According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, harmful bacteria in contaminated pet foods and treats not only can make your pet sick, but also can spread to anyone who handles the food. One goal of ongoing studies being conducted by the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network (Vet-LIRN) of the FDA is to reduce foodborne illnesses caused by pet foods and treats.

The FDA, in partnership with 34 state and university veterinary laboratories throughout the United States, is conducting research geared toward addressing a number of pet owners' concerns. Part of this research involves finding the answers to the following questions:

  • How often do dogs and cats become ill from contaminated pet food?
  • Can pets carry harmful bacteria without exhibiting symptoms and if so, for how long?
  • What precautions can pet owners take to keep their animals and family members safe?

Study Methods

Eleven of the participating veterinary laboratories focused on Salmonella infections. Each of these labs collected stool samples from 100 dogs and cats with signs of foodborne illness—diarrhea, blood stool—and samples from 100 pets without any signs of illness. Most of the samples—from almost 3,000 animals—were collected from dogs.

The study also involved an in-depth pet owner survey. In the survey, owners were asked questions about the pets' symptoms, diet (meals and treats), dog park visits, and medication(s). While much of the data collected from this study is being analyzed (the results are to be published by 2016), initial news is good for pet owners. Researchers have found fewer than 100 cases of bacterial infection.

Study Results

Almost half of the pets who tested positive for Salmonella did not show symptoms of infection. Researchers caution that pets may carry the bacteria and potentially spread it to people—without showing any signs of illness. Bacterial infections can be serious in young children, older adults, and people with a compromised immune system.

According to the study, animals that tested positive for Salmonella were more likely than those who did not to have eaten raw pet food (e.g., raw meat, bones, eggs, fruits, vegetables).

Ways to Prevent Foodborne Illness from Pet Foods

The FDA recommends the following measures for pet owners:

  • Check the FDA website ( often.
  • Avoid purchasing pet food in damaged packaging or dented or bulging cans.
  • Wash your hands carefully after handling pet food.
  • Feed your pet in a clean area of the home.
  • Wash countertops, tables, and other surfaces that come in contact with pet food.
  • Use certain utensils only for pet food.
  • Store pet food in a sealed container in a cool, dry place.
  • Keep labeling information (manufacturer, lot code, UPC number), to identify the product should it be suspected as a source of illness.

Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 30 Jun 2015

Last Modified: 01 Jul 2015