Salmonella in Your Dog Or Cat - And Its Risk To You
To read more about Dr. Salmon's life and the organism he helped discover, go here.  

Ron Hines DVM PhD

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Salmonella are a group of bacteria that naturaly inhabit the intestinal tract of a large number of animals. In 1885 Daniel E. Salmon discovered them. When conditions are right, these bacteria can cause severe disease leading to food poisoning or death. There are about twenty species of salmonella and 2,300 serotypes. All have the potential to cause disease. In a normal intestine of a healthy animal, a multitude of “friendly” bacteria and yeast keep the number of salmonella and other “bad” bacteria at a constant, low level. Too low a level to cause disease. If however, the animal is stressed or exposed to massive numbers of ‘bad” bacteria, these bacteria begin to produce toxic products. The most common result is a transient (temporary) diarrhea. But occasionally, salmonella migrate into the blood stream of weakened animals and humans causing a condition called septicemia or blood poisoning.

Because salmonella is spread through fecal contamination, it is particularly prevalent in animal shelters and group environments where large numbers of animals come and go, where animals are under stress and where proper sanitation is difficult. You can read more about those sort of situations here.

People and pets in good health are quite resistant to Salmonellosis. But when we develop a case of it, it usually causes, chills, malaise, diarrhea and cramps. Dogs, cats, horses, pigs and reptiles are also quite resistant to salmonella. Birds appear to be less so. A typical source of salmonella poisoning in people is the salad bar of fast food restaurants or the consumption of chicken that is under-cooked. Salmonella is a tough organism that can live for several months at refrigerator freezer temperatures. Because the organism colonizes the intestine, any case of the disease implies that fecal material was spread on improperly washed hands or utensils.

Salmonella is particularly severe in young, debilitated or stressed animals. In birds, a common source is Salmonella typhimurium from rodent droppings. Many mice and rats carry salmonella for years but appear completely healthy. When they contaminate the feed of parrots or chickens, sudden death can occur in those birds. A few of the sick birds recover and become chronic carriers themselves. Initially, animals with clinical salmonellosis run high fevers (105 – 107F). These birds quickly become depressed and dehydrated and can die in a matter of hours. Often, the disease progresses so rapidly that antibiotics are not effective. Once the organism is present in a flock or herd, it is virtually impossible to get it out – short of depopulating the entire herd or flock. This is because despite vigorous antibiotic therapy, a few chronically infected animals will always remain to spread the disease. These carrier animals often shed the organism only now and then.

The most famous salmonella carrier was Ms. Mary Mallon. From 1900 to 1907 she cheerily prepared wedding feasts in New York City, which were responsible for the sickness of 47 guests and the deaths of three. She was a good cook and her services were always in demand. (ref)

Within the last fifteen years it has become evident that virtually all reptiles carry salmonella in their intestines. A common salmonella carried by turtles, iguanas and snakes is Salmonella arizonae. Despite the popularity of pet reptiles, it is surprising how few human cases of this disease have been traced back to reptiles. A disturbing development is that many strains of salmonella have become resistant to the chloramphenicol, nitrofurans, ampicillin and fluroquinolone antibiotics formerly used to treat them.

What Are Some things I can do to prevent Salmonellosis ?

1) Prevent rodent contamination of food ingredients with good housekeeping and by keeping all foods in metal or glass containers. (ref)

2) Heat all food ingredients to a minimum of 145F (63C) for 30 minutes or 161F (72C) for 15 seconds.. This temperature kills salmonella. (ref)

3) Avoid sharing utensils between animals. Be clean and hygienic. Soaking utensils in a solution of one part household bleach and twenty parts water will kill salmonella - provided that heavy organic soiling is not present (pre-wash the utensils). (ref)

4) Assume that reptiles and amphibians (pet turtles, lizards, snakes, frogs, etc. ) carry salmonella unless proven otherwise. (ref)

5) In "group-home" and farm situations, avoid introducing new animals intermittently. Whether you have pets or livestock, the old farmer’s axiom “all in – all out” really helps in preventing the introduction of most diseases including salmonella. When you do set up a new group, choose animals from a certified salmonella-free source if you can. (ref)