Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Chip, snack, and cereal bags pose a suffocation risk that pet owners might not know about until it’s too late. Dogs and cats have died after putting their heads in snack bags and other food containers.
Of the various types of food containers, plastic and Mylar-lined bags are the biggest suffocation hazards. When an animal with its head in a bag inhales, the bag tightens around the head, cutting off airflow. The animal might not be able to remove the bag on its own. Death can occur in just a few minutes.
Preventive Vet conducted an online survey about pet suffocation and received 1354 responses from 2014 through 2018. The responses from pet owners whose pets died or almost died of suffocation are summarized here.
Most common culprits:
Where pets got hold of the bags:
More than one-third of pet owners were home when their pet suffocated. Of the owners who were away from home, 18% were gone for less than 15 minutes.
Animals of all sizes are at risk. According to the survey responses, more than half of the dogs who suffocated were larger than 30 lb, and some were over 60 lb.
Simply being aware of the risk is a big part of keeping your pets safe. A lot of us have probably left chip and other food bags where our pets can reach them. Here are some steps you can take:
Pet suffocation awareness, Preventive Vet website: https://www.preventivevet.com/pet-suffocation
Prevent Pet Suffocation website: https://preventpetsuffocation.com/
Photo by Yulia Khlebnikova
In March and April 2021, outbreaks of Salmonella infection linked to wild songbirds, ground turkey, and small turtles were reported, and several brands of dog and cat food were recalled because of possible Salmonella contamination.[1,2]
Dogs and cats are at risk of illness from salmonellosis. However, healthy adult animals infected with these bacteria often become carriers with no symptoms. Salmonella are zoonotic—they spread between humans and other animals—so a major concern with Salmonella infection in animals is that it increases the risk for people.
Salmonella are spread through the feces of infected animals. These are some of the animals that carry Salmonella and expose people to infection:
Contaminated Food and Water
People and animals are most often infected with Salmonella by eating food or drinking water contaminated with feces. Handling contaminated food is also a risk if you don’t wash your hands thoroughly afterward to avoid bringing the bacteria to your mouth. Potential sources of Salmonella infection in humans, dogs, and cats include the following:
Animals carrying Salmonella shed the bacteria into their environment. Animals that seem completely healthy can be Salmonella carriers. It’s safest to assume that Salmonella are present anywhere an animal of a high-risk species spends time: reptile habitats, terrariums, aquariums, chicken coops, animal pens, and so forth. Bedding and water tanks or bowls (especially in reptile and amphibian habitats) can also be contaminated.
Bird Feeders and Birdbaths
Wild songbirds aren’t just Salmonella carriers; sometimes they get sick and die of Salmonella infection. The type of Salmonella that birds carry, S typhimurium, is contagious to people and other animals. Cats who hunt birds or hang out under bird feeders and birdbaths can be infected.
Many adult dogs and cats exposed to Salmonella don’t get sick but can still spread the bacteria. Puppies, kittens, stressed animals, immunosuppressed animals, and animals with other diseases are more likely to become ill with salmonellosis. Symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, fever, and diarrhea. The infection can be fatal in fetuses and newborns.
Salmonellosis in cats infected by birds is called songbird fever. Symptoms are similar to salmonellosis in other animals: vomiting, bloody diarrhea, lethargy, and loss of appetite.
As with most diseases, specific treatment depends on the individual animal’s needs. Salmonella can develop resistance to antibiotics, so animals with mild symptoms might be treated only with supportive measures. In some cases, the choice of antibiotic is based on results of culture and antimicrobial sensitivity tests.
Be aware that raw meat pet diets are a common source of Salmonella. The CDC recommends these measures to prevent Salmonella infections:
1. Reports of selected Salmonella outbreak investigations. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed April 20, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/outbreaks.html
2. Recalls, market withdrawals, & safety alerts. US Food & Drug Administration. Accessed April 20, 2021. https://www.fda.gov/safety/recalls-market-withdrawals-safety-alerts
3. Salmonella infection. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed April 20, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/diseases/salmonella.html
4. Kukanich KS. Update on Salmonella spp contamination of pet food, treats, and nutritional products and safe feeding recommendations. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2011;238(11):1430-1434. doi:10.2460/javma.238.11.1430
5. Marks SL, Rankin SC, Byrne BA, Weese JS. Enteropathogenic bacteria in dogs and cats: diagnosis, epidemiology, treatment, and control. J Vet Intern Med. 2011;25(6):1195-1208. doi:10.1111/j.1939-1676.2011.00821.x
6. Salmonella outbreak linked to wild songbirds. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. April 1, 2021. Accessed April 20, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/typhimurium-04-21/index.html
Image source: Shenandoah National Park (photo by N. Lewis, NPS)
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Dog bites are physically and emotionally traumatic and can also have serious consequences for the dog. National Dog Bite Prevention Week, the second full week of April, is a good time to learn more about dog bites.
Why do dogs bite?
Dogs bite as an instinctive response to provocation. Even friendly, tolerant dogs can bite under the wrong circumstances. A dog might bite a person in situations like these:
Which dog breeds are likely to bite?
Trick question! Any dog can bite if provoked.
Assuming that a dog is aggressive because of its breed is unfair to responsible dog owners and (in the case of breed bans) potentially unsafe for the dog. It’s even more dangerous to assume that a dog won’t bite because it looks like a breed people think of as “friendly.” It’s almost impossible to tell the breed heritage of a mixed-breed dog just by appearance anyway.
A dog’s body language and facial expressions are better indicators of bite risk than its (apparent) breed is. These cues can be subtle, but learning to tell if dogs are feeling anxious, afraid, or aggressive can help keep you safe.
Who’s at risk of being bitten?
At least half of the people bitten by dogs in the United States each year are children, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Older adults are also at higher risk. Most people with dog bites are bitten by their own dog or another dog they’re familiar with.
How can I keep myself and my kids from being bitten?
These measures can reduce the risk:
What can dog owners do?
Socialize puppies and newly adopted dogs so they’ll be comfortable with different people and new situations. Dogs who are well socialized are less likely to feel nervous or threatened when they encounter new people and unfamiliar environments. Obedience training using positive reinforcement also builds trust between dogs and their owners.
Be sure your dog’s rabies vaccination is up to date. Monitor your dog’s health; pain and illness reduce a dog’s tolerance for being touched and handled.
Don’t let your dog run free outdoors, and follow your local leash laws. If your dog is nervous around unfamiliar people, be sure he has a place to get away from visitors to your home.
Photo by Ralu Gal
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The contents of this blog are for information only and should not substitute for advice from a veterinarian who has examined the animal. All blog content is copyrighted by Mallard Creek Animal Hospital and may not be copied, reproduced, transmitted, or distributed without permission.