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What is Aflatoxin Poisoning in Dogs?

What is Aflatoxin Poisoning in Dogs?

Critter Culture Staff



Aflatoxin poisoning isn't exactly a hot topic. However, it's a threat to all animals. Sadly, dogs seem to be even more susceptible to this fatal condition. But there are things you can do to decrease the likelihood of your pup falling victim to such a deadly illness. Familiarizing yourself with aflatoxins allows you to take a defensive stand against this dastardly villain.


Understanding aflatoxin

Agriculture scientist examines corn field for aflatoxin and other diseases Smederevac / Getty Images

Before getting into the specifics of aflatoxin poisoning, it's important to first know what it is and understand its basic biology.

Aflatoxins are a mycotoxin, which means that they're naturally-occurring toxins in mold. Stemming from two types of Aspergillus fungi, aflatoxins grow in soil, on decaying crops, or pretty much on anything else. Not only are they a known carcinogen, but they destroy the liver. The many varieties all cause harm, and while poisoning typically comes from ingestion, sometimes it can occur by entering through the skin.


How aflatoxin gets into food

Infection corn used for food and animal feed in storage

Aspergillus doesn't guarantee aflatoxin presence, but it does increase its risk. Once they manifest, aflatoxins enter the food system through a few undetected means.

Without thorough cleaning, processing may introduce soil into the product. However, aflatoxins can also be a part of the plant: this crop could be eaten directly in a processed or natural state. Another way the poison spreads is through organic decaying on hay and grains. Animals will consume this, potentially passing the illness onto their babies through gestation or milk. Additionally, their meat will harbor aflatoxins, poisoning anything that unknowingly consumes it.


Quality versus quantity in dog food

dog food in iron scoop on weighing scale pedphoto36pm / Getty Images

In general, aflatoxins can end up in a food supply. However, food producers are required to take precautions to decrease the chances of inadvertent poisoning. When it comes to dog food, though, this isn't always a top priority.

Cheap dog food is full of grains and doesn't go through the quality checks that more reputable brands implement. Processing isn't as strict and easily allows for contaminates. This can cause an outbreak since many dogs will eat from the same batch. That said, it's important to make note that more expensive brands don't come without risk either. Even the pressure and heat involved in stringent processing isn't necessarily enough to eradicate all aflatoxins.


Aflatoxin poisoning: what it entails

Front view of tan coloured dog in kitchen eating from red bowl Grace Chon / Getty Images

One of the dangers of aflatoxin poisoning is that it doesn't reveal itself immediately. It establishes itself in soil, growth, feed, food, and the victim well before it draws attention. Also, it could be present even though mold isn't visible.

Aflatoxins build up. Depending on the levels of contamination, there's a chance that eating homemade foods, scraps, or something scavenged only once will not cause too much harm. But gradual toxicity over time, such as eating from the same batch of dog food, usually won't show itself until it's fully established.


Symptoms of aflatoxin poisoning

dog laying on the floor beside food bowl stanleystunning / Getty Images

In dogs, gradual aflatoxin poisoning often shows up initially in the liver. Vomiting, jaundice, loss of appetite, dark urine, and lethargy are a few symptoms. Of course, these can indicate a number of other problems too, so at the first sign of anything abnormal, take your pup to the vet.

For both built-up and sudden cases, a range of symptoms may come without warning. They include collapsing, unexplained bruising or bleeding, weakness, increased thirst, and gastrointestinal issues.


The diagnostic process

dog in the vet clinic Sebastian Condrea / Getty Images

Your vet will fully examine your dog and take blood samples when you visit. These blood tests will show any abnormal liver activity. Plus, they'll reveal any clotting deficiencies. If your pup isn't too sick to endure it, a liver biopsy also works well when diagnosing aflatoxin poisoning.

Some owners have the dog's food tested. While this is a good idea, it's important to remember that your pooch could have fallen ill due to other means as well.


Treating an aflatoxin patient

man giving medication to golden retriever at home LightFieldStudios / Getty Images

Treatment depends on the illness's progression. Unfortunately, sometimes the condition is too bad for the dog to go on living, and euthanasia is the only humane choice. But if there's a glimmer of hope and finances allow for it, intensive care treatment to monitor and medicate is an option.

There's no particular regimen for dealing with aflatoxin poisoning. Intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and anti-nausea medication prove beneficial. A strict diet and enzyme-producing medications also help. If a dog survives, they may have to take medication for the duration of its life.


Prevention: be vigilant

woman pouring dog food into bowl from airtight container Grace Cary / Getty Images

Though aflatoxin poisoning can't ever be totally avoided, its threat will be greatly reduced through a few simple measures.

Always buy reputable dog food that's made in small batches and carefully tested. Also, monitor food for mold or moisture, throwing out anything that's questionable. Airtight storage will keep the food safer.


Labels are important

man looking at dog food label at supermarket VLG / Getty Images

Labels are a critical piece of evidence when it comes to aflatoxin poisoning. Initially, you want to check the ingredients for fillers such as corn and wheat. Then look for sub-standard by-products, additives, and anything else that's low quality. Avoid products containing anything suspicious.

Save your labels, too. Use them for reference in case there's a recall. Hold on to each UPC code and lot number for at least three months.


Recalls aren't uncommon

Washing dog bowls in the kitchen sink Ziga Plahutar / Getty Images

Though rare, recalls do happen for potential aflatoxin exposure. This doesn't mean that a product contains the toxin, but even one bag testing positive is grounds for recalling an entire batch.

Study your label. If you purchased a recalled brand, dispose of it immediately in a way that no animal will get to it. Sanitize everything the food touched, including your hands. Finally, make a precautionary appointment with your vet.


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