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Listeria, or listeriosis, is caused by the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes and, while it tends to affect humans the most, it can also affect your pup. With this in mind, you should pay close attention to what you feed your dog and be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of listeria in order to prevent infection. If you leave this illness untreated, it can prove to be fatal for your dog.
The bacteria can be found in water, soil, and certain animals (sheep, goats, cattle, poultry, rabbits, guinea pigs and many others).
In general, dogs can be infected in much the same manner as humans, which includes exposure to infected dairy products, meats, and, of course, dog foods. In recent years, there have been several dog food recalls due to the presence of listeria contamination.
Can Dogs Get Listeria?
Your dog is very susceptible to listeria, especially if you like to feed him a diet of raw foods. An FDA study found that out of 1,000 dog food samples, raw dog food was far more likely to be infected with the listeria bacteria.
Does My Dog Have Listeria?
The symptoms of listeria are likely to vary from one dog to the next. They can range from showing no symptoms whatsoever, to mild flu-like symptoms, and go all the way to major neurological damage. Not all dogs who are exposed to listeria will become ill or display any symptoms.
Common Symptoms of Listeria in Dogs:
Lack of coordination
There are a large number of causes of listeria in dogs, including:
Raw pet food
Contaminated pet food
Contaminated table scraps and human food
Raw veggies from contaminated soil
Infected meats like hot dogs, deli meats, spreads
Unpasteurized milk/milk products
When you take your dog to see his vet, the vet will talk to you about his diet, exercise, and most importantly, any changes in his behavior. At the same time, he will perform an examination and take a blood sample.
The blood sample will be used to determine the presence of Listeria monocytogenes. If your dog is displaying any signs of neurological problems, he may also take a sample of cerebrospinal fluid for analysis.
Finally, he may run several different tests to rule out the possibility of any other medical conditions with similar symptoms.
For further reading and more information, visit our guide to Listeria in Dogs.
How Do I Treat My Dog's Listeria?
The level of treatment for your dog's listeria will depend almost entirely on the severity of the symptoms and how long he has been suffering with it.
Treatment of Mild Symptoms
The vet may prescribe pain and gastrointestinal medications to help relieve the symptoms and give your dog time for the bacteria to be flushed out of his system on its own.
Treatment of More Severe Symptoms
If your dog has more severe symptoms of listeria, the vet may hospitalize your dog and flush his kidneys using IV fluids to prevent damage to them. He may also recommend a regimen of antibiotics such as penicillin to destroy the Listeria monocytogenes and follow this up with doxycycline to complete the cycle and eliminate any chance of the bacteria being carried in the dog's urine.
With timely treatment, recovery from listeria is possible and in most cases quite successful. However, in the event of a more serious infection or lack of timely treatment, listeriosis can prove to be fatal. This is why it is so important for you to contact your vet at the first sign your dog might have contracted the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria and follow the recommended treatment plan to the letter.
For more information on treatment and recovery, check out Listeria in Dogs.
How is Listeria Similar in Dogs and Humans?
While it is rare for humans (except pregnant women) to contract the Listeria monocytogenes and develop associated problems, there are a few similarities between listeria in humans and dogs, such as gastroenteritis that can cause vomiting and diarrhea.
Other symptoms can include joint pain and a headache. Even though your dog cannot tell you he has a headache, he can still display the same symptoms, you just have to know your dog and how to recognize them.
How is Listeria Different in Dogs and Humans?
Perhaps the biggest difference between listeria in dogs and humans is that it is more common in dogs. Also:
Neurological problems such as loss of balance, unusual body spasms, and circling are more likely in dogs
There is a higher risk of mortality in dogs than in humans
Listeria can result in death in as few as two days, even if it is treated.
A 6-year-old Doberman female was taken to the vet suffering from acute circling, depression, and hemiparesis. Following an examination, the vet noted the following symptoms:
Decreases in facial sensation, jaw/tongue/pharyngeal tone, conscious preconception, flexor withdrawal reflex
Abnormal hemistanding and hemiwalking
Other issues noted included:
Pancytopenia (a blood deficiency)
Bacterial infection in the bone marrow
The dog was treated with high dosages of antibiotics, but despite the best efforts of the veterinary team, the dog did not survive. If for any reason you suspect your dog may have contracted listeria, it is vital that you take him to see his vet as soon as possible or your local animal emergency room.