salmonella could be lurking in your pet food

salmonella could be lurking in your pet food
Posted by Dr. Ernie Ward on Feb 24 2015

One of the leading causes for pet food recalls is for “the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.” Even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and many veterinarians (myself included) are concerned about Salmonella, I’ve found not all pet owners understand what Salmonella is and why it’s important to monitor human and pet foods for it. So what’s the big deal about this tiny microbe?

To begin, Salmonella is a bacterium, and it’s in the same family as another familiar foodborne pathogen, Escherichia coli or E. coli. Salmonella is found around the world in both warm-blooded mammals and cold-blooded reptiles, causing typhoid fever, paratyphoid fever and food poisoning. It is responsible for an estimated 1.2 million illnesses in the U.S. resulting in over 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths.

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We don’t have accurate estimates for the number of pets infected by Salmonella but recent studies estimate 30% of dogs and 18% of cats are carrying the infectious bacteria without any clinical signs. Cats appear to be more resistant to Salmonella and younger animals more susceptible to infection, although any animal – or human – can develop Salmonellosis. How do you know if your pet has Salmonellosis?


The common clinical signs of Salmonellosis in pets are sudden diarrhea, occasionally with blood, vomiting, straining to defecate, fever, abdominal pain, weakness and dehydration. Your veterinarian will typically run a series of blood, urine and fecal tests, fecal bacterial culture and possibly tests for parvovirus and abdominal radiographs.


Treatment for Salmonellosis primarily consists of supportive fluids, electrolytes and quarantine. It is important to keep in mind that Salmonella is highly contagious, especially during the active phase of the illness, and all fecal material must be carefully handled and discarded. Antibiotic treatment is controversial and reserved for the most serious cases.

The reasons we don’t give antibiotics to patients with Salmonellosis are: 1) We don’t want to encourage drug-resistant strains while suppressing the patient’s “good” bacteria and 2) Antibiotics may cause the patient to become a carrier and prolong the duration the dog or cat sheds Salmonella in their feces, increasing the risk of additional human and animal infections.

Most pet patients will recover with supportive veterinary care. Pets that have severe systemic infections have a guarded prognosis.

Salmonella in Pet Foods

The FDA has made testing all pet foods for Salmonella a priority. The FDA worries about Salmonella in pet foods chiefly due to the threat they pose to pet owners handling them. Since 2012, the FDA has become increasingly focused on ensuring the safety of raw pet food diets. This is principally due to an FDA study conducted from 2010 until 2012 that found more contamination in raw diets than dry and semi-moist foods.

The FDA tested over 1,000 samples of pet food: 196 raw pet food samples, 240 dry foods, 240 semi-moist foods and 190 jerky-type treats. Remarkably, 15 of the raw diets tested positive for Salmonella while only one dry cat food was contaminated with the pathogenic bacterium. If you choose to feed a raw food diet, please talk with your veterinarian about the latest developments.

Raw food manufacturers are using a wide variety of incredible innovations to make their foods and treats as safe as possible for both your pet and family. I continue to be open-minded on food choices as long as food safety and nutritional science are central to the discussion. Regardless of the pet food you feed, to reduce your family’s risk of contracting Salmonellosis, always wash your hands thoroughly after handling any type of pet food.

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