Raw Pet Foods Found to Have High Rates of Contamination

Jennifer Coates, DVM
Published: November 22, 2013
Raw Pet Foods Found to Have High Rates of Contamination

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released the findings of a study investigating the prevalence of contamination, specifically with Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, in commercially available, raw pet foods. I found the results so shocking that I want to present the information both here and over on Nutrition Nuggets for Cats today.

The FDA says it “bought a variety of raw pet food online from different manufacturers and had the products shipped directly to six participating laboratories. The raw pet food products were usually frozen in tube-like packages and made from ground meat or sausage.” A total of 196 samples were tested; 15 were positive for Salmonella and 32 for Listeria. Yikes!

Assuming that none of the foods contained both pathogens (I couldn’t find reference to this anywhere), this means that you run an almost 25% risk of feeding your dog or cat contaminated food if you choose one of these products. Put another way, one out of four meals will contain Salmonella or Listeria.

In comparison, the FDA had previously analyzed 860 samples of dry exotic pet food, jerky-type treats, semi-moist dog food, semi-moist cat food, dry dog food, and dry cat food and only one (a dry cat food) was positive for Salmonella. All were free of Listeria.

Both of these pathogens can make pets sick. Typical symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea. Listeria can also sometimes cause neurologic dysfunction, but overall Listeria-related illness in dogs and cats is rarely reported. The biggest concern surrounding contaminated pet foods is their ability to sicken people as a result of handling the products, contamination of surfaces, and pets who shed these bacteria once they are infected.

As the FDA report says:

Each year in the U.S., about 42,000 laboratory-confirmed cases of salmonellosis in people are reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Because many milder cases are not diagnosed or reported, CDC estimates that 1.2 million cases of salmonellosis in people occur annually in the U.S. CDC also estimates that 400 people die each year from the disease. [Just to be clear, the great majority of these are not caused by contact with pet food.]

Symptoms of salmonellosis in people include:

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea (which may be bloody)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain

Compared to other foodborne illnesses, listeriosis is rare but very serious with a high mortality rate of 20 to 30 percent. Over 90 percent of people with listeriosis are hospitalized. Each year in the U.S., CDC estimates that about 1,600 people become seriously ill with listeriosis, and of these, most authors estimate about 250 will die. The European Union has similar numbers: In 2009, there were 1,645 reported cases of listeriosis, with an estimated 270 deaths (Wieczorek, et al).

Listeriosis occurs almost exclusively in pregnant women, newborns, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems. People with HIV/AIDS are about 300 times more likely to get the disease than people with normal immune systems. Healthy children and adults occasionally get listeriosis, but rarely become seriously ill.

Move on over to Nutrition Nuggets for Cats to learn more about contaminated raw pet foods.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Anatoly Tiplyashin / Shutterstock

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