Is Pet food dangerous for pets as well as humans?
By Tony Coveny, Ph.D.
I get asked on a regular basis if dogs and cats, among other pets, can get Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, and other food borne pathogens, and if so, can they sicken their caretakers in return. The short answer is “Yes” – with a few caveats.
(1) First off, each of these pathogens affects each species of animal differently, but what is clear is that most of them can carry these pathogens even if they seem to be immune from the symptoms. For example, turtles, chicks, Guinea pigs, and frogs (who appear to have no symptoms themselves) have been linked to Salmonella outbreaks on a regular basis. Dogs and cats can also carry of Listeria, Salmonella, campylobacter, and E. coli poisoning and pass it to humans through fecal contamination.
(2) Secondly, many dogs and cats actually get sick and some die from the same pathogens human’s get sick and die from. I have had a number of calls from caretakers who have had a dog or cat die from food borne illness. The rates at which this happens, however, is very difficult to quantify as pets who get sick cannot vocalize their illness and, even in caretakers are very observant, veterinarians rarely order stool cultures. In the few cases I am personally aware of, the animal died and a culture was performed posthumously finding E. coli or Listeria.
(3) Animal foods can be processed in less-than-hygienic ways, often without the HACCP and GMPs employed on production of human foods, and the food can become contaminated. These foods then become introduced into human households where animal caretakers live. No, these caretakers are not eating pet food! BUT, they often handle the food, use the same sinks or dishes, and often feed their pets form their hands. These pathogens then find their way to the caretaker’s digestive track through cross-contamination. All caretakers should follow good hand-washing practices when feeding or cleaning up after their pets.
Case In Point: FDA Issues Recall of Pet Food
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an alert for pet caretakers that A+ Answers Straight Beef Formula for Dogs may be contaminated with salmonella. The Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA) tested and found salmonella in lot 2018 20/08 20 of the dog food and a recall alert has been issued for the state of Nebraska because of the dangerous bacteria. The company that produces the dog food, Lystn, LLC, doing business as Answers Pet Food, has not yet issued a nationwide recall.
Contaminated dog food represents a serious threat to human and animal health. Pets can get sick from salmonella and may also be carriers of the bacteria and pass it onto their human companions without appearing to be ill. Once salmonella gets established in the pet’s gastrointestinal tract, the animal can shed the bacteria when it has a bowel movement, and the contamination will continue to spread.
Pet caretakers who have this lot of A+ Answers Straight Beef Formula for Dogs should throw it away in a secure container where other animals, including wildlife, cannot access it. Consumers who have had this product in their homes should clean refrigerators/freezers where the food was stored and clean and disinfect all bowls, utensils, food prep surfaces, pet bedding, toys, floors, and any other surfaces that the food or pet may have had contact with. Clean up the pet’s feces in yards or parks where people or other animals may become exposed.
Humans who have handled the potentially contaminated dog food should also thoroughly wash their own hands after touching the product, being careful not to touch other parts of the body before doing so. Wear protective gloves when cleaning up the pet’s feces and when disposing of the recalled A+ Answers Straight Beef Formula for Dogs.
About the Editor: Tony Coveny, Ph.D., J.D., M.A. is a former professor and practicing infectious disease lawyer (food poisoning lawyer) who represents victims of food borne illness throughout the nation.