At the end of last year, the United States Food and Drug Administration began testing pet food for Salmonella because of evidence of human related illness. This study includes food and treats for a multitude of animals. The plan is to remove products that have high levels of this organism.
Salmonella is a rod-shaped bacterium that can live in the intestines of animals and people. It can also survive in the environment for weeks, and is not destroyed by freezing. Salmonella is killed by ultraviolet radiation and heat/cooking.
Salmonella can cause a variety of health problems in people including diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, poor appetite, headaches, and fevers. Symptoms occur within 12 to 72 hours after consuming a food item that is contaminated with Salmonella, or from poor hand sanitation. Many people can recover without medical treatment. Others including infants, young children, the elderly, or those with a compromised immune system can become severely ill. In these people, if left untreated, Salmonella can result in severe dehydration and even death. Treatment includes supportive fluid therapy and antibiotics.
Animals can also become ill from Salmonella; but their tolerance is generally at a much higher level than ours. But just like in people, the young, elderly, or immune compromised are at a much higher risk for significant health issues related ingestion of this bacteria. Symptoms are similar to those in people, with diarrhea being the predominant presentation.
Salmonella can be found in raw animal food products including meat, unpasteurized milk or milk products, and eggs. Many animals can carry and shed Salmonella. Salmonella has been detected in the feces of both sick and healthy people and animals. As mentioned earlier, Salmonella can also survive in the environment as well. There have been several recent outbreaks of Salmonella related to fruits and vegetables due to poor sanitation. This week there was evidence of Salmonella in Iceberg lettuce.
The most current concern centers on people and especially small children becoming infected with Salmonella from contact with pet food and treats. There have been recent articles in The Wall Street Journal and The Huffington Post. Last year the CDC published a report involving a pet food related Salmonella outbreak that “sickened 79 people in 21 states, with many of them being children under the age of 2.”
How do you protect your family? Good hand sanitation is the key to preventing the spread of Salmonella, as well as many other illnesses. Wash your hands after handling your pets, pet foods, treats, and supplements. Wash your hands before eating, and encourage this behavior for all household members. If there are small children in the home, pick up pet food bowls. Don’t let small children handle pet food, treats, or supplements. Don’t add water/moisture to dry pet food, as this can allow growth of more bacteria and other organisms; especially if your buddy takes several hours to consume his or her food. Don’t feed raw food products to your pets. Realize that if you do this, you are allowing any area that they defecate to potentially become infiltrated with Salmonella. Remove feces promptly to limit this. Wash your pet’s food and water bowls routinely. Recent studies have shown that washing dishes in the dishwasher is much more effective than hand washing dishes to prevent food poisoning. Bleach can be added to the dishwasher to help sanitize things. Sponges can also be cleaned in the dishwasher, to help prevent them from being a source of contamination. These simple tactics can help to keep your pets and your family healthier. If you do suspect Salmonella or other health issues for your cherished companion, please seek veterinary care at the earliest sign of illness, as this will allow for the best possible outcome for your canine or feline.