The first suspected case of Salmonella from raw dog food has occurred, here’s what to do and how to officially report an incident…

It comes with no surprise but with some dismay that the first suspected case of Salmonella from raw dog food to a human has been reported in the US. The Minnesota Department of Health found that two children became sick after pets in their home ate raw ground turkey pet food from Raw for Paws. Five tonnes of the product was recalled Feb 5 2018.

salmonella from raw dog food

How did this occur?

Both children and product were found to house the same type of Salmonella. It’s not clear if the transmission was via the improper handling of the product by child or parent or if it was the result of transmission from the dog’s faeces but the link of Salmonella from raw dog food is convincing.

Raw dog food manufacturers do not use any chemical antimicrobials in their products, which is good news for your dog. You don’t want to be eating antimicrobials each day, you have a gut flora to take care of. They simply grind up what comes in the door, freeze and post. Unfortunately, the human food chain is rife with bad bacteria. This issue is magnified as the cleanest parts of the animal, from a Salmonella perspective, are those furthese away from the chest cavity. These include breast meat, steak, leg and shoulder meats etc. The reason being Salmonella (and E.coli) are housed in the gut of the animal. When animals, certainl poultry, are eviscerated, it is often done by machine (like a giant vacuum) which sucks the innards out. When the gut tube is broken at the neck and anus, some digesta can splash into the surrounding area. Mass-slaughtering facilities suffer the same issues from poor evisceration of larger animals also. Thus, while breast meat, leg and shoulder cuts are not always immune, they are less likely to house issues (and some countries including the US wash these parts in chlorine, believe it or not, but not in Europe). Unfortunately, these are the parts consumed by humans and thus fetch a higher price. All raw dog foods are made on cheaper cuts including wings, drumsticks and things (often fine also) but also necks and carcass and organ meats which are more likely to pose problems, certainly if coming from less careful suppliers.

So, there is a chance, albeit a small one, that your raw dog food product will contain bad bacteria, and a number of recent recalls and indeed the studies show this is absolutely the case (Joffe and Schlesinger 2002, Weese et al. 2005, Finley et al. 2006, Strohmeyer et al. 2006). While your dog will be fine (cases of Salmonellosis in dogs and cats is extremely rare, it simply wouldn’t do for a meat eater), the problem occurs when raw fed dogs are fed contaminated products. Authors note that when dogs are fed raw foods contaminated with Salmonella there is a small (2-6%) to very good (44%) chance they will shed Salmonella in their faces (Finley et al. 2007, Lenz et al. 2009). Hence a dog with the wrong sort of Salmonella (dogs and cats naturally house some Salmonella in their intestines, par for the course, so it’s not as simple as saying they shouldn’t have any at all ever) could be a vector, should the child play in the garden beside a contaminated stool.

A dog’s lick is anti-bacterial. In the past, armies and monks have used dogs to clean their wounds (there’s an old French saying that goes “there’s nothing as clean as a dog’s lick”. Hence, your dog’s mouth is not expected to be a vector of great importance. That said, allow him time to finish his dinner and lick his lips etc. Avoid him for a few minutes until he has cleaned himself after his meal.

Is processed (dry or canned) pet food safer?

To pre-empt the inevitable use of this finding to further promote the use of dry, processed muck for our pets, I must add that AS BOTH DRY AND RAW DOG FOOD PRODUCTS  CONTAIN MEAT BOTH HAVE BEEN FOUND TO CONTAIN SALMONELLA AND OTHER BADDIES AND THUS BOTH DRY AND RAW FED DOGS ARE POSSIBLE VECTORS FOR SALMONELLA IN YOUR FAMILY.

In the last ten years alone there has been more than 20 colossal dry and canned pet food recalls involving millions of tonnes of dry food due to Salmonella contamination (taken from www.fda.org “animal and veterinary recalls archive”) affecting all the brands you come to think of safe, including vet brands such as Hill’s Pet Food and Purina.

