Let me say it again… yes, dogs can get salmonellosis.

…and in French, oui, les chiens peuvent devenir malades de salmonellose (hope that’s close)

…and in Swahili, ndiyo, mbwa anaweza kuwa na wagonjwa salmonellosis (thank Google Translate for that one).

What prompted my recurrent ‘yes dogs can get Salmonella rant’? Another fluff piece on feeding dogs raw meat diets, this time in the Globe and Mail (a national paper in Canada).

The "dogs can get Salmonella" rant doesn’t actually stem from the newspaper, since the article didn’t even bother to get into potential infectious disease or nutritional deficiency concerns with these diets (in-depth reporting it was not). Rather, the rant is in response to comments on the paper’s website that include the typical garbage that dogs are not susceptible to Salmonella because of their short and acidic intestinal tract. It’s a fallacy that’s widely distributed on the internet on raw pet food sites, and it’s wrong (although ironically enough, many of these same sites also talk about how dogs get sick from Salmonella from commercial foods).

To set the record straight:

  • Dogs can get Salmonella.
  • Most often they don’t get very sick, but sometimes they die.
  • Ingesting Salmonella from food or other environmental exposures is the source.
  • The more Salmonella a dog eats, the greater the risk of disease.
  • Raw meat is often contaminated with Salmonella.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I’ll get back to the article. It’s written by someone who feeds her dog raw meat. I have no major problems with that for the average dog and average person. It increases the risk of salmonellosis in the dog and in the family (and potentially anyone or anything in contact with the dog or its poop), but the risk of infection for your average, healthy dog and person is relatively low. It’s a bigger issue when there are high risk people or animals in the house, and human and pet infections from feeding raw meat certainly do occur.

I’d rather people not feed raw (or at least make sure they feed high pressure pasteurized raw meat) but I’m a realist and I realize some people are going to do it anyway.  I therefore focus on trying to educate people about situations when they really shouldn’t feed raw meat (e.g. high risk dog or person in the household, young growing animals) and what to do to decrease the risk of transmission of Salmonella. More information of this kind is available on the info sheet that can be found on the Worms & Germs Resources – Pets page).

Anyway, back to the article (I really mean it this time). The article includes some interesting information, particularly the very high cost of feeding a raw diet compared to commercial dry or canned foods. However, it also contains some of the same drivel that’s found in most of these articles. For example:

"’Dogs don’t have microwaves or grocery stores in the wild,’ she says with a laugh, adding that she believes a dog that eats raw will lead a longer, healthier life than one fed traditional dog food."

  • They also don’t necessarily live long, happy and healthy lives in the wild. Today’s domestic dog is long removed from the mystical wild dog. My dog Meg wouldn’t make it very far in the wild, unless there are dog food trees somewhere that I don’t know about.

"’On a kibble diet, her dogs were ‘overweight, with no energy – scratching all the time from all the allergies,’ she says. ‘These were our fat, miserable, lethargic dogs.’"

  • Less food, more exercise and good veterinary care could probably have taken care of that too.

As I said above, people are free to make their own choices, but they should get informed, and they need to go beyond raw food company websites and support groups. They need to think about potential benefits, potential risks, cost, hassle and other factors to determine if it’s right for them and their dog. Getting real information and critically assessing the information that’s out there are critical steps.

  • Catherine

    Another excellent article. Makes me wonder, though, considering that salmonella is shed in the feces of raw fed animals, and how lackadaisical some dog owners are at picking up after their pets, just how much of a risk there is to other dogs who sniff around where the infected feces had been, but has since disintegrated. I guess what I’m asking is how long does salmonella stay viable in the environment?

  • Albert Amgar

    I think the right French translation could be , oui, les chiens peuvent avoir une salmonellose.
    Albert

  • Chelsea

    I am not positive on how long salmonella can live in the environment but from what I have been reading it can survive for a long period of time. None of the reliable sources I have found have said much more then that. I hope thats wrong as when I take my fella for a walk there is dog poo everywhere on the walk ways and though he doe not smell it I see dogs off leash sniffing and eating it. Also where I am a lot of people seem to be firm believers in the raw diet (minus myself and my co-workers).

  • Barry Rueger

    Scott,

    You can count me among those who see real benefit to a raw food diet. I can see the difference it made for our two dogs, and for the dogs of our clients. (We’re commercial dog walkers.)

    The problem I run into with your article is that (aside from the warning about salmonella) it reads like opinion, not science.

    I’m as frustrated as anyone with the religious fervour of some raw food types, and with talk of “wheat poisoning” and similar nonsense.

    But I also find it hard to accept as unbiased the advice of a vet who’s flogging high-priced Royal Canin or Science Diet foods to his customers. As you yourself said back in 2009 “Beware of advice from people that are in a conflict of interest, such as people selling a product.”

    Has there been any real research comparing nutritional and health benefits of raw foods to kibbles? Or, more specifically, research that wasn’t sponsored by Purina or Colgate?

    Yes salmonella and other pathogens do pose some risk, but that’s true any time that you’re handling raw meats, or eating steak tartar. By the same token there are enough recalls of commercial dog food to make one wary of those products as well.

    I’d like to be able to make these choices based on research rather than conjecture or superstition.