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Salmonella in Pet Food

What Salmonella Is and How to Avoid Infection

By Mary Kearl. April 10, 2013 | See Comments

  • expert or vet photo
    vet verified

    Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM

    Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

    Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

Salmonella in Pet Food

It can seem like pet food recalls happen all the time, and usually for Salmonella. What is Salmonella, and how can you protect your pets?

Salmonella is a bacteria that causes the disease salmonellosis. The disease usually spreads through bacteria in contaminated food directly to humans and animals, but it can also pass between people and animals. If pets get the disease, they carry the germs in their stools and bodies, and on their fur and coats, too, spreading Salmonella amidst their surroundings and belongings.

Symptoms of Salmonella

However, keep in mind that some pets may be carriers of the bacteria but not show any signs of Salmonella infection.

Salmonella from Your Pet’s Food

Are you concerned about the frequency of recalls of pet food and worried about inadvertently serving your pet contaminated food?

Although store-bought foods typically have been cooked to kill bacteria, some vitamins and fatty acids are applied to the surface of the kibble after cooking and can encounter contaminated materials, resulting in contaminated pet food. Here are some tips to reduce your whole family’s chances of encountering Salmonella:

  • Don’t buy items with noticeably ripped or discolored packaging. Steer clear of dented cans.
  • At home, keep dry pet food separate from people food, preferably in a cool, dry place (less than 80 degrees F), in its original bag (left folded or closed when not in use) inside a sealed container. Treats should also be stored in these same conditions.
  • Put leftover wet food in the fridge (kept at 40 degrees F) right away.
  • If possible, feed pets in a different area from where you eat and prepare human food, clean pet dishes separately from where human dishes are cleaned, and do not mix utensils between people and pets.
  • Regularly clean your pet’s bowls with hot, soapy water or run them through the dishwasher.

If You Make Your Pet's Food or Use Raw Pet Foods

The Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) does not recommend raw diets for pets because of the link to increased Salmonella-related illnesses for both animals and their humans. The American Veterinary Medical Foundation, too, cautions against serving raw or undercooked animal-based proteins including meat, bones, eggs or unpasteurized milk or cheese—all of which can be sources of Salmonella.

If you are preparing your pet’s food from raw materials, or feeding a raw diet, follow good hygiene procedures such as washing hands before and after handling food, and never feed your pet anything that seems to be spoiling or no longer fresh. Watch your pet carefully for signs of illness, and take action immediately if needed.

What to Do If You Think Your Pet Has Been Affected by Salmonella

If you suspect your four-legged loved one may have this illness—if your cat or dog has experienced the above symptoms and they're not abating—get your animal to a vet’s care right away. Obviously, do not continue to offer the suspected contaminated food items. Through an examination and lab tests a diagnosis will likely be reached.

Treatments may include antibiotics, fluids and, in more progressed cases, hospitalization.

Prevent the Spread of Salmonella

The CDC warns that since Salmonella infection can pass from pets to humans, good hygiene and care—including regular and thorough hand washing, are important—particularly for those who’ve come into contact with animal stools or affected pet food.

Note: Your animal may be a carrier of Salmonella germs for up to four to six weeks after becoming infected. The CDC advises against sharing foods between pets and humans. Kids under 5, seniors, and those with immune system issues should avoid contact with affected pets.

To keep the community informed, contact your county or city health department about any contamination. (To do so, visit your state’s health department website and search for your locality, or start on the CDC website.)

Remember to throw away any recalled products—by sealing the items in closed bags and tossing them into trashcans no other human or animal can get into. If you touch the contaminated goods, follow good handwashing practices, making a lather with soap and scrubbing for at least 20 seconds.

Stay Informed

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More on Feeding Your Pets

What Are "Natural" Dog Food Flavors?
What Should I Look For in Dog Food Ingredients?
Nutrition for Adult Cats

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine. 

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