Protecting pets -- and people -- from salmonella infections

Do you feed your cats and dogs in the kitchen? Do you wash their food bowls and water bowls in the kitchen sink?

I do both of those things, and now a report in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) warns that I'm putting my family and the family dog at risk for salmonella infection.

Many reports of salmonella outbreaks tied to pet foods and treats have been reported in recent years. Is the pesky bacteria increasingly prevalent, or is everyone becoming more vigilant?

"That's a hard question to answer. We do have better reporting mechanisms," said Christine Hoang, a veterinarian who also has a master's degree in public health. She's the assistant director for scientific activities at AVMA, and educating the public is part of her job.

No one should panic about any of this, she said, because "no one is at huge risk," although "salmonella is everywhere." The good news is, there are many tips to prevent the spread of salmonella.

Pet water bowls, food bowls and the scoops used to fill them should be washed "routinely with hot soapy water in a sink other than in the kitchen or bathroom," says the report written by Kate S. KuKanich, a veterinarian at Kansas State University.

I've never washed dog bowls with family dishes. That just seemed wrong, though I was thinking about dog slobber, not salmonella. I use paper towels to wash and dry dog bowls, rather than the family dish cloth and towel.

Then I spray bleach in our old white kitchen sink because its pitted porcelain surface stains easily.

Hoang said bleach can kill the salmonella bacteria. That's good, because I don't see myself making a lot of extra trips up and down the basement steps to wash dog bowls in the laundry tub.

Here are more tips from the JAVMA article:

-- Wash hands with soap and water before and after handling pet food and treats.

-- Discourage young children, the elderly and the immunosuppressed from handling pet food and treats.

-- Pig ears, which have turned up in a number of recalls, should be purchased in sealed packages rather than from open bulk bins.

-- Avoid raw-food diets for pets.

-- Make sure the packaging of all pet-food products is in good condition when you buy the items. Return to the store products that appear tainted, discolored or have a bad odor.

-- Follow label instructions for food storage. Dry foods and treats should be stored in a cool, dry place.

-- Many people transfer food from bags and boxes to "better" storage containers. That's fine, but hang on to the original packaging, especially the date and product codes, so that if there's a product recall for salmonella, you'll know whether your pet's food was affected.

If your infection-control safeguards have failed, salmonella symptoms can range from mild to severe in people and in animals. Look for gastrointestinal symptoms, Hoang said.

In animals, it's usually diarrhea. In people, it can be diarrhea and vomiting. Bloody diarrhea is never a good sign, and should prompt a call to the doctor or vet.

(Contact Linda Wilson Fuoco at lfuoco(at)post-gazette.com. For more stories, visit scrippsnews.com.)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)

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