You are what you eat; unfortunately for the majority of our pets, this can include anything from socks, rocks, mouldy food or rotting rubbish, and all kinds of strange objects reported by owners of pets across the world. If pets are unlucky and consume certain kinds of fungi or mould present on old food, compost and organic waste, it can lead to the ingestion of dangerous neurotoxins and ultimately a life-threatening condition called mycotoxicity.

Examples of sources of the toxin in pets treated at the emergency vet hospital include stored grains and mouldy bread, kibble that had been exposed to moisture and rotting fruit that had fallen from a tree.  In some cases, identifying the source is challenging as a dog may present with signs of mycotoxicity after escaping the yard and roaming in the previous hours.

Signs can start to appear within 2 hours of ingestion and vomiting can be the first indication even before the tremors start to appear. Mycotoxins can cause profound muscle tremors which raise the body’s core temperature to dangerously high levels.  Without veterinary intervention, pets can become sick and following consumption of mouldy food and in the worst cases it can be fatal.  Signs that your dog may be suffering from mycotoxicosis include:

  • Vomiting and/or diarrhoea
  • Restlessness and panting
  • Muscle tremors
  • Seizures
  • Incoordination

If you suspect your pet has consumed mouldy food and starts to vomit or otherwise look unwell, seek immediate veterinary help either from your own vet or from your closest emergency vet hospital if it is after hours. This condition can become life-threatening very quickly as the body temperature starts to rise with the uncontrolled muscle activity. Take any suspected substance with you in a bag to the vet as they may send it to the laboratory for confirmation of the diagnosis and to rule out other types of poisoning.

Initial treatment will focus on controlling the symptoms using muscle relaxant medication and anti-seizure drugs in severe cases.  It will also be a priority to start active cooling measures to bring down a dangerously high body temperature. Eliminating the toxic substance from the body is another important measure so your vet may induce vomiting or recommend performing a gastric lavage (stomach pump) under anaesthetic.  Hospitalisation is usually required for supportive care such as intravenous fluids, ongoing medication and continued monitoring of the body temperature during recovery. With rapid and aggressive veterinary treatment, most dogs will survive this frightening condition but finding and removing the cause of the poisoning is an important step to avoid a recurrence as your dog will not have learnt his lesson and will head straight back out to the compost heap or access the rubbish pile given the opportunity. Always keep kibble in a sealed container, avoid feeding spoiled food to pets and make sure the rubbish bin has a secure lid on it to prevent any late-night raiding.