In the past, the most common cause for pet food recalls has been for Salmonella contamination. While Salmonella still leads the recall pack, you may have noticed a new pathogen popping up on recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists. Listeria monocytogenes is an exceptionally serious and potentially deadly bacterium that every pet owner needs to know about and monitor for recalls.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1,600 Americans become infected with Listeria each year and about 260 die from the infection. Sadly, about 90% of Listeria’s victims are pregnant women and their newborns, people over age 65 or those with weakened immune systems from disease or medical treatment. Listeria is now the third leading cause of food poisoning deaths in the U.S.

Where is listeria found?

Listeria is a common bacterium found in water, soil, infected animals, human and animal feces, raw and treated sewage, leafy vegetables, wastes from poultry plants and meat processing facilities, silage and unpasteurized milk. In other words, it’s probably a lot more prevalent than you may have realized. Listeria has been found in chilled ready-to-eat foods and is capable of growing under refrigeration. Raw meats and veggies, deli foods, cheeses, and even ice cream have been recalled due to Listeria contamination recently. It’s also being found in pet foods.

A study published in the September 2014 Foodborne Pathogens and Diseases evaluated 1,056 samples of pet foods over a two-year period. 66 were found contaminated with Listeria. The researchers found Listeria in raw foods and jerky-style treats, prompting increased FDA vigilance on these food types.

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Clinical signs of listeriosis in dogs and cats are usually mild and you may not know your pet is infected. These subclinical infections are thought to be more common and may pose risk to humans who contact an infected cat or dog’s feces. The more serious generalized form of listeriosis can cause neurological signs from encephalitis such as circling, one-sided weakness, depression and death.

Diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis

Diagnosis is principally based on clinical signs and medical history because testing for Listeria typically involves sampling cerebrospinal fluid from the lumbar spine. Treatment generally consists of supportive care with aggressive antibiotics. Prognosis is based on the severity of an animal’s symptoms and duration of infection. Listeriosis is a serious infection requiring prompt attention and treatment, along with a heaping of luck. If your pet is exhibiting any abnormal behaviors or neurological signs, take him to your vet immediately.

There are still many unanswered questions about listeriosis in dogs and cats. Because we know that Listeria presents a significant threat to pregnant women, newborns and the elderly, constant surveillance and vigilance is mandated. If you choose to feed raw meats to your pet, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly and disinfect any surfaces the food contacts. Advances in raw food processing, preparation and preservation are helping reduce any potential risk to your pet and family. Be sure to ask your veterinarian about recent developments in raw food diets and how to keep your family safe from foodborne diseases.

Mar 2, 2015
Pet Health

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