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Botulism in Dogs

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Botulism is a rapidly fatal disease resulting from nerve toxin produced by Clostridium bacteria. Dogs and cats are relatively resistant to the botulism toxin and toxicity is rare and has not been reported in cats.

The most common way that dogs come in contact with the bacterial toxin is by consuming dead animals that contain the toxin, and the amount ingested is directly associated with the severity of the illness. After ingestion, the toxin travels from the stomach and intestines to the blood supply, then attacks the nerves associated with muscles. The nerve impulse to the muscle is disrupted and signs of illness occur.

Signs of botulism may be evident as early as a few hours after ingestion up to several days afterward. The typical sign is profound weakness. Dogs are usually alert and wagging their tails but cannot walk or even stand. As the toxin progresses through the system, slowed heart rate, slowed breathing and even death may occur.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of botulism can be difficult. There are a few other diseases that result in profound weakness and look similar to botulism toxicity. Differentiating between the diseases can be tricky. If the toxin can be isolated from blood, ingested food, feces or vomit, the diagnosis is certain. Without isolation of the toxin, the diagnosis of botulism is based on history of exposure to potentially contaminated carcasses and signs of weakness.

Treatment

Treatment for botulism is supportive. Hospitalization with intravenous fluids is usually recommended. In severe cases, respirators may be needed if the muscles to assist breathing are impaired. Antitoxin is only effective in the early stages and is not very helpful once the signs of botulism are present. Antibiotics may be used but their effectiveness is questionable. If diagnosed and treated early in the course of the disease, recovery is possible. If the dog has severe botulism toxicity, especially if the respiratory muscles are involved, recovery is not likely.

Home Care and Prevention

There is no home care for botulism. Immediate examination and treatment by a veterinarian is crucial for survival. Preventing access to dead animals and carcasses will greatly reduce the risk of botulism.

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