Pet treats derived from raw animal products such as rawhides and pig ears (yes, pig ear treats are actually dried, raw pig ears) are widely available and commonly fed to pets, particularly dogs. Being a raw product, there is an inherent risk of contamination with potentially harmful bacteria such as Salmonella. In 1999, an outbreak of salmonellosis linked to contact with raw pet treats was identified in people in western Canada. A subsequent investigation found Salmonella in over 50% of pig ear treats and 38% of other animal-derived treats. Similar results were reported by a later study in the US, and other outbreaks of disease have been reported. In Canada, the pet treat industry and government groups met and made various recommendations to reduce the risk of contamination.
To evaluate the effect of these changes, a Canadian follow-up study was performed. Only 4% of treats were contaminated with Salmonella, which was a marked contrast to the earlier study. Even so, the fact that Salmonella was present in a detectable percentage of treats means that certain precautions are warranted.
- Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling pet treats such as rawhides and pig ears
- Avoid buying treats from 'bulk bins', as there may be an increased risk of cross-contamination between treats in the bin
- Buy packaged treats so that you don't have to touch them directly when buying them or bringing them home
- Never store treats in areas where other food is kept or prepared
- Ask whether the treats you are buying have been produced under the Guidelines for the Manufacturing of Natural Pet Treats for Pets. There guidelines were developed by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association with input from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- Avoid buying raw treats if you have young children or anyone with a weakened immune system living in the household, as these treats may pose a small but unnecessary risk of exposure to Salmonella
- Contaminated treats seem to be a bigger problem for people than pets, however Salmonella can also cause disease in pets. If your pet develops diarrhea after eating an animal-product treat, be sure you tell your veterinarian
Image: Pig ear dog treat from www.foodpoisonblog.com