Listeria Hysteria


Written by Nicola Dee van Ass

Listeriosis has recently been all over the news, with widespread concern about the source of the infection. But what many people don’t realise is that this potentially serious infection can affect our pets too.

What is listeria?

This infection (listeriosis) is caused by the Listeria monocytogenes (usually just called listeria) bacteria and is most commonly found in grazing animals like cows, sheep and goats. This is because the bacteria is typically found in water and soil.

The recent outbreak occurred when infected animal meat was sold and consumed by people; almost 200 human deaths relating to the listeriosis outbreak have occurred. To date there have been no reported deaths relating to companion animals having listeriosis.

While the bacteria can infect dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, birds and parrots, we so far seem to have luckily escaped a pandemic of Listeriosis. But even though pet owners have been lucky so far, it’s important to know what to look out for, just in case. This is particularly important with senior, very young, and immune-compromised pets.

Source of infection

Listeria has been found in most raw and smoked meats like ham, smoked chicken, viennas, polony, uncooked seafood and unpasteurised dairy products. The only way to destroy listeria bacteria is through cooking and pasteurisation.

This means that, in general, properly cooked meat is safe and uncooked is not. Therefore, it’s best to ensure that any meat product that you are giving your pets is well cooked.

If you use things like viennas or polony for dog and puppy training, or your pets are on a raw food diet, change to cooked for now – at least until we know that our food is safe to eat again.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Many of the symptoms are the same in people and animals; if you notice your pet suffering from one or more of the below symptoms, rather be safe than sorry and head to your preferred vet for a check-up.

The vet will perform a full physical examination of your pet while asking you questions about their diet. They may then request a faecal test or blood smear in order to ascertain whether the Listeria monocytogene organism is present. If the illness is detected early, a broad-spectrum antibiotic will usually be prescribed; if the disease is more severe, your vet will go through all available treatment options with you.

The most common symptoms of Listeriosis in animals are the following:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Lack of coordination
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Stiff neck muscles
  • Sore muscles
  • Excessive drooling
  • A tendency to circle in one direction

Prevention better than cure

As the saying goes, prevention really is better than cure. Stay away from raw meats and unpasteurised dairy products, keep things clean and hygienic, and rinse all raw foods (such as salad) thoroughly before eating.

Keep a close eye on your pets and your human loved ones until the crisis is over and our food is safe to eat again.