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December 2009

The Risks of Raw Milk You Can't See

Consumers today often want to buy local when it comes to food. That's good for their communities and our state's economy, but in the case of raw milk, it's a bad decision.

“Some people think raw (unpasteurized) milk is pure and safe, but in reality it is a high-risk food,” explained State Veterinarian Robert Ehlenfeldt, DVM, who heads the Division of Animal Health in the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. “No matter how conscientious the farmer is about sanitation, and no matter how large or small the herd is, raw milk can carry bacteria that will sicken people. That's why distributing raw milk to consumers -- in any fashion, for any use -- is illegal.

”Raw milk may contain Campylobacter jejuni, E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, Brucella and Staphylococcus, which can be harmful to people. These bacteria, when consumed by people or pets, can cause diseases ranging from nausea and diarrhea to miscarriage, paralysis, kidney failure and death. Even in the best of situations with regard to cow health and farm sanitation, cattle or the environment they're in can be a source of contaminate to the milk without the cow showing any signs of disease.

That means that, while WVMA-member veterinarians are closely involved in maintaining herd health on farms throughout the state to help ensure a safe food supply, the raw milk of otherwise totally healthy cows can contain the dangerous bacteria. In this situation, a healthy cow isn't enough to keep us all safe – pasteurization is critical.

The simple, yet significant process of pasteurization kills such bacteria and makes milk safe. For public health safety reasons, laws requiring pasteurization of milk have been on the books in Wisconsin for more than half a century.

“Raw milk carries risk,” he explained. “There can even be secondhand spread of disease beyond the people who drink it.”

Wisconsin's Division of Animal Health worked with the Division of Food Safety and the Division of Public Health to investigate an outbreak of Campylobacter jejuni that hospitalized one person and sickened 34 others in late summer. The outbreak was linked to raw milk sold by a farm in Elkhorn and was one of three major outbreaks of food-borne illness linked to raw milk in Wisconsin since 2001.

Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 45 outbreaks tied to unpasteurized milk or cheese consumption occurred from 1998 to 2005. These outbreaks occurred in 22 states, two were multi-state outbreaks, and they resulted in 1,000 illnesses, 104 hospitalizations and two deaths.

For more information on this topic or how WVMA members are involved in public health, please contact WVMA at 608-257-3665 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


Holiday Threats to Pets

Sparkly, shiny tinsel at snout-height. Fatty food scraps falling from party guests' plates. A juicy bone wrapped up in a bow.

The holiday season is simply heaven-on-earth for our furry friends, isn't it?

“It may seem that way from our human perspective, but all of those holiday-related items are potential health hazards for our pets,” explained Kimberly Kratt, DVM, of Central Animal Hospital in Onalaska, Wis.

Other dangers abound, too, including alcohol from drinks left at pet-level, extra electrical cords and wires, party noise and commotion, holiday chocolates -- even efforts to preserve Christmas trees.

“During one holiday season, I treated a cat that seemed to be suffering from diabetes because the glucose levels in its blood and urine were incredibly high,” said Dr. Kratt. “After a little detective work, I realized the cat was drinking sugar-water from the bowl at the base of the holiday tree.”

Dr. Kratt points out that you can never entirely predict which items or treats might attract your pet's attention, so it's best to err on the side of caution. Tastes vary from animal to animal, not breed to breed.

“Even a single incident of high-fat intake could be life-threatening,” stated Dr. Kratt. “I once treated an English Cocker that ate about half a bag of Fritos, consequently suffered from pancreatitis and -- even with treatment -- died several days later.”

And while you may be mindful of off-limit foods for pets, your kids may not be, so be sure to have a conversation with them if pets are part of your family or if you're headed to a holiday gathering where pets are part of the household.

Yet another seasonal threat to pets comes in the way of burning candles. If you share your home with a dog, be sure to keep flames far from tail-wagging height. If you have a feline friend that roams in even hard-to-reach spots, forego the candles altogether.

Most people are aware of the fact that poinsettias are poisonous to pets. You may not know that azaleas, amaryllis, Japanese Yew, English Ivy, Eucalyptus, mistletoe and holly can also hurt animals if eaten. If you can't do without the color these plants bring to winter, keep them out of reach or buy an artificial version that looks great every year.

Also, pine needles pose potential danger to both cats and dogs. Intestinal problems can result if a dog swallows too many needles; pine oil is toxic to cats.

If you suspect your pet has ingested something potentially dangerous this Yuletide season, call your veterinarian right away.

You can certainly include your four-legged family members in your festivities. The trick is to keep your plans pet-friendly.

  • Before the holiday party, take Fido to the dog park so he can burn off some energy - then maybe even fall asleep away from the ringing door bell, shuffling feet and endless refrains of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
  • Never wrap a pet's presents. An eager dog will have a tough time figuring out where the wrapping ends and the gift begins. A bright-red, new Kong stuffed with a bit of peanut butter or wet dog food is festive enough.
  • Lots of cats love to eat ribbon and string; ingesting such foreign bodies almost always leads to surgery. Instead, opt for with some strategically hidden, glittery plastic balls that Fluffy can hunt down on Christmas morning.
  • Make sure any edible treats you give Fluffy or Fido are designed for an animal, are appropriate for your pet's size and breed and are consistent with your pet's normal diet. Dr. Kratt notes that even a few “harmless” bites of fatty treats can well-exceed a pet's recommended daily caloric intake.
  • Resist the urge to give bones and/or drippings from that golden, glorious holiday bird to your dog. They may seem like generous treats, but, in fact, they can cause injuries, ranging from something as minor as an upset stomach to something as dire as perforated intestines.
For more information on holiday threats to pets and other animal safety issues, visit or talk with your veterinarian.

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