An Overview of Neospora Caninum and Raw Food Diets
Larry A. Bernstein, VMD
Natural Holistic Pet Care
Miami, Florida

January 21, 1998

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There has been a great deal of activity on lists and the internet concerning an organism call Neospora Caninum and its possible relation to canine encephalitis, myocarditis and paralysis. Since many holistic practitioners advocate a raw food diet, this has prompted me to create this initial monograph based on my research into the subject. This is preliminary as there is minimal literature on the subject and is based on my perceptions and conversations I have had with the experts in this area. It is informational only and should be used in conjunction with any other material that becomes available.

There is very little information in the literature concerning this organism as it relates to the dog. Much of the research has been in cattle and the abortions attributed to Neospora Caninum. Most of the reports have been case studies of dogs that have shown symptoms and discussion of treatment. Exploration on both NOAH (AVMA) and VIN (Veterinary Information Network) have shown less than 12 cases being posted since 1991. I also want to stress that this is not a new organism. I have seen case reports going back to the 1980’s

The organism is a protozoon and seems related to coccidia, Toxoplasmosis and may fall into the same class as Sarcocystis neurona, the organism that is suspected of being the primary cause of Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM).

The main thrust of this document is to explore the question of raw food contamination and if that changes our perspective in recommending raw food diets to our holistic clients for their pets. There is a web page that will allow you to explore Sarcocystis and EPM in detail (http://prevmed.vet.ohio-state.edu/epm/comptext.htm).

We need to address this on several levels.

Is it a real problem? How prevalent is the organism? How serious is the disease? What are the probabilities of contracting the parasite? What steps can be taken to eliminate or limit our pets’ exposure.

  1. Is it a real fear? Based on my preliminary research, the organism has been reported in cattle for at least 8 years. There are some studies that have shown almost an 80% serological (blood titer) presence of the organism in some herds. Since this is being written as the information is being developed, please take my figures with a grain of salt. This is based on my discussion with some of the authorities in the field. I do not yet have the specific literature citations on all aspects but it appears that the definitive article on Neospora Caninum in cattle is a 59 page article by Dr. J.P. Dubey in the Journal of Parasitology 1996, volume 67. I am working on getting a reprint of that article. I will tell you that the vast majority of the study has been on the abortion effects in cattle and only now is more information coming out about dogs.

  2. How prevalent is the organism? The estimates, based on blood studies, indicate a range from 20%- 80% in some of the cattle herds studied. It has been seen primarily as a problem in dairy cattle but N. Caninum can also affect beef herds.

  3. How serious is the disease in dogs? The symptoms usually manifest in puppies and dogs under a year of age and can include a paralysis, myocarditis and encephalitis. Toxoplasmosis can create a similar picture and that makes sense since the organisms responsible are very much alike. There seems to be little in the way of effective treatment but the use of Sulfa compounds has been proposed.

  4. What are the probabilities of contracting the parasite? If the parasite is present in the muscle of affected cattle and the beef is ingested, the digestive juices do not inactivate the organism so it can, theoretically, create a problem. However, when you think about the large number of people that have been feeding raw food diets for decades and the insignificant number of cases being reported in dogs, you have to consider two obvious explanations. The first is that there are a larger number of cases that are going undiagnosed or being blamed on other things. This is possible but the more likely possibility is that this is an opportunistic organism that only preys on animals with an immune system that is compromised in some other way. This might account for the fact that the vast majority of cases are in young dogs and puppies and follow the same model as Toxoplasmosis and coccidiosis.

  5. What steps can be taken to eliminate or limit our pets’ exposure? I am still not convinced that a healthy, holistically cared for pet is the optimal candidate for contracting this parasite. In my discussions with the experts on Neospora, I was led to believe that the treatment of meat to inactivate Toxoplasmosis should also inactivate Neospora. We know that cooking will do this, but it was also interesting to find out that freezing the meat for 24 hours should also kill the organism. The parasitologists were less specific on the use of grapefruit seed extract or food grade hydrogen peroxide to treat the meat. I do, however, feel that this has been effective in dealing with Toxoplasmosis. I base this on the fact that I have never seen or even recall hearing of a case in an animal under good holistic care and being fed a treated, raw food diet. This is not to say it has not and cannot happen but I have yet to see a case.

In conclusion I feel that this parasite is real, but it has existed for many years and is not some new dreadful disease sweeping through our pets. It is something to be aware of but the precautions we are now taking (or should be) seem to be working and we should not allow this to dissuade us from our present dietary choices. To those of you who are wondering if it would be advisable to cook the meat, I feel you are better off freezing it for a 24-hour period. It should retain more of its nutritive quality during freezing than from cooking. To those of you who use other methods to detoxify meat to help prevent Salmonella, E. Coli, other bacteria and Toxoplasmosis, I say to continue that course.

If you take in a new pet, possibly an ill one or a rescue dog that has a weakened immune system or you are dealing with a new puppy, I think the freezing option is the best compromise. These would be the dogs that are most likely to contract this parasite.

Please remember that this was assembled quickly from the information available and is my best analysis of the situation based on all aspects of my medical training and experience. You must each do what you heart and experience tell you. I will continue to prescribe as I have been with some modifications. I will suggest freezing the meat for the younger animals and emphasize the use of grapefruit seed extract or food grade hydrogen peroxide for those clients that are not already doing this.

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