Salmonella In Dogs – Symptoms and Treatment

Alex Seilis
salmonella in dogs

A few salmonella outbreaks amongst humans in recent years have brought this  foodborne illness into the spotlight. But did you know that dogs can contract salmonella in some cases too? 

In most dogs who develop symptoms, providing your dog with plenty of fluid will be enough to help him and his immune system fight off the infection on his own. However, there are severe cases where salmonella can spread throughout the body, causing sepsis, shock, and even death. These severe cases are best treated by a veterinarian. 

Let’s take a look at the symptoms for mild and severe cases of salmonella in dogs, then reveal how to prevent this illness in the first place. 

What is Salmonella? 

Salmonella is a type of bacteria. These bacteria typically live in animal and human intestines and are shed through stool. It’s possible for salmonella to cause systemic disease, but it’s mainly a pathogen that affects the intestinal tract. 

Infection caused by salmonella is known as salmonellosis. The condition is somewhat common in humans, with approximately 40,000 cases of salmonellosis reported in the United States every year. According to CDC reports, most human salmonella outbreaks are linked to peanut butter, Italian meats, pets like bearded dragons or turtles, or backyard chickens. 

How Do Dogs Get Salmonella

It’s quite rare for dogs to get salmonellosis, which is typically a foodborne illness. In cases where dogs do get salmonella, it’s usually transmitted through contaminated food and water. 

Birds and bird droppings are other common causes of salmonella in dogs. Dogs and cats can contract salmonella when catching or eating infected birds, often in late winter or early spring. 

The CDC says: “Most animals do not get sick from Salmonella. Animals can carry Salmonella and still appear healthy and clean. Salmonella naturally lives in their intestines and can be found in their feces.”

And the Merck Veterinary Manual gives very little attention to salmonellosis in dogs and cats, stating ...  

“In dogs and cats, clinical disease takes the form of acute diarrhea with septicemia and is seen occasionally in puppies and kittens or in adults stressed by concurrent disease. Pneumonia may be evident. When the enteritis becomes more chronic, abortion may occur in pregnant dogs [...], and live progeny may have enteritis as well.”

So salmonella is unlikely to be symptomatic in healthy adult dogs, but could affect the immune-compromised or young puppies. 

Does Raw Feeding Cause Salmonella?

Veterinary publications state that salmonella in dogs is most commonly transmitted by feeding raw meat … however there’s no evidence to support that theory.  Raw fed dogs are not susceptible to salmonella and if you raw feed your dog, you and your family should practice normal hygiene like hand-washing after handling raw meat. 

But there have been human cases of salmonella attributed to dry dog foods  - one example was a salmonella outbreak in 2012 affecting 47 people in 20 US states, that was linked to dry foods from Diamond Pet Foods. 

What are the Symptoms of Salmonella in Dogs?

Salmonella in dogs is uncommon, though it can be carried without symptoms. Healthy adult dogs are not susceptible to illness from salmonella. Most vets won’t even test for salmonella if you take your dog in with a bout of diarrhea. It’s quite difficult to diagnose and requires repeated fecal cultures sent out to a lab to confirm the disease. 

Whether or not your dog shows symptoms, and the severity of the symptoms, can depend on a variety of factors, like the infecting salmonella strain, the infection dose, your dog’s immune status, and any coexisting conditions. 

In rare cases where a dog does show salmonella symptoms, these are the ones to watch out for. 

1. Gastroenteritis

The most common symptom of salmonella in dogs is gastroenteritis, or inflammation of the stomach and intestines. This typically causes fever, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea. When a dog has diarrhea caused by salmonella, the stool may also contain blood or mucus. 

2. Weight Loss 

Dogs with salmonella can experience rapid weight loss and anorexia as a result of fluid loss. It’s very important to make sure dogs with salmonella have plenty of clean drinking water, as the fluid loss caused by diarrhea and vomiting can also lead to dehydration. 

3. Sepsis

In severe cases of salmonella in dogs, the body can sometimes react to the infection by damaging its own tissues, a process known as sepsis. Other sepsis symptoms in dogs include dehydration, drooling, vomiting, and elevated heart rate. 

Stages of Salmonella in Dogs

After the initial infection, salmonella bacteria in dogs can persist for long periods of time in the intestines and lymph nodes. 

The salmonella then usually passes via fecal excretion. This is the stage where you may notice your dog has diarrhea that contains blood or mucus. This period can last anywhere from 3-6 weeks and longer. A period of up to 117 days has been reported in some dogs. 

Treatment of Salmonella in Dogs

If you take your dog to the vet with a case of salmonella, she’ll likely recommend antibiotics. While antibiotics have their place, for mild cases of salmonella they may actually cause more harm than good by doing further damage to the GI tract. Antibiotics damage the balance of good bacteria in the gut and allow pathogenic bacteria to take hold.

How to Treat Salmonella in Dogs at Home

If your dog has a mild case of salmonella and is exhibiting few symptoms, you may be able to treat the condition at home. A dog with a healthy immune system is unlikely to develop symptoms. 

Dogs who are symptomatic may often fight off the infection themselves, but more serious cases could need support in the form of fluids and electrolytes to help avoid dehydration.

Colostrum, probiotics, and fermented foods may also help heal your dog’s GI tract and support the growth of healthy bacteria that restore balance. By supporting the gut lining and immune system, these natural strategies may help treat salmonella in dogs at home.  

When to See the Vet for Salmonella in Dogs

If your dog has a severe case of salmonella, or the symptoms continue to progress and worsen over time, he may need antidiarrheal drugs, GI protectants, or antibiotics. These protocols are typically only necessary in cases where the infection has spread beyond the GI tract or caused sepsis. Most cases of acute and uncomplicated salmonella can be treated at home using the guidelines given above. 

However, severe cases of salmonella in dogs can cause shock and death, and also lead to abortion in pregnant dogs. So if you’re concerned about your dog and his condition is not improving, don’t hesitate to bring him to the vet. 

Veterinarians will often prescribe antibiotics like metronidazole for salmonella in dogs. Metronidazole is a strong antidiarrheal used to treat inflammation of the large intestine. This drug does carry the risk of neurotoxic side effects and allergic reactions. 

RELATED: Learn more about the dangers of metronidazole for dogs ...

How to Prevent Salmonella in Dogs

Preventing salmonella in dogs starts by preventing any pathogen from taking hold in the gut. The simplest way to do this is by feeding a fresh and balanced diet with appropriate ingredients, and possibly supplementing with colostrum, probiotics, and fermented foods as necessary. 

Dry kibble and other heavily processed dog foods contain amounts of carbohydrates and other ingredients that can alter your dog’s gut over time, and lead to leaky gut, inflammation, and digestion problems. The gut and the immune system are closely interlinked, and these issues can lower your dog’s resistance to bacterial infections like salmonella. So the first line of defense is building gut health naturally over time. 

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