Possible Human Health Risk from Pet Treats

If you give your pets beef or seafood flavored treats, you may be at risk for salmonella infection. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report last month warning people to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling pet treats to prevent infection.

In 2004 and 2005, nine cases of salmonella were reported by pet owners who handled infected treats. The treats came from different manufacturers but had one thing in common: a type of salmonella called Salmonella Thompson. (Kind of sounds like a name from a bad gangster movie, huh?) The treats were made using beef and/or seafood.

The CDC blames the manufacturers for the problem. Dehydration temperatures were not high enough to kill certain bacteria. Irradiation and other bacteria destroying processes are not always used by pet treat manufacturers. Changing production methods — adding irradiation, heating treats to the right temperature, and appropriate packaging — can easily kill salmonella and keep it out of consumer homes.

Pet treat manufacturers DO have guidelines for snack preparation from the U.S. Food and Drug administration, but the guidelines are only voluntary. Manufacturers do not have to follow them. The FDA does have the authority to regulate pet treat preparation, but they do not currently do so. While many large manufacturers are attempting to address the salmonella hazard, smaller companies may have trouble complying with voluntary measures.

You don’t have to stop giving your pet beef or seafood treats; just wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling animal-derived snacks. Any time you hand out a rawhide, for example, you should wash your hands.

The CDC also advises that children under the age of five, older adults, and people with immune system problems stay away from treats derived from animals, as they may be at higher risk for severe infection or other complications from being exposed to salmonella.