Q. I know dogs are scavengers. How dangerous is it for Buster to eat stuff he finds?
A. I recently became aware of the lack of knowledge about how dangerous moldy food is for dogs. We know dogs are scavengers and can eat most anything, but when it comes to moldy food, our best friends can get very sick or even die.
Fungus (mold) growing on spoiled food can produce poisonous substances called mycotoxins. The disease is called mycotoxicosis. There are several different mycotoxins that can poison your dog if ingested. Depending on the type of mycotoxins, the symptoms may vary. The volume of the moldy food ingested by Buster may play a part in the severity of the symptoms. Some dogs, just like some people, are more sensitive to mycotoxins than others. The foods most likely to have mycotoxins are any spoiled food found in trash cans, compost heaps, old kibble, and trash found in picnic areas and camp sites.
Symptoms will vary depending on the fungus and the amount ingested. Generally, the symptoms are muscle tremors, seizures, panting, hyperactivity, vomiting, uncoordinated movements, weakness, increased heart rate (tachycardia), increased body temperature (hyperesthesia), dehydrations, lack of appetite (anorexia) and death. These symptoms can come on as quickly as an hour or two.
If you see your best friend eating moldy substances, go to your veterinarian or emergency clinic right away. Bring the substance with you if you can, to show the clinician. The emergency team will start supportive care by inducing vomiting if indicated, giving activated charcoal, IV fluids, or medicine to control symptoms the dog is exhibiting such as tremors and seizures. Some fungi attack the liver. Blood tests will be run to assess the effect the toxins have on his organs. Buster will need to stay in the hospital until the symptoms are under control and he is stable. In most cases with treatment, he will have a full recovery. Symptoms are usually gone in 24 to 48 hours when treated, but some dogs will recover more slowly and will need to be closely monitored.
You can prevent this tragedy by making sure compost piles are contained and dog proof. Trash should be kept in tightly closed containers and in a safe place to keep wild critters from getting into the trash making it accessible to your dog. If you feed kibble, buy smaller bags that can be used up in a timely fashion to avoid mold growing in the bottom. If you have to buy big bags, which is not wise since the nutrients deteriorate with time, break the bag into smaller airtight containers and freeze some of it. When you are walking your dog, keep him on leash in picnic areas, unfamiliar areas, and anywhere there may have been camping or eating. Don’t let your dog visit trash cans or around dumpsters. Even if you have an awesome leave it, know it may not be bomb proof if something tasty is in reach.
Enjoy walking and hiking with your best friend. Go swimming at your favorite pond. Just be alert to trash left behind.
Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH
Animal Wellness Center