Salmonella is a rod-shaped gram-negative bacterium belonging to the family of Enterobacteriaceae. It is the causative agent of salmonellosis. Clinical salmonellosis as well as fecal shedding of Salmonella in companion animals have been linked to the increasingly common practice among pet owners of feeding raw meat diets to pets. In contrast to heat-treated commercial dog food, homemade diets consisting of un- or undercooked meat or egg are more commonly culture-positive for Salmonella spp or E coli. Similarly, pet treats such as dried pig ears have been identified as a source of infection of pets by Salmonella as a result of processing allowing stomach contents to come into contact with the foodstuff.
But did you know, your dog can actually get sick from Salmonella?
Many pet owners who feed raw claim that dogs are immune to falling ill from Salmonella, and dramatically underestimate the risks of bacterial contamination. Unfortunately, while your pet may not show clinical signs of Salmonella infection, this does not mean they are unaffected.
The most common type of infection is the carrier state, in which infected animals carry the pathogen for a variable period of time without showing any clinical signs. It’s vital to remember that systemic infection (blood poisoning, septicemia, bone infection etc) can occur in animals with no gastrointestinal symptoms, which is why just because your pet doesn’t “look sick” doesn’t mean they are healthy.
In clinical infections, the severity symptoms in infected dogs vary depending on virulence factors of the salmonella strain, the infection dose, the animal’s immune status and any coexisting conditions. Typically, acute gastroenteritis is generally the how clinical salmonella infection manifests in dogs.
The symptoms are:
• Anorexia followed by vomiting
• Abdominal pain, and diarrhoea (sometimes with blood)
More serious infections can lead to sepsis, shock and death.
How does my dog catch it?
Salmonella is killed when cooked at 74°C, so it is most commonly caught from ingesting raw eggs, raw meat, undercooked meat/egg products or treats. Many proponents of raw diets state that kibble diets have recalls of salmonella too; it’s important to remember that all pet food has a zero tolerance limit. This means that no pet food is allowed to contain Salmonella and will be recalled if it’s found, however, raw meat for human consumption IS allowed to contain Salmonella as it is intended to be cooked before consumption. However, testing pet food for Salmonella is not a requirement or something that is conducted routinely, so it’s hard to accurately say (especially based on recalls alone) on the actual amounts of Salmonella in pet food.
It’s also important to consider the likelihood of your pet catching Salmonella from a kibble diet is dramatically lower than that of a raw meat diet. As mentioned above, the infective dose also plays a large role in if the pet develops clinical illness – the dose you’re going to get from raw meat is more likely to cause illness compared to a heat-treated kibble. In a recent study conducted by the FDA, it was found that raw diets contained considerable higher amounts of Salmonella than that of a kibble diet (approximately 7% higher load). If you want to read more, I’d check out this post by The Canine Health Nut here: https://thecaninehealthnut.com/raw-dog-food-vs-kibble-salmonella-risk/
How do I prevent infection?
Cook meat and egg products. It’s honestly that simple! Cooking destroys Salmonella – regardless of how ‘careful’ or ‘hygenic’ your preparation of raw meat and eggs is, you will never eliminate the risk of infection unless you cook the product. Many proponents of raw diets claim that careful preparation of raw meat will avoid them and their pets catching Salmonella, however when you prepare meat you cook it, so you cannot claim that because you’ve never given yourself Salmonella that your pet will not get it from eating raw meat.
But my dog wouldn’t cook in the wild! Wouldn’t they have gotten Salmonella?
Dogs are opportunistic scavengers – they eat garbage, carrion, road kill, plant material, cooked bones and meat and whatever else they can scavenge from human settlements. They actually spend very little time taking down live prey as opposed to wolves, and wild dogs prefer to scavenge rather than expend energy in hunting. What about them getting sick? Well, the lifespan of a wild dog is significantly shorter than that of a domestic dog (5-7 years compared to 11-13 years) for a huge variety of reasons; predation, starvation, parasites, infection, environmental pressures etc. So it’s hard to say that they are completely unaffected by Salmonella, when it’s difficult to determine causes of death in the wild unless you are directly monitoring a pack or raising them in captivity.
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