Salmonella in tomatoes and in pets? Nine points to know

Patty Khuly, DVM
June 17, 2008
Share this:

It’s food scare time all over again. Tomatoes fresh from your greengrocer’s truck are prepared to attack you with the viciousness of their bacterial contaminants the next time you rip into your pizza—or worse, your pizza will not sport those extra tomatoes some of us believe essential for a proper pie.

Though most of you may be breathing a sigh of relief that your dogs are fed a wholesome commercially prepared diet extruded from machines in some plant in Iowa (if it’s not under water by now), the rest of us have to think back to whether we’ve recently fed our pets tomatoes to wonder whether we should worry or not.

Though it’s unlikely that your cat will have deigned to consume such a colorful fruit, our dogs (mine, in particular) loooove tomatoes. Sure, that’s probably because they’ve come to associate them with mozzarella, but they beg for ‘em all the same.

So I’m thinking…have they?

For me, the answer is yes. Luckily, Florida tomatoes have been cleared from having committed the sin of Salmonella—and we only eat Florida tomatoes.

How about your pets? Do you know where their tomatoes came from? Do you know what to look for if salmonella strikes your household’s pets? Here are some helpful points provided by VNN (the Veterinary News Network) on the topic of Salmonella in pets:

"1) Humans and animals can become infected with Salmonella through the ingestion of contaminated food or water or even through close contact with an infected host.

2) Salmonella is a zoonotic disease, but it can also pass from humans to pets (reverse zoonotic disease).

3) All species of domestic animals are susceptible to Salmonella, although dogs and cats infrequently develop disease.  Salmonella can be isolated from 0.8 to 18% of healthy cats and is found in dogs more frequently.

4) Symptoms in dogs and cats might include acute diarrhea, dehydration, and vomiting.   Not all pets will show any signs of illness and some pets can harbor the Salmonella organism for months without ill effects.

5) In rare cases, Salmonella can cause conjunctivitis in cats.

6) Severely ill pets should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible for supportive care.  Severe disease is most common in young animals.

7) Salmonella are susceptible to many disinfectants, including dilute bleach and many household cleaning agents.  

8) Always wash your hands after handling your pets or their feces.  Reptile owners should be especially precautious and concerned about Salmonella as many reptiles normally harbor Salmonella routinely.

9) Many raw food diets have the potential for harboring Salmonella bacteria.  Also clean food preparation surfaces, utensils and your hands after preparing any raw food diet for your pets."

So there. You’ve been informed. All you tomato-feeders should feel somewhat relieved. After all, you would have seen some signs by now, right? And the rest of you? Maybe you’re feeling newly confident in your choice to feed a commercial food. Either way, none of us can feel too good about it. Fresh, canned, bagged, zip-locked, vacuum-sealed, whatever…it’s clear food fears will continue to dog us.

PS: Thanks, VNN! (By the way, VNN has great videos on cool topics in pet health--check them out.)