“If it were my child: No kids feeding the dog.” Don’t allow kids to play, handle, or touch the dog bowls, dog treats, or supplements, either. You have to be vigilant and organized. I’m not always both, or either, for that matter. I have found my boys basically bathing in dog water, and dipping their hands/face/sippy cup into our dog food bin many times. News today informed me to change the rules around here.

Pet owners, be aware. Not, “beware.” I’m not trying to scare. A study published yesterday in Pediatrics found that a large number of salmonella infections between 2006-2008 were linked to contaminated dry dog/cat food.  Salmonella infections cause abdominal cramping, bloody stools, and in some (often the very young), more severe infections. I read about dog food as a possible cause of infection back in 2007 when my son (4 months at the time) came down with Salmonella gastroenteritis. Yes, it’s a real story. Bloody diarrhea, cramping pain, lots and lots of crying–poor little guy. I felt it was all my fault. He was an infant and I was controlling everything he ate, after all.

But F didn’t get Salmonella from dog food, he got it from a more predictable route. We had visited my family living in the tropics. We’d been swimming in a pool where iguanas frequented (in the rain forest). I suspect the pool was contaminated with Salmonella from iguanas coming near. Playing in the water and then putting his fingers in his mouth (like 4 month-olds do ALL day) F likely transferred Salmonella to his mouth. As data would suggest, none of the adults on the trip got infected. Infants are more susceptible to Salmonella (and all sorts of other infections) because of their immature immune systems. In the Pediatrics study for example, 1/2 the infected people were children less than 2 years of age.

Where does Salmonella come from? Many reptiles (turtles, iguanas, etc), poultry, and livestock have Salmonella species that live normally in their intestines, so if you handle the animal/reptile or its poop, you could be at risk for acquiring an infection. Swimming in a mutual poo(l) turns out to be risky, too. I’m putting my foot down: no swimming with chickens from here forward. Doctors typically screen patients for consumption of undercooked eggs, undercooked chicken and/or contact with turtles when concerned about a Salmonella infection. Now we need to think about pet food as a source, too.

The best way to prevent infections in your kitchen is to wash your hands regularly, avoid cutting veggies on the same cutting board you cut raw chicken or other meat. You need to avoid feeding Fido there, too.

Anyone’s child can get Salmonella. You don’t have to travel to the tropics. The local local grocery store, pet store, or farm has Salmonella.

Researchers theorize that children infected in the dog food outbreak weren’t eating pet food, rather childrenwere playing or feeding dogs and playing with pet bowls where dogs had been eating/drinking.

The study is the first to link dry dog food to Salmonella infections in people:

  • Nearly 1/2 of all the 79 infected individuals were young children, under age 2 years. Salmonella usually affects the young (under age 5) and the elderly.
  • The outbreak strain of Salmonella was isolated from un-opened bags of dry dog food.
  • The outbreak spanned over 3 years and affected people in 21 states.
  • Infection was associated with feeding pets in the kitchen. Cross-contamination was an important risk factor for children.
  • Dogs eating contaminated food can house Salmonella in their intestines. While dogs can shed the bacteria for up to 12 weeks, it’s possible children got the infection from contact with their pet far after the food was out of the house.
  • Since 2006, FDA reports at least 13 recall announcements involving 135 pet products (eg, dry dog food and cat food, pet treats, raw diets, and pet supplements) have been issued because of Salmonella contamination.
  • Both direct contact with animals and indirect contact with environments where animals live and roam (eg, tank water, food and water dishes, and cages) can lead to Salmonella infections.

Conclusion: so feeding Fido or playing and rolling around with dog dishes and toys presents a risk to children.

Don’t kick out the dog. Here’s Mama Doc’s 5 Tips:

  1. Be aware of the risk of Salmonella from pet food and treats. Wash hands after giving a dog treat or feeding your pet. Over 40% of dog treats sampled–pig ears & others– were contaminated with Salmonella in a 2003 study. Egad!
  2. Don’t feed your pet in the kitchen. Don’t store pet food there, either.
  3. After your pet is done feeding, pick up the food dish and put it out of your children’s reach. Crawling infants should not have access to pet-feeding areas ever. (Whoops)
  4. Clean and sterilize the pet bowls regularly. Say, weekly or daily if you can swing it? Dirty dishes may be a fine breeding ground for bacteria and source of infection for small children.
  5. Children < 5 years of age shouldn’t be allowed to eat, touch or feed dogs dry dog food, snacks, or supplements from the store. If this is unbearable, make some homemade dog treats. Your child can then feed the dog safely. If you do that, I may call your dog a yuppie puppie.

Gonna have to make some changes around here. It’s either whipping up some homemade dog biscuits or changing our habits. I’ll let F decide.