Pet Store Puppies Spreading Disease

Superbug Causes Diarrhea in Humans
By Karen B. London PhD, September 2018, Updated June 2021

The horrors faced by pet store puppies and the puppy mill dogs that suffer to breed them are hardly news. Nor is the increased likelihood of behavior problems in dogs purchased at pet stores compared with other dogs. The profit-based justification for buying and selling dogs in pet stores as though these animals are commodities is not defendable. It does a great disservice to dogs and is often the cause of emotional distress in people as well. All the system does is make money for people who are creating a giant welfare problem for dogs.

Even though nobody needs another reason not to buy dogs from a pet store, a new reason has hit the news this week. Recent reports of a disease that causes diarrhea in people has been traced to puppies from pet stores. A specific disease (Campylobacteriosis) was investigated in more than 100 people in 18 states who were taken ill with this bug from January 2016 through February 2018. Twenty-six people were hospitalized. Out of the 106 infected people 105 reported exposure to a dog, and 101 reported recent contact with a pet store puppy. Twenty-nine of the infected people were pet store employees. People reported having contact with puppies at six different pet store companies, suggesting that the puppies were infected before reaching stores.

Dogs, especially puppies, have long been known to be a source of Campylobacter infection, although it is rare for them to cause outbreaks. This outbreak was the biggest one known to come from dogs. Researchers investigating the source of the recent flurry of infections found that it was widespread. Using fecal samples from 28 puppies, they learned that the disease could be traced to eight distributors and 25 breeders.

Infected individuals can usually be successfully treated with antibiotics, but this particular strain is resistant to all of the antibiotics usually used to treat it, making it the first outbreak of this bug that is antibiotic-resistant. Part of the problem may be the widespread dosing of puppy mill puppies to courses of antibiotics. While investigating this particular strain of bug, researchers found that 94 percent of puppies received antibiotics before coming to the store or while they were there. Even more alarming, 55 percent of them received antibiotics for preventative purposes only. The excessive exposure to antibiotics vastly increases the chances of antibiotic-resistant superbugs developing.

Better hygiene practices and following proper guidelines for the use of antibiotics can greatly reduce the spread of disease and the serious problem of resistant superbugs. Better still, the crowded and inhumane conditions that are so problematic in so many ways for dogs in puppy mills should be outlawed entirely.

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life