Pet Talk: Food safety recalls also affect pets

It seems like more and more cases are reported every day of contamination to our food supply. The recent case of salmonella found in peanut butter products is just one example of this potentially dangerous problem. While the media coverage about these outbreaks typically centers on the human food supply, there is also a danger to the food we feed our pets as well.

Dr. John Bauer, Professor of Small Animal Medicine & Faculty of Nutrition at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, puts it this way, “Pet food safety is family food safety. Not only are pets increasingly part of our families, but any food we prepare for them will come in contact with our hands or kitchen surfaces.”

While people are more and more concerned with their pet’s well-being, it is also important to note that there is a similarity in the physiology of humans and our pets. Therefore, we can contract many of the same diseases, disorders and syndromes that they can from contaminated food.

“Salmonella, E. coli, and lysteria are the most common of the harmful bacteria that are found in both human and pet food. All three of these can cause mild to very serious gastro-intestinal problems including vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration in both humans and animals,”

explains Bauer.

As with humans, those that are the most susceptible to these bacteria are pets that are very young, very old or immunocompromised in any way.

“For these ‘at risk’ animals, food contamination can cause symptoms so severe that it can cause neurological disorders and even death,” notes Bauer.

Although food contamination can be dangerous, it is also somewhat preventable. Washing and cooking food properly can reduce a large portion of biological contaminants.

“Food safety is everyone’s responsibility,” states Bauer.

“People want to blame the food companies, the restaurants or the grocery stores, but safe handling of food should extend to how it is handled at home.”

Some foods that are most susceptible to food safety issues are raw foods and meats. Fruits and vegetables can contain biologically active contaminants if they are grown with non-potable water or if run-off from animal facilities gets into the ground water.

“There seems to be an increased interest in feeding pets a raw diet,” notes Bauer. “While I personally recommend cooking all food you give your pets, if you do feed your pets raw foods make sure you are handling and washing them properly. However, no matter what food you give to your pets, consult your veterinarian to make sure that it is safe and contains the proper nutrients your pet requires.”

In addition to safe food handling and preparation, pet owners should also be diligent in making sure that the food they are feeding their pets is not currently suspected of contamination.

“The American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) Web site has a variety of resources and alerts users to any pet food re-calls and suspected contamination,” recommends Bauer.

“The FDA also has an animal and veterinary section that includes warnings of known pet food contamination.”

While these resources can be helpful in avoiding foods that are already known to contain harmful contaminants, unfortunately there may be some out there that have not yet been recognized.

“If you think your pet has eaten something that has made it sick your first line of defense should always be your veterinarian,” advises Bauer.

“Veterinarians are just as worried about all aspects of pet safety as you are and it’s important that they are aware of any possible food contamination so any problem is identified and dealt with as quickly as possible.”

Although the FDA, food companies, and pet food companies test for all contaminants they know can cause illness, it’s impossible to test for all the unknowns.

“If everyone whose pet is experiencing problems with a particular food or product takes their pet to the veterinarian then a pattern can emerge quickly and fewer animals will ultimately be affected,” concludes Bauer.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at

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