By: Kerry Bazany

Many of us like to purchase special dog treats for our beloved pets, however, the FDA has recently advised owners of dogs to use caution when purchasing and giving their pets dog treats, specifically in the form of “chewy bones”. There has been no official recall; however, 90 illnesses and 15 deaths have been reported after dogs ingested these types of bones. Products such as “Ham Bones,” “Pork Femur Bones,” “Rib Bones,” and “Smokey Knuckle Bones” were listed. No specific brands were named. These treats are differentiated from uncooked meat, “butcher-type” bones because they are processed by either smoking or drying, and can contain artificial preservatives. When consumed, dogs can suffer health problems such as choking, digestive tract obstruction, and cuts to the mouth, vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding from the rectum or even death. Additionally, the bones can splinter when being chewed.

Foodborne Illness and Dogs

Dogs can contract the same gastrointestinal illnesses as humans along the same contagious pathways. As with human food sources, bacterial pathogens can infiltrate anywhere along the chain of harvesting, transportation and handling, and preparation.  As recently as the summer of 2017, dog treats were found to be contaminated with Salmonella. Symptoms of this type of bacterial infection in dogs include lethargy, diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever, vomiting, decreased appetite, and/or abdominal pain. It is important to note that pet owners can contract the same bacteria with its resultant symptoms by handling pet food and treats.

Pet food can become contaminated with Salmonella because the food originates from animals. Typically, pet food products are cooked to temperatures that destroy bacteria; however, if an additive to the food (such as flavoring) is added to the food after the cooking process, the pet food can become contaminated with these materials. So the question arises, does this mean that pet food isn’t really safe given that there seem to be more and more pet foods and treats being recalled due to pathogens such as Salmonella? There are several reasons for this, one of which is that large scale recalls increase public awareness of and sensitivity to pet food safety. Another reason is that both manufacturers and the FDA have become increasingly hyper-vigilant with regard to bacterial pathogens in human food sources. That has led to increased surveillance and reporting of foodborne illnesses. Additionally, there is the Reportable Food Registry, an early detection reporting system that permits immediate reporting of safety issues with food and animal feed, including pet food. Typically, when any pathogen such as Salmonella or E.Coli is detected in a pet food, a voluntary recall is issued, and the pet food is considered adulterated and unfit for consumption. In fact, the vast majority of pet food recalls has been voluntary and is not an indication that pet food is unsafe. It is, rather, an indication that prevention is being effected by catching the potential problem sooner rather than later.

Salmonella infections occur after the host (either human or animal) eats, or ingests, the food. It can also occur by coming into contact with contaminated products and subsequently touching your mouth or face, allowing the bacteria access to your gastrointestinal tract and causing disease. Salmonella is one of the classifications of diseases that affect your stomach or intestines and are spread between animals and people. Enteric zoonotic diseases are caused by germs such as Salmonella, E.coli, and Campylobacter. These bacteria can cause illness in your stomach and intestines and cause symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, or stomach cramps.

That Being Said…….

Raw dog food, unlike processed dog food, is far more likely to make you and your pet sick. Like us, we may choose to feed our dogs raw food because we are under the assumption it is healthier. However, the CDC cautions that a raw food diet can make you and your pet sick. Both Salmonella and Listeria have been discovered in raw pet foods, even packaged ones. Your family can also become ill by handling these foods. But what if you decide to feed your pet raw foods? The CDC has offered this list of recommendations:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling any raw food
  • Thoroughly clean all surfaces that came in contact with the raw food such as countertops, microwaves, knives, forks, bowls, etc.
  • Safely store raw pet food away from the other food in your fridge.
  • Freeze the food until you are ready to feed it to your pet
  • Discard any food that your pet doesn’t eat.
  • Don’t let your pick lick around your fact after he eats.
  • Keep washing your hands after playing with your pet.
  • Make sure your pet does not lick any open wounds on your skin.
  • Do not allow immunocompromised, very young, or elderly people to handle pet food and/or treats, but if they do, they should thoroughly wash their hands afterwards.
  • Don’t allow your pets on countertops!
  • Promptly refrigerate any leftover pet food.
  • Feeding pets in the kitchen has been named as an important source of possible contamination. So try to feed your pet away from human food preparation areas.
  • Only purchase pet food products that have no signs of damage, such as dented cans, tears, or discoloration.