You’ve likely heard the advice all your life - don’t eat raw cookie dough, wash your hands after handling raw chicken, raw eggs can make you sick - but have you considered why? It is to protect us from bacteria and contaminants in these uncooked products, such as Salmonella. With the recent popularity of raw diets for dogs, it is important to take a closer look at the risk that Salmonella may pose to our furry family members as well, including other dangers that come with handling and contamination from these foods. Dogs can also get salmonellosis for other reasons, and while not all dogs will show symptoms, they can still spread this disease to other animals and people. So can dogs get Salmonella? Yes, they can. Here’s what you need to know from a vet’s perspective.
What is Salmonella?
Salmonella is a rod-shaped gram-negative bacteria that is found in the intestines of many animals and is the causative agent of salmonellosis. There are many different serotypes (groupings) of Salmonella, which vary widely in the types of animals they infect and the severity of symptoms. If a dog is infected with Salmonella there are several possible outcomes.
- Carrier state - This is the most common type of infection. Your dog will have no symptoms of illness, but they can intermittently spread the bacteria in their poop.
- Enteritis - This type of infection causes inflammation of the intestines, leading to gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea.
- Septicemia (also known as typhoid) - This is a severe condition occurring when bacteria enters the bloodstream causing systemic infection.
What are the Symptoms of Salmonellosis?
Most infected dogs are carriers, meaning that while they can still spread the disease, they have no clinical signs of illness. When dogs do show symptoms of salmonellosis, they are generally similar to signs of food poisoning in people, including:
- Diarrhea (may contain blood or mucus)
- Decreased appetite
- Abdominal pain
Other less common clinical signs may include:
- Septicemia - severe systemic infection in which bacteria enter the bloodstream
- Weight loss
- Miscarriage in pregnant animals
What Are the Causes of Salmonella?
Salmonella is an intestinal bacteria that is generally spread through fecal-oral transmission (if infected poop makes its way into the mouth). It affects different types of animals, including many in our food chains such as cows, pigs, and chickens. It is also found in environments that are contaminated by feces, such as poultry houses or barns, and can make its way into animal feed and water. Rodents and wild birds are also possible sources of infection for dogs and cats. Exotic pets such as rodents, reptiles, and amphibians can naturally carry this bacteria in their intestines and can be a possible source of infection when handled.
This condition is zoonotic, meaning it can be passed from animals to people. People commonly become infected with Salmonella from eating contaminated foods such as raw meat or poultry products, unpasteurized milk, and contaminated raw vegetables. Thoroughly cooking these items destroys germs such as Salmonella. People can also become infected through contact with poop from an infected dog or cat.
Several factors contribute to a dog becoming infected with Salmonella:
- Age - Salmonella is much more common in puppies or younger animals than in healthy adults. Geriatric pets may also be at higher risk.
- Immune status - Adult dogs who become infected with Salmonella are generally hospitalized or very sick with another debilitating disease. Dogs taking antibiotics may also be at higher risk for developing the disease, due to disruption in their normal bacterial flora.
- Environment - Exposure to an environment with a high bacterial load, such as animal shelters or farms, may also contribute to infection.
- Raw diet - Dogs fed a raw diet are much more likely to be exposed to and infected with Salmonella and other contaminants.
How is Salmonellosis Diagnosed?
If your dog is sick or you are concerned about Salmonella, it is best to contact your veterinarian. Diagnosis in dogs and cats is based on clinical signs, culturing (growing) the organism from feces, blood, or tissue, and PCR testing. Diagnosis is complicated by the fact that many animals are carriers, so a positive test result does not necessarily mean that Salmonella is the cause of symptoms in a sick dog. As fecal shedding is intermittent a negative result does not completely rule out salmonellosis. Diagnosis of salmonellosis is generally based on:
- Repeated isolation of Salmonella from feces indicates a carrier state
- Single isolation from feces in addition to clinical signs of disease
Additional testing, such as bloodwork, x-rays, etc. may also be needed to rule out other conditions that can cause similar clinical signs.
How is Salmonellosis Treated?
Severe disease or septicemia requires aggressive treatment including:
- Intravenous fluids
- Supportive care to manage clinical signs, such as anti-nausea medication, a bland diet, probiotics, and more
Antibiotics are controversial in the treatment of carriers and dogs with gastrointestinal signs, as they may contribute to resistant bacteria and chronic shedding of the organism. Additional treatment should be discussed with your vet and recommended on a case-by-case basis.
Is Salmonella Contagious?
Salmonella can be spread from dogs and cats to their pet parents via shedding of the bacteria in their poop or saliva. Direct contact with feces, or contamination of food, water, toys, and bedding, can all lead to the spread of infection. For example, cats can spread infection by using the litter box and then jumping onto the counter. It is important to use good hygiene, including hand washing, to help prevent the spread of disease, and contact your doctor with any questions or concerns.
Can Dogs Get Salmonella From Raw Diets?
Despite their recent popularity, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), and US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strongly discourage feeding raw diets due to potential risks to both dogs and their pet parents who prepare and handle the food. Comprehensive studies have shown that nearly 25% of these diets test positive for harmful bacteria including Salmonella. There are no proven benefits to feeding a raw diet, however, there are documented risks. Many boarding facilities will not accept dogs who eat a raw diet. In addition to bacteria and parasites, pieces of bone in these diets may cause damage to your dog’s teeth, and in worst-case scenarios, cause intestinal blockage or perforation.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can dogs spread Salmonella to people?
Yes, dogs can spread Salmonella to people via infected feces or saliva. Good hygiene and hand washing are critical in preventing the spread of disease. Infants, the elderly, and immuno-compromised people may be at higher risk. You should consult your doctor with any questions or concerns.
Can dogs get Salmonella from raw chicken?
Just like people, dogs can get Salmonella from consuming raw chicken and other raw meats. Puppies, geriatric pets, and pets dealing with other disease processes are more at risk for developing the disease.
Can dogs get Salmonella from raw eggs?
Yes, dogs can get Salmonella from raw eggs, as well as unpasteurized dairy products, which are also a source of potential Salmonella infection.
Can dogs get Salmonella from peanut butter?
There have been recalls of peanut butter and other food products due to contamination with Salmonella. If your dog has eaten any of these products, they are at risk and you should consult your veterinarian.
What are other sources of Salmonella?
The main sources of Salmonella for dogs and cats include:
- Consuming raw meat, eggs, dairy, or other contaminated products
- Consuming feces from an infected animal
- Hunting for rodents or birds
- Living in crowded conditions such as an animal shelter or farm, or with carrier animals in the household
Periodically dog foods or other products are recalled due to contamination with Salmonella