Listeriosis, you and your pets

What you should know

Listeriosis is caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, which is actually more common than we realise. Listeriosis is a zoonotic disease (a disease that normally exists in animals, but can infect humans), and a food- and waterborne disease. As in many cases, the outbreak of a certain disease does place more focus on a specific condition or illness, causing people to be more aware of something that has been around for many centuries.

Feeding your pets is an everyday occurrence. Whether you feed your pets a formulated pet food brand or a homemade or raw diet, ensure that they are fed a reputable pet food brand which is a member of the Pet Food Industry Association of Southern Africa You can identify the association by the logo that is printed on the packaging near the nutritional information label. See here how to read the pet food labels.

Pet owners who feed raw and homemade pet food diets should be vigilant, hygienic and only buy from reputable suppliers. See the food preparation guidelines by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Unlike many other bacteria, listeria can grow in refrigerated temperatures and even spread to other foods in the refrigerator.

At higher risk:

Older dogs and sick dogs are definitely more at risk of contracting listeriosis than healthy dogs. Puppies are also at higher risk due to their low immunity levels. Although animals can be affected by listeriosis, they have strong immunity to the bacteria and therefore some pets may not even show any signs of listeriosis. If your pet shows any sign of the infection (see the list of symptoms), you should take your pet for an examination by your local vet. In cases where a pet falls ill, it can be treated with antibiotics prescribed by your veterinarian. We advise that you consider the same rules for safe food consumption for your pet as you would for humans.

Food hygiene:

The World Health Organisation recommends these five steps for food hygiene:

  1. Wash your hands before handling food.
  2. Wash your hands often during food preparation.
  3. Separate raw meat, chicken and fish from other foods.
  4. Cook food properly (where applicable).
  5. Especially cook chicken, meat, eggs and fish for human consumption.

Avoid (for the moment):

Processed meat products such as polony, viennas, sausages and cold meat products that were listed as no-go foods by the Minister of Health.

What symptoms should you look out for in your pet?

According to Dr Jan du Preez, author of the book Animal Diseases and Man – Zoonoses, pets rarely show any symptoms, but if you notice any of the following, take your pet to the veterinarian immediately:

  • Nausea in conjunction with vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Lack of co-ordination
  • Salivation
  • Circling

Keeping yourself safe from listeriosis is important, and if you show any of the following symptoms, you should visit your doctor:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Muscle soreness
  • Stiff neck
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Lack of co-ordination
  • Salivation
  • Facial paralysis
  • Circling

A severe consequence of listeriosis is meningitis.


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