Food poisoning is actually more common than is generally suspected in both dogs and people. While usually not life-threatening, it can still wreak havoc on your pet’s digestion. Here is what to look out for and how to prevent food poisoning in your dog.
Can Dogs Get Food Poisoning?
Dogs do get food poisoning, an illness usually involving gastrointestinal upset caused by bacteria or toxins in food. It is sometimes difficult to diagnose since there are a variety of causes for tummy upset in dogs, including viruses or other medical conditions, anxiety, consuming people foods that are toxic to dogs, or eating garbage and spoiled food.
Bacterial causes of food poisoning, like Staphylococcus, have a short incubation period between ingestion and illness. Foods usually associated with bacterial food poisoning include milk and products made with dairy (e.g., potato and chicken salads, cream-filled bakery products), sausages, and gravy. Piecrust can act as an insulator and incubate bacterial growth in the filling, even while in the refrigerator. Other foods that have been recognized to cause food poisoning in dogs are raw fish, undercooked meat, and eggs.
Although the signs of food poisoning can appear rapidly and be dramatic, the majority of dogs recover completely. Unless animals continue to vomit, treatment for food poisoning victims is primarily supportive.
Here are some of the causes of food poisoning in dogs that responsible dog owners should know.
Salmonella Infection in Dogs
Salmonella bacteria can live in the intestinal tract of animals and humans. A dog can be infected with salmonella by eating contaminated food. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that animals may have salmonella bacteria in their body and still appear healthy; the bacteria will be found in an infected dog’s feces.
Some dog foods and treats can be contaminated with salmonella, including dry dog food, raw pet food, dog biscuits, pig ears, and beef hooves. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, clinical salmonellosis, as well as fecal shedding of salmonella in companion animals, have been linked to the increasingly common practice of feeding raw meat diets to pets.
Although many dogs are asymptomatic carriers of salmonella, they may exhibit these symptoms and require prompt treatment with supportive care and fluids. Signs include:
Even when dogs don’t show symptoms, they can shed bacteria in their stool and saliva to people and other pets in the household. People can get sick if they don’t wash their hands after contact with infected animals, their food, bedding, treats, or water. The CDC estimates salmonella causes about 1.35 million illnesses, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths in the United States every year.
E. Coli Poisoning in Dogs
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a type of bacteria found in the intestinal tracts of healthy humans and animals. However, some types of E. coli are harmful to dogs and people and can cause disease. The Mayo Clinic notes that animals and humans can contract E. Coli poisoning by consuming contaminated food or beverages, including raw produce, undercooked ground beef, or unpasteurized milk.
In May 2022, the American Veterinary Medical Association Journal reported on a recent study investigating the frequency of E. coli contamination among 40 conventionally cooked dog food diets (containing no uncooked animal products) and raw meat-based diets (RMBDs). The study’s authors reported: “Escherichia coli with known virulence genes were detected in nearly one-third of the E. coli isolated from the RMBDs. No E. coli was isolated from either kibble or canned conventional diets.”
E. coli takes the biggest toll on very young or very old dogs, undernourished dogs, or those with weakened immune systems. The most common symptoms of dogs infected with E. coli include:
Most types of E. coli are harmless or cause a relatively brief period of diarrhea in humans. But a few strains can cause severe stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea, and vomiting. Young children and older adults risk developing kidney failure.
Listeriosis in Dogs
Listeriosis is caused by the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes. Dogs can become infected by eating contaminated poultry, meat, eggs, raw vegetables, and unpasteurized dairy products. Dog foods have also been found to be contaminated with listeria. Cooking and pasteurization kill the listeria bacteria.
All dogs are susceptible, but young puppies and senior dogs are more likely to have a severe infection. Dogs rarely display symptoms, and when they do, it is usually mild gastrointestinal distress. Other symptoms of listeriosis may include:
- Muscle pain
- Breathing problems
- Lack of coordination
- Pregnancy loss
Whether or not they show symptoms, dogs can become carriers of the bacteria and shed it in their stool. People can become infected by handling contaminated human or pet food, or touching contaminated surfaces and utensils and then accidentally transferring the bacteria from their hands to their mouths. In humans, listeriosis can be very serious, with 90% of infected people becoming hospitalized, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
Aflatoxin Poisoning in Dogs
Aflatoxin is a fungal toxin that contaminates corn and some other crops during production, harvest, storage, or processing. Dogs are highly susceptible to aflatoxin poisoning if they eat food with high levels with this toxin; because dogs usually eat the same food over extended periods of time, the toxins accumulate in the dog’s system. A dog can also get aflatoxin poisoning from ingesting moldy corn, nuts, peanuts, or grains.
Aflatoxin poisoning may result in long-term health problems, such as liver damage. If you suspect your dog is showing signs of aflatoxin poisoning, take the dog to a veterinarian immediately. Symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
There is no evidence to suggest pet owners who handle products containing aflatoxin are at risk of contracting aflatoxin poisoning.
Preventing Food Poisoning in Dogs
Steps to take to prevent your dog from falling victim to food poisoning include:
- Keep track of recalled dog food and dog treats on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Recalls & Withdrawals webpage.
- Talk to your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist about your dog’s diet.
- Check the expiration date on all food, including dog food, and store dog food properly.
- Make sure your dog can’t access your garbage bin or compost pile. Dogs should not be left unsupervised around garbage cans and wastebaskets, and owners should select trashcans that can be stored in a secure place and can be made dog-proof. Teething puppies, bored dogs, large-breed dogs, and dogs that are often given human food are among those most likely to get into the garbage.
- Leash your dog in unfamiliar territory to prevent them from eating dead or decaying items, or other animals’ feces.
- Dispose of old or moldy foods; don’t give leftovers to your canine pal.
- Protect yourself by washing your hands after handling dog food or treats, dog feces, and by washing dog beds and blankets often.