Salmonella infections in people have been in the news a great deal recently.
Because Salmonella contaminated peanut butter from a plant in Georgia has been found to have been used as an ingredient in many food products for human consumption, veterinarians have been concerned that pet foods may turn out to have been made with contaminated peanuts also. The Minnesota Department of Health confirmed a case of a dog with diarrhea from the same Salmonella serotype that has sickened people in this current outbreak, and confirmed that the bacteria is in Happy Tails Multi-Flavor Dog Biscuits, UPC 41163 42403 4# box. To check on recalled products for both people and animals, refer to the FDA Website, which is being updated regularly as information is available. Most of the products on the list so far are biscuits and rawhide chews with peanut butter, but that list will likely expand as more is known, so check daily.
If your dog or cat has diarrhea and was fed any of the foods on the recall list, Dr. Joni Scheftel, State Public Health Veterinarian for the Minnesota Department of Health recommends you make an appointment with your veterinarian so the pet can be cultured for Salmonella. If a pet is tested positive for Salmonella and is not sick enough to need hospitalization and IV fluids, the recommendation is NOT to treat with antibiotics, because treatment with antibiotics will increase the number of Salmonella bacteria present, lengthen the time that the animal is sick, and increase shedding of bacteria into the environment, therefore exposing more animals and people. Most dogs and cats will recover with supportive care and prescription foods, but they may shed the organism for several weeks before clearing the bacteria. If your pet has tested positive, contact your physician for specific instructions about your own health risk. The CDC says that young children, the elderly, and those people on immunosuppressive drugs or diagnosed with immune system diseases such as HIV/AIDS are most at risk. As for many contagious infections, the CDC and the MN Dept of Health recommend good hand washing techniques, followed by a common disinfectant hand gel after handling an infected pet or cleaning up diarrhea feces from an infected animal. To clean contaminated surfaces, the Health Department recommends a good cleaning with soap and water or a product such as 409 or Lysol, because the soap breaks down the cell walls of the bacteria. You can also disinfect with a dilute bleach solution made from ¼ cup of bleach in one gallon of water, but this may "bleach" the surface.
We've been talking about Salmonella in dogs and cats, but it is rare for these pet animals to be a source of Salmonella infections for people. Pet rodents such as hamsters, rats, mice and hedgehogs, along with reptiles such as geckos, snakes and turtles are a much more common source of infection for people. Baby chicks and ducklings are also a common source of infection. The CDC has some good articles and the New England Journal of Medicine had a good article about Salmonella infections in pet hamsters and mice from some pet distributors back in 2004. The investigative work on that outbreak was done by the MN Dept of Health, a leader in identifying both that outbreak and the more recent one from the peanut butter.
As always, please call us if you have any further questions.