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Salmonella Tainted Pet Food: The Risks And How To Avoid Them

A lot of people share everything with their dogs — a long walk, a bed, even people food. But one thing you might not want to share is a nasty bug called Salmonella.

Salmonella bacteria don’t have a species preference, so you don’t necessarily “catch” it from your pet and although that certainly is possible, just touching a food contaminated with Salmonella can put anyone at risk for infection if they don’t use practice safe food handling methods.

Salmonella originates from contaminated pet food manufactured in a plant that did not follow good manufacturing practices, which can lead to illness in pets and the people that handle the pet food. But there are steps you can take to protect yourself, your children and your pets.

Although dried pet food typically is heated to high temperatures that kill bacteria, it is not necessarily produced under sterile conditions, and contamination can occur at various stages in the production process. And because raw pet food is not heat treated raw pet food manufacturers must be particularly vigilant when producing raw pet food.


Short answer: Maybe.

There is a common myth that somehow animals are immune to Salmonella infections, which like most myths has some basis in reality. But just as in humans, the most vulnerable populations in any species is the young, the frail, the elderly and the immune compromised.

Therefore, those particular pets could be just as vulnerable to food-borne infections as some humans are. Puppies and kittens, as well as adult animals with compromised immune systems, are most susceptible. I think it is safe to say that if you or your pet are not in good general health that you and your pet are at higher risk of contracting any illness, virus, infection – you-name-it.


The vast majority of human cases of salmonellosis are, however, acquired not through direct contact with animals or their pet food, but rather by ingestion of contaminated foods for humans. Let me say that again – you are more likely to become ill from the poultry you prepared in your kitchen than your pet’s kibble.

For example:

  • Salmonella enteritidis comes from undercooked eggs
  • Salmonella typhimurium comes from undercooked meats or fecal contamination of a variety of foods.
  • Following a 12-36 hour incubation period, symptoms of fever, headache, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, and dehydration develop, which may lead to fulminant septicemia/endotoxemia.


Most persons infected with Salmonella bacteria develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most persons recover without treatment. However, in some persons, diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized.

Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. Older adults, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness from Salmonella infection.

More information about Salmonella and steps people can take to reduce their risk of infection with Salmonella, in general, can be found on the CDC Salmonella Web Page and the CDC Vital Signs Web Page.


It is important to know that the same symptoms can present in both humans and animals. Although, pets consuming contaminated food or treat often didn’t show visible signs of food poisoning, though often a pet’s illness is never diagnosed by a veterinarian. Salmonella poisoning in dogs are not that much different than in people — diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, fever, and vomiting  —  can last three to five days. If you suspect a problem, call your vet and check the food bag to see if the product’s been recalled.


If keeping track of recent pet food scares is just too complicated, you could always make your food for your cats and dogs — it’s not that complicated.

To find out more, read an overview of salmonellosis in the Merck Veterinary Manual.

NOTE: As I am not a veterinarian, nor a microbiologist, I hesitate to give this kind of advice. But I have researched this topic carefully, and it is my considered opinion that Salmonella can present a risk to vulnerable pets.

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Mollie Morrissette

Mollie Morrissette, the author of Poisoned Pets, is an animal food safety expert and consumer advisor. Help support her work by making a donation today.