- Salmonella is a bacterium that can infect the GI tract of many different animal species, including dogs.
- Salmonella was found to be higher in dogs eating raw food and dogs living in rural areas.
- Periodically dog food is recalled due to salmonella contamination.
- Symptoms of salmonella poisoning in dogs can vary. They may include vomiting, lethargy, diarrhea, and more.
- Avoiding raw meat and practicing proper food storage can help prevent dogs from developing salmonellosis.
When you hear the word “salmonella,” you probably first think of it as a food-borne illness that causes unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms in humans. While this is true, salmonella can also infect a number of animals, including farm animals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and rodents.
But what exactly is salmonella and can our canine companions get infected? If so, what are the signs of salmonella in dogs and how is it treated? Here’s everything you need to know.
What is Salmonella?
Salmonella is a bacterium that can infect the gastrointestinal tract of many different animal species. There are two different species of salmonella, and these two species are further broken down into thousands of different strains (serovars). Each of these strains is slightly different, with some causing severe disease and some not causing infection in animals. When a human or animal ingests enough salmonella that belong to an infection-causing (pathogenic) strain, they develop an infection known as salmonellosis.
Can Dogs Get Salmonella?
Yes, household pets, including dogs and cats, can get infected with salmonella. In fact, a 2017 study found that 2.5 percent of all dogs tested had evidence of salmonella in their gastrointestinal tract (1). The incidence of salmonella was found to be higher in dogs eating raw food and dogs living in rural areas.
In the 2017 study referenced above, only 55 percent of infected dogs had signs of diarrhea at the time of testing. This means that nearly half of infected dogs showed no signs of illness but were shedding the infection asymptomatically. This is a significant concern with salmonella, because the infection can pass from pets to people. Even if your dog appears otherwise healthy, you could become infected with salmonella without having any idea you are at risk. Dogs and cats can carry the bacteria in their feces or saliva and spread it to people and other household pets. Unfortunately, you may not be lucky enough to experience an asymptomatic infection.
Causes of Salmonella in Dogs
Salmonella primarily lives in the gastrointestinal tract and is shed in the stool of infected animals. When an uninfected animal ingests the bacteria, they become infected. Some dogs may become infected by eating the stool of an infected dog, cat, or wild animal, while others are infected by eating contaminated pet food or treats or meat that has not been properly cooked.
Salmonella infections are most common in dogs with a weak immune system. Puppies do not yet have a fully developed immune system, so they are more likely to show signs of salmonellosis. Dogs with underlying diseases, such as cancer, and dogs that are in crowded living conditions are also more likely to become infected and show clinical signs of illness.
Dog Food Salmonella Recall: What to Do
Periodically, you will hear of dog food recalls associated with salmonella. Typically, this occurs when a food manufacturer performs quality control testing and finds that a contaminated ingredient may have been added to a particular batch of food or treats. While it’s natural to become nervous at these recalls, they are a sign that the manufacturer’s quality control system is working. In many cases, recalls allow retailers to pull food or treats from the shelves before it goes home with consumers.
If your dog’s food is associated with a recall, check the lot number on the packaging. If your dog food matches the information associated with a recall, stop feeding the food immediately. In many cases, you may be eligible for a refund. If you have already fed some of the recalled food, monitor your dog and yourself for the development of gastrointestinal signs. You can be at risk of infection simply from handling the contaminated food or touching surfaces that came into contact with the food and then not washing your hands thoroughly afterward.
Salmonella Symptoms in Dogs
Signs of salmonella in dogs can be extremely variable. Some dogs remain completely asymptomatic. Many dogs experience mild gastrointestinal signs, which resolve without treatment over a period of several days. Less commonly, dogs may become severely ill.
Possible signs of salmonella infection in dogs include:
- Decreased appetite
- Diarrhea (which may be bloody)
- Straining to defecate
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
- Pale gums
- Weakness or collapse
- Pregnancy loss
- Neurologic signs, such as blindness and seizures
If your dog develops any of these signs, especially after potential salmonella exposure, you should seek veterinary care.
Diagnosing Salmonella in Dogs
Your veterinarian will first perform a physical exam. Although many infected dogs demonstrate no clinical signs of infection, your veterinarian may note a fever, dehydration, abdominal pain, or an elevated heart rate.
Next, your veterinarian is likely to perform some routine laboratory tests to rule out other causes of illness. A fecal parasite exam cannot detect salmonella, but it is used to rule out other intestinal parasites in dogs, such as hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, and giardia. Blood tests, such as a complete blood cell count and serum biochemistry, also cannot definitively diagnose salmonella but may indicate other potential causes of your dog’s illness.
In order to look for salmonella, your veterinarian may collect a fecal sample for bacterial culture. This test takes several days to perform. Unfortunately, this test has a number of limitations and the relationship between dogs and salmonella is often unclear. Given the large number of dogs that shed salmonella asymptomatically, it is difficult to determine the significance of a positive result. Additionally, some dogs that are infected with salmonella do not shed the bacterium in every sample, so multiple samples may be required for diagnosis. Your veterinarian will interpret test results in light of your dog’s potential exposure risk and clinical signs, in order to determine the significance of any results obtained through this test.
How to Treat Salmonella in Dogs
The treatment of salmonella depends on the dog’s clinical signs. Antibiotics may be used in severe cases or in dogs with a weakened immune system, but they are typically avoided in mild or asymptomatic cases. In mild or asymptomatic cases, the use of antibiotics may actually prolong bacterial shedding while contributing to the development of resistant infections.
If your dog does require antibiotics, your veterinarian may perform a bacterial culture to determine the most appropriate antibiotic to use. There are many antibiotics that can be used to treat salmonella, but some strains are antibiotic resistant and require specific antibiotics.
Your veterinarian may also recommend symptomatic treatments to alleviate the clinical signs associated with salmonellosis. Severely dehydrated dogs may be hospitalized for intravenous (IV) fluids, while dogs that are mildly dehydrated may receive fluid under the skin (subcutaneously) on an outpatient basis. Your veterinarian may also prescribe an anti-nausea drug and a bland diet.
Medications for Salmonella Poisoning
There are a number of different antibiotics that may be used to treat salmonella in dogs, including enrofloxacin, ciprofloxacin, amoxicillin, trimethoprim-sulfa, clindamycin, erythromycin, doxycycline, and ampicillin. Your veterinarian will determine the best antibiotic for your dog based upon bacterial culture and antibiotic sensitivity testing.
The most common anti-nausea drug used in the treatment of salmonella is maropitant.
General Cost to Treat Salmonella Poisoning in Dogs
The cost of treatment can vary significantly, depending on your dog’s level of illness. Dogs with mild clinical signs may not require any treatment at all. Dogs who have become septic (have bacteria in the bloodstream) may require hospitalization and aggressive treatment, which could cost thousands of dollars.
Salmonella in Dogs Prevention
The most effective way to help prevent your dog from developing salmonellosis is to ensure that your dog does not have access to raw meat. Avoid feeding raw diets and keep your dog away from cooking scraps.
Limiting your dog’s access to the stool of other animals, such as small mammals, reptiles and birds, will also decrease the risk of salmonella. If you have bird feeders or bird baths on your property, ensure that they are cleaned regularly and limit your dog’s access to them. Don’t allow your dog to drink from standing water and ensure that his food and water bowls are cleaned regularly, as the bowls can harbor bacteria.
Although salmonella food recalls only happen periodically, you can also take steps to protect your dog in the event that his food is contaminated. Always store your dog’s food in its original container, so you have the manufacturer information and lot number available in the event of a recall.