Pig ears are thought to have caused a multi-state outbreak that infected 45.

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Pig ears are popular treat for dogs. Getty images

A multi-state outbreak of Salmonella-related illnesses has been linked to pig ear dog treats.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)linked the dog treats to bacterial infections in 45 people, according to a recent report. Cases have been found in 13 states. At the time of publication, no deaths were reported, but 12 people were hospitalized as of earlier this month, the CDC reported yesterday.

The outbreak was detected after people reported illnesses between November 18, 2018, and June 13 of this year.

Officials at the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development sampled pig ears for Salmonella at retail locations where people said they had gotten the pig ear treats. The outbreak strain was not identified, but other strains were detected, the CDC reports.

As a result, retail locations where sampling occurred have removed pig ears from shelves. Pet Supplies Plus recalled its Pig Ear Treats, which include products that were stocked in open bins. The CDC said it did not confirm that people who got sick purchased their treats at the store.

The Pet Supplies Plus products were shipped to stores in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. The store did not recall its prepackaged pig ears.

“We have pulled bulk pig ear product from the shelves at all of our stores and have stopped shipping bulk pig ears from our Distribution Center. We are working with the FDA as they continue their investigation as to what caused the reported Salmonella related illnesses,” the store said in a statement.

Pets aren’t the only ones who can get sick when eating a product with Salmonella. Pet owners can be at risk if they touch products contaminated with the bacteria and then put their hands on their face or near their mouth.

Salmonella likely spread from the pig ears to pet owners who handled the product and then puts their hand in their mouth and ingested the Salmonella, said Donald W. Schaffner, PhD, a food microbiology specialist and professor at Rutgers University.

The bacteria could also be in the dog’s stool and be transferred to people who are cleaning up after their dog, added Michael San Filippo, a spokesperson for the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Not all dogs who contract Salmonella will shows signs of an infection such as vomiting or diarrhea. However, dogs can still shed bacteria like Salmonella in their stool without showing any signs of illness, San Filippo added.

“Pet owners should not assume that just because their dog appears healthy, that they cannot become ill by feeding pig ears. Particularly, if someone touches their mouth after contact with the bacteria, there is greater concern for illness,” San Filippo explained.

Depending on the species of Salmonella, it can have an effect on the dog, Schaffner noted.

“Some Salmonella infect people but not dogs, some may infect dogs but not people, and some can do both,” Schaffner said.

It’s also possible for a dog who has had the treat not to have the infection but humans who handled the treat (or came into contact with the dog’s saliva) to become ill from the bacteria.

Washing your hands after handling any dog treats is a good practice, Schaffner said. “If you want to take an additional precaution, I would suggest using alcohol-based hand sanitizer after washing hands,” he added.

Symptoms of Salmonella in pets include lethargy, diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. In humans, it can cause similar symptoms along with stomach cramping and nausea. Rarely, it can cause eye irritation, muscle pain, blood infections, arthritis, and urinary tract infections. Most people who are infected come down with symptoms between 12 and 72 hours after bacteria exposure. The illness can last four to seven days, and most people do not require treatment.

As a result of those symptoms, dehydration can also occur, Schaffner said.

The CDC offers recommendations on healthy pet feeding:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water after handling pet food or treats.
  • Store food and treats apart from were human food is stored.
  • Keep food out of the reach of children.
  • Don’t use a pet’s feeding bowl to scoop food.
  • Don’t let your pet lick your mouth or face after they eat pet food or treats. Don’t let a pet lick any open wounds or areas with broken skin. If you come into contact with a pet after they have eaten, wash your hands or rinse any body parts they have licked.
  • In the store, wash your hands after touching products in a bulk product bin.
  • Contact your veterinarian if your pet appears to be ill.

San Filippo said people should not handle a pet’s stool or urine.

“In this situation, it is unknown whether it is just dogs that may be a source of illness or whether cats who contact or consume pig ears may also be affected,” he said.

Wear disposable gloves or gloves that can be disinfected when cleaning a cat’s litter box. Keep the litter box clean if you have a cat, or keep the yard free of pet waste — using a scooper or gloves — if you have animals that go to the bathroom outside.

“This is a relatively large outbreak, and people should take it seriously,” Schaffner warned. “Since a common supplier of pig ear treats in this outbreak has not yet been identified, if you have purchased pigs ears, especially in any of the affected states, you should return them for refund or discard them. Be sure to wash your hands after handling.”

“Pets can be a great source of joy, and feeding them treats is part of the fun of pet ownership, but be sure to take reasonable precautions,” he added.

Consumers who have purchased bulk pig ears should stop using and throw away the product. They can contact Pet Supplies Plus at 734-793-6564 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. EDT.

The FDA encourages consumers to report complaints about pet food products electronically through the Safety Reporting Portal.

“In addition to tracing back the source of the pig ears and determining how the contamination might have occurred, the FDA is offering to test dogs for Salmonella when there is a confirmed human case in the household,” a spokesperson with the FDA told Healthline.