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Keeping Your Pets Safe From Foodborne Illness

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Just like their human owners, pets are prone to contracting harmful pathogens. “Unfortunately, foodborne illness often goes undiagnosed in pets because owners do not realize pets can contract them and veterinarians do not test for Salmonella or E. coli,” according to Deirdre Schlunegger, CEO of Stop Foodborne Illness, a national, nonprofit, public health organization dedicated to preventing illness and death from foodborne pathogens.

Based on 2012 data from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), there are approximately 70 million dogs and 74 million cats in U.S. homes. Because pets are rarely tested for foodborne pathogens it’s impossible to know how many are sick from an outbreak, even when the outbreak involves a pet food product.  If we apply the CDC’s 1 in 6 (people becoming ill from foodborne illness each year) estimate to this population, it is projected that over 11 million dogs and 12 million cats per year become sick from a food related illness.         

In honor of National Pet Month, Stop Foodborne Illness offers this advice to help pet owners learn how to minimize risk to both themselves and their pets.

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Image source: Stop Foodborne Illness

Know which pets pose a higher risk

Pet owners know that having an animal friend can improve their physical, mental, and emotional states. From improving social skills to decreasing the risk of heart attack there are many reasons pets are good for everybody. While some people consider amphibians and reptiles the perfect, low maintenance pet, they are highly susceptible to carry Salmonella. Therefore, it’s important to remember that children, older adults, and anyone with a compromised immune system (including pregnant women) are more susceptible to develop severe illness from pathogens associated with animals and animal food. Whether you own a turtle, an iguana, a gecko, backyard chickens, or a cat and a dog -- owners should be aware of how to safely handle their pets.

Prevent the spread of foodborne illness by washing your hands

Just as you wash your hands before handling your food, you should also wash your hands before and after touching your pet’s food. Humans can contract foodborne illness through contact with pets whose food is contaminated, or through direct contact with the pet food itself. In 2012, 49 humans tested positive for Salmonella traced a Diamond Pet Foods plant in South Carolina.

Clean your pet’s dishes

Dirty plates allow harmful bacteria to grow. Keep germs away by cleaning your pet’s food and water dishes every day. For owners who keep pet food in one large container, regularly clean or change the cup or scoop inside.

Throw away old or spoiled pet food

Would you eat food that is past its expiration date? Probably not. The same goes for pets; throw away old or spoiled pet food.

Learn how to spot foodborne illness related symptoms

Like their human counterparts, symptoms of foodborne illness in pets include diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, and dehydration. However, since pets don’t always present these symptoms, they can carry pathogens in their saliva or fur and shed it in their stool. This makes it possible for humans to become ill from their pet’s foodborne illness.

What to do if your pets’ food brand has issued a recall

If the pet food you use has been recalled, be sure to act quickly and discard all of it in a sealed plastic bag.

Stay up to date with pet food recalls:

  • Make sure the brand you buy is safe by regularly checking out Dog Food Advisor’s
  • For recalls and alerts announced by the FDA and/or manufacturers in the last 90 days, or to report an adverse event, visit the AVMA website.
  • For information on recalled food for people, subscribe to Stop’s e-Alerts to receive free updates on product recalls and pathogen outbreaks in real time. Information is gathered from multiple sources in the US and Canada.

For more information visit or call 773-269-6555. Follow Stop news at, and follow Stop on Facebook and Twitter. Make a donation to Stop Foodborne Illness.

About Stop Foodborne Illness

Stop Foodborne Illness is a national, nonprofit, public health organization dedicated to preventing illness and death from foodborne pathogens by advocating for sound public policies, building public awareness and assisting those impacted by foodborne illness. For more food safety tips please visit If you think you have been sickened from food, contact your local health professional.

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