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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Animal & Veterinary

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Pet Treats Can Make You Ill

FDA Veterinarian Newsletter September/October 2000 Volume XV, No. V

By Linda Bren

This article appeared in the September/October 2000 issue of the FDA CONSUMER.

Dogs love them. They're blissfully chewy and delightfully smelly to your pet--but treats made from the leftover parts of food-producing animals can make you and your family very sick.

Pet treats made from the dried ears, hooves, lungs, and bones of pigs and cows have been implicated in Salmonella poisoning in humans. In late 1999, Canadian health officials alerted the Food and Drug Administration to more than 35 human cases of Salmonella poisoning that occurred in Canada over the past year and were linked to contact with pig ears produced in that country. Some of these illnesses required children to be hospitalized.

"It's alarming to find that number of serious illnesses," says Gloria Dunnavan, the director of the Division of Compliance in FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine. "We want to make sure there is no Salmonella in dried animal parts being sold as pet treats in the United States."

Earlier this year, FDA alerted U.S. distributors of both the suspect Canadian products and U.S.-manufactured dried animal parts. After U.S. retail store Costco tested and found Salmonella in samples of Medalist brand pig ears produced in this country, manufacturer Treat Makers L.L.C. recalled the products in May. The recall covers treats sold at Costco stores in 11 states: Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Hawaii. The products are packaged in 25-count plastic bags and stamped with lot numbers 07600EXU3 or 08300EX01 on a white sticker on the back of the bag.

In June, another U.S. manufacturer, Products Carousel, Inc., recalled its Pets Carousel 100% Choo-Hooves Pressed Sticks--Item #90010-S because of possible contamination with Salmonella. The Pets Carousel products were sold by Petsmart in Ohio and Arizona.

Although no illnesses from these products have been reported in the United States, consumers should handle dried animal parts like they would handle raw meat, according to Dunnavan. In other words, wash your hands with soap and hot water after handling, avoid putting the treats on food contact surfaces (such as kitchen countertops), and don't allow children to touch their mouths after handling until they've washed their hands. Dunnavan also advises consumers not to purchase unpackaged dried treats, which are more likely to be contaminated by Salmonella.

While healthy pets rarely become ill from the bacteria, they can become carriers of Salmonella and infect humans or other animals. This means that you could become infected if Fido licks your face after chewing a contaminated product.

Salmonella can cause vomiting, diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps in otherwise healthy individuals and can be fatal in young children, the elderly, or people with weakened immune systems.

Consumers may return the recalled Medalist and Pets Carousel products to the store where they purchased them for a full refund. Customers with questions about the recall should call Treat Makers at 1-888-250-7369 or Products Carousel at 800-231-3572. FDA continues to work with pet treat manufacturers to investigate the cause of the problem and ways to prevent it in the future.