Dr. Walt's happy tails: SARS, Salmonella and Pets

By: Dr. Walt Ingwersen

Author: Canadian Living


Dr. Walt's happy tails: SARS, Salmonella and Pets

By: Dr. Walt Ingwersen

The Doctor is In @

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Some points are worth repeating - check out my December, 2002 holiday safety tips to ensure your furry friend has a healthy holiday season.

Another safety issue has recently made the news that I believe is important and worth sharing with you.

Handling Dog Treats Linked To Salmonella

In an article published in the October 2003 Journal of Clinical Microbiology, medical microbiologist Dr. Johann Pitout reports on several cases of Salmonella poisoning/infection in people that were traced to the handling of pet treats made with dried beef. Salmonella is a group of bacteria that, following infection, produce a number of toxins that can produce symptoms ranging from mild stomach and intestinal upset to life-threatening illness in both people and animals. There have also been previous reports of Salmonella infection in pets and their owners arising from pig's ears, hoofs, and rawhide chew treats. Some manufacturers have started to irradiate pet treats in an attempt to decrease the chance of contracting the infection though Dr. Pitout advises all consumers to wash their hands thoroughly after touching pet treats with dried beef.

In a related article published in the November/December issue of the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, Salmonella infection resulted in the death of two cats that were being fed a raw-food diet. The feeding of these diets has been a relatively common practice in dogs, particularly racing greyhounds and sled dogs, but is also a growing trend for some pet owners. Sources include commercially available diets, homemade diets (e.g., bones and raw food [BARF]), as well as through dietary supplementation. As for this method of feeding, there simply is not enough scientific data to date to support the nutritional validity of these diets (although that is the topic for a future column) and pet owners need to be aware of the health risks to both their pet and themselves that these diets pose.

West Nile Virus, SARS, and Our Pets

With the media attention on these two diseases and the recent reports that they may also infect our companion animals, I have received a number of e-mails requesting information on the symptoms in pets and whether an infected pet would pose a health risk to people.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is an infectious condition caused by a coronavirus that manifests itself as an atypical form of pneumonia in people and is highly contagious. In a study conducted in Holland and recently reported on in the media, it was revealed that cats and ferrets were susceptible to infection by the SARS virus. While cats did not reveal any symptoms of the infection, ferrets did. This reports raised speculation by the media that cats and ferrets may aid in the spread of this infection. While the report did demonstrate that these animals could become infected (likely from a contagious pet owner), it did not demonstrate that cats or ferrets could transmit the virus to people. However, if the owner of a pet is suspected of having SARS and is under quarantine, it would be prudent to follow the same quarantine recommendations for their pets as a precautionary measure.

West Nile Virus is an infectious condition that generally manifests itself as mild flu-like symptoms in people but can, in rare circumstances, lead to more serious illness including meningitis, encephalitis, and even death. Mosquitoes spread West Nile Virus after becoming infected when feeding on infected wild birds. This has resulted in the establishment of West Nile Virus monitoring programs, whereby birds that have been found dead are tested to determine the extent of the distribution of this virus. Concern has been raised that our companion animals may also be prone to infection with this virus. Information to date demonstrates that horses appear to be the most susceptible and there is now a vaccine available to aid in preventing this infection in horses. Most mammals, including dogs and cats, are resistant to disease from this virus and are very rarely affected. Taking the appropriate precautions to avoid mosquito contact will reduce the already small risk even further. Perhaps the best deterrent is 'old man winter', and he is already lending his assistance!

Holiday safety tips

Special Note! Pets should never be given as a holiday present, especially if this is gift is meant to be a surprise. The pet may not be welcome, the gift getter not prepared (e.g., no food, crate, litter box, etc.), and all the excitement can be too much for the new addition to handle. Instead, give a book on various breeds of dogs or cats to determine if the person is willing and, if so, then has the time to get prepared (as well as the opportunity to pick out the pet they desire!).

‘All that glitters is not gold' is a term that applies to our pets over the holiday season particularly when it comes to holiday decorations. Here are some cautionary reminders:
• Tinsel, used as a Christmas tree decoration, is not only pleasing to our eye but can attract your cat's eye as well. If tinsel is ingested, it may create a bowel obstruction and need to be surgically removed. Therefore, avoid the use of tinsel or, as a minimum, leave the tinsel off of the lower branches and out of the reach of your cat.
• Certain plants associated with the holiday season can be toxic to your pet if eaten. All parts of the mistletoe or holly plant are potentially very toxic to pets and the leaves of poinsettia plants have a low toxicity potential. These same plants can be toxic to children as well so keep them out of the reach of inquisitive mouths or hands.
• Chocolate can be very toxic if eaten, particularly dark or unsweetened baking chocolates. Giving your pets chocolate of any kind should be avoided. Also, don't wrap chocolate as a gift and leave it under the tree unattended – the keen nose of dogs will be sure to single the package out for further exploration!
• When setting up your Christmas tree, ensure that it is firmly secured in place. This will avoid the potential of playful pets (especially puppies and kittens) from knocking the tree over that will not only spoil your wonderful decorating job but may injure your pet as well!
• Holiday costumes may be cute but if held on by ribbon or elastic bands, may be harmful to your pet and should be avoided.

Also, if your travel plans over the holidays are to include your pet – plan ahead. Ensure that your pet is as welcome as you are at your holiday destination and that bring any special medical or dietary needs your pet may need. Also, because the new surroundings may be confusing for some pets, ensure they are properly restrained at all times and have identification (e.g., tag or microchip). This should reduce the potential for your pet becoming lost and, if it does occur, assist in a speedy return.

Happy Holidays!

About Dr. Walt Ingwersen
Dr. Walt Ingwersen is Chief Veterinary Officer at PetCare Insurance Brokers Ltd. He is a 1982 graduate of the Ontario Veterinary College. Board certified in Internal Medicine, he has the distinction of being the first Canadian editor of the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, a position he currently holds.

Involved in many aspects of the national and international veterinary community, "Dr. Walt" is the recipient of the President's Award for outstanding contribution to the veterinary profession awarded by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA). He is also Chief Veterinary Officer and Chairman of the Veterinary Advisory Board at PetCare Insurance Brokers Ltd. – Canada's leading provider of insurance for dogs and cats.

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Dr. Walt's happy tails: SARS, Salmonella and Pets