Summer is prime season for E. coli infections in people, which are often associated with eating undercooked hamburgers, and less often with contact with animals at events like petting zoos. Escherichia coli is a bacterium that is very commonly found in most animals, including a large percentage of healthy individuals. Some E. coli strains are harmless (or can even be beneficial) while others can make both animals and people sick. Some strains can cause severe disease, such as the infamous E. coli O157:H7 which can cause severe diarrhea and kidney disease (also called hemolytic-uremic syndrome).
While E. coli can be a serious problem in people and some animals, it is usually not a major problem in dogs. E. coli can cause diarrhea in dogs – it is most often linked to a disease called granulomatous colitis that is classically found in Boxer dogs. However, it is not a common cause of disease nor is it often associated with hemolytic-uremic syndrome in dogs. The O157:H7 strain of E. coli is rarely found in dogs, although transmission to people from the small number of dogs it has been found in has been reported. Almost all of the dogs that were found to be carrying E. coli O157:H7 were from farms, where they were probably exposed to the bacteria by eating cattle manure. The risk of transmission of E. coli O157:H7 from dogs to humans is very low.
- Even though E. coli O157:H7 is very rare in dogs, a number of other kinds of bacteria that can infect people can be present in the stool of both diarrheic and healthy dogs.
- All dog stool should be considered potentially infectious. Avoid contact with dog stool, and always wash your hands thoroughly if you have direct or indirect contact with dog stool.
- Because E. coli O157:H7 can be found in raw meat, it is reasonable to suspect feeding raw meat to a dog may increase the risk that it will have E. coli O157:H7 in its stool.
- The most important things you can do to avoid E. coli O157:H7 are:
- Handle raw meat properly to avoid contamination of other foods and surfaces.
- Make sure you cook meat at an appropriate temperature and for an adequate amount of time.