Q: Soon after I started giving my dogs pig ear treats, I developed severe abdominal cramps and diarrhea. My doctor diagnosed Salmonella infection and asked if I’d been exposed to raw or undercooked meat, poultry, seafood or eggs, which I hadn’t.
Only after my appointment did I remember handling my dogs’ pig ear treats. Could they be the source of my Salmonella?
A: Yes. Salmonella bacteria can contaminate the foods your doctor mentioned as well as pigs’ ears, rawhides, bully sticks, and even dry pet foods.
These bacteria infect pets and humans, causing diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and fever—or no symptoms. Infected pets can appear healthy and be free of diarrhea but still shed Salmonella in their feces.
Each year, 1.2 million cases of human Salmonella infection, 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths are reported in this country. The Centers for Disease Control estimates the actual incidence is 30 times higher. So far this year, pigs’ ears from multiple suppliers have transmitted the infection to at least 127 people, 26 of whom required hospitalization.
In light of these infections, the Food and Drug Administration advises consumers not to buy or feed any pig ear products. You should safely dispose of those you have.
Other ways to prevent Salmonella infection include washing your hands after you use the bathroom, dispose of pet feces, change a diaper, or handle a reptile or bird. In the kitchen, adequately cook meat, poultry, seafood and eggs; use separate cutting boards for these raw foods and fruits or vegetables; and wash hands and utensils well.
Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.