“Our professor was showing us a video of a root canal he was doing on a ferret, and we had a light bulb go off,” says Drury. “So, when we were in our dentistry table clinics class and needed to find a research project, we thought it would be cool to work with a veterinary dentist.”
The three students — all pet lovers — decided to search on the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) website to see if they could find someone who could help. Their search led to Dr. Candace Lowe, a board-certified veterinary dentist and an assistant professor in the WCVM’s Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences.
“The students contacted me and asked what kind of project we could do,” says Lowe. “I was happy to help them out, and we tossed a few ideas back and forth until we decided on the raw meat study.”
For Lowe, it was the perfect opportunity to study a topic that she had wanted to investigate for some time: do dogs that eat raw meat diets have zoonotic bacteria in their mouths?
“We know from published studies that there are zoonotic bacteria that can be passed on to humans in raw diets as well as in the feces of the dogs that eat raw diets. However, no one has investigated whether zoonotic bacteria are in their mouths,” says Lowe.
Escherichia coli, Salmonella and Camylobacter spp. are the zoonotic bacteria species that cause the most concern. If these species are found in dogs’ mouths, there’s a potential for the bacteria to be transmitted to humans when the dogs lick their owners or even lick floors where young children crawl or play.
It’s a concern that has also come up at work for Lowe and her coworkers: “We work in dog’s mouths all day, and if a dog that has recently ate raw meat sneezes in my face, do I need to decontaminate? I don’t know and I would really like to.”
After spreading the word among Saskatoon’s dog community, Lowe and the three dentistry students had over 60 dogs enrolled in the study: 30 dogs that ate raw meat diets and 30 dogs that ate kibble-based diets. Owners had to bring their dogs to the WCVM’s Veterinary Medical Centre within an hour of the animals’ last meal so the research team could swab the dogs’ mouths.
Skulski enjoyed the chance to come across campus and work with dogs enrolled in the study. “It was neat talking with the owners and hearing their perspective on feeding raw food diets because I personally didn’t know people fed pets this kind of diet.”
WCVM veterinary students also pitched in to help the dentistry team collect the dogs’ saliva samples. “They were really helpful with actually doing the swabs … because we walked in and didn’t really know what to do. Do we ask it [the dog] to sit? Do we ask it to open wide?” says Drury, laughing.
Along with the regular saliva collections, the dentistry students frequently met with Lowe while she was working on patients — another intriguing part of the collaborative research project.
“One time we came over for the meeting, and she was sewing up a bilateral broken mandible [jaw], and we were like ‘wow,’” says Skulski.
“We offered to come back, but she just told us to come over and check it out,” adds Bachiu.
The students were also surprised by the similarities in animal and human dentistry.
“We would talk about the instruments we use, and she’d [Dr. Lowe would] say, ‘We use those too,’” says Bachiu.
In early May, the three dentistry students presented a research poster titled, “Identification of bacterial zoonotic pathogens in the oral environment of dogs fed a raw-food diet,” at the 2018 Life and Health Sciences Research Expo on the U of S campus. They hope to eventually have their research published and will complete a final presentation later this fall.
Although a large portion of the study is complete, the group still hopes to find more participants. “I’d love to have 50 dogs in each group (raw meat and kibble-based diets), so we’re still looking for volunteers,” says Lowe.
If you want your dog to be part of this study, contact Dr. Candace Lowe (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call the WCVM Small Animal Clinic reception desk (306-966-7126). Since the research team must collect saliva samples from dogs with an hour of eating, candidates must be from Saskatoon or surrounding area.
Dr. Candace Lowe, a board-certified veterinary dentist and an assistant professor in the WCVM’s Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. Photo by Taryn Riemer.