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Salmonella poisoning in dog linked to peanut-butter recall

February 12, 2009
By: Edie Lau
For The VIN News Service


A 3-year-old shepherd mix hospitalized with bloody diarrhea and vomiting in Oregon last month tested positive for Salmonella Typhimurium, and state health authorities connect the illness to tainted peanut butter in dog biscuits.

The dog’s illness is the first confirmed animal case of Salmonella linked to contaminated peanut butter or peanut paste that originated from a Peanut Corporation of America plant in Blakely, Ga.

The problem is more widespread among humans. On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 600 cases in 44 states. Nine people have died.

The contamination was the subject of a congressional hearing Wednesday, where victims’ family members vented anger concerning the possibility that the peanut company knowingly put tainted product into the marketplace. Peanut Corporation of America President Stewart Parnell and Blakely plant manager Sammy Lightsey were called to testify, but refused to speak, citing their Fifth-Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Steven Sundlof, DVM, director of the Center for Food Safety, also answered questions before lawmakers, defending his agency's response to the outbreak. He stated that the outbreak has prompted FDA to tighten its food safety policies. Inspectors now will routinely collect samples for bacterial testing whenever they visit a facility. Such analysis previously was conducted only when a problem was suspected.

Among nearly 2,000 peanut-butter products recalled are a handful of pet treats, including Happy Tails Multi-Flavored Dog Biscuits, the source of the Oregon dog’s infection. The biscuits were recalled on Jan. 23, but the dog ate the contaminated treats before then.

Owner Dennis Patterson told the VIN News Service Wednesday that his dog had been healthy and active. But on Jan. 22, he took it to see Dr. Paul Gore at Oakland Veterinary Hospital for loss of appetite and fatigue.

Gore prescribed antibiotics, but the dog’s condition worsened. On Jan. 26, the dog was hospitalized and put on IV fluids.

At first, Gore didn’t consider peanut butter to be a culprit. “Initially, (the owners) thought the dog had gotten into salmon in the trash,” he said. “So we kind of went with that.”

Then Gore received an e-mail from the Oregon state veterinarian's office with an updated product recall list. That got him thinking about Salmonella.

He found out that the sick dog, along with four other dogs in the same household, regularly consumed Happy Tails treats.

The other dogs were not ill, but that didn’t surprise Gore. Dogs, he said, “are used to eating contaminated, dirty things,” and some can handle that without getting sick. “Even with people, Salmonella tends to strike the young ones or those sick with diseases,” he added. “An adult, healthy dog tends to get less of a problem."

Why the dog was susceptible to infection is unclear. Patterson said it’s possible that it was given peanut-butter biscuits from the "multi-flavored" pack while the other dogs ate other flavors.

Although Gore knew the dog had eaten suspect biscuits, confirming the source of the illness took some sleuthing. When he sent in the first stool sample for culturing, the dog had been on antibiotics for a few days, and the results came back negative. Moreover, Gore noted, Salmonella can be tough to culture because infected animals don’t shed the bacteria daily.

State Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Emilio DeBess recommended that the owners test for Salmonella in all of their dogs. The owner managed to collect a sample from one dog, which came back positive.

The state also tested the dog biscuits, which Patterson said he bought at a local Albertson’s grocery on Jan. 12. Those, too, were positive.

After three nights in the hospital, Patterson took his dog home to convalesce. Wednesday, he said that three-and-a-half weeks of illness have taken a toll. “She is down to a bag of bones,” he said, estimating that the dog, once 55 pounds, is down to about 40 pounds.

With the dog's appetite returning, Patterson is considering abandoning manufactured pet food for homemade.

“If we’ve learned nothing else, we’ve learned the manufacturers aren’t as careful as they should be,” Patterson said. “Like everything else, we have to take personal responsibility for the safety of our kids and our pets.”

Meanwhile, Gore said he’s seen a few other dogs recently with intestinal problems but because the patients responded well to treatment, the owners declined to have lab work done to try to identify the source of the problem.

He credited State Public Health Veterinarian DeBess for keeping Oregon practitioners up-to-date on the peanut-butter recall, and recommended that his colleagues follow the recall list and sign up to receive e-mail updates.

The Oregon Veterinary Medical Association maintains a list of recalled pet products at http://www.oregonvma.org/news/recalls.asp.

FDA’s list of recalled products and other information about the peanut-butter contamination is available at http://www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/salmonellatyph.html.




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