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
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.