Salmonella: The new bane of the pet food industry?

What’s a Pet Parent to Do?

Salmonella has reared its ugly head again, this time in the Hartz Mountain Rawhide Chips. I am not a big advocate of feeding dogs rawhide or pig ears: They are indigestible, some occurrences of intestinal blockage have been reported, and some dogs (when left unsupervised) have choked on them. In addition, some of these products use animal parts from Asia or other third-world countries. These countries do not regulate pesticides, chemicals, or sanitation. Even if the hides are from the United States the chews could be processed in a foreign country. Arsenic is just one of the harmful substances used in rawhide processing, another is bleaching solutions (to make the hide white). Unfortunately, dog owners are blissfully unaware of this and they continue to give Fido these treats. It’s not that dog parents want to give their four-pawed pals something harmful, it’s just that most people believe these products wouldn’t be on the market if they were dangerous. And yet, time and time again the pet product industry breaks this trust.

You might recall that back in August another outbreak of Salmonella turned up in pet food. This time it was the Mars Petcare US company. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discovered a link between Salmonella Schwarzengrund, pet food, and an outbreak of Salmonella that affected sixty-six people and spanned 18 states. As it turns out, these people were affected by the exact same strain of Salmonella discovered in the Mars Petcare brand of Red Flannel Large Breed Adult Formula and the Krasdale Gravy kibble. The Pennsylvania Health Department also discovered traces of the strain at the Pennsylvania factory where the food was produced.

Mars was quick to act, recalling the food within a week of this discovery. Then once again in September another Mars Petcare US pet food recall was made. Again it was over “potential” salmonella contamination. This time a variety of their brands were affected and products in 31 states were pulled from the shelves.

No doubt about it, Salmonella is on the rise. In fact, the CDC reports that there are about 40,000 cases of Salmonella poisoning in the United States each year. That’s just the ones that are reported — milder cases are rarely reported — so it is difficult to state with certainty exactly how many cases actually occur each year. The problem is that Salmonella is highly transferable. That is, a person handling contaminated dog food can get it on their hands and accidentally ingest it. Another problem is that drug-resistant strains of Schwarzengrund Salmonella are increasing. And if a person contracts a drug-resistant variety they will require prolonged hospitalization. In some cases it results in death. As is usually the case with disease, the elderly and young are more likely to become victims. Furthermore, Schwarzengrund Salmonella can create multiple problems, even after a person recovers. One is Rieter’s Syndrome, an arthritis-like disease that causes painful joints, eye irritation, and painful urination.

On the whole, the frequency of Schwarzengrund Salmonella outbreaks is alarming. It reminds us to be cautious when handling all food products, including pet food. Certainly we need to take care in washing feeding bowls, utensils, and measuring cups. In addition, we want to caution small children about playing with pet food. Finally, as pet parents and consumers we want to educate ourselves about the food we are feeding our dogs and cats. Being enlightened will help us select the best quality of dog food or cat food for the four-pawed members of our family. It’s not just about our pets, Salmonella involves the human members of our family too. Let’s all wise up about pet food, take the time to investigate and research — after all, you wouldn’t put anything harmful into your baby’s mouth would you? By the same token, no loving pet parent would want to place harmful food into their furry baby’s bowl.