Listeria is an infection caused by the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes. In dogs, symptoms of listeria include diarrhea, vomiting, weakness, muscle soreness, and a lack of coordination. When not treated promptly, the disease can be fatal. There is not a vaccination available for listeria.
For this reason, it's important that dog owners know how to protect their dogs from listeria - and how to recognize the disease to ensure prompt diagnosis and treatment.
How to Protect Against Listeria
Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterial species with multiple host organisms, including dogs, humans, cattle, rabbits, and sheep. The bacteria can live with and without oxygen and they can replicate in water, soil, or food items, so protecting your dog requires a multi-faceted approach.
Avoid Diets With Raw Meat
Listeria is one of the most common forms of food poisoning in dogs. The bacteria that cause the infection are commonly found in raw meats, such as beef and rabbit. Cooking the meat to a proper temperature kills the bacteria, making such foods safe for your dog. Feeding your dog raw meats increases the risk of listeria.
Over a two-year period, the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine tested samples of commercially available pet foods and found that 32 out of 196 samples contained Listeria monocytogenes bacteria. Based on the results of this study, the FDA recommends against feeding pets a raw diet. If you do choose to feed your pet a raw diet, follow these tips to minimize the risk of listeria infection:
- Thaw frozen meats in the refrigerator rather than on the counter.
- Throw away or refrigerate your dog's "leftovers" immediately.
- Clean and disinfect your dog's bowls after each use.
Since humans can become infected with listeria, too, make sure you also wash your hands well after feeding your dog raw foods. Never rinse meats in the sink, as you may contaminate other foods or surfaces. Again, the safest option for both you and your dog is to avoid raw diets completely.
Prevent Contact With Dead Animals
Another common way for dogs to contract listeria is contact with dead, infected animals. Your dog may become infected with listeria after playing with, biting, or smelling a dead rabbit or rat. Keep a close eye on your dog when he or she is outdoors. Also, train your dog to come to you on command so that you can easily get them away from any dead animals you encounter.
Since listeria can live in water, also prevent your dog from drinking from puddles, streams, and ponds. Bring fresh water on walks and hikes, and offer your dog the water periodically so they are not tempted to drink from other water sources.
How to Recognize Listeria
The sooner you are able to recognize the symptoms of listeria and get your dog to the vet, the better the outcome. The first sign of listeria in dogs is often pronounced fatigue. Your dog will also develop intestinal symptoms, including diarrhea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. If you notice these symptoms in your dog - particularly after he has been fed raw food or spent time in the woods - seek veterinary care immediately.
If your dog does not receive treatment quickly, then the bacteria begin attacking the nervous system, causing a loss of coordination and eventually paralysis. However, when the disease is caught early, your vet can administer intravenous antibiotics and fluids. With this treatment, many dogs recover from listeria.Listeria is most common in puppies and in elderly dogs, but it can affect dogs at any age. If you avoid feeding your dog a raw diet and are careful to keep him or her away from dead animals, then the risk of listeria is very low. Contact Erickson Veterinary Hospital or a veterinarian near you if you suspect your dog may have listeria.