Pig ears are a favorite treat for dogs: chewy, crispy, full of protein. But a recent outbreak has led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue a rare blanket warning.

By Dan Nosowitz
August 02, 2019

Pig ears make great dog treats. In the US, pig ears are normally thrown out during the processing of hogs, but when slowly roasted and dried, they make for a fun, chewy, savory treat for dogs. But there’s something amiss in the dog treat industry, and now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning Americans to steer clear of treating dogs with pig ears for the time being.

According to the CDC, a massive, multi-state outbreak of salmonella has been tied to these pig ear dog treats. It’s a pretty widespread outbreak: there are multiple strains of salmonella, many of which are resistant to the typical drugs you’d use to kill them. The outbreak isn’t, as it usually is, tied to any particular producer, brand, or processor, but instead seems to affect pig ears.

The CDC says dogs can become quite sick from eating these treats, and their owners are at risk, too. To date, 127 people have fallen ill thanks to handling the pig ears or even just handling their dogs after handing out the treats; 26 of those have been ill enough to be hospitalized. 

Related: The FDA Says This Sugar Substitute Is Dangerous for Dogs

Salmonella is a varied genus of bacteria that can cause all sorts of illnesses, for both people and dogs. In humans, it tends to show up in gastrointestinal disorders, including diarrhea and stomach cramps. Usually, illness lasts four to seven days and does not require treatment. In severe cases, the infection can spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and may require hospitalization. For dogs, diarrhea is also common, but it can be harder to tell when a pet is sick; after all, they can’t tell us what’s wrong. So it’s not unlikely that salmonella infection in your pet pup could just look like fatigue, apathy, or lethargy. In severe cases, salmonella in dogs can require hospitalization, mainly consisting of fluids and antibiotics, to help the dog fight off the bacteria.

To prevent illness, pet owners are advised to wash their hands after handling any unpackaged dog food and treats, and to avoid letting dogs lick their faces after eating (it's also important to make sure young children abide by these safety suggestions, the CDC says).

The CDC issued a statement saying that an investigation is ongoing, and the CDC took the somewhat unusual step of issuing a blanket warning for the entire product. “CDC and FDA are now advising people not to buy or feed any pig ear dog treats to pets, including any that may already be in homes,” the statement says.

So what should you do if you have pig ears on hand? The CDC recommends that pet owners securely bag and throw away any pig ear dog treats they currently have, and take whatever steps necessary to keep your dog from investigating that delicious pig-ear odor in the garbage can. If you see any of the telltale symptoms of salmonella infection, go to the doctor or veterinarian immediately. And please don’t buy any more pig ears until this is all figured out!

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