A Message from the Vet - May 2012

Salmonella is a bacterium that can cause disease in both people and pets, and the little critter is back in the news as a result of two separate incidents. These outbreaks are reported by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the watchdog of the federal government that monitors disease outbreaks and analyzes patterns. CDC scientists use state health department reports, interviews, and DNA fingerprints of the bacterium to trace each outbreak to its source.

The first incident is with contaminated pet food that was made and sold in one facility in the US. There is a current recall to remove a number of pet food brands off the shelf (Diamond Pet Recall). In this case, certain batches of pet food produced in this manufacturing plant were contaminated with the bacteria. Human handling of the food or the animal passing this bacteria through its system was what caused disease outbreaks.

The second incident comes from exposure to pet turtles. In this case, Salmonella bacteria existed inside the turtles without causing harm to the turtles, but resulted in bacterial contamination of their environment (the water or area they live) and their shells. Human exposure to Salmonella from reptile pets has long been known, thus the advice to wash your hands well after handling your pets.

Once upon a time, many people gave their kids cute little red-eared sliders as an "easy" pet. I got mine at Woolworths, and it came with a round plastic turtle house and a ramp topped off by a green palm tree. Unfortunately, these sliders became the source of many salmonella infections in children. The health authorities tracked down the salmonella source to turtles that were raised in one of two turtle farms in Louisiana. This led to legislation to ban the sale of red-eared sliders since 1975, at least for ones with shell length less than 4 inches. The reasoning behind this was that a smaller turtle size increased the likelihood that children would handle the turtles or even put them in their mouths!

However, in the entrepreneurial spirit of America, these wee little turtles are simply sold by non-traditional retailers who side-step the laws. The recent outbreak included reports of 124 cases of Salmonella, most of them from people handling turtles less than 4 inches long. States that have reported cases of Salmonella from this outbreak are: California 21; Texas 12; Pennsylvania 9; New Jersey 7; Maryland 6; Colorado 5; Nevada 4; Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Mexico, South Carolina and Virginia each 3; Alaska, Michigan, and Ohio each 2; and Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont and West Virginia each 1.

Turtles are wonderful animals and can make excellent pets. If you have one, you are probably not affected by the recent Salmonella outbreak, although any reptile can potentially be a source of Salmonella at any time. If you purchase one, I advise to purchase from a reputable pet dealer. As with any pet, use common sense regarding safe handling and personal hygiene.

As for the contaminated pet food from manufacturers with less than ideal protocols to produce healthy and safe foods for our pets, buyer beware.

John Haddock, DVM

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