Pig Ear Dog Treats Linked to Salmonella Outbreak

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

pig ear dog treats

Story at-a-glance -

  • In July 2019, the U.S. CDC and FDA advised pet owners not to feed their dogs any pig ears due to a multistate outbreak of salmonella linked to the treats
  • At least 127 people became ill across 33 states after handling pig ear dog treats or caring for dogs who ate the treats
  • There is not one supplier, distributer or brand of pig ear treats singled out in the warning, as it appears that “contact with pig ear dog treats from many different suppliers is the likely source of this outbreak”
  • Some companies have voluntarily recalled pig ear treats; if you have any in your home, they should be discarded
  • Dogs may become ill from eating contaminated treats and, for owners, it’s possible to become ill not only from handling the treats but also from interacting with your dog after he’s eaten one

Pig ears, which are popular treats given to dogs, may be dangerous to your dog and your family’s health, as they may be contaminated with bacteria, including salmonella. In July 2019, the U.S. CDC and FDA advised pet owners not to feed their dogs any pig ears due to a multistate outbreak of salmonella linked to the treats.1

At least 127 people became ill across 33 states after handling pig ear dog treats or caring for dogs who ate the treats. Among them, 26 were hospitalized and 24 illnesses occurred in children younger than 5 years. What is perhaps most concerning is that the FDA and state health and regulatory officials have tested pig ear dog treats from multiple suppliers and identified many strains of salmonella.

There is not one supplier, distributer or brand of pig ear treats singled out in the warning, as it appears that “contact with pig ear dog treats from many different suppliers is the likely source of this outbreak.” As a result, health agencies suggest people should “not buy or feed any pig ear dog treats to pets.”2

Dogs may become ill from eating contaminated treats and, for owners, it’s possible to become ill not only from handling the treats but also from interacting with your dog after he’s eaten one.

Voluntary Recalls Issued for Pig Ear Treats

In early July 2019, retailer Pet Supplies Plus recalled bulk pig ear treats (the type stocked in open bins) supplied to all of its locations due to the potential for salmonella contamination. Testing by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development revealed the presence of salmonella in aging bulk pig ear treats in one of the stores, prompting the recall.3

In late July, Lennox International Inc., which sells products under the Rawhide Express brand in the U.S., became the second company to voluntarily recall pig ears due to salmonella concerns.4 The pig ears are sold in eight-pack pouches or individual shrink wrap packaging, as well as via bulk containers.

Lennox said they’re aware of at least two cases of their pig ears leading to illnesses in dogs, potentially due to salmonella contamination.5 Human illnesses have also occurred in pet owners who purchased Lennox pig ear treats, and individually shrink-wrapped pig ears have tested positive for salmonella after FDA testing.6

Dog Goods USA LLC also issued a voluntary recall of Chef Toby pig ear treats over possible salmonella contamination. Dog Goods bought pig ears from a supplier in Brazil from September 2018 through August 2019, and one sample tested by the FDA was positive for salmonella.7 The treats have been distributed to retail stores throughout the U.S.

However, pig ear treats from any manufacturer may not be safe at this time. If you have any in your home, they should be discarded and the containers or surfaces they touched should be washed thoroughly.

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Salmonella, Antimicrobial-Resistant Bacteria Found in Pig Ears Previously

This isn’t the first time dangerous bacteria have been found in pig ear pet treats. A study published in 2008 revealed an overall salmonella prevalence of 4% in a sample of 245 pig ear treats purchased in Canada.8 The bacteria was resistant to up to seven antimicrobial drugs, suggesting the treats could be a source of drug-resistant bacteria in pets and people.

Raw pet food is often used as a scapegoat when it comes to potential salmonella contamination, but this is a good reminder that processed pet foods may be the more likely culprit. In addition to pig ears, salmonella outbreaks have also been linked to dry dog food (kibble).9 After feeding your pet, whether you’re giving dry food, pig ears or other treats, it’s always a good idea to wash your hands and have children do so also.

If you believe your pet may have consumed a contaminated pig ear, keep an eye out for symptoms of salmonella infection, which could include lethargy, diarrhea (possibly bloody), abdominal pain, reduced appetite and fever. Some dogs may have no symptoms at all but can become carriers of salmonella, which can infect other animals or people.

Hormone Implants Are a Reason to Avoid Most Cow Ear Treats

Pig ears are considered “natural” dog chews by many, but they’re typically from animals raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). In the case of cow’s ears, they’re not a “safe” alternative to pig’s ears, as they’re likely to contain steroid hormone implants. As noted by the FDA:10

“These steroid hormone drugs are typically formulated as pellets or ‘implants’ that are placed under the skin on the back side of the animal’s ear. The implants dissolve slowly under the skin and do not require removal.”

Unless you are buying hormone-free pig ears (which are clearly labeled as such and are about four times the cost of regular pig ears) this is the case with the ears you're buying, so your dog could be consuming an abnormally high amount of concentrated hormone residues, which over time can be detrimental to her health.

If you're able to find ears from free-range, organically raised animals, then this won’t be an issue, however most ears sold in bulk containers at pet food stores are from mass-produced animals, which is why I generally don’t recommend using pig ears as treats. If your dog loves ear treats, you may be wondering what to offer in their place. Recreational raw bones are one of the best options. These are typically big chunks of beef, bison or other large land mammal femur, knee or hipbones filled with marrow.

They can be found in the freezer section of pet food boutiques or at the local butcher shop, and while they don't supply significant dietary nutrition for your dog besides healthy fats, they’ll satisfy her urge to gnaw and chew — and they taste great to dogs. Catch my video on how to choose a variety of other safe chews for dogs here.

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