How to Avoid Salmonella - The AVMA Position Refuted...

avoid salmonellaA report in the June 2011 Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association offers tips for pet owners on avoiding salmonella in pet food.

According to

The report, written by Kate S. KuKanich, DVM, Ph.D., details the circumstances under which Salmonella organisms are most often ingested and includes a history of Salmonella outbreaks associated with petfood and treats.

In addition, the report offers recommendations on how pet owners can minimize the risk of infection for both their pets and families. 

Dr. Becker's Comments:

The full report referenced above is only available online to AVMA members, so I don't know how many of you have been able to review it.

The reason it caught my eye is I've seen several online references to tips given in the report on how to avoid salmonella contamination. I assume many of you have seen them, too, so I wanted to address one tip in particular.

The stated intent of the report is summarized as follows:

Recently, there have been several recalls of commercial pet foods and treats in the United States because of contamination with Salmonella spp. This contamination creates a risk that pets ingesting these food items can become clinically ill or may become carriers of Salmonella organisms, but it is also a public health concern for pet owners who handle the food products and interact with these pets.

So the purpose of the report is clearly to discuss contamination of commercial pet foods and treats, which makes a lot of sense considering the number of pet food recalls in recent years.

What strikes me as odd is the very first tip offered to avoid contamination is: Don't feed a raw diet to your pet.

Confused? So am I.

The Truth About Salmonella and Raw Feeding

Salmonella infection is a common concern among raw feeders and pet owners who are thinking of switching their companion to a raw diet.

The potential for contamination by salmonella or other pathogenic bacteria is a fact of life. The word salmonella actually describes over 1,800 species of bacteria that live in many species of mammals. The type of bacteria most often found in dogs and cats is Salmonella typhimurium.

Dogs and cats naturally have salmonella in their GI tracts much of the time. Their bodies are familiar with it.

According to the new AVMA report, most studies find from 1 percent to 5 percent prevalence of salmonella organisms in the feces of healthy dogs, and from 1 percent to 18 percent in healthy cats. A large study in Florida of over 1,600 healthy dogs found a prevalence of 15 percent.

Whether or not a pet develops disease from the presence of salmonella in the GI tract depends on a variety of factors. According to Rhea V. Morgan, DVM:

"Factors that increase the likelihood of clinical disease from Salmonella include the age of the animal, poor nutrition, the presence of cancer or neoplasia, and other concurrent diseases and stress, as well as the administration of antibiotics, chemotherapy or glucocorticoids."

Healthy companion animals can handle significant bacterial loads from food. Your dog's or cat's body is designed by nature to deal with considerable amounts of both familiar and foreign bacteria – the type of bacteria he or she would encounter by eating wild prey.

There are two reasons your dog or cat can handle a heavy bacterial load: stomach acid and bile.

Your pet's stomach is naturally so highly acidic there aren't many organisms that can survive it. Dogs and cats also produce a tremendous amount of bile, which is both anti-parasitic and anti-pathogenic. If the stomach acid doesn't kill a pathogen, chances are the bile will.

How to Keep Your Pet Safe from a Salmonella Infection

If you feed raw, I recommend freezing meat or meat mixtures in individual serving-size packets for at least three days before serving. Defrost in refrigerator overnight.

Use safe food handling techniques. Clean and sterilize all utensils, bowls, surfaces and equipment after each use.

Discard any uneaten raw food after 30 minutes.

A strong, resilient digestive system is necessary to handle a bacterial load and to support immune system function. Three steps you can take to keep your pet's GI tract in good shape include:

  • Minimizing stress by feeding a species-appropriate diet, the kind your dog or cat is meant to eat.
  • Minimize the drugs your pet takes, including vaccines. Reseed the gut during and after antibiotic therapy with a probiotic. It's also a good idea to maintain your dog or cat on a daily probiotic to balance the ratio of good to bad bacteria (gut flora).
  • A good-quality digestive enzyme will help promote your dog's or cat's body to get the most out of the food you feed. My favorite digestive enzymes for pets contain Ox Bile, which helps keep GI defenses strong.

The Reality of Human Salmonella Infections

Salmonella is the most common food-borne bacteria. According to the CDC, 1.4 million people in the U.S. contract salmonella each year. The FDA estimates the number at closer to 2 million to 4 million, taking into account unreported cases assumed to be some other type of illness. About 1,000 people die in the U.S. each year of salmonella infections.

According to an article published last year by the Journal of Food Protection, about half of all salmonella infections originate in restaurants. Infections linked to individual eating establishments are often traced to infected but asymptomatic food handlers. Fecal testing indicates significant numbers of us have salmonella in our systems and feel no ill effects.

  • The meat, poultry, eggs, milk, fruits and vegetables we eat can be contaminated with salmonella.
  • A contaminated food manufacturing facility can put the bacteria in virtually every processed food imaginable. Recent food recalls for salmonella have involved nuts, chocolate bars, peppers grown in Mexico, and peanut butter.
  • Reptile and amphibian pets are well-known to carry salmonella.
  • In 2006, 79 people contracted salmonella from handling commercial pet food. Mars Petcare recalled over 20,000 tons of contaminated dry dog and cat food crossing 105 different brands. Recent salmonella contaminations have also resulted in the recall of peanut butter-based dog treats, beef treats, cow hooves and pig ears.

How to Keep Your Human Family Safe

For those of you who feed commercial pet food, the AVMA offers the following tips for safe handling of processed pet foods and treats:

  • Do not offer pig ears as chew treats for your dog. According to the AVMA report, after a 1999 outbreak of human salmonella infections in Canada linked to pig ears, it was found that 51 percent of pig ears purchased at retail stores in Canada, and 41 percent in the U.S., were contaminated. Irradiated, individually packaged pig ears are safer than those sold from open bulk bins.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after handling any pet food or treats
  • Don't allow very young children, elderly people or those who are immunocompromised to handle pet food or treats
  • Keep all pet foods and treats away from your family's food
  • Do not prepare pet foods in the same area or with the same equipment/utensils you use to prepare human foods
  • Do not allow pets on countertops or other areas where human food is prepared
  • During investigation of salmonella outbreaks, feeding pets in the kitchen was identified as a source of infection. If you can arrange to feed your pet in an area other than your kitchen, consider doing so. Alternatively, feed your pet as far away from human food preparation areas as possible.