In fact, in the Strohmeyer et al. (2006) study mentioned above, the authors highlight how both raw and commercial dry pet food diets contain E. coli and Salmonella. Strohmeyer actually sampled 20 different raw food products but only two dry and two canned foods to reach this conclusion. Yet when this study is quoted by vested interests they only every mention the raw part of their findings. This is highly dangerous as, up until this incident, only dry food has ever been linked to Salmonella in humans, multiple times (Schottea et al. 2007, Reinberg 2008, Behravesh et al. 2010, Imanishi et al. 2012), over 800 cases so far, mostly toddlers under two years of age.

The first publicly funded consumer report really underpins how bad the situation with processed pet food is. The incredible Susan Thixton of the “Truth About Pet Food” sent samples of all the top dry and canned dog food products straight from an online retailer to a laboratory for microbial analysis. All failed WITHOUT EXCEPTION, and not just for Salmonella either but other baddies that raw dog food will never contain, including highly carcinogenic mycotoxins (a type of grain mould), not to mention some very serious vitamin and mineral excesses and insufficiencies.

Pet Food Test Report

I feed raw, what should I do?

All pet owners need to realise that ALL PET FOOD should be handled with care. Raw, dry, canned, pigs ears, everything. Keep dry food packets out of reach of children. To reduce the risk of Salmonella from raw dog food you need to take special care of your raw dog food product in the fridge and when handling it. Some tips include:

  • Keep your raw dog food on the bottom shelf of your fridge, ideally in a sealed container, to avoid drips
  • Wipe down all skin and surfaces with antibacterial after handling.
  • Wash all utensils correctly
  • Keep children away from feed bowls during meals (as the dog licks it clean there is less chance a cleaned bowl is a vector)
  • PICK UP ALL STOOLS ALL THE TIME or make them poo in a toileting area via training or a barrier
  • Vitally, instruct your children about the handling of such a product and to keep away from dog stools

What to do if you suspect an adverse event in your child or dog following the handling or consumption of pet food?

In view of this latest infection, I thought I would highlight for readers how folk in the US and Europe should go about reporting an adverse pet food reaction, be it a sickness in a family member or the pet itself.

There are a number of things that you the consumer will need to accurately and more successfully file a formal complaint with the authorities. These include but are not limited to:

  • Name of product AND manufacturer (these can be different) with company number (it will be on the packaging)
  • A sample of the product (if frozen food, re-freeze in a double ziplock). If you are uncomfortable doing that you must retain the wrapper. Failing that you need good pictures of the wrapping and all information so they can track a sample from the same batch from another source.
  • The time, date and location of purchase
  • The batch number / product code which will be written on the wrapper of the offending product. Also include the best before.
  • Include additional descriptors such as format (dry / frozen / canned / pouch and size)
  • Details of the adverse advent if known. This includes a description of the visible contaminant including debris or a bad odour or, if no known issues are identifiable, details of the negative reaction in your family member or dog
  • Medical records documenting the adverse event (if applicable)
  • Details of your pets background (i.e., age, sex, any pre-existing medical conditions)

How to officially report an adverse pet food reaction in the US

Once you have your details together you should contact the manufacturer with your complaint. You may get a satisfactory response, at least from the smaller companies, though history proves you will be met with resistance which generally includes them being very concerned at the start, “looking into it for you” and then stone walling all future contact.

Best practice is to contact your local state feed control official.

You can also now report and adverse pet food reaction on the FDA’s website also.

These things take time so follow up with a weekly email and start calling after three.

How to officially report an adverse pet food reaction in Europe

There is no official reporting body in Europe for adverse pet food reactions (only for vet medications, which is here for Ireland,  here in the UK). I contacted FEDIAF (European Pet Food Industry Federation) about this omission. Their secretary general came back with

As a trade association we cannot speak for individual companies’ products and the normal procedure to follow would be that you contact the company concerned (contact details must be on the pack), keep the original packaging of the product (to have the brand name and the batch number) and explain to the company exactly what has happened. I am sure the company will do its utmost to be of assistance.

In other words, you, and hopefully your vet, if they’re with you, are on your own.

