Archive for Thursday, March 9, 2006

Road kill dangerous pet food

March 9, 2006

A few weeks ago, a gentleman at my church approached me after services with a dog question.

"Doc, have you seen any cases of botulism this year?"

I was stumped, having no previous recollection of a botulism case in a dog. One usually relates botulism to food poisoning in humans.

So, as the scholarly gent I let on to be, I replied an emphatic "no" and vowed to hit the books on Monday to brush up on botulism. My friend's dog had died five days earlier, and it was not pretty, he said.

So what about botulism? Did it have anything to do with our recent flooding rains and the local drought conditions we are in now? I was surprised when I found out where the clostridium botulinum bacteria came from, so as to affect local canines.

Apparently, the bacteria are found in decaying carrion, or dead wildlife (road kill if you will). The bacteria secrete a neurotoxin that is so stable, or unable to be killed, it can exist even after freezing.

My brain went into override of pathogenesis and epidemiology. The ramifications for us in our little country hamlets, surrounded by virtual wildscape are very significant. Just this last month I have watched local dogs feeding on a deer carcass that had recently been a temporary hood ornament on some poor guy's car.

Even in downtown De Soto it is not uncommon to see fresh road kill, decaying slowly. Botulism could be building up in these carrion carcasses. The toxins could affect a neighborhood pooch any time if it were given the opportunity to dine on the kill.

What can botulism do to our pets? Within as little as a few hours to as much as six days, the victim acquires acute or quick onset of rear leg weakness. This weakness rapidly progresses to the trunk, front legs and muscles of the head and neck. Within 12 to 24 hours, the dog is usually recumbent or down in laymen terms. Soon the animal affected has breathing problems, swallowing difficulty and/or vomiting. Usually, they will not urinate. Muscle wasting or atrophy, can set in within seven days. Death can occur soon in severe cases, depending on how much toxin is ingested.

Treatment is usually supportive as the antitoxin may or may not be available because of its rarity. My friend's dog passed away in five days regardless of the treatment it received. Therefore, this is one disease you would not want to wish on even your worst enemy and certainly a sad way for your beloved pet to go.

What can we do to prevent our dogs from falling prey to botulism? First and foremost, we prevent the consumption of all carrion. Let's face it, dogs will happily jump right in and chow down on road kill. I have seen this time and time again. Call it instinctive. If you are going to feed wild game to your dogs, thoroughly cook the meat (as in boiling). Even raw meat from a packing plant should be cooked. Remember even freezing the meat does not kill the botulism toxin. So, if you're cleaning out that freezer full of old deer meat or otherwise, cook it.

You know, I hope I never see a case of botulism in my clinic. It appears this disease would be one of the biggest treatment challenges around with failure lurking around the corner. I hope this article will help prevent the untimely death of a great pet or hunting partner. I'm glad I went to church when I did a few weeks ago. There seems to always be a little trouble in our paradise nearby.

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