Pet food being poured into bowl

It seems like the news is constantly full of stories about pet food recalls. Most recently, we’ve been hearing a lot about recalls due to salmonella contamination.

Food recalls can occur for many reasons, including mislabeling (for example, potential allergens not listed), contaminates (particulates found in the food, which are usually tiny pieces of glass, plastic or metal), bacterial contamination (salmonella, e. coli) and mold toxins (aflatoxin). Food recalls occur when there is a concern that a food may cause consumers to become sick or even die.  The recall can be initiated by the food manufacturer or the distributor, or by a government agency, such as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

What Is Salmonella?

Salmonella is the most common cause of bacterial foodborne disease in the United States and can be found in eggs, dairy, fruit, meat (poultry, pork, beef) and contaminated water. This rod-shaped bacteria multiplies in the gastrointestinal tract, leading to inflammation and diarrhea. The incubation period is typically 12 to 72 hours. Some strains of salmonella can enter the bloodstream causing serious illness and death. In humans, the fatality rate is less than 1%, but salmonella can still cause serious illness

In animals, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, weakness and fever are the most common signs of salmonellosis. Stools may appear bloody or green, and diarrhea usually lasts three to seven days. Stool cultures can confirm the diagnosis of salmonella. Young animals and animals with underlying health problems are most at risk.

Treatment is symptomatic and supportive. The corrections of dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities are crucial. Many times, intravenous fluids are needed to treat these problems, and in some cases, antibiotics are used as well. In humans, there is some evidence that antidiarrheal agents may worsen salmonellosis by keeping the bacteria in the digestive tract for a longer period of time.

Sensible Precautions

Your pet can develop salmonellosis from eating contaminated food — but people can also be affected by the same contamination. Humans can be exposed to salmonella both by handling contaminated food and by handling the pet’s dirty food bowls. Humans can also be infected by picking up stool from infected animals. To reduce the chances of being infected by any foodborne toxin, wash your hands after handling pet food, bowls, toys or stool. Do not wash pet food bowls or implements in your kitchen sink or bathtub. If you must do so, clean the basins afterward with bleach. Be aware that both pets and people can still shed salmonella for weeks — or possibly months — after being “cleared” of infection.

Many pet owners use pet food bins to store their pet’s rations. Be sure to use up all of your pet’s old food before pouring in a new bag. Rinse and clean bins in between refills, and be sure to keep empty pet food bags until the food is used so that you can track and report critical information in the event your pet becomes sick and you think the food may be the culprit.

The FDA keeps a list of pet food recalls; go to their website to sign up for free email alerts. And if you think your pet has been exposed to or is exhibiting symptoms of salmonella, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Read more articles by Dr. Tina Wismer.

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