Puppies Responsible for Sickening 118 People, CDC Says

Sep 21, 2018 at 11:39 a.m. ET
Sleeping puppies
Image: Catherine Ledner/Getty Images.

They say dogs are man's best friend, and it's true. Dogs are great companions. However, a recent study published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, found that puppies — specifically, pet store puppies — have been making humans sick.

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In fact, the study revealed that these young dogs have caused 118 infections in 18 states.

According to the report, the puppies were reportedly carrying a bacterium known as campylobacter, which causes diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever. And while campylobacter is not rare — according to the CDC, it causes 1.3 million diarrheal illnesses in the United States each year — most campylobacteriosis infections stem from eating raw or undercooked poultry, unpasteurized dairy products, contaminated water and/or produce. 

So, how did so many pet store puppies contract this illness and pass it on to humans?

According to the CDC, most of the animals were carrying the bacteria before they reached the stores. 

However, the most alarming aspect of the outbreak isn't how the disease was contracted, it is the fact that the dogs were carrying an antibiotic-resistant strain of campylobacter, meaning the bacterial infection could not be treated by medication. 

The CDC believes the reason for the resistance is simple: Pet store puppies are often given large doses of antibiotics when they arrive — whether they are sick or not. In fact, of the 154 puppies studied, more than half were given antibiotics not because they were sick, but to keep them from becoming so. And while this is not a new practice — prophylaxis is common, especially in food production — “this outbreak demonstrates that puppies can be a source of multidrug-resistant Campylobacter infections in humans, warranting a closer look at antimicrobial use in the commercial dog industry," the authors of the study say.

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What's more, Matthew Wellington, antibiotics program director for U.S. PIRG, the Public Interest Research Group, tells Stat we now "have to change how we’re thinking about antibiotics... this is one of the clearest examples I’ve seen where resistant bacteria are originating in animals from antibiotic overuse, and they’re passing directly to people and spreading rapidly. So I think this is one of those situations where it’s incredibly clear that this is a problem we need to solve."

The solution remains unclear; however, antibiotic use will certainly be part of the equation. If you have a puppy that you think may be ill, the CDC is urging pet owners to talk to their veterinarians and doctors to determine the best course of action. 

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