A bacterial report of my dog intestines indicated he is housing Salmonella of a worrying kind, what should I do?

An interesting shift in the pet health market is towards canine probiotics, for very good reason, they will bestow serious health advantage to your pet, as they do in us. A new realm of probiotic science, are autogenous probiotics, something we are now exploring with our latest trial using Dogs First candidates with the leaders in autogenous probiotics (who are an Irish company, albeit for horses, go Ireland!). Interestingly, these companies and likely more like them will culture your dog’s stool sample to see what flora they house currently. If this proceeds, it’s highly likely (we have found one already) that some meat fed and likely dry fed dogs may reveal a worrying type of Salmonella (there are hundreds of servovars, only some are pathogenic to humans). The problem here is that the dog will almost certainly be asymptomatic, being so resilient to the bug. This poses an interesting conundrum. Vets (and doctors) do not treat patients with antibiotics for Salmonella that are asymptomatic as it can put the animal into a “carrier state”. There is a further issue whereby us raw feeders who may be slower to use antibiotics for a bug that the dog can relatively safely house, a result of eating a meat-based product. Should we mess with something that is “par for the course”, as they say?

I think the problem becomes that the meat chain IS contaminated with some particularly nasty strains of Salmonella, Salmonella that may not exist in the normal run of things in the meat chain. However, I fail to see how a carcass rotting on the ground can remain free of these strains (dogs are carcass experts, it’s why they have big noses, they outcompete vultures to them. Getting sick from eating such a normal food source would not do). That said, studies of normal, healthy but free-roaming village dogs show the more worrying strains seem to be rare in the faeces of dogs with a more wild, scavenging lifestyle (less than 1% of 250 dogs sampled).

Thus on this particular point I, and a few vets I have spoken to, are at sea. The bottom line is that these particular strains are most certainly a human health concern, there’s no getting away from that.

I contacted the wonderful Dr Nick Thompson on this point, the president of the Raw Feeding Veterinary Society (being a consultant to the RFVS has its advantages!) and he kindly snap-shotted best advice from one of his manuals, it states clearly that in asymptomatic individuals antibiotics are contraindicated (not advised) though it does also add that if you want to be confident to avoid such strains in the future to avoid meat. Unfortunately, as the studies above show, dry food (which is practically free of meat but still contains some) can also bestow these issues on your pet also. You can show this to your vet and discuss the best way forward.

If your dog has salmonella

Should you identify your dog houses a problem strain (difficult if asymptomatic, which we expect them to be), best advice, apart from investigating the cause, is to get the animal as healthy as possible and hope the issue resolves etc (the good bacteria / strains of Salmonella will fight out the bad strains). You might change your raw dog food supplier or buy from butchers which you can hope offers you a cleaner supply chain though studies show they have their problems. I would add the best canine probiotics to their food each day (they must be in time-release capsules for maximum effect, it’s hard to get through their digestive juices) and monitor them carefully. Re-test your dog after one month to check on the progress.

Risk of Salmonella from raw dog food or dry / canned, in conclusion

As with vaccinations, there are simply no safe choices to be made here folks. Owning a carnivore comes with risk, particularly if you feed him correctly (a raw dog food diet) to the great benefit of his health and certainly if those products are not up to the very finest standards, which is a holy grail of a raw dog food product that I’m not sure exists (though some are certainly better than others). Moving to a dry, processed diet, very clearly, is not the answer. You took this animal in. It is up to you to feed it correctly as it is up to you to ensure both you and your family members are best versed on how to avoid any complications that may result from that process. Be safe.

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References mentioned are available upon request info@dogsfirst.ie

By |September 12th, 2018|Dog Health, Dog Nutrition|

About the Author:

After a doctorate studying the effects of nutrition on the behaviour and gut morphology of animals, five years with Guide Dogs as a trainer and supervisor, some success on Dragons Den with the finest raw dog food company and the last few years both writing and speaking on canine nutrition and health, I can say with some confidence that the pet food and drug industry cares not a jot for the health of your pet.