credit to us, and society.”