Pets and Pet Food: Risk of Illness to Humans

There are a number of illnesses in humans that can be linked to contact with animals or animal products. This article will focus on Salmonella which is a bacteria that causes fever, severe diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal cramping in humans. People can become infected with Salmonella by physical contact with some animals. Children, the elderly and those with a weakened immune system are most at risk from this type of infection.

Here is a short review of the animals and related products that caused outbreaks in 2012:

  1. Chicks, ducklings and other live poultry that are sold by mail-order hatcheries, agricultural feed stores or displayed at petting zoos, farms, or school events. These animals may be clean and appear healthy but may be contaminated with Salmonella. They pass the bacteria in their feces and contact with these droppings can leave residue on their bodies or the materials in their environment.
  2. Hedgehogs that are kept as pets. They may pass Salmonella in their droppings and contaminate their enclosures hand may get droppings on their bodies. In 2012 six states have reported cases of Salmonella acquired from hedgehogs.
  3. Small turtles that may be sold as pets for young children at fairs or flea markets. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned the sale of turtles with shell lengths less than 4 inches, because these attractive little animals have long been known to be carriers of Salmonella.
  4. Other reptiles and amphibians such as snakes, iguanas, frogs, salamanders, chameleons, and geckos that are quiet, undemanding pets. They often carry the bacteria Salmonella in their intestines. They shed the bacteria to their environment when they pass stool. Handling these animals, cleaning their enclosures (cages, aquariums, terrariums) and touching the water in their enclosure may pass the bacteria to humans. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends against keeping these type of animals especially in daycare centers, preschools or nursery schools for children younger than five years of age.
  5. Dry dog food can also be a source of salmonella infection. Twenty states and Canada reported cases of Salmonella linked to dry dog food.

There are other sources of Salmonella which are not discussed here. The goal of this article was to mention some common encounters children may have with certain live animals.

The most important point to remember is the often repeated message from us health care providers: Handwashing with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds after coming in contact with these animals will help reduce your chances of getting infected with Salmonella. This should be practiced at home, schools, daycare centers or any place these animals are kept. Hands should also be washed after handling pet food.

There are specific instructions for cleaning pet enclosures, other materials in the pet’s environment and the pet’s water supply on the CDC website.

For more details regarding Salmonella outbreaks related to pets see:

Swimming Safety

After a recent post from a friend on Facebook, I thought it would be a good idea to remind parents about summer safety for children when around bodies of water. Her young son saved a boy who was not wearing a life vest and was not supervised.

Children need constant and undistracted supervision when in and around bodies of water. This includes bathtubs, hot tubs, spas, swimming pools, lakes, rivers, wading pools, beaches and yes even toilets or buckets of water when it comes to young toddlers.

Swimming lessons are highly recommended; but they should not lull anyone into a false sense of security. Even strong swimmers can tire or get into trouble if the conditions are right.

For information of drowning prevention:

For information on places to swim, lessons, coupons for life jackets, and life-guarded swim areas in King County:

For information on drowning deaths in the US:

No Juice Under One Year Of Age

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says not to give juice to children under age 1. In May of this year, the AAP came out with a policy statement against fruit juice for young children unless clinically indicated in the treatment of constipation. The reason for this change is an increasing problem with obesity and dental decay in our nation’s children.

For children 1-3 years of age the recommended amount of 100% juice is a maximum of 4 ounces (1/2 cup) per day, for children 4-6 years of age 4-6 ounces per day, and 8 ounces (1 cup) for children over 7 years old.

For the children under 1, breast milk or formula and water are the preferred fluids. Once a child is older and eating solids, whole fruits (cut up to appropriate size for safe eating) instead of juice is much healthier. Juice does not contain protein or fiber which is vital to children’s growth and development.

After age 1, whole milk is recommended but the amount should not be more than 24 ounces (3 cups) a day. The rest of the daily fluids for children should be plain water.

For a nice summary, please, click on these links:

Let’s Talk: Fire Safety

by Linda Wiseman, MD

Smoke Alarms

Have you checked to make sure that your smoke alarms are in working order? If the alarms run on batteries, do those batteries need replacing?

Recently, the dad of one of my patients said he uses his phone calendar to give him reminders. For example, twice a year to check the smoke alarm batteries, 4 times a year to change the air filters, etc. The cell phone is a wonderful invention because it has so many uses.

Fire Extinguishers

Do you have a fire extinguisher? If you do, is it still current and in working order? And does everyone in the house know where it is and how to use it. If you live in an apartment, where is the fire extinguisher located outside of the apartments? Don’t count on those. Consider buying your own. Home Depot has a nice website with information on buying the right type of fire extinguisher.

Fire Drills

In the event of a fire, how would you get out of your home? What are the exits from each of your rooms: the bedroom, the family room, the bathroom, the kitchen?

Designate a meeting place for all family members outside of your home in the event of an emergency. For example, we’ll all meet at the mailbox, or we’ll all meet at the foot of the driveway.

Teach every child, even your 4 year-old, how to call 911. Just make sure they know that the operator gets very upset if they call for fun. This is not a game.

Where is a fire hydrant nearest your home? Has someone allowed bushes to grow around it? Will the fire department be able to find the hydrant?

Fire Hazards

Check all of your electrical cords and outlets. Make sure none of the cords are frayed or chewed on by the family pet. This can be a teaching project to show your children how we check our homes for safety. Think lamps, TV’s, computers, coffee pots, rice cookers, toasters. Take a flashlight and look behind the washer and dryer. And I’m sure you can think of other appliances.

Do not keep homework papers, grocery bags, pizza boxes near stove tops. Many years ago I knew a family who lost their entire home to a fire that started with a pizza box left near the stove and it caught fire. They had to live in a hotel for a long time. Check right now, this very minute, for what is sitting around your stove.


Do you have insurance coverage in the event of a fire? If you live in an apartment, find out from a local insurance agent how much it costs to cover your possessions.

More Information

This list of suggestions is only a start. Please, check out the Consumer Products Safety Commission for more tips.