An outbreak of listeria in South Africa has been responsible for more than 180 deaths since January 2018. The World Health Organization has confirmed that the South African outbreak of this serious form of Listeriosis is the largest ever recorded globally.
The outbreak has been linked to contaminated ready-to-eat meat products such as polony, Vienna and Russian sausages. While the public has been advised to avoid eating recalled products, it is important to remember that animals can be infected by this serious but treatable disease in much the same way as humans. The recalled products should under no circumstances be fed to pets, and the SPCA has urged the public not to throw the recalled products away in trash, as this poses a potential risk to homeless people and stray dogs who can find and eat the contaminated foodstuffs. Recalled products include contaminated dog food, dairy products and processed meats.
What is Listeriosis?
Listeriosis is caused by listeria monocytogenes. This is a particular type of bacteria that is commonly found in soil, vegetation and water. Humans and pets contract the disease by eating food that has been contaminated with listeria monocytogenes bacterium.
Symptoms of Listeriosis often appear flu-like at first. Muscle aches, fever, nausea and diarrhoea are also common. If the listeria infection spreads to the nervous system, headaches, loss of balance, stiff neck and convulsions can occur. Serious infections predominantly occur in people who have compromised immune systems, including new-borns, pregnant women and the elderly.
Are My Pets At Risk?
While it is possible for pets to contract Listeriosis, it is less likely, so you can relax a bit and go on enjoying your favourite casino online games, go shopping or plan your holiday, safe in the knowledge that Fluffy or Fido should be fine.
However, you should know that contaminated meat and dairy products are the main causes of listeria infection in pets. Young puppies, older dogs and pets with weakened immune systems and underlying conditions are most at risk, particularly if they are on a raw diet.
Not all pets that are exposed to the bacteria become ill or display symptoms. However, should your pet start to exhibit symptoms, visit your veterinarian immediately and have them thoroughly examined. Listeriosis can be fatal to pets if not treated quickly.
Pay close attention if your pet displays the following symptoms:
- Lack of coordination
- Stiff neck and muscle soreness
- Skin infections
Diagnosis and Treatment
If your pet displays the above symptoms, your veterinarian will first do a cursory examination, followed by blood tests or an analysis of cerebrospinal fluid.
Treatment options for Listeriosis vary and depend on the severity of your pet’s symptoms. This could include symptomatic treatment for diarrhoea and nausea with gastrointestinal and pain medication. If your pet displays severe symptoms, it will be admitted to hospital and treated with intravenous antibiotics.
Pets usually make a full recovery, however recovery time varies. To ensure that your pet makes a full recovery and to prevent a relapse, it is important to follow every step of your veterinarian’s treatment plan.
How to keep your pets safe
You can ensure the safety of your pet and limit exposure to listeria infections by:
- Monitor your pet’s raw food intake closely and pay close attention to the list of contaminated items being recalled.
- Recalled products that have been deemed unsafe for you to eat are equally unsafe for your pets to consume. Do not feed your pets contaminated food items.
- The Listeria bacteria is sensitive to heat and a core temperature of 70C will destroy it. If meat is included in your pet’s diet, make sure that it has been cooked.
- Properly discard of all recalled products by returning them to the store where you purchased them. Do not throw contaminated food items in your bin, as your pet or a stray dog could find it later.