Salmonella is a bacteria which can cause illness in people and pets and can contaminate homemade puppy food as well as commercial dog foods and cause pet food recalls. There are nearly 2000 kinds of salmonella bacteria. Most are found naturally in the environment and can remain alive for months or years in manure or soil. Some types are normal inhabitants of animals and don't cause problems. Others prompt a variety of illnesses from diarrheal disease to a life-threatening illness that causes a variety of salmonella symptoms you need to watch for.
Puppies and young dogs, and those that are stressed by other illness, poor kenneling conditions, or inadequate nutrition are most commonly affected. Dogs contract the bacteria by drinking infected water, eating raw or commercial food rations contaminated with infected droppings, or by eating manure.
What to Feed for Safety
You are what you eat applies to pets just as much as it does to people. After the pet food recall of 2007, many pet owners decided to become do-it-yourself feeders and home cook for their pets.
The veterinary community, as well as the FDA, cautions pet owners about home cooking food and especially raw diets for two reasons. First, it’s very difficult to create a nutritionally sound diet for your pet on a sustained basis. Only with a sound recipe from a vet nutritionist can it be done successfully, and can be particularly helpful for pets with therapeutic dietary needs.
Second is the fear of food contamination, and salmonella is a real danger more for people (especially kids and immune compromised folks) than for pets. Safe handling of food is a must even with people food, though. The fear has been that widespread home cooking and/or raw feeding could result in an outbreak of salmonella.
More and more, though, COMMERCIAL diets and treats have been contaminated with salmonella during processing. Responsible pet food companies broadcast announcements about any suspect batches of food to warn pet owners, and recall specific products that may be implicated. As a responsible puppy owner, learn about the signs of the disease and how you can best protect your puppy—and yourself—from the illness.
Signs of Salmonella Illness
Most infected dogs never show signs of illness but may harbor the bacteria and spread the disease to other animals and people. When illness develops, signs include:
- Bloody, foul-smelling diarrhea
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach pain (a "hunching" posture)
The bacteria may be carried in the bloodstream to the liver, lungs, kidneys or uterus. Signs of disease typically last four to ten days, but diarrhea may continue for a month or longer.
How Is Salmonella Diagnosed and Treated
The condition is diagnosed from signs of illness, and from finding the bacteria in the blood or tissues of the affected dog. When enteritis is the primary problem, treatment usually consists of fluid therapy to help correct dehydration.
A culture of the stool sample will identify the strain of salmonella so that the most effective antibiotic can be given. However, antibiotic therapy is only indicated in instances of severe systemic disease, to avoid the possibility of promoting the development of a drug-resistant strain of the bacteria.
How to Prevent Salmonella
Protect your puppy from salmonella by curtailing his hunting. Dogs that eat rodents or other wildlife are at much greater risk.
Don't feed the pup raw or undercooked meat. If you choose to provide a raw food diet, take extra precautions to ensure the food is safe for your puppy and humans handling the food.
Pick up the yard and dispose of fecal material promptly.
Protect yourself by religiously washing your hands after dealing with feces or handling an ill dog. Use a dilute bleach and water solution (1 to 32 ratio) to disinfect your hands, dog bowls, toys, and areas where the pup sleeps.