Silent pathogens in pets

by Erica Shaffer
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FDA research shows some pets can be asymptomatic for  salmonellosis.

WASHINGTON – The family dog or cat that rushes in with “kisses” to greet their owners may be giving their “pet parents” more than unconditional love, according to an ongoing study by the US Food and Drug Administration.

FDA research found that a small number of dogs that tested positive for Salmonella showed no symptoms. Final results currently are unavailable, however Renate Reimschuessel, VMD, Ph.D., research biologist and head of FDA’s Vet-LIRN, said out of 2,965 animals tested, researchers found fewer than 100 tested positive for the bacteria.

“Pet owners should know, though, that almost half of the dogs that tested positive for Salmonella showed no symptoms,” Reimschuessel said.

FDA also discovered that the dogs that tested positive for Salmonella were more likely to have eaten raw pet food. The agency said previous research has shown that Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes are more likely to be found in processed pet foods in part because the products haven't gone through a “kill step” such as heat pasteurization. So, pet owners can be sickened by simply handling the food in addition to “kisses” from their pet.

The FDA advises consumers to check the agency's web site for recalled pet products. Also, pet owners should:

• Avoid buying pet food in damaged cans or packaging.
• Feed pets in a location that can be easily cleaned and sanitized.
• Wash countertops, tables, or any surfaces that come into contact with pet foods.
• Designate some utensils for use only with pet foods.
• Wash hands carefully after handling pet foods.
• Keep dry pet foods in a cool, dry place and sealed in a container to prevent spoilage.

Finally, keep the original packaging which features data such as the manufacturer’s contact information, lot code and UPC number. This information can be helpful if a pet food is a suspected source of illness and a pet food safety investigation is underway.

As part of the FDA’s research, pet owners were given in-depth questions on such topics as recent signs of illness, diet (including treats), dog park visits, and medication use. Approximately 3,000 animals were tested in vet clinics across the US.

Each lab strived to collect stool samples from 100 dogs and cats with signs of salmonellosis — such as diarrhea or bloody stool. The labs collected samples from another 100 dogs and cats without signs of illness to establish a control group. FDA said the study focused mainly on dogs because it’s more difficult to collect samples from cats, and fewer cats with gastrointestinal problems were brought into veterinary clinics.

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